Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Saturday, September 7, 1996

ALBANY -- For political junkies in need of a serious fix, the only place in the city to turn lately has been a primary for alderman in a quiet, middle-class ward.

Sound like a yawn? Maybe not, considering that just about every key elected official and a cast of political players have taken sides in the 13th Ward race. And just off center stage, two figures -- Mayor Jerry Jennings and Assemblyman John J. McEneny -- loom large.

The Democratic mill has churned with speculation that the Daniel Herring-Stephen Rehfuss race is a dry run for Jennings against McEneny in next year's mayoral election.

Both have invested political stock. Jennings appointed Rehfuss to the aldermanic post, and donated $500 to his campaign, the single largest contribution.

While McEneny isn't a front-line presence, he made his allegiance clear by serving on Herring's vacancy committee, a symbolic but important sign of a candidate's backing.

So what's going on?

McEneny dismissed speculation that he's testing the 1997 mayoral waters, but also made it clear that he and Jennings don't get along, and that the mayoralty is ever on his radar screen.

On Jennings, he said he's irritated by the mayor's habit of dropping in unannounced to the Capitol to push for one bill or another.

``I don't have a great working relationship with Mayor Jennings, at least as far as lobbying the Legislature goes,'' said McEneny. ``I never know whether he's in the building or not. I've never known an Albany mayor to take such an intense interest in the Assembly.''

And, he added, ``I was wondering if he was going to offer to trade jobs with me.''

A hint of a plan?

Not exactly, or more precisely, not yet. McEneny said that with his own seat up for re-election this year, he's not actively planning a mayoral race ``at this time . . . I want to win the race I'm in.'' He also said he likes the job, and looks forward to his effectiveness growing with his seniority.

But, he acknowledged, if he is re-elected, the 1997 election would come at the best possible time, midway through a two-year term. And, he said, ``I've looked at every mayor's race all my life.''

Jennings isn't much less coy about dropping hints and just as quickly backing off with a disclaimer. When the school board recently eliminated his old job of Albany High vice principal (he is officially on a leave of absence), he said it didn't matter. At a news conference this week after developer William Bantz of the Mercer Companies heaped lavish praise on his vision and action plan for downtown, Jennings said he hoped Bantz would remember that come election time.

A short time later, Jennings was asked about the prospect of facing McEneny. ``I haven't ruled anyone out as a possible opponent,'' he said. ``That's what this process is all about. I thrive on elections.''

As in the 1997 election?

``I haven't made a decision yet,'' Jennings said.