Tale of Tom DiNapoli,
Comptroller Wannabe,
Who May Get the Call
To Replace Elected Guy

Henry J. Stern
February 7, 2007

The search for an appointed State Comptroller, which we have followed with great interest since the scourging of the elected one, appears to be nearing completion.  The Times' Michael Cooper thinks so, in a B3 story yesterday headed ASSEMBLY  CLOSER TO NAMING A COMPTROLLER.  The lede:  "The Legislature plans to renege on a deal it head with Gov. Eliot Spitzer and select a lawmaker as the next state comptroller..."
Although nothing is assured, the Assembly press office told us today that they hope to have a meeting this week to fill the vacancy caused by the forced resignation of Alan Hevesi on December 30.  Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum.
It appears that Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli of Nassau is favored at this point, although, as Governor Spitzer learned to his dismay, nothing is certain when you are talking with or about the legislature. Although the Times and the Post expressed displeasure in yesterday's editorials  Speaker Silver allegedly breaking his word to accept the decision of the  "independent screening panel".  What the papers overlook is that the Speaker is a man of the Assembly, elected by the Democratic caucus, and if his people could not accept the panel's verdict that none of them was qualified to be Comptroller, what would one reasonably expect him to do - commit suicide for the panel.  We have been highly critical of Speaker Silver on other issues (commuter tax repeal, Weitz & Luxemburg, vicarious liability) but on this one he clearly deserves a pass.  The panel, acting in good faith, set higher standards of experience than some of them had when they were first elected comptroller.
We know DiNapoli, not well, but we like the man.  He does not have an exaggerated notion of his own importance or intelligence. He is 52 years old and a graduate of Mineola High School. He received the degree of bachelor of arts in history from Hofstra University in Hempstead and earned a masters degree in human resources management from New School University in New York City.  DiNapoli first came to public attention in 1972, when he was 18 years old becoming a trustee of the Mineola Board of Education. He was on the school board for ten years, serving as president twice. In 1986 he was elected to the state legislature, where he is now beginning the 21st year of what could be a life sentence.  He chairs the Environmental Conservation Committee, and is a member of the Rules Committee, which informs us that he is trusted by the Speaker.
On the political side, he formerly chaired the Nassau County Democratic Party, which supported him when he ran for County Executive in the 2001 Democratic primary.  He was soundly defeated by the then-mayor of Glen Cove, Tom Suozzi, who went on to win the fall election.  Suozzi was re-elected county executive in 2005, and as we all know, lost badly to Spitzer in the 2006 primary.  Earlier last year, DiNapoli was considered at one time by Spitzer as a possible candidate for Lieutenant Governor, a position at which he would have excelled. 

However, ethnic balance held sway over geographic balance, religious balance being assured in either case.  When Spitzer made his surprise choice of Senate Minority Leader David Paterson, the runner-up for running mate was Leecia Eve of Buffalo, a lawyer who is the daughter of former Assemblyman Arthur Eve, and a staffer for Senator Clinton. 

Since Spitzer chose straight racial balance over racial balance plus gender balance, some other factor must have been considered in the selection.  Both David and Leecia are children of former elected state legislators. David's father, Basil Paterson is a respected lawyer, mediator and former State Senator.   The elder Paterson was the losing Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 1970, on a ticket headed by former United States Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg.  They lost to the team of Nelson Rockefeller and Malcolm Wilson , who won their fourth term.  Rocky resigned as governor in December 1973 to give Wilson a year's head start as governor, but 1974 was the year of Watergate, and Brooklyn Congressman Hugh Carey beat Wilson.

What this historical review is intended to show is just how inter-related the whole business of politics happens to be.
His colleagues like DiNapoli, to the extent that any of them can have positive feelings about a potential competitor.  As Comptroller, he would be expected to appoint top staff with the professional qualifications he lacks, C.P.A.s and attorneys, but since he has a masters in human resource management, he should be able to find the right people.

DiNapoli is also regarded as having sound judgment. If he leaves the Assembly he may have the chance to use it.
What he does if he should be selected will determine his place in history.  He must demonstrate independence of the governor and the legislature to be taken seriously as a public figure.  But if he were too independent, he would never be considered for the position he is seeking.  His obligation now is to the 18 million people of the State of New York, not the
211 electors (one died) who will have selected him.

That is why the will of the people as expressed in elections should generally be respected, rather than set aside by one district attorney's decision to prosecute, and one official's inability or unwillingness to defend himself.    If his capitulation was caused by his fear of losing his pension, that raises another issue, to be discussed another time.  If it was for fear of exposure of other crimes, that cannot be discussed because we have no idea what they are or whether they exist.  Those are reasons why the result of these proceedings will not really satisfy the public, no matter whom the legislators, in their wisdom, select. But watch out if any of the other solons become Deputy Comptrollers.  That would be too much.


#349 02.07.07   985wds

Henry J. Stern starquest@nycivic.org
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