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As many as half a dozen potential candidates are now crowding the contest for the State Senate seat held by Republican Mark J. Grisanti, following new interest by yet another Democrat.

Attorney Marc C. Panepinto, who has explored running for various political posts over the past few years, has told several associates that he is contemplating a race for the 60th Senate District position, The Buffalo News has learned. He also appeared last week before the Executive Committee of Erie County Democrats to inform the party of his plans, according to several sources.

Panepinto did not return phone calls seeking comment, and neither did Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner.

Still, it appears Panepinto joins fellow Democrats Laura Palisano Hackathorn – a Hamburg village trustee – and North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. in exploring a candidacy. Grisanti is expected to be challenged in the Republican primary by Kenmore attorney Kevin T. Stocker, while County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick has also expressed interest.

But the Panepinto possibility is now raising the most scrutiny as the deadline nears for circulating designating petitions. According to several sources, the veteran party insider has received encouragement from unions and other influential Democratic elements concerned over Hackathorn’s ability to win and Golombek’s fundraising prowess as well as his conservative views.

Indeed, one source said Panepinto will seek backing from the left-leaning Working Families Party. If successful, that would ensure his presence on the November general election ballot and increase pressure on Democrats to back him and avoid a split in their votes against Grisanti.

Some Democrats viewed it as significant that Golombek did not attend last week’s Democratic session in which those interested in running for the Grisanti seat were interviewed by the Executive Committee. But the Council member said Monday he informed the gathering he was unable to attend because of a city commitment and reiterated that he remains interested.

“I still believe I’m the only Democrat who can win in November,” he said. “If they run any other candidate, they’re going to go down with a loss.”

Golombek also said he is assembling an “interesting coalition from the left and from the right who are unhappy with the current state of affairs.” He said he will make up his mind by the end of the month.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said Monday that he is watching the situation because of the possibility of a primary. He said he considers Panepinto a “friend” and Hackathorn “a very good candidate,” but is not enamored by the prospect of another potentially divisive Democratic primary for the second election in a row, after the 2012 intraparty contest.

“I don’t have a good feeling about a potential primary,” he said. “The last I knew, the party was pretty much behind Laura Hackathorn. This throws a monkey wrench in what was going to be a united effort.”

Poloncarz said he is also aware of a potential candidacy by Golombek.

“I am not so certain he is appropriate for this district,” he said, labeling the 60th one of the “most progressive in Western New York.”

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com