New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs can file this election cycle under the heading of “Be Careful What You Wish For.” When his ticket was punched to move up the ladder of Democratic leaders in the state before the last election, the world he was leaving behind in Nassau County was fairly stable. Then Tom Suozzi, the horse Jacobs rode in on to become the local leader, was summarily dismissed and the Nassau Democratic machine came to a screeching halt. The rest of the state, as it turned out, wasn’t far behind.
With the Nassau stronghold severely crippled, Jacobs walked into even greater chaos with the state Democrats eating their young and staging leadership coups left and right. He went from managing the follies of Roger Corbin to dealing with scandals involving Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate. Moreover he found himself defending Kirsten Gillibrand’s appointment after the Caroline Kennedy debacle and the plummeting numbers of a sitting governor who was never elected.
Oh, and then there’s the matter of a national backlash against sitting Democrats everywhere. Whew. It’s times like these that probably make Jacobs wish he could enroll in one of his own sleep-away camps and disappear for what looks to be a miserable summer.
His biggest challenge will undoubtedly be the gubernatorial race this fall. That is to say that Sen. Chuck Schumer is as much of a lock as any incumbent could be. That is not to say, however, that Republican Bruce Blakeman couldn’t pull off an upset against Gillibrand when no one is looking. And of course that’s also assuming that Harold Ford doesn’t throw the junior Senate seat into a complete circus for the Dems in the primary as well. The only absolute situation is the conundrum that Jacobs finds himself in while tethered to an unpopular incumbent governor who refuses to throw in the towel.
Regardless of your opinion of Gov. David Paterson, it’s fairly clear that the Democratic establishment from President Obama down clearly wishes he would step aside and allow Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to assume the mantel of Democratic candidate for governor. If Paterson stepped down it frees up Jacob’s chess board significantly. Not only would it allow him to run Cuomo for governor and access his vaunted legacy and war chest, but he could then tap into his home town stable and run Kathleen Rice for attorney general. But Cuomo can ill afford to be viewed as the repeat-offender white candidate looking to supplant the favored African-American candidate. He is still smarting from the primary against then-Comptroller Carl McCall, the African-American candidate for governor in 2002.
For his part, Cuomo has opted for complete radio silence, thereby allowing Paterson the space to implode on his own. The problem is that Paterson appears to only be emboldened as support from inside his own party continues to rapidly wane. Given the political lifetime that exists between now and the election in November, the ironic position of the outsider-incumbent could theoretically work in Paterson’s favor. More than ever, the Democratic Party under Jacobs requires a Herculean effort to negotiate a united transitional front in this upcoming election. Yet with every passing day this seems less likely to happen.
Economic conditions in New York State would need to be rebounding heartily coming out of the summer months to quell the voter discontent exhibited this past November and in special elections throughout the country since that time. Voter turnout will be mission critical on both sides, which proved to be a weakness for the Democrats under Jacobs in the last cycle. While no one questions his political acumen and fundraising prowess, the mess that is New York may be entirely too deep for Jacobs to escape unscathed in 2010. Regardless of the political moves Jacobs may want to make this summer to cement his candidate list, Paterson is in control of the board right now. And that means by August we may indeed be peeking under the bunks at Timber Lake Camp to find Jay Jacobs.