Tale of Tom DiNapoli,
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
r 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
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
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.
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