Freshman State Senator Marc Panepinto has been called the weakest incumbent in the chamber, having won his district with just over 31% of the vote with current polling putting the incumbent at only 34% in a hypothetical Republican matchup.
Despite constant calls for him to step aside and allow former Senator Alfred T. Coppola to take the Democratic Party nomination uncontested, he has stubbornly refused to entertain the scenario.
The district is a top priority among the state’s Republican party. State Chairman Ed Cox is rumored to be recruiting candidates himself and planning to line up money from former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, among others.
As establishment Republicans prepare to back County Clerk Chris Jacobs for the seat, local operatives predict that the primary against Kenmore attorney Kevin Stocker could cost the GOP $2 million to $2.5 million — before even getting to a general election… unless the state GOP reaches out to the district’s key influencers.
On the Democratic side, Senator Coppola is planning a political comeback that could shake the establishment. He was fewer than 350 votes from defeating Panepinto in the last primary. Panepinto will have a costly primary and the teachers unions — who spent $1.4 million on Panepinto last time around — is likely to sit out the primary because of how aggressively pro-teacher Coppola has been for decades.
Experts think that Panepinto will need to spend up to $1.2 million to defeat Coppola, and they doubt the teachers’ unions will be willing to foot the bill, since they know Coppola to be more supportive of teachers than Panepinto.
Coppola’s late wife, Carol, was a Buffalo school teacher and Coppola is remembered for his advocacy during his eight consecutive terms representing the Delaware District on the Buffalo Common Council and while in the State Senate. Coppola and Rumore are longtime friends with deep respect for each other.
Current polling has Coppola leading Panepinto by a 2-to-1 margin. Some observers expect Panepinto operatives to encourage a ‘third splinter candidacy’ designed to siphon votes from Coppola on the understanding that the only way Panepinto can win is in a three way contest.
Panepinto, who was convicted of election fraud, has been besieged by ethics criticisms involving lobbying for changes to state law that would have benefited the senator’s personal business practice.
Others have said that donors to Panepinto’s senate campaign often appear before his wife, State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Panepinto, which they say raises serious ethics concerns as well.
Even the opposition Democrats formerly led by G. Steven Pigeon are asking Panepinto to quietly step aside. Some speculate that Pigeon loyalist and Panepinto staffer David Phaff may “need to have a serious conversation with the Senator in the next month.”