Stunning primary victories on Tuesday will now match Democrat Amber A. Small against Republican Christopher L. Jacobs in November, spawning a host of questions over just how important the 60th District will mean to control of Albany’s upper house.
Will newcomer Small entice Albany Democrats and major donors enough to seriously compete?
Or will the veteran Jacobs, who has long demonstrated crossover appeal in heavily Democratic Erie County, repeat with all the financial and organizational advantages that propelled him to victory Tuesday?
For now, the two are savoring major victories. Small – executive director of Parkside Community Association – smothered Alfred T. Coppola, a veteran of several local races who has not won an election since 2000. She scored a 67 to 33 percent victory with 95 percent of the vote counted.
Small and Coppola never escalated their contest to a personal or mudslinging level, but she made it clear throughout the campaign and again on Tuesday night she felt it was time for a change. She also benefited from a major effort from Erie County Democrats, while Coppola failed to mount a comparatively strong campaign.
“It was about community, and today people came out strong to show they did not want the same old thing,” she said from her election headquarters. “It was about public service, not politics.”
And Jacobs – the county clerk – annihilated Kenmore attorney Kevin T. Stocker, 76 to 24 percent with 95 percent of the vote counted. Though Stocker was considered a formidable opponent, most observers credited a disciplined Erie County Republican organization with turning out the vote, as opposed to relatively little volunteer activity for Stocker.
“I hope this was about the message I conveyed and my record as county clerk,” Jacobs said Tuesday from his campaign office. “I think it gave me legitimacy with the voters.”
Now a major contest that could affect control of the Senate looms, with most questions surrounding whether outside groups will again pump significant dollars into a district that staged a $3 million contest in 2014.
Jacobs, endorsed by local and Albany Republicans, will also appear on the often-crucial Conservative line as well as Independence and Reform, while Small is backed by the Working Families and Women’s Equality parties. But the district boasts a Democratic edge of about 35,000 voters, and Small could benefit from a high turnout for this year’s presidential election.
Still, Jacobs enters the general election campaign with the ability to self-finance his campaign and with enthusiastic support from Senate Republicans. Questions remain, meanwhile, as to whether Small can raise enough money to take on Jacobs and what degree of support she may receive from Albany Democrats.
Coppola had been viewed as a threat all along after barely losing to Democratic opponent Marc C. Panepinto in the 2014 primary. He entered the race boasting widespread name recognition, an ethnic base, and even a cache of familiar blue and white campaign signs that he periodically resurrects during his many runs for public office.
He said late Tuesday night that a turnout of only about 10,000 voters – compared to 15,000 in his close effort of 2014 – made the difference – along with a good Small campaign.
“There was just no excitement out there to draw out the voters,” he said.
But Small presented herself as the face of a new generation of Democrats in challenging an opponent 44 years her senior. She was making her first bid for elective office, and had support from top Democrats including County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Mayor Byron W. Brown.
Small never hesitated to present the race as a generational choice.
“When I’m out there, they recognize the name,” she said of Coppola, “but they make no connection with him as a former Council member. They recognize the signs because they see them every year.”
Turnout was placed at about 10 to 15 percent, prompting Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner at one point Tuesday night to label the countywide participation level as “horrible.”
Small has pledged to organize with regular Democrats in Albany should she be elected in November, and not with the Independent Democratic Caucus that has joined with Senate Republicans in recent years to form a majority coalition.
Tuesday night’s results now provide at least some clarity to an otherwise nebulous situation that began when Panepinto unexpectedly declined to seek a second term back in March. Indeed, Panepinto had already been endorsed by Erie County Democrats and raised substantial money.
Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan of Buffalo initially appeared as the choice of both Erie County and Albany Democrats, but ultimately decided against the race, Then, after initially rejecting Small, Democrats reached out to her over Coppola, setting up the primary race that ended Tuesday.
Jacobs, meanwhile, emerged early as the choice of local party leaders and Senate officials in Albany too. But he had to contend all along with Stocker, who started a door-to-door campaign throughout much of the district more than a year ago.
Throughout the race, Stocker was viewed as a serious threat after his landslide victory against former Republican Sen. Mark J. Grisanti in the 2014 primary. His tea party-type of attraction, constant criticism of party and Senate “bosses,” and door-to-door campaign style has resulted in an accumulation of conservative supporters over the years.
Jacobs benefited throughout the campaign by significant money pumped into the local primary by Senate Republicans, fueling negative ads and blistering Stocker for losing his five previous races and accusing him of failing to observe campaign finance requirements.
Jacobs’ ads, which he has in large part financed himself, were more positive and emphasized his main theme of protecting upstate interests against New York City Democrats.
One minor party primary for the Senate also took place Tuesday in the 61st District now represented by Republican Michael H. Ranzenhofer. In the Working Families primary, Democrat Thomas A. Loughran defeated Andre N. Liszka 80 to 20 percent with 53 percent of the vote counted. Loughran now faces Ranzenhofer in November fortified by the minor party backing.