The Democrats' bash

Meet the New Boss

DiNapoli grew hoarse as he struggled to keep pace with the Democratic victories pouring in. His soldiers were gaining even in long-held GOP territory like judgeships. "Imagine if we can get Democrats elected to county court," he told the crowd. "Won't that be terrific?"

The crowd loved DiNapoli, and he loved them right back. He ran the show like Bob Barker, calling victors onstage and telling the audience to be quiet when it was time for a speech. "Judy, stop talking to her," he said into the microphone, teasing Jacobs, likely the next leader of the legislature. To the crowd, he said, "She's the presiding officer. She thinks she can do whatever she wants."

DiNapoli made the powerful speak and he made the powerful shut up. Few objected to his authority, and several argued persuasively that he'd earned it by brokering peace between the party's warring factions, focusing resources on a few key races and making Democrats believe they could win. "Nobody is fighting anymore," said North Hempstead Supervisor May Newburger, who kept her job. "People who thought they had differences are not fighting anymore."

The crowd grew drunk on the draught of success, and soon they sounded not unlike the Republicans they'd worked so hard to defeat. "Who wants a patronage job?" one man asked. County workers talked about the new curtains they'd hang in offices that had belonged to GOP staff. "I'm calling tomorrow and telling them I want a real computer and a real fax machine," one woman said.

They applauded the victories and took notice of the candidates DiNapoli favored. Six minutes into the first day of Democratic rule, DiNapoli silenced the room. "Quiet, quiet," he said. "This is a special moment." Then he called Joe Scannell, fresh off a victory in the legislature's Fifth District, to the platform.

Scannell was a Republican lawyer when DiNapoli enticed him to defect from the GOP last spring and run against incumbent Thomas Glynn, with full strategic and financial backing from the donkey party. In return, DiNapoli got a handsome, silver-tongued young rookie who had a chance to win and would likely remain loyal to DiNapoli in Mineola. Onstage, the newest Democratic official quickly showed why the chairman liked him so much by delivering a speech that was equal parts cheerleading and homage to the man who'd made him.

"We took it to them in the heart of Republican territory!" Scannell crowed. "We took Rockville Centre. We took it!"

Scannell paused, and the audience began chanting "Jo-ey! Jo-ey!"

"I want to thank Tom DiNapoli for having faith in me, for trusting me and allowing me to take the Democratic mantle," Scannell said. "Tom, thank you so much."

Scannell engulfed DiNapoli in a monster hug, reminiscent of scenes of GOP boss Joe Mondello embracing the likes of Rich Guardino. "Isn't he terrific?" DiNapoli told the crowd. Scannell walked off the stage to a jumping Dixieland tune.

"He's going places," said one bystander. "There was a big smile on Tom's face."

But for those not on DiNapoli's list of best friends, the view wasn't as rosy. Legislative candidate Teresa Butler, for one, kept a lonely vigil with her husband and son at the edge of the room as her numbers teetered tantalizingly toward triumph. Democratic leaders never believed Butler had a shot at unseating incumbent Dennis Dunne in the 15th District, and as a result she ran on a handful of free advice from county headquarters and a budget of less than $6,000. That's about 20 percent of the funding enjoyed by some candidates in DiNapoli's inner circle.

Butler's lowly standing with the Democratic brass may have had as much to do with social class as with political savvy, though DiNapoli denies it. Of the five candidates who received significant backing from the Democratic organization, one was a doctorate-holding chemist, one was a banker, two were lawyers and one was both a lawyer and an engineer. Butler, on the other hand, toils in the billing department of a cable television company, having worked her way up from customer service. Days after the election, DiNapoli would say that he thought Butler was a "terrific candidate" and that the Democrats would have targeted her race if they'd only had the money.

Despite the long odds Butler faced, at 12:25 the TV newscaster had her staked to a narrow lead. "I'm ahead by one percent," she said, her eyes full of hope and disbelief.

DiNapoli had stopped posting Butler's returns early in the evening. Though he called out totals for other losing candidates, he rarely mentioned her race. Butler's eventual defeat went unnoticed as she hovered by a side door, then left for home.

Everything's Coming up Rosa

Just before 1 a.m., DiNapoli again hushed the celebration. He reached for the remote control and turned up the sound on the TV, from which came the sorrowful tones of Mondello at Levittown Hall in Hicksville, acknowledging the GOP's defeat. DiNapoli worked the volume up and down as though he were pulling the strings of a puppet.

The Democratic chief had cautioned his followers to be as graceful in winning as they would have been in defeat, but they threw decorum overboard as they sailed triumphantly home. On-screen, Mondello told the world that his party was still viable, but the Democrats at Papa Razzi hooted. When the camera showed Blakeman looking like he'd just swallowed a skunk, they roared. Mondello called DiNapoli a "decent human being," at which point DiNapoli cranked up the sound again.

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