Comptroller Update

The emergence of acting county executive Adele Reiter and SUNY New Paltz accounting professor Rief Kanan as candidates for interim appointment as county comptroller now brings the list of known contenders in a crowded field to five. And time is rapidly running out.

The county legislature’s law and rules committee will meet on June 10 to recommend a candidate to the full legislature which will meet just 24 hours later to appoint a comptroller to serve for the rest of the year. Twenty-four hours. They should post a sign outside the county office building: Public be Damned.

Kanan is probably the best qualified and the most independent, but Reiter, as always, remains the most intriguing.

Former county executive Mike Hein’s chief of staff for ten years, Reiter was seen as the brains of the administration, “the great leveler” to the mercurial chief executive.  Content to remain in the shadows, she only recently emerged via former legislature chairman Ken Ronk’s ringing endorsement of her heretofore publicly unknown interest in the job. Pat Ryan will be sworn in as county executive on Friday.

Reiter as “watchdog” – what former comptroller Elliott Auerbach liked to call himself – over a county government she once dominated as Hein’s chief of staff, raises some troubling speculation.

As nothing came of it, like so many “big stories” in the modern news cycle, readers may or may not recall last year’s “spy wars” episode between Auerbach and Hein. Both accused the other of tapping into respective computer systems, to what end was never revealed. For the record, it cost the county legislature (that’s us taxpayers) some $40,000 to hire private-sector sleuths to investigate the comptroller. Auerbach from his own funds, he said, spent a similar amount to investigate Hein.

All this dissipated like methane in the wind, but what if Reiter, as comptroller, with full access to all its records, discovers something untoward on her former boss’s administration. The assumption is, she won’t because if Auerbach had anything, he would have used it. But what if? Which raises the larger question: where will Reiter’s allegiance lie, to her new job or to her old boss? Just asking.

I had not been aware that Ronk, who was deposed as chairman by Tracey Bartels in January and is now Republican minority leader of the legislature, held Reiter in such high regard. Her administrative experience and training (she’s a lawyer) make her the best candidate for the interim appointment, he says.

Ronk-like, he also added an intriguing element. “Walls” had been built up between the executive and the comptroller’s offices, he noted, blaming Auerbach for being a “gotcha!” politician of little substance. Reiter could break down those walls, he said.

I coughed up my cornflakes when I read that line in the morning daily. For better or worse, Reiter was part and parcel to everything Hein did, I told him, which he knew. He insisted Adele built no walls.  Maybe not, I conceded, but did Adele mix the cement? Can we now call her “Redi-Mix?”

And speaking of rock-solid, the state senate confirmed Hein on Monday as commissioner of state rehab. Accolades to follow.

Meanwhile, comptroller candidates have to figure out a way to get 12 votes from a divided legislature with a gun (timing) to its head.

Evan Gallo, Auerbach’s chosen interim successor, claims he’s not really interested, in part, because he knows he has no chance. Anybody coming out of the comptroller’s office would be anathema to the legislature.

Bartels feels it somewhat improper for someone in the office (as chairman) for only a few months to be reaching for the brass ring this soon. Bartels refuses to enroll in a political party for good reason: she’s not very political. Good for her.

A number of legislators have said they won’t endorse either of the two announced candidates for the interim position because it would give an undue advantage going into the Democratic nominating convention on June 27. “We don’t want to put our thumbs on the scale” sums up that position. Again, cornflakes. Politicians are forever seeking influence, thumbs on scales, elbows, feet, butts. But not this time? Mercy.