The battle for the Erie County Clerk’s Office is one of the more low-key races taking place in the Nov. 4 general election.
It is one that has not generated a lot of ink or electronic media exposure. That is perhaps, owed in part to the generally uncontroversial nature of the office.
The clerk’s race pits Republican incumbent Christopher L. Jacobs, a local businessman and former Buffalo School Board member, against first-time candidate Democrat Bill Clark, a lawyer from Hamburg.
In terms of incumbency, name recognition and resources, challenger Clark conceded that Jacobs has an advantage in the race. But none of those obstacles is insurmountable, Clark said.
“I’m just plugging away, doing what I can do. You’ve just got to trust that if you can get your message out and people like your message better, that the voters will do what they think is best,” said Clark.
Meanwhile, Jacobs said his strongest asset in the campaign has been his record after nearly three years as clerk. Among his most notable accomplishments, Jacobs said, was turning around a crisis that was left to him by predecessors and required the services of an outside auditor to do an internal risk assessment of the Clerk’s Office.
“When I came in, there were over 100,000 deeds and mortgages that hadn’t been returned to homeowners for as long as 1½ years in the land records division. There were $3 million in uncashed checks that had been languishing here in the office,” Jacobs said.
After streamlining and instituting some new controls, he said, it now takes less than six months to return those documents to property owners, and instead of taking up to six months to cash checks mailed to the clerk, the checks are now cashed the same week they’re received.
Clark said that while he has no previous experience in public office, his background as a lawyer makes him ideally suited to take on the duties of county clerk.
“Half of the Clerk’s Office is the registrar, which is all legal paperwork, and people don’t understand how much paperwork is involved in being a lawyer,” he said.
Clark, 38, is a Marine Corps veteran and graduate of Canisius College who, prior to being tapped by the Erie County Democratic Party in May to run against Jacobs, has also served as a Hamburg Democratic committeeman and was appointed to serve on the Town of Hamburg Planning Board.
“So I’ve been on that for 10 months now,” Clark said.
“I think the Clerk’s Office should be about the residents. You go there now and there’s pictures of the clerk and the clerk’s name is in the second-biggest font that they have, and I really don’t think that’s the way it should be,” he added.
Jacobs, 47, said he has introduced innovations that make the Clerk’s Office more user-friendly and oriented toward meeting customers’ needs. There have, for instance, been advancements in the county’s auto bureau, such as self-serve kiosks and additional Saturday hours in an effort to get county residents to register locally, thus increasing the county’s share of those fees that the state Department of Motor Vehicles takes in.
“Most recently, we’ve rolled out an online reservation system. So you can now go online and make a reservation and know exactly what you’re going to be taking care of at the auto bureau, which is really what is being received and utilized,” Jacobs said.
However, Clark believes county resources are wasted attempting to compete against the convenience of using the state Department of Motor Vehicles website
“Ideally, what I’d like to do is rework the deal between the state and the counties. The services that the Clerk’s Office is going to keep doing are the ones that are more labor intensive,” Clark said.