Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs, a Republican and a member of the prominent Jacobs family which owns the Delaware North companies, has told political leaders he is going to run for the 60th District State Senate seat now occupied by Sen. Marc Panepinto, a Democrat. “He told me he’s going to run,” said Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo this week, ending weeks of political speculation about whether Jacobs would take on Panepinto, a replay of his inner debate last year when he was considered the top GOP challenger to Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz only to disappoint party leaders by deciding not to run.
Jacobs could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but his entry into the very important Senate race, which could decide which party controls the Senate next year, puts him on a primary collision course with Republican Kevin Stocker who finished second to Panepinto in a four-way race in 2014 with 30 percent of the vote after defeating incumbent Mark Grisanti in a primary.
Stocker, from Tonawanda, has been going door-to-door for weeks, looking for support to take on Panepinto. Now he has Jacobs to deal with, too. Panepinto won the seat with only 34 percent of the vote as besides Stocker, Grisanti received 28 percent on the Independent Party line and Conservative Tim Gallagher garnered eight percent of the vote in the district that has a strong Democratic enrollment edge but which supported Grisanti in 2012. As one political observer noted, it could be a rough reelection campaign for Panepinto with his low approval numbers from the 2014 run.
A Democratic primary also appears likely as Panepinto is facing a challenge from Amber Small, the executive director of the Parkside Community Association, who has said that public corruption and economic fairness will be the key issues in her campaign.
The district includes the Town and City of Tonawanda, Grand Island, Buffalo, and stretches south to include Hamburg, Orchard Park, and Evans. The State Teachers Unions backed Panepinto’s campaign with more than $1.1 million in 2014 and are expected to be with him again as he bids for a second term.
He could face a tough challenge from Small, a 29-year-old relative newcomer but who has made a name for herself with her community activism. On the GOP side, State Republicans reportedly have been trying to line up money for a top candidate in the important race, includ-ing from powerful figures like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Insiders speculate that Jacobs must have received assurances from the GOP leadership that they will support his campaign, including an expected costly primary fight with Stocker. And given his family connections, Jacobs is certainly seen as a candidate who can raise plenty of money on his own.
Political observers are forecasting a seven-figure race when all is said and done, given the potential, depending on the results of the Skelos seat special election April 19, for the 60th District to be the key race for control of the Senate.
Jacobs has been county clerk since 2011, and previously served as secretary of state and an at-large member of the Buffalo school board. He lost to Democrat Mark Coppola in 2006 in a special election for State Senate and he also lost a bid for election to the Erie County Legislature in 1995. Still, he proved a strong vote getter in 2014 when he won reelection as county clerk by a 2 to 1 margin.