Walton, a self-identified socialist, won the Democratic nomination for Buffalo mayor in June, in a victory over four-term incumbent Byron Brown. Brown has since launched a write-in campaign, and several top New York Democrats, including Jacobs and Gov. Kathy Hochul, have so far declined to endorse a candidate in the race.
In the interview with Spectrum News, Jacobs was asked what type of precedent it sets if he and other leading Democrats refrain from endorsing Walton, the winner of the primary. Jacobs responded that it is not necessary for state party chairs to endorse the primary winner, citing the white supremacist Duke as an example.
“Let’s take a scenario, very different, where David Duke — you remember him, the grand wizard of the KKK — he moves to New York, he becomes a Democrat, he runs for mayor in the city of Rochester, which is a low primary turnout, and he wins the Democratic line,” Jacobs said.
He continued: “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 leads you to that question: Is it a must? It’s not a must.”
Jacobs’s remarks prompted a wave of criticism from Democratic elected officials.
“The statement was totally unacceptable and the analogy used was outrageous and beyond absurd,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
New York Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou (D) called Jacobs’s remarks “embarrassing for our party.”
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D) called on 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,” Bowman said in a statement. “This is the malignant narcissism of far too many white men. Jay Jacobs needs to resign or be removed.”
Biaggi tweeted: “@JayJacobs28, what are you thinking? Comparing the endorsement of @Indiawaltonbflo to endorsing David Duke of the KKK is outrageously racist. You need to resign—today.”
As criticism mounted, the New York State Democratic Party sent a tweet Monday afternoon in which Jacobs defended his remarks and blamed those who found them offensive.
“This is what’s wrong with public discourse today — people want to find something to be unhappy about, so they twist statements, or ignore statements, to make their argument,” Jacobs said in the statement tweeted by the state party. “That doesn’t make them true. Read the full comments.”
The tweet included a screenshot of Jacobs’s initial remarks to Spectrum News, with sections underlined in red.
Walton weighed in, too, condemning Jacobs’s “ridiculous, outrageous, offensive comparison” in a Facebook post and declaring that she remains “undaunted, unafraid, fired up, and ready to go.”
“Let’s start with the obvious: I am a working class Black mother, a Registered Nurse, and non-profit executive,” Walton said. “I was duly nominated by Democratic voters who share my vision of a safe, healthy Buffalo, where everyone has housing, no one has lead poisoning, and City Hall isn’t raided by the FBI. What does it say about corporate Democrats that they can’t tell the difference between that and endorsing the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan?”
Walton added that she doesn’t “need the support of disconnected political functionaries who are more accountable to high dollar donors than to Democratic voters.”
Jacobs later issued a lengthy new statement in which he apologized but stood by his argument that “not every candidate who wins a primary is entitled, unquestionably, to the endorsement of all Party leaders or elected officials.”
“My statement today on the mayor’s race in Buffalo has obviously caused an uproar that I did not intend,” Jacobs said in the statement, which was first reported by NY1. He added: “Using an extreme example of David Duke winning a primary, to make a logical point — even with stating twice the specific qualification that India Walton, was in a different category — was wrong. I should have used a different example, and for that, I apologize.”
Jacobs also took a shot at his critics, arguing that the “problem with civil discourse today” is that “there are those less interested in the discussion and more interested in causing controversy.”
“My statement was to make a point — never to insult or hurt Ms. Walton. . . . I look forward to getting together with India Walton for lunch, no matter the outcome, after the election,” he said.
Walton’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Jacobs’s second statement Monday night.
Although Hochul has not endorsed in the race, she condemned Jacobs’s use of the Duke analogy.
“The comparison Jay Jacobs used was very disturbing and clearly unacceptable,” Hochul said, according to NY1. “India Walton deserves far better, and I’m glad that Jay has apologized.”