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Erie County Clerk Jacobs inches closer to Senate run vs. Panepinto

Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs appears closer to declaring his candidacy for the State Senate seat held by Democrat Marc C. Panepinto in what could emerge as a key battle for control of the chamber.

Senior Republican officials said Thursday that Jacobs told them he is “prepared to run” for the 60th District seat that in 2014 produced one of the most expensive local legislative contests in history.

Also, County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo said he believes that Jacobs is moving toward a race, though he said a quote attributed to him in the Niagara Falls Reporter indicating that Jacobs told him he would run “is not accurate.”

“He told me he is very, very close to making a decision,” Lorigo said. “I interpret that as a very positive sign.”

Jacobs insisted Thursday that he has not made up his mind, even after weighing the possibility for several months. That is essentially the same position he has held for months.

“I am seriously interested in it, which is why I have had one-on-one meetings with the Conservative Party and Republican Party chairs,” he said. “I am still talking to others and will make a decision within the next two weeks.”

Lorigo said Thursday that Jacobs “has not said for sure” whether he will be a candidate, “but my presumption is he is much more serious about it.”

If Jacobs declares, it could dash the hopes of James R. Gardner, an assistant district attorney who had impressed county GOP leaders and who was standing by in case Jacobs chooses not to run.

But Jacobs is capable of self-financing much of a campaign that this year could soar into seven figures, especially since the powerful New York State United Teachers union is expected to once again be a major financial backer for Panepinto.

Kenmore lawyer Kevin T. Stocker has been knocking on doors for months, preparing for a possible second Republican candidacy, though he is not expected to receive the GOP endorsement.

Former State Sen. Alfred T. Coppola, a longtime Democratic member of the Buffalo Common Council from the Delaware District who briefly held the Senate seat in 2000, is also exploring a candidacy.

Coppola waged a surprisingly effective campaign against Panepinto in 2014, coming within 613 votes of winning the Democratic primary.

But this year, Coppola says, he also wants Republican support, which he has gained in the past. Sources say that scenario is unlikely.

Amber A. Small, of Buffalo, executive director of the Parkside Community Association, has already declared her Democratic candidacy for a primary race against Panepinto.

Reapportionment significantly reshaped the 60th District in recent years. However, Democrats can still hold an enrollment advantage of 84,494 to 49,746 in a presidential election year, when turnout is expected to be high.