After a surprising midterm in New York, both parties consider leadership changes

Rep. Lee Zeldin is being courted for a national Republican Party role, while state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs is fighting to keep his job, and DCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney lost his seat.

Lee Zeldin speaks onstage during his election watch party in New York City on November 8, 2022.

Lee Zeldin speaks onstage during his election watch party in New York City on November 8, 2022. YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

The election results in New York may end in some leadership shake-ups in both parties. But where one is backlash for a lackluster performance, the other could be a reward for a campaign well run. 

Since Democrats lost four congressional seats on election night, which could cost the party the House majority, the calls for state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs to resign have reached a fever pitch. Although an expected red wave did not materialize in most of the country in the aftermath of the midterms, it did in New York, where Gov. Kathy Hochul also won the closest gubernatorial race in over two decades. Jacobs previously told City & State that he does not accept “responsibility” or “blame” for the party’s poor showing, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats from laying the blame at his feet. 

On Monday, hundreds of Democratic elected officials, committee members, district leaders and others signed onto a letter demanding Hochul replace Jacobs as chair of the state party. “The writing is on the wall and has been for some time: Jay Jacobs is not fit to serve as Chair of the State Democratic Party, and it’s time for Governor Hochul to work with the party to elect a focused, determined, unifying party leader,” the letter reads. Among its signatories are 11 state senators and nine Assembly members, including state Sens. Liz Krueger and Gustavo Rivera, and Assembly Members Nily Rozic and Robert Carroll.

So far, Hochul has indicated she plans to stick with Jacobs, a holdover that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had appointed. “I think he did a great job as chair, he’s a really good chair,” Hochul told reporters in Puerto Rico on Friday. “I’m not changing anything.” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters the same day that he has “worked well” with Jacobs when asked whether the state party needed new leadership, while state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told City & State that it’s not her decision. New York City Mayor Eric Adams praised Jacobs further, crediting him for Hochul’s victory in a tough race.

Jacobs previously faced criticism and demands for his resignation after he declined to support India Walton in her campaign for mayor of Buffalo last year after she won the primary, instead backing the incumbent Mayor Byron Brown’s write-in campaign. In a major gaffe, Jacobs compared Walton, a Black socialist, to KKK leader David Duke in a hypothetical to try to explain why he refused to endorse her.

While Jacobs is in the hot seat getting grilled by members of his party, Rep. Lee Zeldin finds himself in a very different position regarding party leadership. Because of his strong performance against Hochul, the soon-to-be unemployed Congress member is now getting calls to head up the Republican National Committee. “He has received calls from around the country,” Zeldin’s media consultant John Brabender told NBC News. “It’s likely that he will at least explore it.” The two current co-chairs of the committee have not said whether they plan to run for the position again in January. The state GOP also has an opening for its top spot with Nick Langworthy headed to Congress. Though he originally took over after dissatisfaction with the previous head Ed Cox, Langworthy leaves the post on a high note.

New York Republicans performed better this year than they have since before losing the state Senate Majority in 2018. They may not have gained back much ground in the Legislature, but Republicans did win back much of Long Island in the upper chamber and surprisingly flipped several New York City Assembly seats. Combined with the congressional victories – including against Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney – the GOP under Lee Zeldin’s stewardship came back with a vengeance in the deep blue state even as Republicans underperformed across the country.