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With Nassau Losses, Some Democrats Sing Blues For Jay Jacobs

  |  The Capitol
Posted: 11-17-09 02:30 PM

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Read More: Nassau, New York News

The election returns from Nassau this month were bad for Tom Suozzi.

But they may have been even worse for Jay Jacobs.

Jacobs, the Nassau Democratic chairman, was installed as the leader of the state party in September based largely on the impressive gains he had masterminded in his home county.

Now, some Democrats are wondering if Jacobs is up to the task.

“I don’t understand what the hell happened there,” said one Democratic county chair who did not want to be named. “It’s definitely going to be a tough thing for him to fight against.”

When Jacobs was chosen to lead the state party in September, he had a sterling record in Nassau. Under his watch, Democrats had taken control of the county legislature and all but one countywide office.

But in his first electoral test since being elevated to the top post in the state party, Jacobs saw almost all of those gains reversed. And now party insiders are pointing to an embarrassing series of missteps and tactical blunders that led to those losses, which they say may weaken the faith of rank-and-file Democrats—not to mention donors and potential candidates—in Jacobs’ leadership.

For months, Suozzi and Jacobs dismissed internal polls showing the county executive and his ticket-mates hovering just below 50 percent, according to people who have spoken with them. And the Democratic get-out-the-vote machine seems to have faltered as well, with most precincts reporting Democratic turnout at one-third less than that of the beleaguered Republicans.

Perhaps the most humiliating mistake, many Democrats say, was the decision by Suozzi and Jacobs to leave more than $2 million tucked away in Suozzi’s campaign account, anticipating a statewide run next year. Meanwhile, he is trailing in an ongoing recount and several marginal county legislators were kicked out, including one who lost by just a handful of votes.

“They ran a sloppy and lazy and unfocused campaign,” said Larry Levy, the director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

These are the kinds of missteps that county leaders were used to seeing from the state party, but many hoped were precisely what Jacobs’ arrival would bring the end of—for a party that has seen its once powerful machinery largely collapse.

In an interview, Jacobs said that he hoped the results would not discourage Democratic activists and donors from trusting his leadership of the state party.

“I don’t think that I was selected necessarily because I had a great track record,” he said. “Hopefully nobody is expected to have a multitude of perfect seasons. There are going to be setbacks.”

He added that the results would make him a better state leader in one respect: he now had experienced first-hand what happens when voters are angry with elected officials.

He said he intended to relay that message to Democratic leaders in Albany.

“I assure you that, having suffered this loss … it gives me a certain measure of credibility in saying, ‘I have seen what happens when we have an angry electorate,’” he said. “We have to prepare for 2010 in ways that are going to ensure that we don’t see this kind of result again.”

Supporters of Andrew Cuomo also suggest that the attorney general and all-but-declared gubernatorial candidate may be one of the unintended beneficiaries of the Nassau Democrats’ losses, given that Jacobs is seen as a fierce ally of the governor.

“He’s clearly a Paterson guy,” said one Cuomo supporter.

Jacobs’ defeat in Nassau and the loss of his close ally, Suozzi, may make it easier for Cuomo’s operatives to push back against Jacobs. Some Democrats even speculated that Cuomo could re-elevate Jacobs’ predecessor, June O’Neill, who is now the party’s second-in-command. O’Neill is a confidant and supporter of Cuomo, and seen as sympathetic to his gubernatorial ambitions.

“She’s got strong ties to the Cuomos,” said one Democrat close to O’Neill, adding, “It’s only a stone’s throw to the election.”

Read the whole story: The Capitol

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