Even with the state essentially closed down through May 15, it is a busy time in New York and national politics. WAMC News spoke with Jay Jacobs, chair of the New York State Democratic Committee, on Thursday.
This is Ian Pickus for WAMC. And joining us now is Jay Jacobs, the chair of the New York State Democratic Committee. Hi, Jay. Thanks for being with us.
It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
So this is a time when Governor Cuomo's profile is really at a national level during the coronavirus pandemic. What do you think he'll do with that?
Well, I mean, I think he's gonna do his job. I think that that's what's on his mind right now. I don't think he's got anything else in mind. I think as he said, he said himself, he's flattered by all of the attention. It's just, you know, this is who he is and who he has always been. It just so happens that, you know, now we're in a crisis and people are getting to see his style of leadership. And so it is catching attention, but I don't think he's planning to do anything with it other than get this job done, get us through this pandemic and get New York back to moving forward again.
You wrote an op-ed that originally ran in Newsday, and it got a bit of attention in the past few days. And I think, I want to be fair about the wording here, it kind of imagined a world where there's a Cuomo run in 2024, after his next reelection bid in 2022. And maybe made the case for it, at least on an intellectual level. So you buy it that when he says he wants to be governor, that's really where he's focused. You don't see him going into the cabinet or anything, assuming a Biden victory?
Yeah, I mean, he's been in the cabinet before you know, he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton. You know, he's done that. I think he loves the job he's in. I talked to him about it. I mean, I talked to him about his job. I have, you know, seen him in action. He just enjoys that job. He's a natural executive. So I don't see him going into the cabinet, per se. I don't know what position that would entice him to leave the job that he's got, frankly. But he'll be as helpful as he can be. And he understands how difficult a time this is and how important the moment is. So I think that you could say safely that he'll be helpful, but I don't think that he aspires to be in the cabinet.
I want to ask you a question about the state Democratic Party, because there's always rivalries within different factions. And he's been talking a lot about the way he felt that the federal delegation didn't get the state what it needed in the CARES Act, the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. We also just went through kind of a very unusual budget year in Albany, where Democrats control the Assembly, and the Senate, and the governor's mansion. So what's the state of the Democratic unity in New York right now?
Well, I think everybody's focused on solving the problem that's in front of us. So I think in that sense, we're all united. But you know, look, everybody approaches politics from a different vantage point, and with different priorities, and sometimes a different agenda. So there's always going to be, whether it's the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, it doesn't make a difference. There's always going to be these disagreements at times. And I don't think there’s anything wrong with that. You just have to have your disagreements and do so respectfully.
If Senator Schumer and Governor Cuomo aren't getting along great, is that bad for Democrats in New York?
Well, I mean, I think we're making an assertion because there's a disagreement over, you know, dollars to the state, that they're not getting along. I think that this was a disagreement, where the governor felt that, you know, we could have gotten more money in the last bill that came forward. I am sure that Senator Schumer understands that New York State needs more money. I am sure that behind the scenes, he is doing what he can to get us more money. I think sometimes in the negotiating process, knowing that you've got future bites of the apple, so to speak, meaning there'll be future bills coming down, that you have to be careful in your strategy as to what you push hard for now and what you’ll push hard for later. I have every confidence that Senator Schumer is going to be pulling for New York when the time comes. And I'm not privy to what his strategies are currently. But it's not easy. You don't get what you want, just because you want it in a divided Senate and House. So while I understand the governor's frustration, look, he has to put together a budget. He's got issues with, you know, Medicaid funding and things along those lines that make his job more difficult. And he's watching revenues drop while expenses are skyrocketing. Both for unemployment, and for, frankly, the cost of dealing with the coronavirus issue. So everybody's a little bit tense. Everybody needs what they need. They need it now. And I think we'll get to a point where everybody will be appropriately happy with one another in the party, getting done what we need to get done to the state,
Bad economies are typically bad for incumbents. So do you have any worries that the Democrats won't hold the State Senate this fall?
No, I don't think that any rational person would blame the state senators or the governor of the state of New York, for the worldwide pandemic and the results, that it's wrought economically here in the state. I think if anything, Donald Trump is going to have a tough time explaining how his late start, in spite of all of his nonsense that he spews every night at these press conferences, those positions he takes are absolutely ridiculous. The facts are the facts. He waited too long. He did too little. And we're in a mess and a great degree, because of his inaction. He could blame the World Health Organization. He can blame China. Last week he was thanking China. It changes every minute. That's really where I see a lot of voters holding a public official accountable. I think the president's got problems in November but the New York State Senate, I just don't see it.
Way back when, Trump was a big donor to New York Democrats. Do you two know each other?
I spoke to him once on the telephone. Back when I was a chair of the last time. I don't know him, I've never met him. He called on a matter that I was dealing with with him and you know, we had a very pleasant conversation. He was very nice on the phone back then; that we must be talking about. 2011 or 2012?
So right before it sort of picked up. Let me ask you some other sort of operational questions, Jay. There's a June primary currently scheduled. Now the governor, as we speak, has just extended the New York PAUSE to May 15. And at least on the presidential level, it's quite clear that Joe Biden is going to be the nominee for the Democratic Party. So do you think that presidential primary should go forward in some form in June?
Well, you know, I was taking a public position on this. And let's start with the fact that the law was passed when we passed the budget a couple of weeks ago. That gives the New York State Board of Elections, those commissioners, the ability to cancel the primary, if there is only one candidate running who has not suspended his or her campaign. Now we know that all of the other candidates aside from Joe Biden have suspended their presidential campaigns. So by law, the commissioners have the right to cancel this primary. It's unnecessary, just like the Republicans are not having a primary in New York. There's nobody challenging Donald Trump. You know, there's no need to have a Democratic primary under the circumstances. However, my position has been that since Bernie Sanders, when he withdrew from the campaign by suspending his campaign, stated specifically, that he would like his name left on state ballots moving forward because he wants to accumulate as many delegates as he can, so that he can have more strength to impact the party's platform. Given that he's made that statement, I don't think it would be appropriate for us to cancel the primary and upset his supporters, folks who are on the left of the far left, who do support him. I think that would be a mistake. Now, that being said, if Bernie Sanders were to make a statement that he does not see a need for the primary, and he would retract that last statement and say, “Look, I've suspended my campaign. I'm not going to be the nominee.
That being said, we've got a worldwide pandemic we're facing, particularly in New York. It’s been so difficult, and for the health and safety of election workers and voters alike, you can take my name off”, if he were to make that statement, which I think would be the right thing to do, then I would agree we could cancel the primary, which would mean even you know, there are local primaries, both congressional some congressional races and some state senate assembly races, and there a couple of special elections around the state, but about half of the state would not have a primary at all, and that would save tremendous resources. Save on volunteers and people to run the election and because you’re not having a presidential primary where voter turnout is magnified, your turnout will be a little bit more normal for a primary, a little lower. And that'll be easier to manage, you know, the absentee ballot situation, which is really quite cumbersome. It’s not going to be an easy system. And, you know, the early voting and the like. So, long story short, I favor eliminating the primary because it's unnecessary presidential primary, but only if Bernie Sanders agrees, as I think he should agree, that for the health and safety of election workers, and voters, it's just not necessary given that we have an outcome already determined.
Have you said that to him or his people?
I have not said so directly to him or his people. This is really something that's more national, meaning I've talked to the Biden campaign and made my views known. I've talked to the DNC, I've made my views known. But, you know, for me as the state Chair of New York to call up the Bernie Sanders campaign, I think I'm going to wait a little bit. We have ‘til May 9th to make that that final decision. So I'm going to wait a little bit and hopefully, they're coming to the same conclusion that I've outlined, you know, without me having to do so.
Governor Cuomo said on this station that it was a fair question to start thinking about the possibility of mail-in voting in November for the national general election. Meantime, President Trump said that that would be very bad for Republicans. He said you'd never have another Republican elected if mail-in voting was put into place. Presumably, that would extend the franchise to a lot of people who might not take the time to go vote in person in general. And the thinking is, that skews to the Democrats. Number one, do you think that is a good possibility that we'll have some sort of mail-in voting on a national scale in November and number two, does that help Democrats?
Well, I mean, I think that the more people that vote, the more people that tend to vote Democratic, just the way it is. That's why there's so much voter suppression as a policy. On the Republican side, you see it all over in the various states. I mean, that's not an opinion. That's a fact. People can get offended that I said it, it's the truth. You don't find Democrats in Democratically controlled states in any way trying to limit voters from voting. You do find Republican governors and state legislatures limiting voting, requiring different forms of ID, requiring purging voting records, stopping people from voting. Look at what happened in Georgia. But I can go state to state. Even Wisconsin was doing that. So, you know, I think as a rule, the more people who vote, the more people vote Democratic. I can understand how President Trump would not like that. And that's marvelous, but this is still a democracy. And the idea is, in theory, at least, everybody should want everybody who wants to vote. I mean, I don't know how you say that you believe in democracy if you don't believe in that.
I have a few national questions for you. Already, Joe Biden has said that, you know, they might have to look at some sort of virtual convention. Now, the conventions are usually the crowning moment for the party, you get to showcase the ticket. There's nights of speeches, and usually the other party plays nice during that week and gives the nominee a chance to make a case to the American people. If that's not going to be possible this year, how do you, the Biden campaign, as the New York State Democratic Party, how do you reach these people?
Well, first of all, I don't buy into the idea that by the end of August, we're not going to be a lot closer to normal. Let's remember something, we're living right now in the today. Today we had over 600 deaths in New York State reported the previous day. We have many, many new cases of the virus day after day. The numbers are high. Hospital beds, although diminishing, are still exceedingly high. And nobody is back at work. Everybody is hunkered down. Now we've got to wear masks when going out into public spaces where we can't have social distancing. Like in the subways in the like. This isn't normal. And the news media if you watch the news media, every station returned to its gloom and doom and gloom and doom forever. And that's I don't believe what's going to be. I think that ultimately, the numbers of new cases of the coronavirus are going to begin diminishing and they're going to begin diminishing dramatically. While we will always have to keep an eye out for a surge, a spike in those numbers, the fewer the people that are new cases, the fewer new cases there will be less hospitalization and the rest, the more world will go back to normal over time, businesses will reopen, people will get more comfortable going out. And so I believe that by the end of August, when the Democrats is supposed to meet August 17, actually middle of August, I think there's a fair chance, in fact a very, very good chance that people will be a lot more comfortable doing that. If it's not so, if that rosier projection that I've given, doesn't turn out the way that I hope, and others hope, I'm sure, then we're going to have to look at doing what we can, under the circumstances. And you know what, we'll have to figure out how we get the message out to the public and maybe we'll have to do something that hasn't been done before, in terms of making for a virtual convention in some fashion in some form. It's not gonna be the same. But, you know, a lot is not going to be the same and it won’t be the same for the Republicans either. I would suspect.
Joe Biden pledged to pick a woman to join the ticket. Several people have endorsed him this week. Do you have any favorites?
I mean, for the vice presidency, I really don't know. I think there are a lot of great potential VP candidates out there. And from my own point of view, I just as soon wait for the vetting process to take place. I could be happy with quite a number of them.
How confident are you right now that Joe Biden will win this race?
Well, I'm never confident. Listen, I was really very, very confident that Hillary Clinton would be president.
That's why I asked.
And this would be a real different world today had she been the president. But, you know, that's just the way things go. So my confidence, I think that was undermined four years ago or three and a half years ago. And I don’t know that I will never, ever get it back. But I would say to you this; if we can make the case that this President is incompetent, and frankly, he's incompetent, that this President is a liar. And that's what he is. And I'm sorry to be so harsh, but there's no other way to define that behavior. He's a liar. And that this President, frankly, has disrespected the office, and whether it's impeachable or not, impeachable is irrelevant. He's disrespected the office and he does not represent the character of the American people. If we can make that case, and we can make the case that Joe Biden is a decent man with the ability to serve as president. You know, all this nonsense about his mental incapacity, you know, that the Republicans are trying to spew is just, just garbage. I know Joe Biden, and believe me, Joe Biden's got it together and knows how to run a government and he's got the experience and on top of which he's got the decency to do it right and bring in the right people. And if we can make that case to the public, I have every confidence that the American people will elect him. You know, I go back to Churchill. Churchill said, and I'll paraphrase it, you know, the American people, ultimately, always do the right thing after they've exhausted every other possibility. Well, over the last election, they certainly gave another possibility. And I think we're all exhausted. So I'm hoping that we go and elect Joe Biden in 2016. I'm gonna work as hard as I can. In 2020. I'm sorry. I'm gonna work as hard as I can to see to it that we do it.
Last thing. This week, President Obama reemerged. He's been staying out of politics a lot — to endorse Biden. Obviously Democrats love President Obama and Republicans, especially President Trump's base, do not. Is it possible that it could backfire to have President Obama back out on the trail this way?
Well, you know, there's always there. They're always people, no matter who the political figure is, you could say the same back when it was President Clinton there. No matter who it is, you're always gonna find the people who are the haters and those who dislike. Those are folks who aren't voting for Joe Biden anyway. Let's, you know, let's look at Barack Obama. I mean, I'll stand Barack Obama next to Donald Trump any day, anytime, anywhere. And you see someone who's got class and dignity, gave honor to the office of the presidency, did the best that he could in a decent fashion. And, you know, the comparison isn't even a fair one with President Trump. It's just, it defies any anyone's sense of normalcy and decency as it relates to the presidency. To compare the two of them and say, and say that they're on equal footing. You know, so those that, that hate Barack Obama are probably the ones that thought he wasn't born in the United States and bought into, you know, the birther nonsense that Trump was trying to sell, you know, before he became president and all this other garbage. Well, you know, something, I don't care, I'll take my chances. The voice of Barack Obama resonates with the American people. I mean, he touches a chord, people believe in him. And I think that he'll do more to motivate our base to come out and vote for Joe Biden than the harm that will be caused by any extra vote anywhere that wouldn't have come out, otherwise, coming out to vote for Donald Trump.
That's Jay Jacobs. He's the chair of the New York State Democratic Committee. It's a weird time, Jay. Thank you so much for taking some time for us.
And thank you for having me.