Monday, January 22, 2007

Colleagues extol DiNapoli's virtues

Newsday ERROL A. COCKFIELD JR.

DiNapoli is the BEST choice to replace Hevesi.......Tom is the real deal...a class act..honest..intelligent...dedicated...........andy


While he was 18 and still a precocious senior in high school, Thomas DiNapoli won a seat on the Mineola School Board, becoming the youngest person in state history elected to a local school board.The year was 1972, and DiNapoli, the son of a telephone cable splicer and a police clerk, had not traveled much beyond Long Island's borders. He first stepped on an airplane when the board flew him to Flint, Mich., to interview a candidate for superintendent.Now that the Democratic assemblyman from Great Neck is a serious contender to replace former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, DiNapoli figures that a political whiz kid who was reviewing multimillion-dollar budgets before he could legally drink has the experience to be the state's chief fiscal watchdog."The responsibility of managing a $150-billion pension fund at age 52 is not intimidating to me," DiNapoli said during an interview Friday. "It's in many ways a natural extension of what I've done, and a good fit.

"Strives for consensusDiNapoli's colleagues describe him as a legislator who avoids the limelight but works behind the scenes for results, crossing party lines to reach consensus. His work since 2002 as chairman of the Assembly's environmental committee often won him praise from former Republican Gov. George Pataki."Tom has always demonstrated a willingness to put aside partisan differences to get something accomplished," said former state Sen. Michael Balboni, a Republican from East Williston who was recently named state homeland security chief.DiNapoli's roughest patch in politics came in 2001 when he lost a primary to then-Glen Cove Mayor Thomas Suozzi in the race for county executive. DiNapoli was bruised by the defeat, said Assemb. Mark Weprin (D-Hollis Hills), a friend and colleague, but he threw himself into his work on the environmental committee.He brokered deals to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into hazardous-waste cleanup and environmental protection. Later, he helped Nassau receive $105 million in state bailout money to avert a budget meltdown. More recently, he co-wrote legislation to increase audits of school districts after fiscal scandals on Long Island."Someone describes him as the nicest guy in Albany," Weprin said. "Just because he's nice doesn't mean he isn't going to fight for what he believes in."

Since Hevesi resigned after pleading guilty to using state employees to run errands for his wife, DiNapoli has been among a group of candidates, inside and outside of the legislature, who are vying for the job. They will appear Tuesday before a panel of former state comptrollers who will then present a whittled-down list to the legislature for a vote.Along with DiNapoli, another Long Islander, Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman, submitted papers Friday to be considered for the post. Weitzman, who was elected in 2001, also was instrumental in the county's fiscal recovery. A CPA, he founded and ran a health care financial services firm and a mail-order pharmaceutical company.In prime positionBecause Democrats in the Assembly have most of the votes, Democratic Assembly members who are watching the contest closely say DiNapoli is best positioned to claim the job if lawmakers reject Gov. Eliot Spitzer's push for the position to go to someone above the political fray.

For his part, DiNapoli has said the comptroller's responsibilities require government expertise, and he has noted that managing the pension fund, though high-profile, is only a sliver of the comptroller's full duties, which include policing state and local governments.Last week, DiNapoli sought to remind his colleagues about the breadth of his government and management experience when he sent each of them a letter about his candidacy. He mentioned that he had chaired the Local Governments and Government Operations committees, credentials that "will be invaluable in the role of auditing state government."DiNapoli also reminded them of a little-known fact: that for 10 years he worked in the private sector, including managing more than 100 employees at AT&T. "At the end of the day, the comptroller has to be someone who understands the public policy dimensions, but also someone who has the ability to manage and to lead," he said.

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