Republican State Senate candidate Christopher L. Jacobs on Tuesday kicked off a two-week special election season by criticizing Democratic opponent Marc A. Coppola for raising funds from "special interests" in Albany on the day of an important Common Council vote.
Jacobs intensified a so-far quiet campaign by claiming Coppola, the Delaware Council member, should have been present in City Hall for a vote on the block grant program that distributes flexible federal funds for various city projects and human services groups. He said the programs are so important that Coppola should have postponed a fund-raising event slated Tuesday night in Albany.
"I hope no agencies to be funded in his district will be hurt by his lack of presence there," Jacobs said.
But the Republican, who opposes Coppola in the Feb. 28 special election to replace Mayor Byron W. Brown in the Senate, did not stop there. He jabbed Coppola for scheduling the fund-raiser, sponsored by most of the state's Democratic hierarchy, at the headquarters of Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, an influential union representing health care workers that has endorsed Coppola.
"Here he is heading off to Albany to get money from special interets even before he's elected," Jacobs said. "People need to judge us on how we campaign, and it looks like he's beholden before he gets in."
Jacobs said he is not taking money from special interests "at this point" but added he was "shocked" that Coppola accepted support from a union often cited as one of the most powerful influences on state government.
"Special interests have taken over politics in this state, with government serving them first and the citizens second," he said. "Will he be independent enough to go against that powerful union's interests?"
Coppola said he has never missed a vote over six years in the Council, explaining Tuesday's vote was a special affair that was scheduled too late for him to change his long-planned Albany event.
"I need to take a day off here and there; I'm running a campaign," he said. "I have a right to have a day off when no official votes are taken."
Coppola said he had taken steps before leaving to ensure that $38,000 worth of proposed cuts for the Delaware District were restored but also said he would have voted against the block grant program had he been present.
"I didn't like what I saw there in some of the inconsistencies," he said. "I definitely was going to vote no."
Coppola also dismissed any idea that he will be beholden to Local 1199 for its support, indicating he already backs much of the union's platform.
"I welcome their support. There are a lot of good people in that organization," he said, adding he backed efforts to locate a helipad at Women and Children's Hospital, where many Local 1199 members work.
He also suggested that Jacobs may be beholden to development interests since he works in the development business.
The $16.5 million block grant allocation is designed to fight poverty and blight. The Council approved the budget, 8-0, making relatively minor changes to Brown's original plan. Lawmakers restored about $245,000 to human services agencies, although the restorations still will leave most groups with less money than they received this year. The federal government cut Buffalo's block grant allocation by 8.4 percent.