Nassau County Democratic Committee Spring Dinner Feeds Party Faithful

Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, at podium, at the dinner. From left: Nassau County Legislators Ellen Birnbaum and Debra Mulé, who sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” District Attorney Madeline Singas, County Executive Laura Curran, Jacobs, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Town of Hempstead Clerk Sylvia Cabana.

The Republicans in the audience—and they were there—might have cringed to hear some of the things being said about their party.

It was not surprising, as this was the Nassau County Democratic Committee Spring Dinner, and feeding the party faithful some rhetorical red meat was on the menu.

Town of Oyster Bay Councilman Anthony Macagnone, representing Carpenters Local 290 at the affair, is a lifelong Republican. Asked the next day about the jabs against the GOP, he shrugged them off; his union position was non-partisan, and the attacks were part of the rough and tumble of American politics.

More than 1,200 people attended the dinner, recently held at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. Attendees raised about $650,000 for the upcoming election season.

Mingling and posing after the dinner were, from left: Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Max Robbins and Avalon Fenster of Next Generation Politics, and Julia Fenster, Avalon’s mom.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was slated to deliver the keynote in person—but budget negotiations forced him to stay in Albany. Thanks to the satellite link and two-way video, he spoke live from the capitol, and could pick out individual people to acknowledge.

He even chided state senators Todd Kaminsky (Long Beach) and John Brooks (Seaford), “who must have snuck out of Albany to be with you tonight.”

Cuomo joshed, “You better hope I don’t call a [budget] vote for tonight, senators, or you’ll be in trouble.”

Wind At Their Backs

The Democrats were feeling confident after a string of election victories across the nation, and were looking ahead to this November’s contests. Traditionally, the president’s party loses Congressional seats in the midterms.

After Thomas Garry, the party’s vice-chair, introduced the long list of elected officials in attendance, he turned the mic over to Howard Fensterman, an attorney active in party politics.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told the crowd that she liked her job so far.

Fensterman named the many union officials in the room, adding, “There’s no success in the Democratic Party without our friends in labor.”

Fensterman then introduced Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs, noting that he was the party’s longest serving head, having taken over in October 2001.

He credited Jacobs’ “vision, intelligence and tenacious personality” with the party’s electoral success.

Sitting at the table with the chairman were two women who had made electoral history last November: Laura Curran, the first woman county executive, and Laura Gillen, the first Democrat in more than 100 years to lead the Town of Hempstead. Fensterman also pointed out, at the same table, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who ran a successful re-election campaign in November.

The Chairman Speaks

After giving a shout-out to his wife Mindy, Jacobs related that he gets to speak to a lot of people, and most tell him they are upset with today’s toxic political atmosphere.

Chairman Jay Jacobs rallied the troops and hoped for an end to the politics of division.

“They say it has gotten meaner and nastier than it’s ever been before,” Jacobs said. “And what I try to tell them is what I’ll tell you here tonight—political discourse in America has been tough and mean since the time of George Washington.”

Revered figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt were subject, during their presidencies, to vicious attacks on their character and policies.

Jacobs quoted the historian David McCullough: “American history teaches us that character counts. Character above all.”

He added, “That is true for the men and women that we elect to represent and lead us, and it’s true for our nation and our people as a whole.”

Jacobs saw the upcoming election as having great stakes, noting that too many Americans have been suffering from he what he called “an infection of the spirit, of doubt and of disappointment.”

He blamed the great transition caused by terrorism and globalism and the rise of social media and demise of trust in traditional institutions.

The Nassau County Police Emerald Society Pipe Band entertained the crowd of 1,200 at the dinner.

“It has given rise to a sense of fear and pessimism and the Age of Trump, and a new American tribalism that is threatening our very existence,” Jacobs warned. “It is an infection exacerbated by attacks on our domestic institutions and our free press.”

He added that the great national problems would not be solved if people could not agree on the facts, if disdain and disrespect colored the political discourse, and Democrats and Republicans hated each other.

“We have allowed our division to cloud our vision,” Jacobs stated. “We need to be reminded who we are, where we have been, and what we have endured as a nation.”

He quoted the words of French historian Alexis De Tocqueville, “America is great because she is good. If she ceases to be good, she’ll cease to be great.”

Regarding the upcoming election, he observed that “we need to answer fear with hope, pessimism with optimism, and we need to restore faith in our democratic institutions and renew the American dream for all Americans—no matter where they come from and how they got here (applause). No matter what they look like or what they believe. No matter what part of the country they may reside.”

He concluded, “That is what is at stake in this election, and I know we can count on the people in this room as we have counted on you so many times before to do your part here on Long Island. And to lead America with hope and optimism toward a future all of us can be proud of.”

Jay Jacobs, in foreground, listens as Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks via a two-way video link. Cuomo had to skip the dinner to stay in Albany and preside over last-minute budget negotiations.

Governor in Fighting Mood

Jacobs then introduced the governor—running for a third term this November—as someone “who gets things done,” mentioning as examples the new Tappan Zee Bridge and the massive renovations at LaGuardia Airport.

Cuomo, Jacobs praised, was a successful progressive leader with a great mind and heart.

The governor returned the praise and thanked Jacobs for mentioning such distinguished state governors as Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt and Al Smith.

“New York always stepped up at times of crisis,” Cuomo said, “and this is a time of crisis in our nation and it’s up to New York State to step up.”

Cuomo singled out several elected officials, including the “two Lauras,” as well as new Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman.

“I think Jack and I built that boardwalk in Long Beach one board at a time,” the governor joked, referring to the structure destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. “But it’s going to last for the next 100 years.”

Cuomo declared that, “our political celebration is justified. We have a lot to be grateful for. A lot of progress has been made. We also have a lot to celebrate in government accomplishments in Nassau and Suffolk.”

He added, “Government is a means to an end. We run for office…so we can do good things and make life better for people.”

Cuomo boasted of what his administration had accomplished on Long Island: spending billions to prepare the Long Island Rail Road for the next century, lowering unemployment and giving priority to the environment and, especially, keeping the water supply safe. He noted the impending $150 million effort to contain the Grumman-Navy Plume so no more water supplies would be contaminated.

Cuomo said the state was the most progressive in the nation, in deed, not just words: the first to raise the minimum wage to $15, the best family leave plan in the country, marriage equality years before the Supreme Court ruling, closing more prisons than any previous administration and introducing alternatives to incarceration.

Still on the to-do list: “We want to pass the most aggressive anti-sexual harassment program in the country,” he said to applause.

“You celebrate tonight. You deserve it. Have a glass of good Long Island wine on me,” the governor said. “But then get some rest. Because we have to begin to get ready for November. It’s going to be a big fight.”

Cuomo went on to accuse Republicans of “savaging our state. And they are repugnant to the values we hold dear. They passed a federal tax bill that eliminates the deductibility of state and local taxes. It’s devastating to our economy and to the home values on Long Island, where we have one of the highest property taxes in the country.”

He criticized the Republicans for proposing to allow offshore drilling off the coast of Long Island—as opposed to the wind turbine farm his administration is proposing.

Of the president, Cuomo said, “We should not give him one dollar for his wall…and we should remind him that he never delivered on the infrastructure program so we can actually build bridges. Because that’s what we’re about—building bridges, while he’s trying to build the wall.”

Cuomo contrasted the two parties, stating that Democrats were for inclusion, not division; for helping all, and not just the rich; for believing in equality for all, while the GOP routinely disrespected women, minorities and the LBGT community.

“We must end the scourge of this administration,” he summed up. “And this November we’re going to lead the way. We’re going to elect a real Democratic [state] Senate majority. We’re going to challenge every Republican congressperson in this state—and I believe there is no seat that we cannot win. The opposition to the federal government is growing daily, and the blue wave that’s building has not begun to crest. The momentum is with us. The wind is at our back.”

Cuomo urged the party activists to organize and work harder than they ever had before.

This November, he promised, he would be on Long Island to celebrate what he hopes will be a great victory, one that “will help reclaim our state and our nation.”

Laura In Limelight

Jacobs brought the crowd back to last Election Day, “when it was plain to see that it was going to be ‘Ladies Night’ in Nassau County.” He introduced Curran as “someone I know will be a transformative county executive.”

“It was really good to hear the governor, and he’s given me some good advice so far in my short tenure,” Curran remarked. “I was up at the State of the State and [Cuomo] looked out over the audience and said, ‘Hats and gloves, Curran. Hats and gloves.’ I guess he was a very good prognosticator, because who knew we would get four Nor’easters in three weeks? Good advice, so I took it.”

Curran said she likes her job a lot, despite the many headaches and problems she faces.

“We’ve got a fiscal crisis in Nassau County, and we can’t pretend that we don’t,” Curran stated, and went on to say that upon taking office she was presented with $18 million in cuts mandated by the oversight Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), as well as a $45 million judgment.

“Plus, we had two months to get a balanced budget to NIFA,” she continued. “Guess what? We handled it. We got it done. And we got it done without sacrificing our priorities.”

As an example, she cited restoring to the youth programs the 25 percent that had been cut from the budget by the previous administration.

“We’re making sure that every kid has a fair shot to be a productive and happy member of the middle class,” she said. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but standing up for the middle class also means winning elections. Today, we’re entitled to a little extra pride being Democrats.”

She also gave a warm welcome to the Republicans in the room, but could not help wondering what their party stands for, “now that Republicans have been hijacked by conservatives, and conservatives have been hijacked by Trump.”

To her fellow Democrats she said, “This is our time,” going on to praise the governor and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, sitting a few feet away.

Cuomo, she said, “has a clear vision of what our party can do to create good jobs and good wages for all New Yorkers. He’s ahead of the curve in protecting the environment. And he understands the importance of organized labor in building our infrastructure and building our middle class.”

Curran called the governor a great champion for Long Island, “always here when we need him, and we need him now. And we need you, more than ever, to help us accomplish our goals, and to continue to stand up for all the people of Nassau County.”

Jacobs took the mic for the last time and simply said, “Enjoy the rest of the evening—and let’s go out there and win in November.”

Youth Movement

Jacobs exchanged business cards with Avalon Fenster as attendees milled around after the dinner. Fenster is the director of diversity for Next-Generation Politics, a non-partisan organization that aims to “foster enthusiasm and activism for our members’ country’s political processes and governments and to promote a culture of collaboration and bipartisanship within Generation Z.”

“We have thousands of young people who want to get involved,” Fenster told Jacobs after observing, “This has been an amazing meeting.”

“Keep plugging, OK?” Jacobs urged Fenster.

Anton Media Group asked Jacobs, “What are your thoughts about all this youth activism and marches?”

“I’m very excited about it,” he replied. “Sometimes, when you get to a position and a stage in life like I am, you get in a state of mind like, ‘Who’s going to do this when I’m gone? It can’t possibly be.’ But you know what? The next generation coming up is going to be better.”

Quizzing The Pols

Anton Media Group spoke to Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran following the dinner.


Q: Are you scared of overconfidence on the part of the Democrats? There’s been a wave of victories, but it’s a long way until November. The economy might still be doing well and people will say, “You know, maybe ‘The Donald’ knows what he’s doing and there’s no need for change.”

A: I don’t ever want to say that I’m overconfident. We shouldn’t be. But I have tremendous faith in the intelligence and fairness and decency of the American people. And I think that [those factors] will come into play. {Tonight] I used Winston Churchill’s line that “America will always do the right thing—after exhausting every other possibility.” Well, we’ve exhausted every other possibility, and it’s time now. And I think we will [prevail].

Q: Since last November, has the needle moved in terms of fundraising and volunteering?

A: There has been a tremendous uptick. Since we won in November, and people see that Democrats can actually win elections again and again, there’s been enthusiasm. I think all people—and not just Democrats—all reasonable people do not like what’s going on in Washington. I think it’s more than the policies, which we can argue about. This is a moral issue. And when you have a president who is treating the presidency and the government the way he’s doing, there’s a lot of people who are not happy about it. And that’s going to benefit Democrats who are running against Republicans in [November].

Q: Do you see any obstacles in Governor Cuomo’s re-election bid? His opponents are obviously going to make corruption an issue. Do you think he’s strong enough to stand on his record?

A: I think his record is solid. His record is a good one. I don’t think there’s a real vulnerability. He’s going to navigate through the primary challenge (from actress Cynthia Nixon), which will be delicate. He has to do it in a way that’s not offensive, and embrace the progressives that for whatever reason have not embraced him. And then he’s got to move on to the general election and simply articulate a vision, which he has had. And which demonstrates to the voting public why he’s the right person for the job. That should be easy for him because he’s done so many things. I referred to him tonight as the “get-it-done governor.”


Q: What do you see as minefields as the governor seeks re-election?

A: I think that anyone who wants to make sure that Democrats continue to run the State of New York, particularly with the assaults on our state from Washington, they will look at Governor Cuomo and say, “Thank God we have him.” The most progressive leader in the nation right now is in your home state. So be aware of that. Support that. Let’s get behind the governor and myself for lieutenant governor and make sure we win in November. That’s what the endgame is all about.

Q: Are you afraid of overconfidence on the part of Democrats?

A: No, we work hard. We’ve always worked hard. We don’t take anything for granted. We never have. This is my 11th election. I always run like an underdog. At the end of the day, it’s important for people to realize that they will not get support for higher minimum wage, family leave, fighting for the environment—all the other initiatives that we have successfully accomplished—if we have a Republican governor. Democrats need to unite.


Q: Are you worried about Democratic overconfidence? It’s a long way until November.

A: If we make sure that we represent and serve the people, I think we can’t go wrong—no matter what party we are. In Nassau County, it’s not so much about the party but more about how you represent and serve the people—and that’s what people are looking for.

Q: What do you see as minefields as the governor seeks re-election?

A: I think his emphasis on infrastructure and the environment and [living] wages for all people is a note that strikes everyone, no matter what your political stripe is.


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