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Panepinto says he won’t seek re-election after first term in Senate

State Sen. Marc Panepinto, in office for just one term, said Tuesday that he will not seek re-election.

Panepinto, a Democrat of Buffalo, appeared visibly shaken as he spoke about his family and law office during his news conference in his law office on Delaware Avenue.

“It’s the best decision for my family, my law partners and the party,” Panepinto said.

When asked if he was under an investigation, Panepinto said “no.”

A Panepinto advisor quickly cut off questioning at the brief news conference.

Panepinto acknowledged his chief of staff, Danny Corum, resigned his post over the weekend and has been replaced by deputy Chris Savage.

“We made a change,” Panepinto said.

When asked why Corum, his chief aide and a former staffer with the United Federation of Teachers, a NYSUT affiliate in New York City, had resigned, Panepinto replied: “That situation will play itself out.” The senator also referred to serious discussions in the State Legislature about a potential ban on outside income. Panepinto, considered one of the most successful lawyers in the Legislature, said: “I’ve got to put my family first and my law firm first.”

If lawmakers enact such a ban, Panepinto said he would have to put his family’s interests first. He added that he did not want his personal issues to stand in the way of the Democrats keeping the Senate seat.

The News’ Bob McCarthy wrote a column earlier this month about the Democrats’ endorsement process in relation to Panepinto.

Panepinto is just 15 months into his first term. He won the 2014 Senate race by beating incumbent Mark Grisanti, who ran on the Independence Party line, Republican Kevin L. Stocker and Conservative Party candidate Timothy Gallagher.

At least $3 million was spent in that race from all sides.

Panepinto won the race, thanks to a Democratic enrollment edge in the district and massive support from the New York State United Teachers union.

Panepinto’s decision not to run and his sudden disappearance from the Capitol Tuesday afternoon surprised both Democrats and Republicans.

“We regretfully accept Sen. Panepinto’s decision not to seek reelection in November,” Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said in a statement. “Under the given circumstances we agree it is the right choice, and certainly wish Marc well and thank him for his service to our community.

“The Erie County Democratic Committee will now move forward with a careful, inclusive nominating process in order to select the strongest possible candidate to represent the 60th Senate District at a time of great challenges and opportunities for our region and our state,” Zellner said.

He said those interested in receiving the Democratic endorsement should contact Democratic headquarters as soon as possible.

Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said Panepinto “created far more questions than answers as to why he is not seeking re-election to the New York State Senate.”

“By casually mentioning a ‘staff turnover’ issue and saying that the ‘process would play out,’ he clearly is withholding some facts that have led to his abandoning his campaign for re-election,” Langworthy said in a statement. “After spending an absolute personal fortune on his campaign in 2014, it is highly unlikely he would quit unless there was very serious ethical issues in question.”

Langworthy added: “He will leave office with a dark cloud over his head unless he comes clean as to why he is really leaving the senate.”

In recent months, several people on both the Democratic and Republican sides have emerged who wanted to run against Panepinto.

Republicans in January – just hours before the senator’s announcement Tuesday afternoon in Buffalo – were promoting Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs as their best prospect to win the seat.

On the Democratic side, several are already looking or declared, including former state Sen. Alfred T. Coppola and Amber Small, executive director of the Parkside Community Association.

But on Tuesday afternoon, before Panepinto made his announcement, some Erie County Democratic Party insiders were spreading the name of Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, as someone who could run for the Senate seat. Ryan would have to give up his safe Assembly majority seat for a bid to try to win a seat now held by a minority party Democrat in the hope that Democrats statewide can re-take the state Senate in this fall’s elections.

Ryan, in an interview Tuesday evening, did not rule out a run for Panepinto’s seat.

“Sen. Panepinto’s decision is unexpected and it’s obviously humbling for my name to be mentioned among possible candidates,” Ryan said. “This is something I’ll need to carefully consider with my family, my community and my staff before making any decisions.’’

With the backing of the New York State Teachers union in his 2014 campaign, Panepinto came to Albany swinging at one of the union’s biggest targets at the time: Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

At one point last spring, Panepinto said in a Buffalo News interview that he wasn’t a psychologist and so couldn’t understand where Cuomo was coming from, but then added that the Democratic governor “doesn’t like consensus-building, he doesn’t believe in the legislative process … he wants to dictate.’’

Panepinto’s rhetoric against Cuomo has been muted so far this year.

Unlike many freshmen who come to Albany, Panepinto, a lawyer, was not shy in his first term about engaging in Senate floor debates with Republicans.

Republicans redrew his district, the Senate 60th, several years ago in a last-ditch attempt to protect Grisanti. They carved a district that went from Grand Island in the north along a narrow waterfront section of Buffalo and south to Brant.

As a newcomer in the minority political party in the Senate, Panepinto has had just two of his bills become law; one involved parkland in Hamburg and the other to add 18 Mile Creek in Erie County to the definition of an inland waterway.