2007 Newsmaker: Thomas DiNapoli
After some two decades representing the 16th Assembly District in northwestern Nassau County, Thomas DiNapoli made a quick and improbable jump to the position of state comptroller. And improbable is probably too generous a word. It was more like a one-in-100 shot, where the only realistic path for this to happen presented itself.
That path started with then-state Comptroller Alan Hevesi turning out to be a criminal. Shortly after being reelected in 2006, he pleaded guilty to defrauding the state and resigned. That opened the door for the state Legislature, dominated by the Assembly Democratic conference, to pick his replacement. And luckily for DiNapoli, he was affable and well-respected by those colleagues, even if he was a virtual unknown throughout the rest of the state. But there was one obstacle to DiNapoli’s ascent: newly elected Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was trying to flex his muscles by arguing that an outside panel of experts in finance should vet all potential comptroller candidates. That panel came back with three recommendations, and DiNapoli was not among them.
The power play by Spitzer left a sour taste in the mouths of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. The three of them twisted arms, and ultimately DiNapoli landed the job. Their machinations flagrantly disregarded the selection process Spitzer had outlined, which was not legally binding.
No matter why DiNapoli was the pick – some say it was less because of his qualifications and more because he possessed a squeaky clean image – he soon became both the holder of the keys to the state’s multibillion-dollar pension fund and the fiscal watchdog for the second-largest state budget in the nation. DiNapoli also handed Spitzer one of his earliest defeats as governor, and earned himself a spot as newsmaker of the year for 2007.
2007 Newsmaker, Runner-up: Sheldon Silver
The Eliot Spitzer steamroller hit a bumpy path early in 2007 when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver quickly derailed many of his plans. Spitzer wanted to replace state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who had just resigned in disgrace, with one of three people picked by a commission he set up to vet candidates. Trouble was, the commission didn’t pick any Assembly members in that final three. Silver, whose Assembly Democratic conference held enough votes to determine the outcome, revolted. And Silver, in his first showdown with the newly elected governor, basically told him to bug off. The Assembly installed Tom DiNapoli, and Spitzer quickly realized that he wasn’t going to be able to reform the way Albany works through sheer force of personality. Emboldened by his power play, Silver then teamed up with Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to stare down Spitzer in budget negotiations, adding tens of millions in spending, as the governor panicked and relented so he could get an on-time budget – one that increased spending roughly 7 percent and made a lot of lawmakers happy.