In the 60th State Senate district, it’s expected that newbie Senator Marc Panepinto — who won his last Democratic Party primary by fewer than 400 votes, and his general election with just 34% of the vote — will face at least one primary challenger next year. Democrats are worried that Panepinto will lose badly in a one on one rematch with Kevin Stocker, the popular Tonawanda Republican who defeated incumbent Mark Grisanti in a landslide primary victory.
The party’s traditional factions have shaken off any notion of cooperation and are in an all out war over next year’s chairmanship election, when Mark Manna is expected to wage a more robust campaign to unseat Jeremy Zellner. Much of the behind the scenes maneuvering this election cycle is motivated by that party leadership fight next year.
The prevailing consensus among operatives has been that, if Panepinto retains his office, an ouster of Zellner would be more likely. Panepinto is close to the high profile political operative G. Steven Pigeon, and despite his attempt to maintain cordial relations with headquarters Democrats, is thought to be loyal to the anti-headquarters faction.
Former Senator Alfred T. Coppola, a well respected elder statesmen of local politics, is rumored to be considering a primary challenge. If Coppola decides not to run, some party operatives make the argument that an educator should challenge Panepinto, who last year benefited from over $400,000 in spending by the NYSUT. Union funded PACs will have a more difficult time attacking an educator, and may back off of Panepinto’s candidacy all together given his controversial ethics record.
They say that a retired teacher or principal with a talent for public speaking and a passion for education policy, could easily unseat Panepinto.
From what I’ve seen around the County, Mr. Zellner’s resilient coalition is as strong, and in some cases, more embolden than ever. He even has solid pockets of support in significant parts of the City of Buffalo. With a win in the County Executive race by his friend and political ally Mark Poloncarz, Mr. Zellner could coast to re-election despite any new push for Mark Manna.
The Lenihan/Zellner strategy of helping smaller Towns throughout the County has proven over and over that such politics is smart, not only in helping to elect Democrats in these far flung communities, it has also enabled both Lenihan and Zellner to count the committeemen in these Towns as solid votes, and votes that always show up when needed. A clear thawing of somewhat cool relations with Democratic leaders in Tonawanda and West Seneca has also helped headquarters.
Of course Mr. Manna could strengthen his hand in this year’s Amherst Town elections and for the County legislative races there, too, as any County-wide political leader needs these types of credentials in order to be elected County chairman. I hope Mr. Manna steps up this year regardless of any future aspirations for the chairmanship.
Marc Panepinto has stepped up as senator in my view, and although he has seen financial success in his private business, Marc remains a solid blue collar type guy, and a champion for the “little guy” in politics. His senate record should be helpful for him, and his has another full year to continue to show his stuff.
Kevin Stocker could run once again, but such a run would be in a general election with a presidential race at the same time. I’ve thought before of “kitchen table numbers running” between Mr. Stocker and his lovely wife, of the hundreds of thousands already spent in Mr. Stocker’s unsuccessful “but certain wins” runs for public office. Is it worth it? Especially in a district which is not very attractive to a conservative Republican, and for a “very conservative” Mr. Stocker’s regarding his own social views, as his somewhat harsh attacks against same-sex marriage have demonstrated.
I’ve been hearing from a lot of Democrats that Mr. Pigeon wants to be part of the Poloncarz and Zellner efforts, now, but other than financial support it remains to be seen what exactly he would bring to the table. Since Steve has such a grand and effective public relations effort on-going (it appears Bob McCarthy is one top member of the Pigeon public relations team) maybe the Chronicle could reach out to see what’s behind all this. Maybe Steve’s growing up and is demonstrating a maturity in politics. I hope so. Maybe Mr. Pigeon sees what a lot of people are seeing, that County Democrats are sick of all this infighting and are finally giving headquarters a chance to show what they got.
Either way, Marc Panepinto may face a primary from Al Coppola, a good man no doubt, however, this time the Panepinto camp will most surly see him coming.