Chairman Jay Jacobs learned early during his political career to not take voters for granted, and his approach worked. He is currently the longest-running Nassau County Democratic Chairman in the county's history. He believes it's his ability to keep his "eye on the ball" and to not get distracted that has been a winning strategy for him as well as the people he serves.
As a successful businessman, who owns and operates several sleep away camps, Jacobs says his small business background has helped him to understand and relate to both sides of the political aisle. Jacobs business experience also allows him to offer a real and pragmatic perspective to his county, one that helps him to be appreciated and respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. Not an easy fete these days. Chairman Jacobs grew up in Forest Hills, Queens and received his BA from SUNY Oneonta. His JD is from the prestigious Northwestern University Law School. This member of the Democratic National Committee isinsightfully aware that regardless of a person's political party they should be viewed as patriotic Americans who need and deserved to be heard.
When asked what would bring our politically divided country together, Jacobs emphatically said, "RESPECT". He then went on to say that we need to work harder to understand where the other side is coming from, because we're all Americans." Chairman Jay Jacobs went into more details with me about his politics and political ideas during our extensive interview.
Dr. Robi: As a member at large of the National Democratic Committee and former State Chair. New York do you think your party is getting stronger under President Trump?
Mr. Jacobs: The first thing my Republican counterpart, Joe Mondello, told me when I first became chairman was that “politics is a cyclical business.” It turned out to be so true. Sometimes, for a party, losing an election presents opportunities greater than winning it. In this case, the contrast between Trump and the Republicans is so clear and their initial actions right out of the gate are so offensivethat Democrats are looking at an opportunity the likes of which we have not seen in a long while.
Dr. Robi: How does being a businessman help you to run the Democratic Party in Nassau County?
Mr. Jacobs: Democrats have an unfair reputation of being anti-business and pro-high taxes. Coming from a business background – as someone who actually runs a small business – I offer a real, practical, on-the-ground perspective to people in our party while I have a certain amount of credibility, in that regard, to people outside of our party. I think that the elected officials and candidates I deal with respect my opinions on matters related to business and taxes even more so because I AM a progressive – a practical progressive. On the other end – the actual management aspect – my business experience has trained me to focus, laser-like, on outcomes (winning elections) and to organize and manage professionally. Business people understand the importance of straight-forward communication – and that’s not something always practiced in the political world.
Dr. Robi: What kind of business do you run and does it help you with your politics at all?
Mr. Jacobs: I own and operate a group of sleep-away camps and day camps for children along with a nursery school. I actually direct, hands-on, one of the sleep-away camps. That requires that you learn quite a bit about child psychology, understand how to manage to actually get things done and it requires that you deal with customers. Well, adults are, in large measure, grown-up children and it is amazing how much the psychology is similar. I have seen the same insecurities, the same boastful-bullyish behavior and the same kinds of name-calling in some 9-year-olds at camp. My camp and business experience has helped understand the political people I deal with, what motivates them, what scares them and how to communicate with them effectively.
Dr. Robi: How did you get started in politics?
Mr. Jacobs: I had thought about running for Congress one day and a friend of mine introduced me to the then-chairman of the Nassau Democratic Committee. It was 1994 and he wanted me to run against first-term incumbent, Peter King. Had I run, and had I won, I would have been the only Democratic challenger to unseat a Republican incumbent in the whole country. Highly unlikely. Though I decided, wisely, not to make that race, I got engaged with the local party and, ultimately became Chairman in 2001.
Dr. Robi: You don't take a party salary or have family in government? Does this make you an independent?
Mr. Jacobs: I am independent of the pressures that come with needing your job to make a living. I can take greater risks and, I hope, earn a certain measure of respect from the people I work with because they know I do what I do solely because it is a passion. It also helps me with my fundraising because donors know that every penny goes to elect Democrats and not a dime goes into my pocket.
Dr. Robi: It looks like Nassau County can achieve a Democratic landslide this year, under your leadership. What makes you different than other politicians?
Mr. Jacobs: Well, the wind is absolutely at our back and things look good, but I have learned never to presuppose an electoral outcome and never take the voters for granted. A lot can happen in eight months learned
Dr. Robi : You are respected throughout the country for the money you raised for Democratic Party favorite Hillary Clinton? How do the Republicans in the county feel about you?
Mr. Jacobs: I am pretty sure that the Republicans who actually know me like me, for the most part. I happen to like most of them. I have a very good friendship, for instance, with my counterpart, Joe Mondello, who I respect. I think too many people in politics waste too much energy disliking the other side. I always tell Democrats that the Republican Party is my second favorite party. We need to listen more in this country. We need to work harder to understand where the other side is coming from. Even if we disagree with them, we need to always remind ourselves: they are Americans too. They’re just as patriotic as we are. In fact, it’s likely that we agree on the ultimate outcomes for this country – it’s the way we get there that is at the heart of our disagreement. But whether to not they like me. I respect the other party and while I disagree with almost everything they try to do, I try to like them as people. We should all do that.
Dr. Robi: What do you think would help bring our politically divided country together right now?
Mr. Jacobs: I think I answered this question in my last answer. They key is respect. Don’t judge the other side’s motives and don’t assume that they are not as patriotic as we are.
Dr. Robi: What political books inspire you?
Mr. Jacobs: I love biographies. Robert Caro’s series on Lyndon Johnson – particularly "Master of the Senate" – is a must-read. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s "Team of Rivals" about Abraham Lincoln along with William Manchester’s books on Winston Churchill provide a great deal of inspiration for people who want to work in politics. It may surprise you, but I think biographies about Richard Nixon are fascinating – as he was – and some of the books that he authored, like “In the Arena” and “Leaders.”
Dr. Robi: Is there a common thread to being a success in politics and business?
Mr. Jacobs: Integrity.
Dr. Robi: Nassau County is the home of Teddy Roosevelt, Is he considered a hero on Long Island?
Mr. Jacobs: Though he ran as a Republican, today he would be a Democrat. TR was America’s first true modern progressive. He is a permanent piece of Long Island history and we should all be proud of that. My home is just a couple of miles from Sagamore Hill. I take guests who visit with me to his home quite often. You can’t be involved in Long Island politics without visiting Teddy from time to time.
Dr. Robi: This year you won two congressional seats in once a Republican county, does this mean things are changing?
Mr. Jacobs: The political mood in Nassau County had shifted well before this election due to the many corruption scandals and Federal indictments of leaders like Oyster Bay Town Supervisor, John Venditto and County Executive, Mangano. People here have been overtaxed and underserved for way too long and they’re not stupid. They know that too many politicians have been gaming the system, taking advantage and even lining their pockets. Every Republican leader can have a family reunion in their County or Town cafeteria every day. The abuse is off the charts. And now, it’s finally caught up with them. Like Joe Mondello first told me: “it’s a cyclical business.” Well, it’s our turn now – because the other side blew it.
Dr. Robi: You are one of the most respected county chairmen in the country, How did you earn this level of respect?
Mr. Jacobs: Well, I certainly appreciate that characterization. While I cannot judge myself, or what others may think of me, I can only say that if you are straight with people – tell it like it is, if you keep your word, be loyal to those who are loyal to you, and treat people of all parties with respect you will likely be respected by others. That is what I try to do every day.
Dr. Robi: Nassau County is larger than at least 12 States in the nation in population. How do you run campaigns in an area so large?
Mr. Jacobs: Everything is about the team. The only way to organize for success is to recruit and assemble the best, most experienced, success-focused team. Everyone needs to understand the mission, be trained in the culture of our organization, be given the tools they need to do their jobs and then be allowed to do it. I see myself as the coach. But make no mistake: this is a very team-driven effort and the credit, if there is credit to be given, belongs with the team.