The political influence and prominence of Nassau County Legislator Judith Jacobs rose significantly when three of four Democrats in the Legislature, Jacobs included, elected her the new Minority Leader last Tuesday, March 16.
The 16th Legislative District representative, serving parts of Jericho and Syosset and all of her hometown Woodbury, will replace former Minority Leader Bruce Nyman, who departed to become the city manager of Long Beach. A special election will determine who will replace Nyman in his abandoned seat.
Jacobs has inherited what has been labeled a fractured political party whose power and legislative potency were already waning in Nassau long before the arrest and conviction of Democratic Party Chairperson Stephen Sabbeth. Pulling the party out of the murk of the Sabbeth debacle, and unifying the goals of the Democrats will likely be first tasks for Jacobs, who hopes that she is the first of a "complete new beginning in leadership."
Jacobs said the Sabbeth era must be cast aside, and that the Democratic party needs a new chairman and board of elections commissioner. "We need new, fresh faces to come in to create a feeling of confidence in both the people within the party and the general public out there," said Jacobs.
Even with only five members, organizing the Democrats into one powerful voice may be difficult, considering that they have the reputation of quibbling over their own district agendas. The most vocal source of inter-party conflict has been Legislator Roger Corbin of Westbury, who was also contending for Jacobs' new position.
Corbin was outraged when Jacobs informed him on Wednesday, March 17 that she had the support of Legislator Lisanne Altmann and Legislator Barbara Johnson. Corbin vehemently claimed that Jacobs' appointment was somehow a racially-motivated decision.
"They could not feel comfortable with an African-American leading the Democratic party on the minority side and as an American I feel very, very hurt," said Corbin
Jacobs disputed the assertion of Corbin, whom she called a longtime friend. "When I saw Roger on Wednesday, I told him that I felt very fortunate to have received the support of Barbara and Lisanne, and I was hoping that we could make it unanimous."
But that has not happened, and Corbin has not retracted his strong comments.
"Don't get me wrong, I don't blame Roger for being disappointed because I would have been disappointed too," said Jacobs. "But there was certainly no malicious intent."
"It's just who has the experience and the time to do the right job, and I had pointed out to everyone that I've had 30 years of leadership both in civic work and the Democratic party," Jacobs continued.
Altmann corroborated Jacobs' explanation, explaining her reason for backing Jacobs. "I think that because of her style she will unite parties here and hopefully we will be acting with force greater than our numbers."
After sealing rifts within her own party, Jacobs will presumably focus on offsetting partisan politics which, in the four-year history of the Legislature, have always proven advantageous to Republicans, who dominate the legislative body, holding 14 of the 19 seats.
"The actual condition this moment of the Democratic party...is so tenuous and so fleeting by the moment that I felt it was important that somebody be chosen who has, through the years, developed a respect on both sides," said Jacobs, "and certainly I think I've developed a healthy respect from the Republicans in the Legislature."
"The ace in the hole we always had was Bruce Nyman because of his years of experience and ability to deal with all the people in the county government...I just feel that he laid a foundation for us, a foundation of strength [and] because of his experience, the Republicans did not try to sweep us under a rug or anything."
"We certainly hope to build upon the foundation that Bruce Nyman started for us and retain our credibility by approaching things in a fair and equitable, intelligent, reliable and responsible manner."
Despite residing in a county with Republican voting trends, as well as the disorganized nature of her party, Jacobs believes that a turnaround, and a rapid one at that, is more than possible.
When running for the Legislature in 1995 and 1997, Jacobs held an advantage that many upstart Democrats do not have - prominence within the community. As an outspoken civic leader with the Woodbury Taxpayers Association for 30 years, Jacobs gained widespread respect from community members who viewed her as a guardian from unwanted development and unsafe roads. Most Democratic Legislature candidates, however, have struggled for publicity, and do not receive campaign funds or support from local Democratic party leaders. Jacobs said it is time to mold some serious candidates, and seriously publicize them.
Jacobs said that now is the ideal time to revitalize the invisible Democratic party and establish fresh-blood candidates because recent black eyes, such as the Nassau budget deficit and the health plan fiasco, seems to have dented some residents' confidence in Gulotta and fellow Republicans.
"I know that everyone I've spoken to is very much committed to seeing us go off in a direction that instills confidence in people in our ability to change our direction and become a viable party once again. We're come to realize that the Sabbeth days are over, and a new direction is imperative if we're to survive," said Jacobs.