Panepinto announcement shakes up the Senate race

Marc Panepinto’s announcement that he will not seek re-election goes beyond his stated reason that new legislative ethics rules will restrict his law firm income. There may also be an issue concerning alleged sexual harassment in his Senate office. His chief of staff has resigned. There will be more news coming out of this.

The decision not to run for re-election extends to control of the Senate itself.

Pantepinto has not exactly been a templar of virtue in his public life. More than ten years ago he pled guilty to filing fraudulent election petitions. More recently a conflict of interest issue was raised about Pantepinto’s campaign funds.

The Daily News this past January had a story suggesting the possible conflict of interest. The issue involved donations to Panepinto’s campaign fund by law firms that have matters before the senator’s wife, State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent-Panepinto. Senator Panepinto dismissed the allegation.

Politically Marc Panepinto has not been in the strongest position. He first won election to Senate District 60 in 2014 by the narrowest of margins. In a district that is Democratic over Republican in enrollment by a margin of 47-26 percent, he defeated former Senator Al Coppola in a Democratic primary by just 389 votes.

Panepinto then won a three-way race in the general election against Republicans Kevin Stocker and Mark Grisanti. Both Stocker on the Republican line and Grisanti on the Independence line drew more votes than Panepinto on the Democratic line. Panepinto was elected with 33 percent of the vote, his margin of victory coming only from the 3,996 votes he received on the Working Families Party line.

This year Panepinto has already drawn Amber Small, Executive Director of the Parkside Community Association, as a potential primary opponent. She is not likely to receive the party endorsement, which went to Panepinto but will now be withdrawn. Assemblyman Sean Ryan’s Assembly district somewhat overlaps with the senate district but he may not be interested. A Buffalo Common Council member or a member of the Tonawanda Town Board could emerge as the new endorsee.

On the Republican side, perennial candidate Kevin Stocker has been busy ringing door bells for months. County Clerk Chris Jacobs, however, would likely be able to defeat Stocker in a primary. Jacobs will be a formidable candidate in November.

With the Senate at the moment officially divided 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats (with some Democrats affiliated with the Republicans, however), the race in the 60th Senate District will be a barnburner. Look for total spending in the race ranging between $2 million and $3 million.

So this one might be added to the Wozniak matter and other scandals that have occurred in Albany. It seems that people in public life sometimes forget that they are in public life, and that very little really remains private very long if an action or incident crosses the threshold of decency or respect for the law. So very sad.