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GOP eyes Chris Jacobs as strongest challenger to Mark Poloncarz this year

The man just about every Republican hopes will challenge incumbent Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz for county executive in November isn’t saying much at the dawn of this election year.

At the moment, State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs has other things on his mind – like the birth of his first child.

“Talk to me after early January,” is all Jacobs is saying now, just before daughter Anna Ryan Jacobs arrived Tuesday.

But when Jacobs, his wife – Martina – and Anna Ryan are settled in, the Republican who has flourished in an overwhelmingly Democratic district will provide an answer one way or another to the GOP and Conservative leaders urging him into the contest. At this point, most look to him as their strongest candidate for a tough battle ahead.

“He would be a great county executive and a great candidate for county executive,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. “He would fit the bill.”

Langworthy’s Conservative Party counterpart, Ralph C. Lorigo, is also hoping for a Jacobs challenge to Poloncarz’s expected bid for a third term.

“Every aspect of Chris Jacobs is perfect as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Langworthy said that within the next few weeks he will appoint a “screening panel” to interview potential candidates and arrive at a consensus.

This election year is not the first that the GOP attempted to recruit Jacobs into the county executive race. While county clerk, he was also viewed as the party’s top candidate to face Poloncarz in 2015. But in April of that year, he said he would pass on the race and support then-Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, whom Poloncarz soundly defeated the following November.

Other names are entering the mix. They include State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, County Clerk Michael P. Kearns, County Legislators Edward A. Rath III, Lynne M. Dixon and Joseph C. Lorigo; as well as private business leaders. But Gallivan says he expects to remain in the Senate, and County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. recently said he will concentrate on an eventual congressional bid despite all but announcing his county executive candidacy last summer.

Republican incumbent state Sen. Chris Jacobs faced a challenge from Democrat Carima El-Behairy in the 60th District. (News file photos)

As a result, Jacobs, 52, continues to dominate the conversation for a host of reasons, including:

• His “crossover” appeal as a Republican with a knack for winning in overwhelmingly Democratic Erie County.

• Previous countywide wins as county clerk.

• The possibility his enthusiasm for Albany may wane following the GOP’s loss of its Senate majority, not to mention his new baby’s arrival.

• His private sector experience as a downtown developer is seen as a plus, as well as spearheading programs like the BISON scholarship fund to private schools he helped establish several years ago.

• His ability to substantially self-finance an expensive, countywide campaign.

Poloncarz, meanwhile, hopes to equal the three-term record of Dennis T. Gorski, the only other Democrat to win the office since it was established in 1961.

“It is my intention to seek re-election,” Poloncarz said this week, adding he plans to officially announce his third term bid in the coming weeks.

And the county executive, 51, does not believe the voters are tired of him yet.

“I don’t think ‘shelf life’ is here,” he said. “Any time an incumbent runs it is invariably about job performance. I’m proud of our record addressing issues associated with the economy, and that we’ve done it in an honorable manner.”

What if Jacobs – viewed as the most formidable Republican in the field of potential challengers – emerges as the candidate?

“I take nothing for granted about anyone who might run against me,” Poloncarz said, describing the senator as a Buffalo neighbor with whom he gets along and respects.

“If he runs, he runs. If it’s someone else, I’ll run against that person,” he said. “But I will also run similar to how Governor Cuomo did this year and talk about job performance.”

Even Poloncarz critics acknowledge no scandal or over-arching shadow during his tenure in the Rath County Office Building. Still, they grouse about a new county budget they insist should have substantially lowered taxes and other issues as well.

“You can articulate a number of things that have poorly served his constituents in Erie County,” Lorigo said.

The chairman also praises Gallivan and Clarence businessman Tom Krug as potential candidates. But with Gallivan ruling out a Rath Building race and Krug an unknown, Lorigo sees Jacobs as the best candidate to face Poloncarz. Jacobs may view the weekly commute to Albany differently with a new baby, he said, not to mention the frustration sure to result from the new Democratic domination of the Capitol.

The next 75 to 100 days in Albany, Lorigo said, "are going to be terrible."

"He will no longer be able to bring home the money," Lorigo said.

In addition, he envisions no improvement for Republicans as the newly empowered Democrats cement their grip on state government and the ensuing reapportionment process that will only strengthen their position for the future.

“From a realistic point of view, he might be better served by taking on county executive,” Lorigo said, adding he sees the potential for a GOP victory via Erie County’s 100,000 independent voters who often determine elections.

While many factors will eventually determine the Republican-Conservative course, Lorigo notes he and Langworthy remain in regular contact with Jacobs. Lorigo is optimistic about Jacobs' potential candidacy.

“I think the possibility is very good,” he said.

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