In elections past, the race for the 60th State Senate District has been known to be a contentious one, as Republicans and Democrats scrambled for the seat that could determine control of the Senate while money poured in for their candidates.
Not this year.
The race for the 60th hasn’t had that same buzz, as Republican State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs — a strong political figure with money at his disposal — takes on a little-known political newcomer in Democrat Carima El-Behairy.
That doesn’t mean the Republicans can take the race lightly.
Democrats are predicted to score a number of gains this election season, posing a threat to Republican control of the Senate — the one branch of state government in GOP hands. And while most of that action is concentrated in Long Island and the Hudson Valley, Republicans can’t afford to lose a seat like the 60th, which they’re counting on Jacobs to keep safe.
Jacobs, 51, of Buffalo, is a former Erie County clerk and Buffalo School Board member elected in 2016 to the 60th Senate District, which runs through a major swath of Western New York, from Grand Island through the City of Buffalo and into Evans.
“One thing I really focused on is trying as much as I can to help local governments be more in control of their own destiny and part of that, in my mind, is to rebuild their local tax base,” Jacobs said.
He lists a few of the highlights of his tenure, like helping the Town of Tonawanda deal with the loss of taxes after the shut down of the Huntley Power Plant; securing funding for a new water tower to help the Town of Evans with its water woes; and bringing home grants for projects at Canalside.
“I think I worked well with the supervisors and the mayors and the towns and villages and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in terms of the Assembly and the Senate, because a lot of these things I’m talking about have been in partnership with other members,” Jacobs said.
“But obviously, we have a lot more to do,” Jacobs said. “That’s why I want to go back up and continue. I hope that in two years, the constituents think I have been a good advocate for the specific needs they have in their respective district.”
El-Behairy, also 51, and also of Buffalo, is a strategies consultant for new businesses, but prior to that co-founded a software and publishing company, where she served as managing partner for more than two decades until last year.
While she grew up around politics — her father taught political science at SUNY Buffalo State — El-Behairy first considered entering politics a few years ago during the city’s Common Council races.
She took the leap earlier this year with support from the Baker Project, which seeks to increase the number of pro-choice Democratic women in the State Senate.
“Nothing is getting done in the Senate currently,” El-Behairy said. “Nothing is moving at all, in either direction good or bad… you can’t run a government that way.”
El-Behairy — a founding trustee of the Western New York Charter School Coalition and the now-closed Oracle Charter School — has been campaigning on a platform that advocates for early voting, preservation along with development, improving health care access and affordability and quality education, including universal pre-K.
She said voters are frustrated.
“I think they’re feeling isolated and not heard,” El-Behairy said.
The district, with 35,000 more Democrats than Republicans, has drawn big dollars in the past from the New York State United Teachers and other groups in an effort to increase the Democratic minority in the Senate. It wouldn’t be unusual for the candidates to raise a few million dollars combined in a hotly-contested race for the 60th, but El-Behairy’s candidacy has not generated the same statewide enthusiasm in light of Jacobs’ advantages in money and incumbency.
The most recent campaign filings show El-Behairy has spent more than $51,000 on the campaign, while Jacobs has spent three times that. His war chest totals nearly $349,000 compared to El-Behairy's campaign balance of more than $21,000.