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Hochul says she'll forgo an endorsement in the Buffalo mayoral race

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks in New York City Tuesday.
Kevin P. Coughlin
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks in New York City Tuesday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul plans to travel around the state in coming days to back Democratic candidates for November elections. But she will not offer her endorsement for any candidates in the Buffalo mayoral race. On Tuesday, she explained why.

Hochul was asked about the Buffalo race after delivering her latest COVID-19 briefing.

“With respect to Buffalo, we have a unique situation there,” Hochul said. “And I'm going to be looking forward to truly working hard, rolling my sleeves up with whoever emerges as the victor. Buffalo’s success is important to me personally. So that is, that is my commitment. I will work with whoever the voters select. It is up to the voters.”

Walton is the lone mayoral candidate on the ballot, having won the Democratic Primary in June. Byron Brown, the four-term incumbent who attempted unsuccessfully to be placed on the ballot as an independent line candidate, is instead running a brisk write-in campaign.

Hochul, while explaining she’ll lend her support to Democratic candidates in other state races, will endorse neither Brown nor Walton in what she said is a unique circumstance.

“Well, we have two Democrats running and, most races, we have Democrat versus Republican in November,” Hochul said. “I didn't weigh in, and the process allows people to exercise different ways to be considered by the voters in November as well.”

Walton, in a written message, did not take exception to Hochul’s stance: “Governor Hochul just had a state government dropped in her lap. She has a lot on her plate, so it makes perfect sense to me that she doesn't want to weigh in on this race or make party staffing decisions on its basis.”

WBFO forwarded messages to the Brown campaign seeking comment, but as of early Tuesday evening had not received a response.

Hochul was also asked about comments made by the state’s Democratic Party chair, Jay Jacobs, while explaining why he was not endorsing India Walton, despite her primary victory.

Jacobs said he is not obligated to do so. But while explaining it to cable television’s Spectrum News, he used the hypothetical example of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, winning a Democratic party within the state.

“I have to endorse David Duke? I don’t think so. Now of course, India Walton is not in the same category, but it just leads you to that question – is it a must? It’s not a must,” he said in his Spectrum interview.

The comment touched off fast criticism, and in a written statement Monday, Jacobs apologized.

"My statement today on the mayor’s race in Buffalo has obviously caused an uproar that I did not intend," he said. "In response to a question that seemed to imply that as Democratic Chair I should or had to endorse the winner of the Buffalo Democratic Primary, I disagreed that it was a requirement. Using an extreme example of David Duke winning a primary, to make a logical point — even with stating twice the specific qualification that India Walton, was in a different category - was wrong. I should have used a different example, and for that, I apologize.”

Hochul on Tuesday called his remarks “unacceptable and hurtful.” But when asked whether she would call on his resignation, she acknowledged his apology.

Walton herself, in a written message, expressed a willingness to put the incident behind her.

"I've not always said the right thing, so I have an enormous amount of grace to extend to Mr. Jacobs," Walton said. "Obviously I'm a Black woman, so it would have been wise to choose a different comparison, but Mr. Jacobs acknowledged that he made a huge mistake, so we can move on."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.