Thomas P. Dinapoli
We have new appreciation for TPD. We’re not sure when we acquired it exactly. At some point a while back, it just occurred to us that this guy is pretty steady. He does his job without a lot of fanfare – pounding out audits that are announced without hyperventilating prose. And that’s what a comptroller should do. No particular drama, just the facts.
Last week, TPD issued a release that is a kind of metaphor for what he does. It was about the timeliness of subway trains in NYC. Actually, it was about the increasing lack of timeliness by said trains. The operative paragraph in the release was as follows:
“On weekdays in 2013, subways were on time 80.5 percent of the time. Those delays worsened in 2014, when just 74 percent of trains were on time. Subsequently, the MTA lowered its (target) goal to 75 percent of subways running on time. The five other major U.S. transportation systems contacted by auditors had an on-time performance goal of at least 90 percent.”
If TPD and his auditors had wanted to underscore the point about other subway systems having high goals and better performance than the MTA, they might have cited statistics for the Hong Kong, Tokyo or London subway systems. NYC simply isn’t in the same league as those systems. It could be and should be, but it isn’t. Instead, the MTA is defining down its measures of what constitutes “on time.”
Writ-large digression: Isn’t New York City, greatest city in the world, supposed to be about excellence? Don’t we do it bigger and better here? Don’t we insist upon winning always? What happened to that attitude? Is it really ok for the MTA to define “on time” as just 75 percent of the time?
Back to TPD: Think of the crap this guy has had to put up with over the years. In ’07, Spitzer didn’t want the selection process to be an exercise in political power by Assembly Majority Conference. Spitzer had a point. Given looming economic problems, it would have made sense to pick a person with a financial background. Others in the mix were superior to TPD in that regard. That said, TPD didn’t deserve to be run down as some kind of hack.
Subsequently, it took a long time for TPD to earn respect. Cuomo didn’t help. Anytime the Comptroller’s office issued an audit of the obvious – like when he noted that overtime costs were soaring in many state agencies – Cuomo’s people would savage TPD in response. He always had restraint in those circumstances, restraint Cuomo and his people would mock as vacillating weakness. In fact, in a really low point of Albany discourse, Fred Dicker, once quoted “a senior Cuomo administration official,” which was, of course, Cuomo himself, referring to Dinapoli as “CB,” which stood for “chipmunk balls.”
TPD never hit back against that and other sleights by Cuomo and his people. Instead, he just kept plugging away. And it’s evident that he is today a pretty good comptroller. No, you don’t call him intrepid. He’s not one to stretch the limits of his office. But he is focused on core functions and he is competent.
For this, he really hasn’t received the respect he deserves. Yes, he’s well liked and always has been, but he isn’t regarded as powerful and influential. In fact, there’s a sense in political circles that he’s gone as far as he’s going to go. And of the notion that he might be a gubernatorial candidate one day, there’s eye rolling. This is due to his always anemic fundraising. It’s also due to a perceived lack of intensity. He’s said to be “too nice.”
In this regard, there was this moment a while back when President Obama mispronounced his name at an event. He said: “Comptroller Deena-POLL-ee is in the house. Give it up for him.”
Any other New York pol and his team would have been offended, outraged, fuming, but TPD just shrugged and smiled. No big deal.
Come to think of it, this might have been moment when we really started to like and respect TPD. He’s not like other pols who are so incredibly full of themselves. He’s above that.