Many are speculating why Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs doesn’t have a Democrat challenger in a county where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans — in a region thought to be the Democratic Party’s 2014 battleground. Why would the local party apparatus choose to forgo an effort to retake the Clerk’s office, which has long been a non-controversial “political perch” from which ample patronage can be doled to a countywide constituency? In the context of Buffalo’s culture of career politics, many lust for such a platform from which to plot even greater ambitions.
Their speculation goes, almost immediately, to the question: “Who was paid for what, and how much?”
Of course, Jacobs is a formidable political contender with resources. He is a leading member of the family that owns Delaware North Companies, a multinational corporation that does over $3 billion in annual revenue. Well established in the business and political communities, Jacobs’ has an unparalleled network of contacts in the region, and beyond it.
So it may be the case that Jacobs genuinely scared off any potential opponent from even circulating primary petitions — an impressive feat by any means. But Jacobs doesn’t have a demeanor that would intimidate a challenger out of a race. He’s personality is friendly and easy going. His presence is always professional and his rhetoric is always tempered, moderate, and apolitical — even non-partisan. In fact, when he was first elected to the Clerk’s office, he refused to engage in the negative gutter politics that was propagated heavily against him by Democrat Maria Whyte, who is now a senior official in County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s administration.
In fairness, the more cynical observer would suggest that Jacobs’ friendly demeanor and non-partisan rhetoric is the deeply calculated political strategy of a master politician — a son of Buffalo who has studied the city’s politics and culture, and whose social circle has had a large part in shaping both.
Some expected that Jacobs would have a primary from the right. PoliticsNY, a publication owned by Republican political operative Michael Caputo, even published this blurb speculating about that possibility:
Rumors are swirling that Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs may get a primary from the right. Upset activists are saying Jacobs has significantly increased patronage hiring beyond Hochul-Crangle levels and they wonder why Jacobs has chosen to staff his office with Democrats – begging the criticism that Jacobs is not a devout Republican. Word has gone around for a few years that Jacobs was considering changing his registration to Democrat. What’s more, the same critics allege Jacobs’ staffing motivation was to simply please the Crangle Democrat political machine. Some GOP operatives have become mindful of Jacobs’ Democrat hires and are fueling the primary rumor. However, Jacobs is regarded as quite popular among voters so the question remains: who from the right or the left has the juice to defeat him at the polls?
After Andrew Cuomo’s hasty passage of the NYSafe Act, which authorized the government to confiscate the arms of those it deemed as “mentally ill”, Jacobs initially seemed to act “eager” in confiscating the guns of an East Amherst man who had sought out mental health treatment years ago but did not pose any public safety threat. Though Jacobs quickly apologized, demanded changes to law, and helped gun owners opt-into privacy protections after the Westchester County Journal began publishing the names and addresses of registered permit holders.
But it seems that a GOP primary isn’t materializing at all — leaving Jacobs with an enviable position of being unchallenged by either major party. In a region with a political culture as contentious as ours, inquiring minds continue to wonder how he did it.
Jacobs has long been mentioned as a contender for higher office — and was mentioned as a potential gubernatorial nominee by State GOP Chairman Ed Cox as recently as last year. His family has not been shy about bankrolling his political endeavors. When first seeking the County Clerk’s office, his media buy approached $200,000.
In a state without a very deep bench of political talent, Jacobs is perhaps the establishment GOP’s best chance at another Pataki-style administration. Others say his personality and inclination to compromise would be better suited in the US Senate, and see Jacobs as potential challenger to junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. He would be a favorite to win the County Executive’s office, and is perhaps the GOP’s only chance at ever electing a Mayor of Buffalo.
Typically, the Democratic party apparatus will heavily slander up-and-coming Republican political contenders who have their eye on higher office. But that’s not the case with Jacobs, who has enjoyed even greater popularity among Democrats than Republicans. The cynics suggest that the Jacobs’ family’s long history of contributing heavily to the Democratic party and it’s politicians (including significant support for Governor Cuomo), is the reason that he has been so well received across party lines.
We will keep our eye on whether or not a Democrat files petitions to run in the primary (the deadline is July 11), or whether an independent candidate emerges (the filing deadline for independent lines is August 10).