By Thomas Tracy
How does that old song about the ant and the rubber tree plant go? Sunset Park Assemblymember Felix Ortiz knows that song all too well. Although he was considered a political long shot for the post, the Brooklyn pol was seen running to become the state’s next Comptroller until the eleventh hour, when he and a handful of other candidates dropped out of a divisive race that’s since caused a rift between Governor Eliot Spitzer and the legislature. Even though he wasn’t selected by a Comptroller screening committee created to whittle down the growing list of candidates to replace Alan Hevesi, Ortiz kept on campaigning and building support, friends of the assemblyman said. Many of his supporters as well as influential members of the city’s Hispanic community gathered together the day before the crucial vote on the steps of City Hall to endorse him for the job. All agreed that not only would Ortiz be the first Hispanic in a statewide position in the history of the State of New York, he was the only Hispanic candidate from the legislature with prior experience in finance. During his interview before the New York State Comptroller Nominations Panel on January 23, Ortiz told them about his bachelor’s degree in business administration as well as his master’s degree in public administration. He also talked about his job at Banco Popular when he worked in the private sector, where he “gained knowledge of financial markets and investments.” As part of his job in the Operations Division of the New York City Department of Planning, Ortiz prepared budget reports, reviewed contract bids and reviewing planning and cost evaluations. Shortly thereafter, he served as Senior Budget Analyst in the New York City Office of Management and Budget, where he was responsible for a $769 million budget in the Administration of Criminal Justice. He said that both experiences made him qualified for the job of Comptroller, the state’s chief fiscal officer who is responsible for overseeing the pensions of state employees. Hevesi was forced to abandon the post in shame following last year’s scandal where he was accused of using state tax dollars to pay for his wife’s personal chauffer. Although Spitzer had already made it clear that he didn’t want a legislator in the Comptroller’s office, hoping instead for a financial whiz from the private sector or someone with vast experience in handling municipal budgets, Ortiz disagreed with the Governor. “My opinion is that a legislator brings certain experiences that are important to performing the duties of the State Comptroller,” he told the panel. “As an experienced legislator, I understand that a good working relationship between the branches of government is critical in identifying problems and working to find solutions.” Ortiz and State Senator Martin Connor were the only two Brooklyn legislators vying for the Comptroller’s seat. While sources said that Connor dropped out after not being picked by the screening committee, Ortiz kept running until just before the vote, when he announced he was no longer in the running. Political watchdogs believe that Ortiz was cajoled into dropping out so more votes would go to Nassau County Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, who ultimately won the election Wednesday. Sources said that the Kings County Democratic Party was one of the many political groups that rallied for DiNapoli against the wishes of Spitzer, who was left red-faced after the vote. After repeatedly encouraging state legislators not to vote one of their own in for Comptroller, Spitzer said that the election of DiNapoli, who won 150 out of the 206 votes cast during the joint Legislative session, was a “stark reminder of all that is wrong with our Legislature.” “We have just witnessed an insider’s game of self-dealing that unfortunately confirms every New Yorker’s worst fears and image of all that goes on in the Legislature of this state,” Spitzer said, threatening to campaign against incumbent legislators who he believes focus on “politics and cronyism” instead of qualifications and common sense. “Legislators and their leaders had an opportunity to rise above, to show they listened, learned and absorbed — but they did just the opposite,” Spitzer said. “They returned to the cocoon of the Albany status quo that has driven their behavior for too long.” “I don’t know why the Governor is coming down so hard on [Tom DiNapoli],” Assemblymember Peter Abbate told members of Community Board 11 in Bensonhurst Thursday night. “He was already the chair of the committee that oversees government employees and every major union said that they are confident in his abilities.” Abbate added that DiNapoli joined the legislature the same year he did – 1986 – and that the Nassau Assemblyman was a “gentleman and a good friend.” “[The unions] said they feel that their workers would be protected under him,” said Abbate. “They’re not concerned, and it’s their money at stake.” Abbate’s confidence in the abilities of his freshman class chum may be premature, however. Over the weekend, a New York Post a reporter surprised DiNapoli an economics quiz. The new Comptroller failed miserably, according to the article. Ortiz did not return calls about his run for Comptroller.