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Dems May Lose House Because Party’s NY Leaders Focused on Defeating the Left

Critics say the chair of the state’s Democratic Committee laid the ground for major Democratic losses in the midterms.

The balance of power in Congress is still up in the air two days after Tuesday’s midterm elections, and control of the Senate now rests on three states: Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. Meanwhile, Republicans have not yet won enough House seats to regain the majority, though there are still over 30 House races not yet decided. Many analysts say if Democrats lose control of the House, it may largely be because of New York state, where Republicans have flipped four congressional seats. Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party, says the “low-participation, low-energy election” was the result of the Democrats’ “failed strategies at the state level.” And Zohran Mamdani, New York state assemblymember for District 36, explains how GOP-favored redistricting, which he pins on Democratic leadership, “may be part of the reason why we do not hold the House.” Both Nnaemeka and Mamdani are part of a growing coalition calling for the resignation of Jay Jacobs, chair of the state’s Democratic Committee, who they say laid the ground for major Democratic losses to the GOP in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The balance of power in Congress remains in play two days after the midterm elections. Control of the U.S. Senate rests in the hands of three states: Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. If the Democrats win two of the states, they’ll keep control of the Senate. Meanwhile, Republicans have not yet won enough House seats to regain the majority. There are still over 30 House races not yet decided. On Wednesday, President Biden held a news conference at the White House about the midterm results.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: While the press and the pundits are predicting a giant red wave, it didn’t happen. … Democrats had a strong night, and we lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any Democratic president’s first midterm election in the last 40 years. And we had the best midterm for governors since 1986.

AMY GOODMAN: Many analysts say if Democrats lose control of the House, it may largely be because of New York state, where Republicans have flipped four congressional seats.

Democratic Congressmember Sean Patrick Maloney suffered one of the most shocking losses Tuesday. He’s the chair of the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. According to the Cook Political Report, Maloney is the first sitting House campaign committee chair to lose a race in 30 years.

Meanwhile, in the New York governor’s race, Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican-backed Lee Zeldin, but by just over five percentage points. Two years ago, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in New York by 22 percentage points.

On Wednesday, New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for the resignation of Jay Jacobs. He’s the chair of the New York State Democratic Committee.

To look more at what happened in New York and what it could mean for the country, we’re joined by two guests. Zohran Mamdani is a New York state assemblymember. And Sochie Nnaemeka is director of the New York Working Families Party.

Zohran Mamdani, I wanted to begin with you. If you can help to explain what took place in New York? It wasn’t just random that Democrats lost four major House seats, which could determine the balance of the House of Representatives. If you can talk about why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, yourself, as well, have demanded the resignation of the head of the Democratic Party of New York, and what this has to do with a ballot initiative and redistricting in New York, one of the most byzantine states for rules around elections and voting?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER ZOHRAN MAMDANI: Absolutely. Well, I think on Tuesday what we saw was an illustration of just how broken our state party machinery is, and that is across the entirety of the state.

Last November, we had a ballot measure which, if passed, would have ensured that we could have had a more favorable map for Democratic congressional races going into this election. And that ballot measure was opposed by the state Republican Party to the tune of $3 million and an entire statewide tour. Yet, meanwhile, the Democratic Party, headed by Jay Jacobs, spent zero dollars on supporting that ballot measure. And as is no surprise to any of us because of the disparity in spending and effort, that ballot measure lost. And the loss of that ballot measure was then used as a pretext in the court cases that occurred afterwards to ensure that we had state-drawn maps, maps which were then far more favorable to Republicans, and maps which may be part of the reason why we do not hold the House.

So, all of that, from both November into this moment right here, has illustrated that our state party is simply not up to the job. The state party chairman, Jay Jacobs, is not the man to lead it, or the person, rather. He has, instead, been far more focused on defeating the left than defeating the right. He spent $7,500 to beat one of my colleagues, Jabari Brisport, who was running for reelection in a primary, which is 75 more hundred dollars than he ever spent on passing that referendum, which could have ensured that Joe Biden would have had control over the entirety of Congress to pass a Democratic agenda over the next two years.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Zohran, could you explain — when you say what happened last November with the ballot measure, explain why it’s so important, redistricting and state-drawn maps.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER ZOHRAN MAMDANI: Absolutely. So, every 10 years with the census, the state has to redistrict all of its districts, from the local to the congressional level. And there was a ballot measure which stated that if the Independent Redistricting Commission, a commission that had been created by Governor Cuomo, which had the same number of Democrats and Republicans — if that commission could not agree on a set of maps, then a simple majority of the Legislature would suffice in creating new maps. And as we know, whenever you create a commission with the same number of Democrats and Republicans, with the stakes as high as redistricting, there is a very low likelihood of them agreeing on any one set of maps. So we knew that it was going to come to the Legislature. And if this referendum had been passed, then it would have ensured that the Legislature had a clear mandate from New Yorkers to redraw those maps.

The Legislature — the referendum did not pass. The Legislature drew its own maps. And then the Republicans sued those maps in court. And the highest court, the judges specifically who were appointed by Andrew Cuomo, sided with the Republicans and used this referendum as part of the justification for why those new maps had to be thrown out. And as a consequence, they ordered a special master, which is a title of an individual who drew new maps for the state of New York, to draw these maps. And many of these maps ended up being far more favorable to Republicans than the ones that would have been passed had we passed that referendum.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you had people like Carolyn Maloney, these congressional stalwarts, the OG, the old guard, versus Jerrold Nadler. They have always been colleagues, for decades, in the House. I wanted to go to AOC’s tweet, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: ”NYS Dem party leadership, which was gutted under Cuomo, stuffed with lobbyists, works to boost GOP, and failed to pass a basic state ballot measure to protect NY redistricting, must be accountable. I called for Jay Jacob’s resignation a year ago and I still hold that position.”

Let’s put this question to Sochie Nnaemeka, who is the director of the New York Working Families Party. For people to understand in other states, that’s a line on the ballot you could vote for. For example, if you wanted to vote for Governor Hochul again, you could vote for her on the Democratic line, or you could vote for her on the Working Families line. Sochie Nnaemeka, if you can address what AOC is pointing to, the legacy of Andrew Cuomo, and big money donors and lobbyists who still control the Democratic Party of New York?

SOCHIE NNAEMEKA: Absolutely. Good morning, Amy.

What we saw was just a series of failures and failed strategies at the state level that really resulted in an election that did not have to be this close. Assemblymember Mamdani talked about the first kind of origin story of Cuomo’s failed districting initiative, Sean Patrick Maloney then jumping into a district south of him, pushing out Mondaire Jones, Democratic incumbents, retirements, and so on and so forth. We just saw a cascading series of crises that led to a low-participation, low-energy general election, a failed infrastructure ability to reach out to voters, especially young voters and voters of color in New York City by the state party.

And ultimately, if the top of the ticket is not performing at a high level, it is impossible for us to imagine a surge or a wave at the down-ballot level. And so we’re seeing Republicans really taking seats across Long Island, holding on to seats in upstate New York. There is a failed strategy [inaudible] the Democratic Party. And for us, we think it’s a crisis of democracy, because unless you’re actually engaging, recruiting, activating and speaking to young voters, to voters of color, to voters in the city, you’re leaving it up to the consultants and the airwaves to battle for the hearts and minds of working people. That’s a failed strategy. And now the Democratic Party really has to rethink what kind of party that they want to lead.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Sochie, what about victories for the Working Families Party outside of New York state?

SOCHIE NNAEMEKA: What we did see is, in many states — we look at Pennsylvania, Summer Lee, who held on to her seat despite the influx, the kind of negative ads, the intense dark money that was spent against her. We saw that money also being used in the primary. And we see that in New York state, as Zohran referenced to — right? — the kind of tacit collusion between establishment Democrats and dark money to push out progressives, and then a lack of strategy at the general election. Delia Ramirez is going to win in the Illinois races. So, there is some energy across the United States.

Unfortunately, in New York state, Democrats did not follow the same playbook that Joe Biden did, for example, that talk about big initiatives — commutations and pardons of federal offenses around marijuana, student debt initiatives. We need big, bold ideas. And in the absence of that, we just saw this relentless, rabid stream of Republican fearmongering.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll be joined by Delia Ramirez tomorrow, the congressmember-elect from Illinois. She’s the first Latina congresswoman to represent Illinois, congresswoman-elect. Sochie, on that issue of the Working Party line, how many more votes did you get this time, and what does that mean? So what if you vote for a Democrat on the Democratic Party line or on the Working Families line? What kind of power does that give you?

SOCHIE NNAEMEKA: Well, progressives across the state really stepped up to defeat the far right. We knew what was on the line. We knew what was at stake with an extremist like Lee Zeldin. And so, what we were telling voters is that you can work to defeat the far right, and you can put forward an affirmative vision of the New York state that you want.

In the absence of that messaging from Democrats, we were telling New Yorkers, in particular young people, people of color, immigrants, those who the Democratic Party are maybe not chasing their votes, if you want universal healthcare in New York, if you want universal child care, if you believe that we should make the wealthy pay their fair share and pay what they owe in taxes, vote on the Working Families Party line to deliver that mandate. We see Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez saying that, in particular, that Democrats need working people’s backs to deliver on those big initiatives. Otherwise, the Democratic Party is beholden to corporate interests, to big donors, to consultants. And we have to use our party line to deliver that mandate.

We had over 280,000 or so New Yorkers who chose to vote on the Working Families line to deliver that clear message. That is basically the margin of difference between Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin in this election. And so, we know that New Yorkers, that these ideas are incredibly — are popular with New Yorkers. And now we expect our partners in state government to heed that and to deliver a real working people’s agenda come January.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Zohran, could you talk a little bit about what you think is likely to happen, and also the base of support for Jay Jacobs, who you and, as we mentioned, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are calling to resign?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER ZOHRAN MAMDANI: Yes. I think, you know, first, to be clear, the constituency of calls for resignation has grown, to the extent that a number of my colleagues have been calling for that for many months, and some have also joined recently. I’m thinking of Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas, Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher, state Senator Jabari Brisport, state Senator Julia Salazar. The list kind of goes on and on, because so many people have seen that in terms of the vision that we have for the Democratic Party, a party that reflects the state that it is supposed to lead, there is this disconnect. And the disconnect boils down to the leadership of one person, Jay Jacobs, who last year compared the Democratic nominee for the Buffalo mayor’s race, India Walton, to the head of the KKK and faced no consequences for doing so, continued to keep his position.

You know, I think what yesterday has shown us is very much what Sochie was saying. You can only get so far presenting a negative version of the Republican vision. We can only get so far telling people that “Vote to defeat Lee Zeldin.” We need to have an affirmative vision. The Working Families Party has laid out what that vision could look like, and now the Democratic Party needs to do so, as well.

And when I think about that, I think particularly about two issues: housing and the climate crisis. Right? More than 75% of New Yorkers across the state are concerned about rising rents, and more than 67% believe that we need to pass good cause eviction as a means by which to keep those rents under control. And so, yesterday — two days ago, rather, when I was at the poll sites handing out literature, I was also talking to people about housing, because in my neighborhood, rents have skyrocketed. In Manhattan, the median rent is now over $4,000. We’re looking at a higher rent increase of 30% from last year to this year. So these are the issues that the state needs to deliver on when we get back to Albany in January. We need to pass good cause eviction. We need to pass the the Housing Access Voucher Program, because then we could have done something that we can point to when we come back to voters and say, “We see the rising costs in your life, and we’re taking action on doing so.”

And the second issue is the climate crisis. Right? More than 68% of New Yorkers on Tuesday voted for the Environmental Bond Act. Sixty-eight percent of New Yorkers voted for the state to spend more than $4.2 billion on remedying the costs of climate change on a wide variety of issues. And that shows that there is a constituency broader than either party that wants the state to take action on the climate crisis. And so, when we get back to Albany, we have to heed that call, pass the Build Public Renewables Act, ensure that we have a greener energy grid, one that is giving out cut-price electricity to working-class New Yorkers and taking advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act that was passed in Washington, D.C.

AMY GOODMAN: Zohran Mamdani, we want to thank you very much for being with us, New York state assemblymember, and Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party.

Coming up, we look at what the midterms mean for the movement to reform the criminal justice system. A lot was made of the Republican framing of the issues in this election, particularly around crime. But when it came to who was elected, it’s very interesting to see the trend to more progressive criminal justice solutions. Stay with us.