By Ryan Adell
The incessant buzz surrounding Washington D.C. politics sometimes seems to trump the already little regard given to state level developments — both on the news and at the dinner table. So taking a break from navigating the D.C political jungle, Next Generation Politics members from nine of our chapters across Long Island and Brooklyn sat down with NYS Comptroller DiNapoli on Thursday, February 22, 2018, for a roundtable discussion to talk corporate political spending, government transparency, education spending, state investments, and the battle against public corruption, all dimensions of Comptroller DiNapoli’s work as a state cabinet officer and the head of New York’s Department of Audit and Control.
As a senior in high school, DiNapoli won a seat on the Mineola Board of Education, becoming the first 18-year-old in New York State to hold public office. He went on to work in the private sector, and then serve 20 years in the New York State Assembly. DiNapoli was elected State Comptroller in 2007 by a bipartisan majority of the State Legislature after his predecessor, Alan Hevesi, now a convicted felon, resigned in light of corruption allegations; DiNapoli was elected by New York voters in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
The two-hour roundtable covered a host of topics; first, members questioned the economic ramifications of New York’s Excelsior Scholarship and its potential long-term benefits. The talk then shifted to New York’s private equity investment program, and its ability to spur private sector jobs across the state. DiNapoli went on to explain the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on New York; with the ability of corporations to make direct political contributions, in many cases anonymously, DiNapoli uses New York’s unique position as an investor in a range of corporations across the United States and abroad to push for full disclosure of corporate political spending. DiNapoli mentioned that his office uses similar tactics to challenge institutions New York invests in to begin transitioning into the low-carbon economy, citing recent negotiations with Exxon Mobil.
After members noted potential conflicts of interest that can arise from campaign contributions, DiNapoli shared his experience regarding the idea of publicly funded campaigns, including its feasibility from a financial standpoint and previous attempts to implement such a program in New York State. After members mentioned oversight of school district operations and municipality spending, DiNapoli discussed Open Book New York, a website created by his office to allow New Yorkers to track government spending on multiple levels. Later on, DiNapoli and NGP members discussed gun reform and its effects and feasibility, again from a financial standpoint. To conclude the event, members asked about ways to diversify the New York State Assembly, specifically in terms of professional experience — essentially, getting more educators, doctors, and engineers, for example, to run for office. DiNapoli mentioned the prospect of considering the job of Assemblymember full-time, which would likely involve increasing the position’s existing salary, but allow a more diverse range of individuals to seek out a seat in the Assembly, as opposed to the typical lawyer.
It was refreshing to take a step back from Washington D.C developments and discuss the real issues that face New York State every day. Some NGP members may choose to pursue a career in public service, while some may not, but DiNapoli made clear that, no matter what, Generation Z is “not only the future, but, more importantly, the present.”