Out of Left Field: Dr. Tom DiNapoli: man for the people

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Not many folks refer to our New York State comptroller as Dr. Thomas P. DiNapoli. That’s because Tom is as modest as he is accomplished.
Tom was already outstanding during his freshman year at Hofstra in 1972 when I first met him. At age 18, he had become a trustee of the Mineola Board of Education, the youngest elected person in the United States.
On Sunday, Jan. 13, Dr. DiNapoli was inaugurated for his third elective term as New York State comptroller at the Hofstra University Playhouse.
More than 700 enthusiastic citizens filled the auditorium, affirming that Tom keeps getting better and better over the years. Let me count a few of the ways.
1) As a teenager – and subsequently – Tom showed deep commitment to Leonardo DaVinci’s key quality for genius “Curiosita.” [DaVinci’s seven key qualities are all expressed in Italian, as found in the book “How to Think Like Leonardo.”] The key first quality is easy to translate. It is evident throughout Tom’s life; he has a boundless sense of inquiry about people, society and history.
2. Tom DiNapoli reflects the judgment of Blank Slate Media columnist and psychologist Tom Ferraro, who last week showed “how likable truly successful people” can be. For all of his early and subsequent accomplishments, Dr. Tom DiNapoli’s modesty and his attentive caring for other people earned him respect and affection from citizens. He may, indeed, be the most likable of all New York officials.
3. Dr. Tom DiNapoli can also be a case study for the brilliant new book by former Long Islander Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Leadership – In Turbulent Times.” In emphasizing that great leaders are committed to “empathy” which, in turn, fosters “growth,” Goodwin speaks to qualities that made Tom outstanding for decades.
4. At a young age, Tom worked with North Hempstead Assemblywoman and Supervisor May Neuberger. It is no accident that he succeeded her in the New York State Assembly where he extended her deep commitments when he chaired the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee. On Sunday, County Executives Steve Bellone and Laura Curran, as well as other leaders, celebrated Tom for this continuing leadership.
5. Enormous respect for Tom as an elected official crossed partisan lines, not only because he treated everyone with respect and civility (a hallmark of his own Italian heritage), but also because he had a keen sense of another key DaVinci quality: “Sfumato.”

That Italian word literally means “going up in smoke” – but its idiomatic key meaning is recognizing and dealing with ambiguities and complexities. Tom’s attitudes and conduct on these matters reinforce his sense of historical perspective and his commitment to relate to others with civility. Tom was a magna cum laude Hofstra graduate with a major in History [Ironically, Sunday’s New York Times has a page one story “No Future for History Degrees”].
6.) Because of who he is – and of what he does – Hofstra University invited Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli to be a team-teacher in a new college course, one developed in association with the nonpartisan Kettering Foundation and its National Issues Forums.

In 2003 and 2005, it was my pleasure, with the late Leon Hellerman, to develop a course with Assemblyman DiNapoli: “The Present in Perspective: The Impact of Deliberative Democracy and Leadership in American Society.”

Because of Tom’s nearly two decades in the Assembly, Hofstra students were able to relate practical politics to the study of our nation’s democratic principles. Especially significant, was Tom’s role in arranging a two day trip to Albany where our students saw in action the government they had been studying.

They also witnessed the high esteem for Tom DiNapoli by all his legislative colleagues. Many students considered this course and the Albany journey to be their best college learning experience. Special kudos from the millennials to Tom.
7. In light of his many superb achievements, it will come as no surprise to learn that in 2008, Hofstra University conferred an honorary degree on alumnus DiNapoli.

Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz celebrated Dr. Thomas P. DiNapoli with the award of “Doctor of Humane Letters.”

On Sunday, Suffolk Executive Bellone stated: “Tom DiNapoli stands apart as a shining light for integrity in office.” John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, said: “Tom DiNpoli is the gold standard for every public servant.”
8. In his concluding address, Dr. Thomas P. DiNaopli said he had always been inspired by Robert Kennedy’s belief that citizens can shape their society. He told the appreciative supporters: “After all these years, I am still energized and I believe our best days are ahead of us if we take responsibility.”
9. Tom’s life reminds me of the tributes paid to long ago Roslyn resident William Cullen Bryant who was described as “having the wisdom of age in his youth and the fire of youth in his age.”

Tom still has a long way to go in his age. We are fortunate to continue to have him as a model of the people and for the people – in politics, and serving humanity.

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