Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, a Democrat who set out to attack public corruption but faced investigations after he was found to have been overpaid for unused leave time he accrued as Long Beach city manager, said Thursday he would not run for reelection in November.
In an interview with Newsday, Schnirman didn't provide a specific reason for his decision and didn't answer questions about the payout issue or his conversations with Democratic Party leaders.
Instead, he read from prepared remarks that he later distributed to donors and campaign supporters: "In looking ahead toward November, I had to make a choice, and ultimately it was a clear one: I will stay focused on the work that I enjoy and that our County needs to meet this moment and leave the politics to others."
Schnirman said he has not ruled out another run for elected office and until Thursday had been fundraising aggressively.
Schnirman's campaign raised more than $173,000 between last July and January, and has a fund balance of $515,000, according to the most recent state campaign filings.
Schnirman's announcement came after months of speculation about his political future.
Democrats and allies of County Executive Laura Curran, who is seeking reelection this year, had expressed concern that Schnirman could drag down the party’s ticket and suffer relentless attacks from Republicans over the Long Beach payment issue.
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the state and Nassau County Democratic Party, said Schnirman had been "considering this for a while, and discussing it."
Jacobs continued: "I fully understand his decision. I think he's done a great job as comptroller, certainly has a record to be proud of as comptroller. I wish him well and I look forward to working with him again. I don't think his political career is at an end. I think he will be back in some capacity, and I look forward to that in the future."
Curran, who ran on anti-corruption ticket with Schnirman in 2017, praised Schnirman's service as comptroller.
"Jack spearheaded initiatives that modernized the office of comptroller," Curran said in an interview.
Schnirman "supported labor and nonprofits, and he led audits that improved operations for county residents," Curran said.
But Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said Schnirman was "compromised since the moment he got here, and what Nassau really needs is someone who can be a true watchdog, which he isn’t."
Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Cairo predicted the payout controversy would dog Democrats in the fall, even without Schnirman on the ticket.
"We’re still going to have a powerful message," Cairo said. "What he’s done in the past doesn't just disappear or go away. We’re going to run as aggressively as we had planned."
Neither Republicans nor Democrats have named a comptroller candidate.
Schnirman took office in 2018 as a self-styled fiscal watchdog — an "umpire" seeking to call "balls and strikes" as he saw them.
His audits of county agencies and departments focused on issues such as lax oversight of take-home county cars and questionable spending in the county parks department.
What Schnirman could not escape was sustained criticism about his exit from Long Beach, where he served as the appointed city manager for six years before winning office as Nassau County comptroller.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, both Democrats, issued critical reports about Schnirman's payout, which totaled $108,000.
In 2019, after a 16-month investigation, DiNapoli's office found Schnirman was overpaid by $52,780. The report said Schnirman was among 10 employees the city overpaid a total of $500,000 for accrued leave.
Schnirman argued his payout was calculated by Long Beach staff who relied on a city attorney who followed a years-old legal interpretation of city code. Schnirman returned $53,000 to the city in 2019.
In October, Singas said Schnirman would not face criminal charges in the payout probe, but said "egregious incompetence" occurred during his tenure.
In a rare rebuke of another countywide elected official, Singas said: "During Mr. Schnirman’s tenure as city manager, he allowed millions of dollars in improper payments to be made, personally accepted a payment much more generous than provided-for by the plain language of his contract and waited more than a year to return that payout while under state and federal investigation. The taxpayers of Long Beach deserved better."
Concerns about payouts to Schnirman and other Long Beach officials surfaced after articles in the Long Beach Herald and Newsday in 2018. Members of the Long Beach City Council, and Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, were among those who expressed anger over the issue.
Schnirman, 43, a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of government, got his start in government and policy circles as a deputy press secretary for then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is President Joe Biden's climate czar.
Schnirman served later as chief deputy supervisor in Brookhaven Town. In Long Beach, he oversaw the city's recovery from Superstorm Sandy.
Over the past year, Schnirman drew criticism for handling of a scam in which the office was tricked into sending $710,000 to a fraudulent account. The office later recovered the money.
In a report, Nassau County Inspector General Jodi Franzese said financial controls in the comptroller's office were "not effective."
Schnirman's office, which often publishes reports critical of other county agencies, questioned Franzese's independence, saying she was beholden to the Republican-controlled Legislature that hired her. County legislators from both parties defended her report.
A federal grand jury was investigating the payouts in Long Beach, Newsday has reported. John Marzulli, a spokesman for the Eastern District, declined to comment Thursday.