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Democrats expected to endorse Amodeo; State Senate contest could be complicated

Erie County Democratic leaders are expected to endorse attorney Michael L. Amodeo tonight for the State Senate seat now held by Republican Mark J. Grisanti, kicking off what could prove to be one of this year's fiercest legislative contests in the entire state.

Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan said late Tuesday that Amodeo, a Hamburg resident, would most likely emerge from a meeting of the Executive Committee as the endorsed candidate.

"If I were a betting man I think it would turn out that way," he said.

Amodeo became a sure bet Tuesday after Buffalo attorney Marc C. Panepinto said he would not continue what had been an energetic effort to secure the party nod.

"I was asked by high-level local Democrats to reconsider my candidacy and, after long contemplation, decided to do that for the benefit of the party," said Panepinto, who said he will now return about $60,000 he had so far raised for the race.

Still, the situation on both sides of the Grisanti race remains complicated.

Former Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola, who briefly held the seat after winning a 2000 special election, said Tuesday he also is preparing to run.

"You have all these factions backing the other candidates to run the way they want them to," Coppola said. "I'm not afraid to challenge that."

Coppola served on the Buffalo Common Council from 1984 to 2000 and was defeated for re-election to the Senate in 2000 by Byron W. Brown, now mayor of Buffalo. Coppola also unsuccessfully tried to regain his seat in 2002 and 2004.

Kenmore Mayor Patrick Mang, according to several sources, also continues to pursue the seat and interviewed Tuesday with the Working Families Party for its support.

All must contend with Charles M. Swanick of Kenmore, the former County Legislature chairman who has come out of retirement. He is believed to enjoy support from the City Hall faction of the party and has also piqued the interest of statewide Democrats committed to regaining their majority in the Senate.

Swanick has already gained the Conservative line after he was reintroduced to party leaders by G. Steven Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic chairman who usually finds himself at odds with Lenihan's headquarters faction.

Grisanti, meanwhile, faces what some observers say could prove a tough Republican primary from attorney Kevin T. Stocker. And even if he survives, he still faces a huge obstacle in the November general election because of the Democratic enrollment advantage, which approaches 3 to 1.

The election has already featured television commercials and a flurry of at least four mailings for Grisanti, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars at this early point, with even more expected to follow.

After Grisanti cast a crucial vote last year to legalize same-sex marriage in New York State, he attracted major donations from the gay community and other supporters at a Manhattan fundraiser last fall.

Stocker or Swanick could be the beneficiaries of big donations from groups defending traditional marriage, with Swanick already reporting money from the National Organization for Marriage.

As a result, a major campaign effort is expected on both sides leading to the Sept. 13 primary and Nov. 6 general election.

Though Swanick may enjoy several advantages, including name recognition from his more than two decades in County Hall, Lenihan said he expects Amodeo to prove an attractive candidate.

"We're putting up a fresh face, a young professional who represents a new generation versus the same old, same old," the chairman said.

Lenihan said he expects his committee to also endorse incumbent Timothy M. Kennedy tonight for an adjoining Senate district, acknowledging he expects former Sen. Antoine M. Thompson of Buffalo to join that contest.

"It certainly looks like Antoine is going to run," he said, "but he has not announced or sought our support."