BY MATT RICCHIAZZI
The retired State Senator and widely respected elder statesman of local politics, Al Coppola is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the 60th district seat — a swing district that frequently determines control of the legislative chamber and is at the crux of the state’s power structure. Coppola nearly defeated Marc Panepinto two years ago and is considered the likely Democratic nominee for the seat he once held before retiring in 2001.
Amber Small, a North Buffalo politico who once worked for Mayor Byron W. Brown has filed petitions to challenge Coppola, but some see that campaign as an unwitting ploy to protect the ambitions of County Clerk Chris Jacobs, who has long coveted the seat.
The same operatives say that Jacobs — through his operative Todd Aldinger — has placed James DePasquale on the Green Party line as a faux candidacy to siphon votes from Coppola in a general election. The same was done two years ago when Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo placed the name of Tim Gallagher on that minor line to sabotage Republican nominee Kevin Stocker in the general election, an effort to protect Mark Grisanti who was running on the Independent line.
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 for households 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 led 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.
Small, who is campaigning on the moniker “Think Big, Vote Small,” is making environmental issues a cornerstone of her campaign – holding a press conference late last month calling for the state-funded clean up the Scajaquada Creek, which would require significant investment in sewer infrastructure improvements in both Buffalo and Cheektowaga.
Coppola, too, has championed environmental protection. For more than a decade he has been a leading voice in defending the West Side against public health threats caused by diesel exhaust emanating from the Peace Bridge’s truck plaza, the source of West Side’s shocking rates of cancer, asthma, and neurological disorders.
Two years ago, Coppola called for a statewide ban on plastic micro-beads in consumer products before any sitting State Senator at the time and prior to US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s more high-profile effort to do the same at the federal level.
Small, for her part, isn’t afraid to take bold policy positions either.
This week, Small sent distributed an editorial in which she takes on public corruption in Albany, writing “we must stop corruption at its root. Anything short of that will be nothing more than window dressing.” In the letter she calls for independent redistricting that ensures competitive elections; closing the LLC loophole that donors use to circumvent campaign contribution limits; and increasing penalties for ethics violations by public officials, among other things.
The winner of the Democratic Primary will face either Stocker or Jacobs.