Jay Jacobs: Every Dog Has His Day

Jay Jacobs
Nassau Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs was inducted in the Long Island Press Power List Hall of Fame in 2011.

The life of a political party leader isn’t all screening candidates, holding fundraisers and orchestrating campaigns. Nassau County Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs also runs a half-dozen camps. We caught up with Jacobs, who shared why he quotes The Honeymooners, collects owls, and credits Donald Trump with recent local Democratic gains.

Long Island Press: For the first time, Democrats and women hold the Nassau County executive seat and two of three town supervisor seats in the county. To what do you credit this historic change?

Jay Jacobs: The public was ready for change. Between the corruption in the towns and the county on the Republican side and the fact that the finances have been so poorly managed both on the town level and the county level, it gave Democrats a great opportunity to take those seats.

LIP: Did you ever think you’d ever see the day?

JJ: We were coming into a very strong political environment, both with the corruption in the county as well as nationally with Trump and all of the turmoil and tumult he has brought to the political process.

LIP: What is your vision for Nassau County?

JJ: In one sense cleaning up the government and restoring trust. In the second sense, taking control of the finances and finally putting us on the path to fiscal solvency. And the third being creating a vision for what the future of Nassau will be and then starting us on the road to getting us there.

LIP: You also run three sleepaway camps and three day camps. How did you get into that line of work?

JJ: The camp that I went to when I was a camper and worked at when I was 23 was for sale. The owners liked me, turned it over to me and then I built from there. I love the job of being a camp director and I also love the job of building a larger corporation, which has multiple camps, a school, and now we’ve got bed and breakfast inns upstate.

LIP: What’s your favorite story from camp?

JJ: I love going on what we call raid patrol at night, making sure the boys and girls are in their bunks appropriately. I’m not one who plays by the rules. If I’ve got a camper out of his bed and I’m having difficulty finding him, I know that sooner or later he’s gonna come back. And there has been more than one time that camper’s come back to find me in his bed.

LIP: How do you juggle your business obligations with the rough-and-tumble career in politics?

JJ: If you come into my office, you’ll see everywhere a large collection of owls. They represent my biggest problem and my most important problem in both business and politics: Who? Who am I going to get to run in the 10th legislative district? Who am I going to get to to be on duty tonight at boys’ bunk 9? When some comes into my office with agreat idea, I always take one of the owls and I pound it on the desk and I say, “Who? Who’s going to run it?” When you focus on the owls, both in politics and business, and you bring in really good people and you delegate to them and you nurture them, and you take care of them and you let them get the credit for the things that they get done so that they feel an ownership, then you have a system that enables you to get a lot of things done.

LIP: What story best sums up the considerations that go into being a party leader?

JJ: I have a saying I take from the words of the immortal philosopher Ralph Kramden, whom you might remember from The Honeymooners. Ralph Kramden said “every dog has his day.” I live by those words. Because I get disappointed so many times. I’m a person who believes that if you give your word, you can take it to the bank. But so many people don’t in politics. So many people that you help along the way forget you when they get there. There’s an arrogance that goes on in politics. And I keep that phrase in my mind because every time I feel I’ve gotten the raw end of a deal and somebody isn’t treating me right, you can get stressed and aggravated. I don’t. What goes around comes around. Every dog has his day.

LIP: What would readers be surprised to learn about your personal life?

JJ: I happen to be an introvert. I have to work up to being able to reach out and do my job. It’s an advantage in some sense. I find that being an introvert, while it’s more difficult for me to do certain things, I think that it may make me a little more thoughtful and attentive to people.