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Jack Schnirman for Nassau County comptroller

Jack Schnirman, city manager of City of Long

Jack Schnirman, city manager of City of Long Beach and candidate for Nassau County comptroller. Credit: Heather Walsh

Perhaps the job of Nassau County comptroller has never been more important.

Ethics, contract procurement reform and budgetary woes are sure to stay center stage as the new county executive takes office. The official who wears the hat of fiscal monitor, auditor and payroll administrator might also be the master of ceremonies — standing to the side, making sure everything runs well, highlighting each character and scene, essentially guiding the taxpayer through the action onstage and behind the scenes. He must also call attention to parts we might otherwise miss.

It’s a role Comptroller George Maragos hasn’t played very well. There was a lot of drama in county government in the past eight years, but Maragos played it for the laughs. Vying for the role are Long Beach City Manager Jack E. Schnirman and former county chief compliance officer and State Assembly member Steven L. Labriola.

Schnirman, a Democrat, is rightly credited with propelling Long Beach out of near-bankruptcy, through the devastation wrought by superstorm Sandy, and into a period of recovery. The Long Beach resident says he’ll bring those skills to Nassau by doing what he called “smart audits” and maintaining his independence — whomever the county executive may be.

Schnirman, 40, envisions the comptroller as similar to an umpire. He’ll be “calling balls and strikes” as he sees them, and promises not to be shy in voicing concerns and suggesting fixes. He speaks in broad strokes, but understands the more granular parts of the job. And while Schnirman once hoped to be the next county executive, he seems focused on the job he’s now after, and doesn’t play politics by linking himself too closely with Laura Curran, his running mate. His attention to this job — and some daylight from Curran — are critically important.

Labriola, on the other hand, has woven himself into the fabric of county government for years, first working for Maragos, then for County Executive Edward Mangano. The refrain “Jack Martins and I” popped up regularly in his conversation with the editorial board, leaving some uncertainty about his claims of independence. Labriola, a Republican, was less willing to embrace the necessity of an independent inspector general. And his take on the Nassau Interim Finance Authority was particularly troubling, as he suggested its motivations are political, noting that he’d like to rid the county of its “financial overseer.” But NIFA stopped Mangano from making some bad decisions and its debt doesn’t mature until 2025, so Labriola, 55, can’t just shove the authority out the door.

Pushed on his understanding of the issue, the Massapequa Park resident clarified that he’d like the control period to end, but the power that came with that control period is what kept taxpayers from ruin.

Labriola has good ideas, including creating a vendor database modeled after New York City’s, but he lacks the focus on eliminating patronage and running the independent office that is needed.

It gave us pause to learn Schnirman had not published recent financial statements on Long Beach’s website, and they appeared online only after he was challenged by Labriola to produce them at a meeting with the editorial board. He called it an “oversight.” Schnirman promises Nassau’s finances will be an open book; he must deliver.

For too long, Nassau has played budgetary games, relying on fee increases, shaky revenue projections and borrowing. The next comptroller has to make the right calls and show the public every move.

Newsday endorses Schnirman.