TODAY'S PAPER
38° Good Afternoon
38° Good Afternoon
OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Nassau comptroller race is wide open

Nassau legislator Howard Kopel on Jan. 24, 2020

Nassau legislator Howard Kopel on Jan. 24, 2020 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

With Democratic Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman seeking reelection, any comment from state and county party chairman Jay Jacobs acknowledging the possibility that Schnirman won’t be the nominee is noteworthy — particularly as the discussion on the Republican side over their candidate is heating up.

Tuesday morning, Nassau County Legis. Howard Kopel met Republican Party Chairman Joseph Cairo. And while Kopel did not want to go into details about the meeting, he did concede that he’d be interested in the run if the party is interested in running him, and that the first step in any such deliberation is a convo with Cairo.

"I love being a legislator, and I’m content, but I certainly would be interested in seeking countywide office if the party was behind me," Kopel told The Point Tuesday.

The Lawrence Republican has flirted with runs for both county executive and comptroller in the past but never pulled the trigger, instead rising steadily within the legislature, where he is now the deputy presiding officer, during his six terms. Asked about Kopel’s potential candidacy, Cairo reacted positively, and said it would be a lot easier to decide who to run for the GOP if he knew whom the Democrats were putting up.

So why, with a Democratic incumbent, is that a question? Because Schnirman has endured stumbles and the jury is still out on the damage.

Eight weeks ago, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced her office would not press charges against Schnirman, formerly the Long Beach city manager, after an investigation into excessive termination payouts in Long Beach that included $108,000 to Schnirman himself.

Schnirman returned $52,780 after a state comptroller audit found he was overpaid for 662 hours of sick time. Singas reported the evidence did not meet the state’s burden to file official misconduct charges, but 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 the contract and waited more than a year to return that payout while under state and federal investigation. The taxpayers of Long Beach deserved better."

Long Beach is suing Schnirman and former corporation counsel and acting city manager Rob Agotisti for $2.4 million, seeking to hold them liable for excessive payouts over the past decade.

Schnirman has also been hammered over a gaffe in his current office that nearly cost the county $2.1 million when scammers tried to get his office to pay fake bills through a fraudulent bank account by impersonating a vendor. The payments were approved, and $710,000 was actually sent, but the bank involved froze the fraudulent account and no money was lost.

The incident is back in the news now because the county’s inspector general just released a report finding controls in Schnirman’s office were "not effective" in stopping the scheme. Schnirman has questioned the independence of the IG, Jodi Franzese, because majority Republicans requested this report.

But several of Schnirman’s fellow Democrats sided with Franzese in the argument, including Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams and Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton — both of whom are being mentioned as potential comptroller candidates if Schnirman does not run, or primary opponents if he does.

As for Schnirman, he told The Point that he’s "absolutely planning to run for reelection," but beyond that, is too "focused on the work of saving taxpayer dollars so the county executive can deliver better services without raising taxes" to talk politics.

And Jacobs?

"Obviously, we’re having to take a look at the whole picture," Jacobs said, "and we know 2021 will probably be a very tough year for Democrats. I like Jack and I think he’s done a good job under tough circumstances, but I owe it to the party to take a hard look at this race and see who the strongest possible candidate is."

Complicating the calculus is that "the strongest possible candidate" for the party isn’t necessarily the one with the best chance of winning. It’s the one that does the most to improve Curran’s chances, and those of legislative candidates whose wins would make effective leadership on Curran’s part possible.

Columns