Nanula, a local businessman, was elected in a 1994 special election to serve in the State Senate, succeeding Anthony Masiello who resigned from the Senate to become Buffalo's mayor. Nanula, who self funded his campaign, was elected to be state senator for parts of Buffalo and Tonawanda and all of Niagara Falls and Grand Island. He was reelected to the State Senate three times. During his Senate career he flirted with a statewide bid for lieutenant governor in 1998, but decided against the Democratic primary for the post. He did indicate that he was interested in running for state comptroller if the position became available.
While serving in the Senate, he served as the Assistant Minority Leader for Policy and Administration, as Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Insurance Committee, as Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee, and as Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Tourism, Recreation and Sports Development Committee. He is the second freshmen senator to be appointed to the Senate Finance Committee and he was a member of the Senate Rules Committee.
In 1999, Nanula ran for the open position of Buffalo City Comptroller, when the incumbent, Joel Giambra, stepped down to run for Erie County Executive. During his campaign, Nanula was criticized by opponents for wanting the position in order to better his credentials to run for state comptroller. Nanula was elected defeating Common Council Minority Leader Kevin Helfer.
During his tenure as city comptroller, it was reported that Buffalo lost $93 million in city funds, which caused a fiscal crisis in the city. Nanula was criticized for being absent from City Hall frequently to attend political events around New York State.
In 2001 and 2002, after State Comptroller Carl McCall launched a campaign for governor, Nanula announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for State Comptroller. Nanula campaigned around the state and then dropped out of the race before the primary and endorsed former New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi.
After Hevesi was elected state comptroller, he appointed Nanula as a deputy state comptroller. Nanula resigned from his city post to accept the state post. As a deputy state comptroller, Nanula was responsible for advising local governments on financial issues and for upstate economic development policy.
Nanula has since resigned as deputy state comptroller and is now in private business in Buffalo.
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—Susan B. Anthony (18201906)