On Sunday afternoon, after a moment of silence for the shootings in Arizona, and before he got choked up talking about his immigrant grandfather, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli thanked everyone who filled the Great Hall at Cooper Union to celebrate his first statewide election.
“I’m delighted to share this swearing-in–the others were practice, I explained to Judge Lippman–because this is with family and friends, and people who I want to be with,” DiNapoli said.
DiNapoli officially took the oath on New Year’s Eve, and was ceremonially sworn-in alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo on January 1, but this one would be the comptroller’s own party–dotted with many of the labor leaders and stalwart Democrats who were notably absent from Cuomo’s stripped-down affair.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver–the man most responsible for DiNapoli’s ascension, and one who missed Cuomo’s event (on account of the Saturday Sabbath)–sat in the front row, and laughed as the comptroller joked about his appointment, during which then-Governor Eliot Spitzer derided him as unqualified for the office.
“You’ll recall I started my tenure as New York State’s 54th Comptroller in 2007 with an untraditional beginning,” DiNapoli said. “Instead of the customary swearing in, I was given a swearing-at.”
Assemblyman Keith Wright served as emcee, and dutifully rattled off a list of the elected officials in the audience, which included a bevy of DiNapoli’s former Assembly colleagues; a handful of state senators–including Malcolm Smith and Gustavo Rivera; former Mayor David Dinkins; and congressional representatives Eliot Engel and Carolyn McCarthy. (Police Commissioner Ray Kelly–whose boss, Michael Bloomberg aggressively backed DiNapoli’s opponent–arrived late.)
Noticeably absent though were two of DiNapoli’s running mates–Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Cuomo’s attorney general’s office was investigating the comptroller until the latter stages of the campaign, and the incoming governor never endorsed or appeared with the comptroller, only rarely mentioning DiNapoli’s name in public appearances. (The governor’s office did not provide a reason for his absence.) Schneiderman–whose swearing-in Cuomo attended last week–was uptown, at the ceremony for his successor in the state Senate, Adriano Espaillat.
But one of the comptroller’s ticket-mates did make it to the dais.
Senator Charles Schumer served as the first speaker, introduced by Wright as “the James Brown of the United State Senate.”
“I think after that introduction, with Tom’s election, each one of us could say to Tom, ‘I feel good!'” said Schumer, punctuating his best Godfather of Soul impression with a trademark fist pump.
Schumer spoke of the uphill battle DiNapoli faced in his first statewide race, and described a “sense of pride and elation and almost vindication” at seeing the comptroller overcome “forces that were large and unfair.”
In a nod to the labor support that helped DiNapoli eke out a victory over Harry Wilson–a self-funding fiscal expert who earned most of the editorial endorsements–the comptroller was introduced by Denis Hughes, the present of New York’s AFL-CIO.
In his remarks, DiNapoli made sure to acknowledge the union members for their support.
“My special thanks to the women and men of labor,” he said. “You proved people power still matters even in the face millions of dollars in negative media advertising.”
DiNapoli quoted Hugh Carey’s famous line about the “days of wine and roses” being over, but overall, he struck a much different tone than Cuomo, who has specifically called for labor–particularly public employee unions–to share in the sacrifice needed to solve the state’s fiscal crisis.
“Our public retirees and public employees are not the enemies in this discussion,” DiNapoli said. “They deserve to be at the table and respected for the work that they do to enable our communities to provide services. It’s not a choice between taxpayers and public employees. Last time I looked, public employees are taxpayers, too.”
The labor mentions drew roaring applause from the crowd.
“It seems many of the pundits expected last year to be my final chapter,” he said. “I was diced and sliced, outspent and underappreciated by most editorial writers. But in reflecting on last year, I’m reminded of the words of that great British philosopher, Ringo Starr: ‘I get by with a little help from my friends!'”
Speaking to reporters after the speech, DiNapoli declined to dwell on the governor’s absence.
“We invited many people and not everybody could be here for obvious reasons,” he said. “We’re very proud of the turnout that we had.”