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Millman breaks Dem ranks

When it comes to reform in Albany, almost all the borough’s state lawmakers talk the talk. But last week, only Assemblymember Joan Millman walked the walk in breaking ranks with fellow borough Assembly Democrats on the vote to replace Alan Hevesi for the new state Comptroller. Millman voted for New York City Finance Commissioner Martha Stark. The rest of her colleagues voted for one of their colleagues, Long Island Assemblymember Tom DiNapoli for the post. In voting for DiNapoli, the Assembly voted against a blue ribbon panel’s recommended short list of Stark, Wall Street financier Bill Mulrow, and Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman. Spitzer and legislative leaders chose the panel, which consisted of three former state and New York City comptrollers. However, Democrats in the Assembly majority reportedly wanted an assemblyman to get the job, and charged that the blue ribbon panel was flawed in favor of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s preferred candidates. Sources said that the Kings County Democratic Party was one of the many political groups that rallied for DiNapoli against the wishes of Spitzer, But Millman voted her conscience, saying she voted for Stark because she has been an outstanding public servant for the City of New York. “As an elected official in Brooklyn, I have witnessed the high level of competence in which she has run the Department of Finance--an agency that employs 2,300 people and collects $18 billion in annual tax revenue,” she said in a released statement. Millman said her vote was not a vote against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver or a vote for Governor Spitzer, but rather a vote for a highly qualified candidate. “Also, I would like to congratulate Tom DiNapoli who has had an outstanding career in public service and will be an excellent Comptroller,” said Millman. “I look forward to working with the new Comptroller, the State Legislature, and the Governor in accomplishing a progressive and reform agenda,” she added. On the flip side, Assemblymember Peter Abbate told members of Community Board 11 in Bensonhurst Thursday night that DiNapoli received his vote because he was already the chair of the committee that oversees government employees and every major union said that they are confident in his abilities. Abbate added that DiNapoli joined the legislature the same year he did – 1986 – and that the Nassau Assemblyman is a “gentleman and a good friend.” “[The unions] said they feel that their workers would be protected under him,” said Abbate. “They’re not concerned, and it’s their money at stake.” Also backing DiNapoli was Assemblymember James Brennan, who is thought of locally as something of a reformer. “I voted my conscience. I’ve known DiNapoli for 20 years and he’s a talented lawmaker and superb political leader. He’s well qualified and highly intelligent,” said Brennan. Brennan said Spitzer is misrepresenting the nature of the office of comptroller to the public. The comptroller position is a popularly position that usually goes to political leaders with vast experience, but who do not always have financial backgrounds, he said. Those in the comptrollers office who manage and invest penchant funds are a highly specialized unit, he said. As such, Brennan indicated that DiNapoli has experience through his years in government in taking on the supervisory role. For instance, when Nassau County had financial problems several years ago and the state had to come in as a regulatory role, it was DiNapoli who was charged with supervising the structure, said Brennan. Interestingly, all the Democratic senators from Brooklyn voted for Stark, which indicates support for reform. However, a columnist in the Albany Times Union noted that Democrats, as the minority in the senate, depend on the governor’s office and not the majority senate Republicans for generous pork barrel items. DiNapoli, who was sworn in following the legislature vote, will receive $151,500 annually in the position. As comptroller, DiNapoli will serve as the state's chief financial officer, auditing government operations and managing $150 billion in pension funds. The Comptroller’s office has 2,400 employees whose duties include financial audits of state agencies and public benefit corporations. The office also manages the state’s assets, issues general obligation debt bonds to pay for projects and reviews state contracts, payrolls and payments before they are issued. DiNapoli last chaired the assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee and previously chaired committees overseeing local governments, consumer affairs and ethics. The comptroller selection also threw more gasoline on the feud between Spitzer and the entrenched elected officials in Albany. After the vote, Spitzer vowed to support Democratic reform candidates in upcoming primaries. Kings County Democratic boss and Assemblymember Vito Lopez could not be reached at press time. However, Lopez did tell a reporter from the New York Observer following the vote that Spitzer should think “carefully” about his threat to campaign against incumbent legislators, warning that there would be “ramifications” if he did. But Spitzer spokesperson Christine Anderson did not budge from the comments and noted the state comptroller oversees a pension fund larger than the state annual budget, and controls people’s hard-earned state pensions. “This vote was critical. It identified reformers and non-reformers alike and Eliot will continue to make the case. “Eliot believes that in a democracy elections should be contested, and he will continue to stand up for candidates who support reform,” said Anderson. “He will be out there looking for partners and campaigning with them in the years ahead,” she added. Later in the day at press time, Spitzer also emailed a statement reiterating a campaign remark that may have long time state lawmakers thinking about new jobs. “I support term limits for legislators and for the governor as part of a larger reform agenda that includes legislative redistricting, campaign finance and judicial selection.” - Tom Tracy contributed to this story

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