Grand Island teacher and school board member Richard D’Augustino, a strong supporter of working families and organized labor, is being urged to challenge the embattled incumbent Senator Marc Panepinto in this year’s Democratic Party primary, says a local Democrat.
D’Augustino is widely seen as a rising star in local politics. He is a political newcomer; young, affable, and charismatic. He was elected in an upset victory to take a seat on Grand Island’s school board — and did so with an impressive margin of victory.
If he does decide to run, it would be a debilitating blow to the incumbent.
From it’s inception, Panepinto’s campaign has been bankrolled by the teachers’ unions, at the behest of Phil Rumore and Mike Deely, his hand picked operative. But teachers themselves are outraged at their union leadership, who spent over $1.4 million to get Panepinto elected and have little to show for it. Now, the backlash of dues paying members appears to be propelling a candidate for State Senate who is an educator himself.
Panepinto is considered the weakest incumbent in the chamber, and both state party organizations are gunning for the seat.
“With a candidate in the race in like Rich D’Augustino — and Al Coppola for that matter — Phil Rumore can’t put a dime into Panepinto’s primary or it would look like they are going against their own members,” says a local political observer.
“The teachers would be outraged… Rumore and Deely already wasted $1.4 million of their money on Panpeinto,” he says.
Rank and file teachers, who have evolved into community activists, are beginning to assert their political influence with Deely, a gruff and impersonal figure who is more inclined to disparage opponents and belittle counterparts than he is to take a meeting with someone who could be helpful.
It’s unclear whether or not Rumore will cut Deely loose, but in order to retain his position he may be forced to back away from Panepinto’s floundering candidacy.
“Deely has to decide if he’s going to double down on an incumbent whose record will hound him into the foreseeable future, or will he decide to man up, accept responsibility for his missteps, and back a leader who represents the future,” says a Tonawanda resident and member of the Teamsters’ union who has been urging D’Augustino to run.
Deely has been criticized for architecting an over the top smear of then Senator Mark Grisanti during the last election cycle. That pricy campaign included a relentless slew of direct mail, cartoonized radio jingles, and a flood of local television ads.
His critics say that he should have instead spent that massive budget on a respectable, informative, and substantive public information campaign that meaningfully advanced the labor and public education movements. Of his $1.4 million spending spree, $100,000 remains unaccounted for in required campaign finance disclosures.
“That much money could have done a lot of good in changing peoples minds with informed discourse, rather than sling political mud,” says one Buffalo teacher.
“What did they do with the money,” she asks of Rumore and Deeply.
“They pissed it away.”