NEW YORK (AP) — The chairman of the New York Democrats is facing condemnation and calls to resign from members of his own party after he invoked the Ku Klux Klan and its former leader while explaining why he didn’t endorse a New York Democratic mayoral candidate.
State Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs, who is white, apologized Monday evening for his comments about why he did not endorse India Walton, a Black woman and socialist community activist who is the Democratic nominee for Buffalo mayor.
“My statement today on the mayor’s race in Buffalo has obviously caused an uproar that I did not intend,” Jacobs said in a statement released by the party.
Walton’s campaign spokesperson Jesse Myerson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Jacobs told a reporter earlier Monday that it’s not a requirement for the chair to endorse the Democratic nominee and suggested a hypothetical, “very different” scenario in which former KKK leader David Duke moves to New York, becomes a Democrat and runs for the mayor of Rochester.
“I have to endorse David Duke? I don’t think so. Now, of course, India Walton is not in the same category but it just, it just leads you to that question — is it a must? It’s not a must,” Jacobs said. “It’s something you choose to do. That’s why it’s an endorsement.”
Jacobs said in his statement apologizing hours later that he was “using an extreme example” but it was wrong.
“I should have used a different example, and for that, I apologize,” he said.
Jacobs said he stood by his point that party leaders do not have to endorse every member of their party.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other Democrats condemned the remarks. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Rep. Jamal Bowman and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi — Democrats who represent parts of Queens, the Bronx and Westchester County — issued statements calling for Jacobs to resign.
“It’s insane to equate India Walton, a Black woman, with David Duke, someone who supports the legacy of lynching Black people and the rape of Black women. This is the malignant narcissism of far too many white men. Jay Jacobs needs to resign or be removed,” Bowman said.
Hochul described Jacobs’ comments as disturbing and hurtful but stopped short of calling for his resignation.
“I have asked that he apologize. I believe he has apologized. And I’m willing to just assess the situation going forward,” the governor said during a media briefing Tuesday.
Biaggi, in a Tweet, said Jacobs should step down, calling his statement “outrageously racist.”
The state Democratic Party did not respond to messages Tuesday seeking a response to the calls for Jacobs’ resignation.
Walton in June defeated the four-term mayor of Buffalo in a Democratic primary, putting her in a position to potentially become the first woman to lead Buffalo, New York’s second-largest city. Mayor Byron Brown has remained in the race with a vigorous write-in campaign.
Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.