Suffolk Closeup: DiNapoli draws a crowd on East End

Kimogener Point on the Bay off New Suffolk Avenue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
Kimogener Point on the Bay off New Suffolk Avenue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

The only Long Islander running statewide on a major party ticket this year, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, was on the East End last week.

It was an unusual political happening since he was introduced by the top Republican officeholder in Suffolk County government, Joseph Sawicki, and because of the different constituencies involved in the event. 

“Tom DiNapoli — you’re the best,” declared Mr. Sawicki, the Suffolk County comptroller and a former Southold Town Republican chairman who served with Mr. DiNapoli in the State Assembly. Being a comptroller, Mr. Sawicki said at the reception in Riverhead for Mr. DiNapoli, “transcends politics” because the office is charged with being a governmental watchdog. And as for being a Long Islander in Albany, Mr. Sawicki said of Mr. DiNapoli: “He is a Long Island-grown boy. He knows what Long Island is all about.”

Also introducing Mr. DiNapoli, was Joseph Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, who praised Mr. DiNapoli as “a straight-shooter. When Tom DiNapoli tells you something, you can trust what he says.” Further, he said, “Tom has always been open to learning about the farmers’ plight on Long Island” and appreciates what “we produce” from the land and sea and agriculture’s relationship to “jobs and tourism.”

The extraordinary mix of business leaders and environmentalists involved in organizing the event included attorney Tom Twomey of East Hampton, who has specialized in environmental law, and George Proios, former Brookhaven Town director of environmental protection and currently chairman of the state’s Soil & Water Conservation Committee. From the industry side, Mitch Pally, chief executive officer of the Long Island Builders Institute was one of the event’s movers and shakers, as well as former state Democratic Party Chair Judith Hope of East Hampton and Suffolk Democratic leader Rich Schaffer. At the gathering was Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, the island-wide chamber of commerce.

Mr. DiNapoli is running against Republican Robert Antonacci, the two-term comptroller of Onondaga County where Syracuse is located. Mr. Antonacci stresses on his website that he’s “proven I’m not afraid to stand up and fight against government inefficiency. I’ve performed countless audits and have worked with officials of both parties to find solutions. I want to take this experience and bring it to our state government … Together we can help change New York and get our economy back on the right track.”

Republicans haven’t been doing very well running statewide in New York, not winning an election since 2002, the last of three terms for Governor George Pataki. Still, Mr. DiNapoli won only narrowly for comptroller against Harry Wilson, a wealthy hedge-fund manager from Scarsdale, in 2010.

Born in Rockville Centre, raised in Albertson, and long a resident of Great Neck Plaza, Mr. DiNapoli made big news early in his career when at age 18 he became the youngest person in New York history to hold public office, elected to the Mineola Board of Education in 1972. He was on the school board for a decade. For two decades he was a member of the State Assembly, especially focusing on the environment. He was chairman of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee.

As comptroller, he’s been highly active and very independent. Indeed, one of his first acts as comptroller, in 2007, was criticizing then Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposed budget, declaring that the planned spending would be at an “unsustainable rate.” In remarks at the reception last Wednesday, Mr. DiNapoli said he has sought to “be an independent voice on state fiscal practices.” He spoke with satisfaction that the State Pension Fund, over which he is the sole trustee, is now valued at $176 billion. “We went through tough times,” he said, about managing the fund during years of recession. “We’re getting good results and doing it right.”

He spoke about East End environmental issues, pointing to the preservation of tens of thousands of acres of Long Island Pine Barrens, an initiative in which he was intimately involved as an assemblyman. Business leaders and environmentalists from Long Island joined together in that effort.

Saving the Pine Barrens and “protecting the water” below them, the purest water in Long Island’s system of underground aquifers, has become “a model to solve other regional problems on Long Island and the state,” said Mr. DiNapoli. Moreover, it is a lesson on how “you preserve what’s beautiful about the East End.”

grossman_karl150 Karl Grossman’s syndicated “Suffolk Closeup” column is printed in the Shelter Island Reporter, a Times/Review Newsgroup publication.