By Robert McCarthy
The Buffalo News
Sean M. Ryan will not run for the soon-to-be-vacated 60th State Senate seat this fall.
The Buffalo Democrat said he will remain in the Democratic-led Assembly and avoid the “gray and questionable” money he predicts will dominate the contest for the Senate seat that Marc C. Panepinto is departing.
The assemblyman noted the special Senate election just concluded on April 19 for the Long Island seat of Dean G. Skelos, the disgraced former majority leader, attracted more than $8 million from all sorts of outside interests. He said he anticipates a contest between him and Republican Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs would have spawned a similar spending spree.
“On Long Island, the majority of that money was spent by outside interest groups intent on simply tearing down the other candidate,” he said. “It was all funded by highly questionable and gray money, and I’m not eager to jump into that pool.”
He said unions or special interests in New York City with no connections to Buffalo would have dominated the local contest.
“There would have been millions of dollars of questionable dollars into this campaign alone,” he said.
Ryan said he spurned intense pressure from several interests hoping to retain a Democrat in the 60th District seat and establish a Democratic majority in the Senate.
“I’m certain I can continue to be effective in the Assembly, but it’s hard to predict the future of the Senate,” he said. “I believe I owe it to the people of Buffalo and Erie County to take the certain path and represent their interests in the Assembly.”
Ryan’s decision could spark a wild scramble among interested Democrats and a potential September primary contest, though no other prospective candidates are expected to mount the strong candidacy projected for him.
Still, Alfred T. Coppola, who came within 613 votes of winning the 2014 Democratic primary and who briefly held the Senate seat in 2000, is now expected to launch his own campaign for the seat.
“It is crucial that we have a Democratic majority in the Senate,” the former Delaware Council member said in a recent letter to Democratic leaders seeking their endorsement. “I know I can win. I did it every year for two years for 17 years and in a special election for Senate.”
Amber A. Small, executive director of the Parkside Community Association, already has declared.
And party sources say Michael P. Quinn Jr., a Hamburg councilman, is undecided.
Another possible name mentioned in some quarters is Joel P. Feroleto, the Delaware Council member.
But Democrats – especially those in Albany seeking a Democratic edge in the Senate – were hoping Ryan would be their man. An attorney who has proved a popular political candidate, Ryan was seen as the best Democratic opponent to face the Jacobs.
But Ryan notes that even if Democrats gain a majority in the 2016 election, nothing is certain about who will rule the chamber in 2017. A band of five senators forming the Independent Democratic Caucus could align with either party, he said, clouding any certainty over a Senate majority come next January.
“There was strong pressure that was moderated by a lot of advice from Western New York to stay in the Assembly and keep delivering,” he said. “I’m able to get more done there. But it all goes back to that uncertainty. And one thing is for sure – the Assembly is stable.”
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner described Quinn, who is also the Town of Hamburg Democratic chairman, as “on the fence” about running. Another name previously mentioned – Tonawanda Town Board member Lisa M. Chimera – will not run, he added.
Zellner reiterated that the party may opt to make no endorsement in the race and nominate a candidate via open primary.
Panepinto announced in March he would not run again after only 15 months in office, citing family and business interests at home. The Buffalo News reported soon after his announcement that a legislative ethics panel had initiated an investigation of his office following the recent resignations of several staff members.