It was up to you, New York. And you blew it.
In one of the nation’s bluest states, Democrats lost an estimated five seats in the House of Representatives. NBC News has been predicting Republicans will win the House by four seats.
There’s a lot of blame to go around. Governor Kathy Hochul wound up defeating crime-baiting, Trump-hugging former GOP representative Lee Zeldin, but only by five points. Hochul lacked much of a visible ground game, and in winning, she had no coattails. In losing, Zeldin did.
Many Democrats blame party chair Jay Jacobs, an Andrew Cuomo holdover that Hochul should have replaced. The centrist Jacobs has cozied up to Republicans, spent party money challenging progressive Democrats in primaries, and refused to endorse the progressive Democratic victor, India Walton, in the primary for Buffalo mayor last year. More than 1,000 New York Democratic leaders, mostly on the left, have demanded that Hochul fire Jacobs; she insists she will not.
“I know that there are lots of people that think I’m the worst person in the world,” Jacobs said after the dimensions of the party’s losses were becoming clear. “But the truth is I’m probably only in third or fourth place.” He might be right; he has competition.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Sean Patrick Maloney has maybe come in for the worst criticism—including this piece by our own Alexis Grenell, and this one by Slate’s Alexander Sammon. Maloney chased popular first-term progressive Mondaire Jones out of his own district—to be fair, redistricting put both of them in the same district, but Jones had represented most of it. Instead of challenging the man who controlled the party’s coffers in a primary, Jones decamped to a Brooklyn/Lower Manhattan district where he didn’t live, and came in third.
I’m not saying Jones would have won that primary. I’m not saying Jones would have carried his new/old district that Maloney lost. (Maloney probably could have won the new district that contained most of his old one—Representative Pat Ryan did just that last Tuesday.) I am saying that Jones would have worked his ass off, would have had a ground game, and wouldn’t have drained money from other Democrats, as Maloney did, in a losing battle. Jones would not have spent time in October fundraising for the DCCC in Europe as polls showed him in political danger. Maloney has had the gall to depict himself as a brave general who led the party to an unexpectedly good showing last Tuesday but lost his political life on the field. Give me a break.
But you know who’s rarely mentioned as a Democrat partly to blame for the disaster? Former representative Tom Suozzi, who gave up his Long Island seat to run a lurid, sexist campaign against Hochul, depicting her as soft on crime as well as not quite up to the job. Suozzi lost that race, badly, and Democrats lost his House seat last week. He almost single-handedly validated the “New York is a hellhole of crime” attack that Zeldin went on to use against Hochul. It didn’t work on Hochul statewide, but it did work on Long Island and in Rockland County, where the House Democrats lost seats they probably could have won. Similar bogus crime attacks fell short in Michigan, California, and Pennsylvania, but somehow found their mark in the Empire State.
Someone who deserves blame too is New York’s Democratic mayor, the night-clubbing, crypto-boosting, ethics-rules-challenging Eric Adams. New York’s second Black mayor likewise took office blaming fellow Democrats for what did feel, for a while, like a scary post-pandemic wave of crime and disorder. He called on Democrats to scrap a bail reform law that made it easier for certain low-income nonviolent defendants to go home without onerous bail requirements; wealthier defendants were able to pay to go free before their trials. He criticized a fellow Black Democrat, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, before he’d effectively taken control of his office, creating the storyline that progressive bail reform plus a justice-minded district attorney made New York City a hellscape.
Then he authored an op-ed in USA Today Monday blaming Democrats for “ignoring [working people] who are deeply concerned about the economy, crime and inflation.” You can’t say Adams lacks chutzpah.
Speaking of chutzpah, all of those men are blaming New York progressives for the lost House seats, for pulling the party too far to the left. The truth is, the party lost seats in what were the hotbeds of white backlash in the 1960s, Long Island and Rockland County. (I know. I grew up in Nassau County.) They were afraid of dark Gotham—dark in many senses of the word. Social change and a diversifying population left more of them open to Democrats over the years. Now Democratic leaders like Adams and Suozzi have stoked that fear of dark Gotham again. Good work, guys. Your left-bashing won’t work. There’s too much evidence of your incompetence and fealty to the party’s centrist, moneyed donors for serious-minded people to believe your blame game.