''The ability to make a difference ... that was my main purpose,'' said Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli, as he explained why he became involved in public service. Meeting with a group of local editors at the Anton Community Newspapers office, the assemblyman spoke of ''trying to make a difference'' both in Albany and locally, as assemblyman and as head of the Nassau County Democrats. He is currently running for re-election to his 16th Assembly District seat.
Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli
In Albany, this past legislative session proved to be ''very productive,'' according to Mr. DiNapoli. ''I try to make a difference with laws that have statewide significance ... and it is important to use what leverage I can in Albany to help the folks back home,'' he said. In Albany, as at home, much of his focus is on the environment, education, and health care. He remains a key figure in the battle to protect Long Island's ground water supply.
Mr. DiNapoli is particularly proud to have been instrumental in the establishment of some of this year's legislative accomplishments, including the MTBE law and the neighborhood notification law (for pesticide application). On a more local level, he worked hard to help provide $8 million to make up for the Nassau County bus cuts, and he continues to work to ''plug the holes'' left by a fiscally hurting county.
In Albany, he is active in the assembly on a variety of committees: chair of the local government committee, as well as a member of the environmental committee, the ways and means committee, the committee on education, and the committee on veterans' affairs.
And although his ''first commitment'' is to public service, a year-and-a-half ago Tom DiNapoli took on the job of chair of the Nassau County Democratic Party, quickly leading the Democrats to history-making success in Nassau. Not only did he see the need to strengthen and organize his own party, but he also advocates the need for a ''credible two-party system'' that will produce viable candidates and strong elected officials in the county. Today he is seeing just that, and he is pleased that the Democrats are ''doing better in terms of attracting better candidates.'' As for the Nassau Republicans, he continues to enjoy good relations with that party too.
When the conversation turned to rumors of a DiNapoli run for the county executive seat next year, while admitting ''it certainly is something I would look at,'' Mr. DiNapoli stated firmly that he would not make any decisions until this coming November elections are over. ''I am honored that people think I am capable ... some have been very encouraging ... but right now I want to support the (county) Legislature and their difficult task with the budget,'' he said. His intent is to focus on the budget, hopefully negating the need for the governor to call for a control board. ''Let's deal with what we must deal with now,'' he added.
Running for re-election to his own seat, as party chair he is also closely involved in all of the county races. Due to the fiscal problems, ''there is a lot of discontent, and a lot of new volatility in Nassau County, and a new number of independent voters,'' according to Mr. DiNapoli. And, so, he is looking to see ''ticket splitting'' come November, a rarity in Nassau County in general. ''Democratic and Republican voters cannot be taken for granted,'' he stressed, as he said to look to the races for judges and for the Hempstead town board to see the ''inroads'' that will be made by Democrats.
But Mr. DiNapoli did admit that there are many ''challenges and complications ahead'' for his party: ''We have growing pains, we can't be too sure ... the transition is hard, from the party in the wilderness to the party in power ... and we don't have the funds that the Republican Party has.''
When the conversation again strayed to next year's county executive race, reference was made to Glen Cove Mayor Tom Suozzi's ''unofficial'' announcement in last week's Anton Newspapers, stating that he is raising funds for a run at that seat, and Mr. DiNapoli was asked if he was ''toying'' with the idea of a primary. Tom DiNapoli was clear: ''I am not toying with a primary ... primaries can be helpful, they can be hurtful ... the Republicans don't know what they're doing and I would be more likely to predict a primary there.''
Mr. DiNapoli also added that a primary might be good in that it would ''let people define what they want their leadership to be all about.'' He is most interested that the people have a good choice. Along these lines, he noted that there are others who have expressed an interest in the Nassau County executive job, and he mentioned Judi Jacobs, Richard Kessel, and Barbara Patton. ''I would not preclude anyone from being considered ... we start the process on Nov. 8 ... I hope for a spirited effort on the part of both parties, and I hope our party articulates a better message.''
Commenting on the present Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta, Mr. DiNapoli called him ''a good man within a poor system.'' Referring to Mr. Gulotta's then very recent budget that included taking the sales tax revenues from the town and cities, Mr. DiNapoli said that he does not support this move, and ''if anything, the villages should get a share as well.'' Mr. DiNapoli made a point of stating that Mr. Gulotta ''needs to be open to working with Judi (county legislator presiding officer) and her colleagues ... he needs to see where the majority wants to go and work with them.''
Tom DiNapoli's prediction is that there will be no control board, that the elected officials will get the budget through. ''As it should be, the elected officials will make the final decisions,'' he said.
''We can't win all the elections, but we can make a better fight, we can make a difference,'' said Mr. DiNapoli. Apparently his constituents agree that Tom DiNapoli is making a difference for them, because, as he proudly stated, ''The people in my district have been incredibly supportive, especially this past year.'' And he has been their assemblyman for 14 years!