Political observers expect a Panepinto primary — early contenders

The newly elected State Senator from the 60th district, Marc Panepinto won his general election narrowly with only 34% of the vote. He won his primary even more narrowly, by 383 votes. The local Democratic Party has remained historically fractured by infighting for decades, and there remains deep resentment of Paneptino in various factions of the party — stemming mainly from his bullying of Hamburg Village Trustee Laura Hackathorn out of the Senate race.

Now, political observers expect nothing less than a full scale primary effort against the NYSUT and labor-backed politico. Several names are being floated among area political operatives, and some are speculating that pro-charter school groups could finance a robust anti-Panepinto effort. Panepinto is among the most anti-charter school candidates in the State.

Others say that Panepinto is in it for the long haul, as evidenced by his astute support of the Peace Bridge neighborhood over the bridge’s Authority — making him the first ever State Senator to take such a courageous and forthright posture with the bi-national entity.

Here are some of the possible primary candidates who are being talked about:

1. Mark Grisanti, State Senator

Grisanti has pervasive name recognition in the district and firm support among the anti-Panepinto half of the Democratic party. He is well liked for his courageous vote on marriage equality. His unabashed support of charter schools and his sponsorship of a potentially transformative Tuition Tax Credit was squashed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, but gained him credibility among many education reform advocates. Grisanti has horrible political advisors, but his relationships with downstate power brokers — including Billionaire Mike Bloomberg — could make a political comeback possible. It remains to be seen whether or not Grisanti becomes a Democrat.

Regardless, his willingness to take bold and courageous votes on entrenched and controversial issues deserves our applause and respect. Thank you for your leadership, Senator.

2. Laura Hackathorn, Hamburg Village Trustee

Despite exiting this year’s Senate primary for the sake of party unity, Laura Hackathorn assembled a broad base of political support and was even encouraged to run by now Lt. Governor-elect Kathy Hochul. Hackathorn is well liked and personable in ways that contrast starkly with Panepinto. The contrast could work well in in her favor, if she is able to fundraise a credible campaign. Her views on charter schools are unknown, which might provide an opening for major downstate political backing.

3. Alfred Coppola, former State Senator

The well respected and well known former State Senator has emerged as a an elder statesman of local Democratic politics. He nearly defeated Panepinto, but fell short by fewer than 400 votes despite spending next to nothing and despite the Buffalo News’ unyielding promotion of Paneptino. He continues to have a strong base of supporters and goodwill in the party since his days in the Common Council and his legendary battles with Niagara Mohawk in his quest for a public utility.

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