The charges of financial impropriety were sure to shadow Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman as he faced reelection this November. The 43-year-old Long Beach Democrat still has an active campaign website and more than $500,000 in his campaign coffers, according to the latest filing by the Federal Election Commission.
But on Feb. 4, without giving a reason, Schnirman announced in a letter to supporters that he would not be seeking reelection.
“In looking ahead toward November I had to make a choice, and ultimately it was a clear one: I will stay focused on the work that I enjoy and that our county needs to meet this moment and leave the politics to others. Our office will continue to be a source of facts, calling balls and strikes, with no distractions of the politics sure to heat up as the year rolls on,” he wrote, adding, “I set out four key priorities as [comptroller]: opening up and modernizing county government by launching the Open Nassau Transparency portal, conducting smart audits so residents get the bang for their buck they deserve, reforming the county contracting system, and getting the public involved to inform our work. This week we released our three-year progress update, and I’m proud that since 2018, we have identified or recovered more than $149.4 million for taxpayers. There is more for us to do this year; the work is never done.”
There was speculation that Republicans would focus on a payout scandal in Long Beach, where Schnirman was city manager before winning his current office, to attack the comptroller. It is thought that the brush would also taint County Executive Laura Curran by association. She also faces the voters this November in seeking her second term.
Curran and Schnirman were part of a big Democratic win in November 2017, when she became the first female county executive and he defeated Republican opponent Steve Labriola 50-49 percent.
Schnirman’s campaign touted his record as a “turnaround artist” in municipal finances, first as deputy supervisor in the Town of Brookhaven and later in Long Beach. He criticized his predecessor, Republican George Maragos, for eight years of what Schnirman charged were dubious accounting methods and faulty county budgetary math. His record, he argued, was one of fighting government corruption and mismanagement.
Once in office, he introduced follow-up reports to previous audits, seeking compliance. Audits took on nepotism in county hiring, found waste in the county’s Industrial Development Agency, discovered more than $33 million of improperly assigned tax exemptions and uncovered financial mismanagement in the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter.
Schnirman beefed up the Independent Audit Advisory Committee and unveiled the Open Nassau Transparency Platform, including what he called “The Comptroller’s Scorecard,” which in a press release he called “[a] data-driven transparency dashboard that displays the key indicators the comptroller’s office uses to measure Nassau County’s fiscal health.”
On Feb. 10, Democrats named corporate attorney Ryan Cronin, 40, of Garden City, as their candidate to succeed Schnirman.
Schnirman’s spokesperson, Brett Spielberg, told Anton Media Group that the comptroller was not giving interviews on his decision.
Leaving City Hall
When he left the City of Long Beach on Jan. 1, 2018, Schnirman took a payout of $108,022. It covered unused vacation and sick hours and per an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, violated the terms of his contract. In September, 2019, Schnirman returned to the city $52,780—the amount state auditors identified as in excess of what his contract called for.
The payout policy sparked an investigation by District Attorney Madeline Singas. Though she declined to prosecute her fellow Democrat, Singas was unsparing of the comptroller, stating, “During Mr. Schnirman’s tenure as City Manager, he allowed millions of dollars in improper payments to be made, personally accepted a payment much more generous than provided-for by the plain language of his contract and waited more than a year to return that payout while under state and federal investigation. The taxpayers of Long Beach deserved better.”
Schnirman and another former city manager were sued by Long Beach, holding them accountable for overpayments and seeking to recoup about $2.4 million. The case is ongoing.
His office also suffered a cyber attack that diverted more than $700,000 in county funds to bank accounts controlled by the hackers. County Inspector General Jodi Franzese investigated the scam and her report, released last December, found that the office “was the victim of a vendor impostor fraud scheme. Eleven payments were authorized, far more than the Comptroller’s Office claimed, totaling $2,095,813.92. These transactions were between September and October 2019. Eight of these payments, totaling $710,955.92, successfully went into the fraudster’s account.”
Further, it found, the bank and not Schnirman’s office caught the fraud and returned the money.
County Executive Curran said in a statement, “Public service is demanding of both professional and personal time. While serving in his role as county comptroller, Jack Schnirman spearheaded many initiatives which modernized the office. He was supportive of labor and nonprofits and he led a number of successful audits which improved operations for county residents. I wish him well in the future and look forward to running with a strong ticket this year.”
In a statement, New York State and Nassau County Democratic Committee Chairman Jay S. Jacobs said, “I know Jack Schnirman has been considering this decision for a while and I fully understand it. I think he has done a great job as comptroller and certainly has a record to be proud of. I wish him well and I look forward to working with him again. I don’t think Jack’s political career is at an end—I think he will be back in some capacity, and I look forward to that in the future.”
Nassau Republican Committee Chairman Joseph Cairo said in an interview, “We have about four or five people who are interested [in running]. We’ll make a decision in early March.”
The comptroller appoints about a dozen people, while the rest of the department—about 75 to 80 staff, are civil service employees.
“We have a whole bench of qualified candidates,” Cairo affirmed. “We’ll come up with the person best suited to carry the Republican banner this fall.”
Cairo said the comptroller’s office is in need of responsible leadership, mentioning what he called Schnirman’s shortcomings.
“The public knows about his record, and I think that [record] attaches to his office and it’s something that Democrats can’t run away from come this fall,” Cairo asserted. “Over $2 million was scammed out of his office. I mean, come on. He wasn’t minding the store.”