New York State's comptroller is the sole trustee of a pension fund that has assets of about $140 billion, more than four times the size of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
That's one of the many reasons there is such a spirited debate going on in Albany about who should succeed former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi (D-Queens). Hevesi resigned recently after pleading guilty to a single class E felony count of defrauding the government for having used state employees as personal aides to his wife.
Two of Nassau's elected officials, state Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli (D-Great Neck) and county Comptroller Howard Weitzman (D-Great Neck) are on the short list to become the next state comptroller but how their candidacies got this far is a story unto itself.
Assemblyman DiNapoli is said to be Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's (D-Manhattan) top choice to become state comptroller, which would at first appear to give DiNapoli or another Assembly member the inside track because under the state Constitution all 212 Members of the state legislature must vote to select a comptroller, if the incumbent either resigns or dies while in office. Speaker Silver, on paper at least, would be able to secure the 106 Democratic current votes in the state Assembly, and then need only the support of one Republican Assembly member, or one state senator, from either party, to put his candidate into the comptroller's office.
Comptroller Weitzman's rise to the top of the state comptroller list emerged because of a tactical mistake on Speaker Silver's part. Rather than move forward with a full vote of the state Legislature on whom the next comptroller should be, the speaker agreed to a Governor Spitzer-supported comptroller search process in which almost 20 candidates were screened by a panel of three former state comptrollers.
The panel of former comptrollers was asked to return to the legislature with the names of no more than five qualified candidates. Instead, they came back with three names: Comptroller Weitzman, New York City Finance Commissioner Martha Stark, and William Mulrow, a financier who lost a 2002 Democratic primary for state comptroller to Hevesi. The problem for Speaker Silver was that the panel-approved list contained the name of not one state Assembly member.
No matter how this plays out, Comptroller Weitzman has already been a big winner. Three former state comptrollers looked at his credentials, interviewed him, and then agreed Weitzman had the experience to be the state's next comptroller. The New York Times' editorial board subsequently endorsed Weitzman for the job, having bought into the idea that the search committee was the way to proceed, and then asserting that Weitzman's résumé was better than that of either Stark or Mulrow.
My own two cents: The last thing New York's taxpayers need is a governor who unduly influences the selection of a comptroller because, when he or she isn't managing a multibillion dollar pension fund, the comptroller is auditing the books of an executive branch over which the governor presides.