The election of Thomas DiNapoli (D-Great Neck) to replace Alan Hevesi was widely viewed as a rebuke of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and the governor continued this week to lash out at the Assembly Democrats whose support made the Long Island Democrat the state's top fiscal watchdog.The 18-member Queens delegation unanimously voted for DiNapoli, whose district is just across the border in Nassau County.But Queens Democrats rejected the idea that the vote was the result of nefarious political wrangling, arguing instead that DiNapoli was qualified to serve as comptroller, a job some contend requires financial experience. Queens Democrats also pointed out that New York's constitution called for the Legislature, not Spitzer, to pick Hevesi's replacement."I think this episode underlines the fact that you have three co-equal branches up here," said Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights). "What occurred was proper and constitutional."Lafayette and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) both said it was time to move on from the Legislature's Feb. 7 vote to elect DiNapoli and focus on the budget process. But Spitzer did not appear to be taking that view."Some want to say 'last week was last week, let's just ignore it," Spitzer said Monday in Westchester as he continued his statewide budget tour. "Well let me be clear: I will not ignore it."During his stops, Spitzer has flayed local Assembly Democrats who supported DiNapoli. It is unclear if or when Spitzer will come to Queens.Queens Democrats defended their choice of DiNapoli this week, describing him as an honest and capable legislator who is qualified to take over for Hevesi. They uniformly pointed to the 2,400-member staff that DiNapoli will oversee in arguing that the public should not be concerned about his lack of financial experience."If you own a car dealership, you don't have to be a mechanic," Lafayette said. The state comptroller usually occupies a low-profile position, but the office is extremely powerful with wide authority to audit the use of public money across the state. The comptroller is also the sole trustee of the state's $140 billion fund, a fact that led to Spitzer to maintain that Hevesi's successor should have financial experience.Spitzer also wanted the next comptroller to come from outside Albany and much of his anger with the choice of DiNapoli stems from the Assembly's decision to renege on a promise to choose from among five finalists chosen by a Spitzer-appointed panel.When that panel, whose independence has been questioned by Assembly Democrats, only produced three finalists, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) apparently rallied Democrats from Queens and across the state to support DiNapoli, who won with 150 votes, compared to 56 for New York City Finance Commissioner Martha Stark.Stark, one of three finalists chosen by the panel, was supported by state Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), the four other Queens Democrats in the state Senate and the balance of their colleagues. Stark's other votes primarily came from Assembly Republicans.State Sens. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) joined Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno in voting for DiNapoli.Smith, who said he had moved on to budget deliberations, was disappointed in the Assembly's decision."People have been very cynical about how we conduct business up here, so I view this as a missed opportunity to show people we heard their message," Smith said.He also down played the idea that the squabble between Spitzer and the Assembly could lead to gridlock in Albany. "We're going to govern," he said.Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@times
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