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NAPLES MADE TO PAY FOR HER SLIP-UP

She left herself open, and they opened up on her.

Nancy Naples slipped up, and Friday they made her pay.

This is what happens when you give 80 percent of the county's bond underwriting business -- and the hefty fees it brings -- to one politically connected financial manager. Even when other bidders are easier on taxpayer wallets.

The county comptroller broke the cardinal rule of wink-and-nod political back-scratching: Don't make it obvious.

If you do, the blip will hit the media radar screen. A fed-up public will demand answers. Worse, the rabble of county legislators -- dismissable in their dysfunction and pulled by political strings and vendettas -- can use you for a pinata; subjects given free shots at royalty.

Nobody likes to get beaten up, least of all the divalike Naples. With her smarter-than-you attitude and designer suits and personal fortune, she is a stylistic cross between Martha Stewart and Barbra Streisand. Every pore of her being sends a silent but clear signal: Don't Tread on Me.

She got trod on Friday in a by-request appearance in County Hall. Resident attack dog Al DeBenedetti nearly salivated at the sight of her, and there was no fending him off.

Not that she didn't try. His first question was met with a demand for an apology for remarks made two weeks ago. DeBenedetti disputed the accusation. The exact insult remained unclear, but the subbasement level of discourse was set.

She had only herself to blame. The first rule in politics is cover your tracks. It's understood that to the victor goes the spoils. When Republicans rule, financial firms that write checks to the GOP get most of the county's business, and vice-versa when Democrats take power.

The key is discretion. Because it won't be easy explaining how the low bidder for county business was passed over for a high-level Republican political contributor, with taxpayers covering the difference -- a hefty $500,000 in one case.

That's the problem for Naples, a protege of big-time Republican fund-raiser Tom Reynolds. The bulk of county business the past decade shadowed a single politically wired underwriter as he skipped from firm to firm to firm. It's a wonder she didn't need a global positioning system to track the guy.

"When (the business) follows one guy," said a source familiar with county finances, "it really puts a spotlight on it."

Naples claimed she "always made the best deals for the county." But she couldn't convincingly explain last week how the best deal isn't always the cheapest deal.

She fended legislators off the best she could. When they wanted county financial records, she carted over -- in a classic in-your-face -- more than two-dozen cardboard boxes full. Lawmakers asked for a needle, she brought them the haystack. If you can't beat 'em, bury 'em in documents.

What she can't bury is the controversy. What she did isn't illegal, but that doesn't mean it's right. No matter which direction she spins it, it looks bad. When piggy-backed on recent news she was late paying her property taxes in five of the last seven years -- from a fiscal watchdog who counts her family wealth by the million -- the professional stain spreads.

Voter blood lust sparked by a subsistence budget convinced two county lawmakers to pack it in at year's end. Joel Giambra is politically damaged, maybe beyond repair. Now add Naples to the endangered-species list. Barely five months after coming within a few thousand votes of a congressional seat, she's clinging to political life by her finely manicured fingernails.

Legislators got their piece of her Friday. It was just the first installment of the political price she will pay.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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