The embattled freshman state senator Marc Panepinto held a press conference yesterday where he made the claim that he is responsible for the chamber’s repeal of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a fiscal gimmick that was first enacted in the 2010-11 fiscal year to close the state’s budget shortfall.
Observers say that Panepinto’s attempt to claim credit for the 53-9 vote is a desperate attempt to grasp for an accomplishment, says a longtime Westside political operative. The bill has not yet passed the state assembly, but enjoys broad support among Republicans.
Under the GEA, a portion of the state’s funding shortfall is divided among all school districts in the state based on a formula and each district’s state aid is reduced accordingly. The teachers’ unions, which have dumped over $1.4 million into Panpeinto’s election with little to show for it, has long opposed the GEA.
“The teachers are angry with their union leadership for taking money from their paychecks to support someone who has been convicted of election fraud,” he says. That election fraud conviction stems from an incident in which Panepinto pled guilty to forging the signatures of registered Democrats on nominating petitions that party bosses were pressuring him to circulate.
In court papers at the time, Panepinto claims that his brother falsified the signatures, and that he only signed the witness statement below attesting to have circulated the petition. His license to practice law was then suspended.
But new information from Westside operatives who have known Panpeinto for decades say that the State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto is responsible for forging the signatures herself. The rumor has been circulating among operatives since the 2001 incident.
On those fraudulent petitions, Catherine Nugent’s signature appears, strongly resembling her actual handwriting. The petition document includes two dozen other signatures drawn in that same cursive. Political operatives are working with handwriting experts to authenticate the claim.
Nugent Panepinto is a former member of the Buffalo school board and is remembered as being the board’s strongest supporter of the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation, and has enjoyed their monetary support during her election.
The Senator’s press event came a day after The New York Daily News reported that the Senator has accepted over $75,000 in campaign contributions from lawyers who were simultaneously arguing cases before his wife, the Supreme Court Justice.
State judicial rules forbid judges from handling cases involving parties or attorneys that have donated more than $2,500 to their campaigns but contain no such prohibitions regarding donations to a judge’s spouse.
Panepinto is refusing to return the contributions, and has refused calls from Democratic Party officials not to seek reelection.