When the State Legislature appointed Thomas DiNapoli to succeed the disgraced Alan Hevesi as state comptroller four years ago, Governor Eliot Spitzer jumped aboard his high horse and denounced Mr. DiNapoli as unqualified.
Mr. Spitzer, of course, soon joined Mr. Hevesi in involuntary exile, and Mr. DiNapoli, a former assemblyman from Long Island, set about reforming the office for which he was supposedly “unqualified.” The cronyism and horrendous ethical abuses of Mr. Hevesi’s regime were cleaned up, to the dismay of lobbyists and favor seekers. Now, Mr. DiNapoli is running for a full term in his own right, while his onetime critic has been reduced to sparring on cable television.
Mr. DiNapoli deserves the support of New York’s voters in next week’s election. The Observer endorses his bid to join Democratic running mates Andrew Cuomo and Eric Schneiderman in changing the dysfunctional culture of Albany.
The race for state comptroller rarely excites public attention, in part because of the gray-flannel nature of the job. The comptroller’s office oversees the state’s $125 billion pension fund, and as if that weren’t enough, it monitors the spending habits of the governor and Legislature, scouring the budget for waste and abuse. Candidates for the office tend to talk like statisticians, and that rarely makes for good campaign copy.
Mr. DiNapoli, however, has been able to capitalize on the easily understood changes he has made to an office marred by the abuses of Mr. Hevesi and his cronies, several of whom are either in prison or who may be on their way in the near future. The comptroller banned the practice known as play-to-pay, in which would-be vendors or contractors were expected to deliver campaign contributions in exchange for state work. He also implemented ethics training within his office, and put an inspector general in charge of watching over compliance with ethics regulations.
The Republican candidate, Harry Wilson, has run an aggressive, issues-oriented campaign, arguing that Mr. DiNapoli’s reforms haven’t gone far enough and that the comptroller’s office could have done a better job of investing the pension’s funds assets. While Mr. Wilson may have a point–the fund has fallen by about 1.6 percent over the past three years–the market hasn’t exactly been robust. Mr. DiNapoli points out that the fund has won praise from outside institutions for its integrity and accountability. Those are no small achievements, considering what Mr. DiNapoli inherited.
Mr. DiNapoli is regarded as one of Albany’s more congenial figures, which helps explain why his colleagues in the Legislature promoted him to the comptroller’s office. But as the next four years unfold, Mr. DiNapoli surely will have to crack down on his former colleagues if they continue to play fast and loose with taxpayer dollars. Based on his performance so far, we’re confident that he will blow the whistle on waste and abuse. That alone will go a long way toward a reformed Albany.