Attorney Marc C. Panepinto is expected to receive the Democratic endorsement tonight for the 60th State Senate District seat after his two main intraparty competitors ended their candidacies Tuesday.
North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. and Hamburg Trustee Laura Palisano Hackathorn both said they are yielding to the strength Panepinto brings to the contest against Republican incumbent Mark J. Grisanti in the November general election.
“I still think it would be great to run for the Senate, but party insiders have decided to back someone else,” Hackathorn said. “I don’t want to run in a primary and make it easier for Grisanti.”
Golombek, meanwhile, said he could not raise the funds needed to wage expensive campaigns for both the primary and general elections.
“I have not made the right friends to raise anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000,” he said. “Independence has its price.”
However, Panepinto has not cleared the field entirely following Tuesday’s indication by former Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola that he will run again for the Senate seat he briefly held in 2000 following a special election victory.
Still, Panepinto assumes a commanding position as he appears to have solidified party support. Though he originally sounded more than encouraging about Hackathorn’s candidacy, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner now says he likes what Panepinto brings.
“I feel that Marc has a lot of support on the Executive Committee, so it looks like we are headed in that direction,” Zellner said. “Laura is a great public servant. But Marc is able to bring resources, foot soldiers and organizational support.”
Zellner said Panepinto will enjoy especially strong support from organized labor, which sources say pushed hard for Panepinto.
Albany Democrats are also excited by the Panepinto candidacy. State Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who heads the Senate Democrats’ campaign effort, had been watching from the sidelines after getting caught up in a messy Democratic primary for the Grisanti seat in 2012.
“If there’s one thing we learned two years ago, it is that our best hope in that district is to have a unified Democratic Party,” Gianaris said. “That people are coalescing around Marc Panepinto is good news.”
Panepinto, meanwhile, made his first public comments about his candidacy by pointing to unity from every party faction except Coppola’s.
“Without a primary I now have five months to raise money for what will be a very expensive general election campaign,” he said, adding that Grisanti must first survive an expected Republican primary challenge from Kenmore attorney Kevin T. Stocker.
“It will be difficult for him to go hard right in a primary and then come back to the middle to get Democratic votes,” he said. “Some of his positions will make it difficult for Democratic voters to vote for him.”
Panepinto said he enters the race fully realizing that his 2001 misdemeanor conviction for collecting fraudulent voter signatures on designating petitions will figure in his latest effort.
“It was a lapse in judgment,” he said. “Since that time I’ve been a pretty successful lawyer, and that did not impede my legal career in any way.”
He noted the election law violation occurred 13 years ago, and he believes voters are ready to move on.
Coppola, however, said Panepinto’s legal problems of the past are exactly what spurred him to join the race.
“There’s enough corruption in Albany and now you’re adding more?” Coppola said of the Panepinto conviction. “That’s what really prompted me.”
Panepinto, 49, also briefly explored running for the Senate in 2012 and enters the race with about $33,000 in leftover funds that can be used for his new effort. He was also a candidate for party chairman in 2012 before bowing out.
He said he also expects to receive backing from the Working Families Party.