An Unlikely Hero
DiNapoli is facing down some powerful enemies
By Alan S. Chartock
I am a huge Tom DiNapoli fan. Unlike others in politics, the New York State Comptroller is not a self-seeking, preening politician who is always trying to take political prisoners to get ahead. He doesn’t want to be president or governor He just wants to do a good job as comptroller. His job is to watch the people’s money, and that is what he is doing.
This has obviously made some others in the political pecking order very uncomfortable. Among the comptroller’s duties is watching how the many billions of dollars in the various pension funds are invested. That particular power has led some of DiNapoli’s predecessors to, as my mother used to say, take advantage.
DiNapoli had to come in and clean up the mess after the fall of Alan Hevesi. Hevesi, you will recall, did some very conflictive, bad things. DiNapoli, on the other hand, eschews many of the political conflict of interest-ridden benefits of the office that got Hevesi into so much trouble. As a result, while other senior politicians are making potential conflict of interest work for themselves in the fundraising department, DiNapoli will not.
In a political system where money talks and all others walk, that’s like cutting your own throat. It costs a lot of money to buy TV time and take out print ads, but DiNapoli is walking the high road and risking political extermination. That’s where Andrew Cuomo comes in.
For some reason, Cuomo doesn’t like DiNapoli. We all know that even though they ran on the same Democratic ticket, Cuomo refused to endorse DiNapoli. DiNapoli kept his head down and won, despite the not-so-subtle support by top Democrats and Republicans for his Republican opponent.
Some people ascribe Cuomo’s antipathy toward DiNapoli as nothing more than a power play on Cuomo’s part. Said one person close to the whole thing, “Andrew wants to control all that pension money and he wants someone in that office who will do what Andrew tells him to do.”
According to this scenario, if Cuomo can get a vassal elected comptroller, he would have the comptroller set up a commission to determine what investments to make. Cuomo would control most of those appointments and hence not have to worry about someone else having some of the decision-making power in a balanced government. Put another way, Cuomo wants all the power.
DiNapoli does have some powerful allies. The labor unions are immensely grateful to him for standing up to Cuomo. These days, nobody wants to take on the governor, but DiNapoli has done just that. When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Cuomo went after the unions, DiNapoli stood by the gate and courageously said, “You shall not pass.”
The members of the Legislature stood up behind DiNapoli, and the unions will never forget their debt to the courageous comptroller. You had better believe that those unions will be foursquare in the “Re-elect DiNapoli” camp.
DiNapoli will also have a lot of individual support from members of the Legislature. In the recent battle of the budget, the members supported DiNapoli’s position.
The best thing about DiNapoli is his character. He is a gentle soul. Like the legendary Ferdinand the Bull, he does not want to fight. But like great heroes of the past and present, when forced to fight, DiNapoli will.
We saw that when he confronted the governor over the rape of the civil service and the governor’s attempts to take away some of DiNapoli’s pre-audit functions. Depriving DiNapoli of any of his power represents a dilution of the comptroller’s watchdog function—that’s the last thing this state should be doing.
Tom DiNapoli is looking more and more like a hero all the time.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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