BY TONY FARINA
The 60th District State Senate race has it all: what appears to be a serious GOP primary challenge from Kevin Stocker to the endorsed candidate, Chris Jacobs; a Democratic primary contest including upstart community activist Amber Small, the endorsed candidate, and veteran Buffalo lawmaker Al Coppola; and a likely mega-million dollar battle in November for the seat that could decide which party controls the State Senate come January.
The importance of the race cannot be overstated. State Republicans quickly and feverishly pursued Jacobs, the Erie County clerk, a member of the Jacobs family which owns the Delaware North companies, to make the run after Democrat Marc Panepinto announced in March he would not seek a second term in the district that stretches from Grand Island south through Erie County to the Town of Brant. Democrats enjoy a nearly two-to-one enrollment edge but despite that enrollment advantage, well-known Democrats showed no interest in possibly running against the wealthy Jacobs after Panepinto’s withdrawal, and Small has seized the opportunity.
But even if Small wins the Democratic primary next month, as she is expected to do, the battle in the Republican primary is going hot and heavy, and Stocker, the Kenmore attorney who won a bitter primary over endorsed Republican Mark Grisanti in 2014 only to lose narrowly in a four-way race to Panepinto, says he’s running against the corrupt Republican party bosses.
“They (GOP) spent $4 million against me in 2014 [in the primary], and I won,” Stocker said in an interview this week. “And I’m campaigning hard and the people I meet are upset with the party bosses, and according to my polling, I’m ahead [of Jacobs) by 7 to 9 percent with 22 percent undecided.”
Jacobs, with $450,000 in his war chest, sent out two pieces of campaign mail last week that included the message that he would not hire political people and would push for ethics reform, obvious responses to the Stocker charges that he is a puppet of the GOP party bosses. Stocker says he is preparing his own mail campaign to voters and vows to fight right up to the Sept. 13th primary to upset Jacobs. While Stocker claims his polling shows him with a lead, no poll has been released by either candidate to date. If Jacobs was thinking it was going to be easy, he made a grave mistake because even if he gets by Stocker’s anti-party bosses campaign, he’ll likley have a battle against Small who has impressed with her broad support, especially from women’s groups, and her fund-raising ability ($100,000 at first filing). She serves as the executive director of the Parkside Community Association.
This week, Small sent out an op-ed piece in which she again takes on public corruption in Albany, saying “we must stop corruption at its root. Anything short of that will be nothing more than window dressing.” In her op-ed, she listed the following steps she proposes to begin to deal with corruption (we did not include the entire list):
- Supporting independent redistricting measures to ensure competitive elections and accountability
- Closing the LLC loophole which allows donors to circumvent campaign contribution limits with undue influence
- Banning or severely limiting outside income of legislators without increasing salary and benefits legislators currently receive fomr NYS
- Vastly increased penalites for ethics violations by elected and public officials
- Forfeiture of pensions and benefits for those convicted of public corruption
- The expansion and enforcement of the prohibition on using campaign contributions for personal use, including attorney’s fees related to ethics and corruption charges
- Increased transparency for committe meetings and proceedings
Small terms ethics reform the most pressing issue facing the state, saying “it is the root of all of the challenges we face. It must be confronted relentlessly and comprehensively.”
Small concluded her op-ed by saying ethics reform means putting communities first again, and that’s why she is running for the State Senate.
No matter what happens primary day, that will only be round one in the fight to capture the key State Senate seat being vacated by Panepinto with a hint of scandal within his office. What appeared to be a lock for Jacobs just a few weeks ago looks like anything but a lock today.