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Onondaga official to challenge Thomas DiNapoli

Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci in downtown Syracuse

Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci in downtown Syracuse on Sept. 19, 2013. (Credit: Brett Carlsen / Syracuse.com)

ALBANY -- Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci announced his Republican campaign Wednesday against state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In a political twist, Antonacci said he will participate in the state's pilot program of public campaign finance rejected by DiNapoli. That could help him quickly raise a formidable campaign fund for a statewide race under the system long pushed by Democrats, but opposed by Republicans.

"As a certified public accountant and an attorney, I think I am uniquely qualified," he said in an interview. "This is a little corny, but 'Star Wars' is making a comeback, so this is the taxpayers striking back."

Antonacci has won two terms to the comptroller's job in the county that includes Syracuse, many suburbs and dairy farms. He wouldn't discuss his view of DiNapoli's performance in office, but said that would come later in the campaign.

Comptrollers audit government finances. The state comptroller, who is paid $151,500 a year, is also the sole trustee of the massive public employee pension fund.

"I welcome Bob Antonacci to this race and look forward to talking to the voters about the issues important to working families across New York State," DiNapoli said. "I'm proud of my record of protecting taxpayers and restoring integrity to this office. I've managed the state pension fund to record highs, fought corruption at all levels of government and shed light on dark money in politics."

DiNapoli had a career in the Assembly before becoming state comptroller. The Democrat was first appointed to the job by a joint session of the legislature after Democratic Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigned amid several scandals. He since won re-election.

A key to this year's race for the Republican in the state dominated 2:1 by Democratic voters could be Antonacci's use of the state public financing system. The voluntary pilot program offered only in the comptroller's race this year that provides a 6:1 match of public funds to small private campaign donations.

The system was approved by the State Legislature March 31 as a test case.

DiNapoli like many Democrats has long sought public financing of campaigns to combat the influence of large donors on politics. But DiNapoli and good-government groups said the compromise that resulted was so flawed they wouldn't support it. The voluntary system also includes limits on contributions lower than DiNapoli has already collected under existing law.

DiNapoli, of Thomaston, had $2.1 million in his campaign fund as of the January filings with the Board of Elections.

State Republican chairman Ed Cox said Antonacci "may very well be the most qualified person to ever seek the office of state comptroller."

Antonacci has the support of Conservative Party Mike Long. Conservative support has traditionally been critical for Republicans statewide in the Democrat-dominated state.

"Bob Antonacci has been a successful watchdog of the taxpayers' money in Onondaga County; he clearly is the watchdog needed to protect the taxpayers in all of New York State," Long said.

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