BY M.J. RICCHIAZZI
The widely respected elder statesman of local politics, State Senator Al Coppola, intends to circulate an Opportunity to Ballot petition so that his name may be written in on the Republican primary ballot — in addition to appearing on the Democratic primary ballot in the 60th district race. Seeking the nomination of both major parties is an unconventional approach, but voters’ desire for bipartisan problem solving is percolating among a large segment of the electorate.
A head to head matches against the embattled incumbent Senator Marc Panepinto, Coppola leads in internal campaign polling by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. Influential figures in the Democratic Party want Coppola to have an uncontested primary, but Panepinto has refused to exit gracefully and local politico Amber Small has flirted with the idea of running.
Panepinto is a deeply flawed candidate who was convicted of election fraud, but backed by NYSUT operative Mike Deely, who poured $1.4 million into getting him elected. In his first year in the Senate, Panepinto caused an ethics uproar after lobbying for changes to insurance law that would have benefited him personally.
Simultaneously, law firms who have argued cases before his wife, State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Panepinto, have also donated to his campaign account. Panepinto has refused to return the contributions.
Coppola is a lifelong Buffalo resident and businessman who represented Buffalo’s Delaware District on the Common Council for over 17 years, before serving the region as a pioneering State Senator in Albany, where he championed a public takeover of Niagara Mohawk that would have cut energy prices by nearly 80%.
Coppola has a no-nonsense reputation, built on strong results-oriented constituent service, bold stands on alternative energy, visionary environmental proposals, and an intense scrutiny of the budget, government contracts, and public integrity.
When the Buffalo Common Council voted for their $10,000 pay raise, Al Copploa refused to accept it. He was a vocal opponent of the garbage tax, and lead the push for Buffalo’s recycling program. He spearheaded the Council’s Medical Waste Task Force, resulting in safe disposal of hazardous waste.
Coppola is perhaps best known as one of the city’s leading preservationists. He oversaw the rehabilitation of Delaware Park’s Marcy Casino, and personally saved the 1901 Pan Am House on Delaware Avenue out of his own pocket.
He blew the whistle on Parks Department fraud, pushed sweeping proposals for waterfront access, and sponsored a bill to eliminate tolls at the Grand Island bridges.
Coppola is a reliable vote for issues important to working families, but is an independent minded Democrat, as evidenced by his support of second amendment rights and opposition to the NYSAFE Act.
Coppola supported expansions of Epic coverage and health benefits for working families; extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit; a state aid increase to public schools; legislation increasing penalties for crimes against children; and passage of the Pesticide 48 Hour Notification Bill. He also secured $45 million to settle the 8 year long lawsuit between the Buffalo Board of Education and the Buffalo Teacher’s Federation.
After retiring from the State Senate, Coppola founded the Energy Cooperative of America, and continues to sit on its board.
It is unclear if Republican primary voters will warm to Coppola’s moderate style, working class policy priorities, and compromising temperament, but observers say that’s exactly what Albany