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Alan Chartock shares his thoughts for today....
Monday, January 15, 2007
 
Keep politics out of search for new comptroller
So who should be the next New York State Comptroller? Alan Hevesi, who did a great job as comptroller, is out for having had someone drive his wife around at state expense – as if other people’s wives were never chauffeured around. Well, that’s all behind us now. It turns out that under something called the “Iron Law of Oligarchy,” Shelly Silver, as the head of the legislative oligarchy, gets to pick the next Comptroller.

But not so fast. The new governor, Eliot Spitzer, took home about 70 percent of the vote. That’s quite a mandate. When George Pataki beat Mario Cuomo by a relative handful of votes, he was yelling mandate all over the place. Since it was fairly well known that the late Ralph “Mumbles” Marino, the then head of the Republican Senate, was a little too close to the outgoing Democrat, Mario Cuomo, Pataki assisted in throwing out the hapless Marino and installing “Gentleman” Joe Bruno who is himself now facing a federal investigation. But I digress. The point is that the 800-pound gorilla sitting on the table is Governor Spitzer. Why? If Spitzer wants Shelly gone then Shelly is out of there – gone – finished – done. This is the Spitzer honeymoon. This is the time when Spitzer’s huge lead in the election really means something. Rule number one is that everyone hates the Legislature. Let me spell that out if you haven’t already gotten it. Everyone hates the Legislature and everyone loves Mr. Clean – Eliot Spitzer. I think Shelly Silver is one of the smartest men I have ever met. He is a survivor. If Spitzer says that he wants a particular person chosen, I would listen very carefully if I were Shelly Silver.

Silver wants to name one of his colleagues in the Assembly to the job. That may not jibe with what Spitzer wants. Spitzer wants someone who knows Wall Street. The last several comptrollers have racked up a lot of money for the pension funds. Spitzer wants someone who knows what he or she is doing. He doesn’t want a politico with little in the way of financial credentials to run things. If it were a gubernatorial appointment, the job would go to a financial professional, not a legislator. But there are other issues. There’s the matter of political balance. It is tough to imagine either Spitzer or Silver giving the job to another Manhattan politician. One of the most qualified of the legislators is Alexander “Pete” Grannis from Manhattan’s East Side. I said Manhattan, that place where Governor Spitzer and Lieutenant Governor David Paterson live and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo works. They are not about to give the job to another guy from Manhattan. They may want to run again in four years and the last thing they need is an all-Manhattan ticket.

Then there’s Richard Brodsky, a fearless and dedicated Assembly member who has been doing a good job watching the suspicious activities of the Pataki administration. That’s what you want in a Comptroller, someone who will audit the way people are doing things. Clearly Brodsky has Silver’s ear and I would rate him as the front runner. There’s also Assembly member Joe Morelle, the chair of the Monroe County (Rochester) Democratic Committee. We hear that he is a great favorite of Silver’s and he’s an Upstater. Good thing. Put him at the head of the line. His problem is that he is the chairman of the Democratic Committee. In some places that title is translated into the word “boss.” Do the words “boss” and “comptroller” go together? He’s supposed to be a good guy and we hear that he’s taking a crash course in finance right now. Even money, as the bookies might say. Then there is Assembly member Tom DiNapoli from Long Island. Long Island is good. It is not Manhattan, it has a lot of Democrats and a lot of people love this guy. No one has a bad word to say about DiNapoli. He works to balance the ticket ethnically and geographically. It sounds like he has a lot going for him.

All of these people will be put to the test in the so-called hearings that Silver will orchestrate. Under the new spirit of open government, people should have a chance to hear how the candidates do when they speak at the hearings. This, of course, assumes that the winner will come from the Assembly but that may turn out not to be the case if Spitzer gets his way and the Democrats look for a candidate with more fiscal background than any of the Assembly politicos have. In fact, after you get all the assemblymen out of the way, there’s a number of people from all around New York who have tremendous fiscal credentials. These are the kind of people Eliot Spitzer would put in the comptroller’s office if he could have his way. I would love to be the fly on the wall when Shelly and Eliot talk about this. Up to now, New York has had some great and competent comptrollers, including Alan Hevesi. New York’s pension system has grown and a lot of skullduggery has been uncovered. Should the wrong person be chosen, someone will have a lot of explaining to do.

Originally published in The Legislative Gazette, 1/12/07
Alan Chartock shares his thoughts for today....
 
I Publius: Honoring our new governor
I don't know about anyone else, but my eyes were just plain wet Saturday afternoon at the Colonial Theatre in downtown Pittsfield. All I can say is, "Wow! It just doesn't get any better." There was our new governor, Deval Patrick, the one they said "just couldn't win." Well, win he did, and the county turned out to honor him.

First, there was a reception at the Berkshire Museum, with food from all over the place. The only person I'll single out is the incredibly generous Joyce Bernstein, who, with her partner, Larry Rosenthal, just keeps on giving and giving and giving. I hope the people of Pittsfield recognize what a treasure they have in these two.

Also, kudos to the wonderful Megan Whilden, the empress of cultural affairs, who is so responsible for making things like this happen and making Pittsfield look good. Her boss, Mayor Jimmy Ruberto, was justifiably proud, and what a hug he got from Deval himself. He deserved it. Right from the beginning, when it really mattered, he had the guts to be there with the man who couldn't win. Sometimes you have to do what's right, as opposed to what you think might gain you something. Another recipient of a gubernatorial hug was our new state senator, Ben Downing. He's another one who defied the odds, taking victory from the old pols' favorite, the irrepressible Chris Hodgkins.

After the food, lucky ticket holders went down to the Colonial, where Julianne Boyd, another miracle worker, staged a gala performance featuring the youth of the Berkshires doing everything from singing to drumming to jazz to a very special kind of dancing to drama.

Then came the best of all, the great J.T. He was introduced by his wife, Caroline (known as Kim), and the couple's twins, Rufus and Henry. Kim, one of the most beautiful of all people, was wearing a knockout dress, and the twins could not have been cuter. Kim said, "And now ..." and each of the kids had a single word to say. "James," said one, and "Taylor," said the other. I am going to have to remember to send them membership cards in an organization that my brother Lewis and I established years ago, "The Secret Society of the Brother Twins." It has its own handshake and password. Once you're in, your future is assured.

Our James has been very, very busy. He's been helping a whole group of Democratic winners. He helped Eliot Spitzer and gave a heck of a concert at the old Knickerbocker, then Pepsi and now Times Union Arena in Albany. Then he was an honored performer at the Italian Embassy in Washington, where he and Tony Bennett sang for Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker in Congress. And, of course, he worked hard for Deval. Just before the election, Kim was quite apprehensive. "Not to worry," I told her. "They're all going to win." They did. I mean, with our J.T. behind them, how could they lose?

I just don't know why I get so teary, but it happens, and Roselle and the kids have always been embarrassed. When I see the kinds of things I saw at the Colonial, my eyes can't help but mist up. Just think of the history. Here they were, the new governor and lieutenant governor. Finally — in our lifetimes — we see a black man as governor of the commonwealth. We are measured by what we do and now we elect a brilliant, well-spoken accomplished man who happens to be black. We are measured by how we treat each other. The day after the concert, I met Deval Patrick's new secretary of labor, Suzanne Bump, who is a Housatonic resident, at Bizalion's Fine Food on South Main Street in Great Barrington. She and her husband, Paul McDevitt, had been sitting right up front at the concert. When I learned who they were, I said, "No wonder you were sitting up front."

Suzanne was political director of the Patrick campaign in South Boston, where some of the worst racism in the commonwealth once existed. Paul told me that things had changed. People had grown up, and we had moved on from a different time. We sure have.

Speaking of Bizalion, it's one of my favorite places in the Berkshires. You can sit at a long, communal table and sip latte. It's fascinating to observe how many people come into the place to converse in French with proprietor Jean-François Bizalion. He had a very distinguished career in France and New York before seeking the bucolic life with his wonderful Irish wife, Helen. I suggested to him that he establish a language-intensive, total immersion program at the place. No one should come into Bizalion who cannot speak at least some French. Those of us with high school and college French would have to get out our old books and try to remember how to ask for things. For the privilege of doing this, we would have to pay for the time we sat there. I guess we all have this sort of homing instinct that allows us to go and share time with others who might be like us.

Originally published in The Berkshire Eagle, 1/13/07

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