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Governor Calls Democratic Party Chair's Remarks 'Disturbing' But Doesn't Call for His Exit

NEW YORK NOW - New York Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs' remarks comparing an African American mayoral candidate in Buffalo to a Ku Klux Klan leader.

But the Democratic governor stopped short of calling for Jacobs' resignation, saying for now, she is satisfied with his apology.

Jacobs, in an interview with Spectrum News, made an analogy between Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton and former KKK leader David Duke.

It happened after he was asked whether he would endorse Walton over four-term incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, who lost the June primary to Walton. Brown and Walton are both African American.

Jacobs answered that, as party chair, he does not feel he has to endorse Walton, who also identifies as a socialist. He compared the situation to a party chair not endorsing David Duke, if Duke were to hypothetically win a primary in a Democratic mayoral race in a city in New York.  Jacobs said he did not consider Walton to “be in the same category” as the KKK leader.

His remarks drew condemnation from many Democratic leaders in the state, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Hochul.

“What Jay Jacob did was wrong, it was very disturbing, clearly unacceptable and it was hurtful,” Hochul said. “India Walton did not deserve that.”

Jacobs, after an initial statement defending his remarks, issued an apology. Some Democrats have said he should resign, but Hochul is not yet calling on Jacobs to do so.

“He has apologized,” she said. “I’m willing to assess the situation going forward."

On Oct. 4, Jacobs held a news conference asking Hochul's potential political rivals to stand down and let the new governor have a chance to become established before launching a primary challenge.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has begun an exploratory committee. Attorney General Tish James has not confirmed she will run, but she is touring the state distributing funds from the settlements with opioid manufacturers. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is also another potential rival in the governor’s race.

Hochul, a Buffalo native, said she does not intend to endorse a candidate for the Buffalo mayor’s race. Hochul is an ally of Brown, the current mayor, who is running a write-in campaign.

“I will support whoever emerges from that election,” Hochul said. “And they will consider me a strong partner, because I need them to be successful."

Hochul then abruptly ended her question-and-answer session with reporters.

Schumer, who called Jacobs' remarks “outrageous” and “unacceptable,” is also not weighing in on whether Walton or Brown would be the better mayor. Schumer was asked about it Monday during an appearance near Albany on home heating oil prices.

“Today’s a day to talk about what’s going on in Washington, it’s not a day for politics,” Schumer said.

The controversy comes as a new Siena College poll finds Hochul leading any potential opponents by double digits, and is viewed favorably by 42% of New Yorkers, though about a third say they still don’t know enough about the governor to have an opinion.

Voters remain divided, though, on whether Hochul -- who has been in office for less than two months -- is doing a good job handling the pandemic and the spate of natural disasters that have hit the state in late August and September. Additionally, the majority do not believe she is doing a good job strengthening the economy or cleaning up corruption in state government.