Daniel Mennerich, Free Network, RosieTullips, Trichter for New York,

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (top left) is being challenged by Jonathan Trichter for a post that can play a powerful role among institutional investors and as a watchdog over state government.

One can sympathize with those who lust after the power of the governor’s office; after all, the chief executive of the state commands thousands of employees in dozens of agencies, can declare a state of emergency, call special elections, send out the national guard and run the MTA (yet get the city to pay for half of it). And who wouldn’t want to be attorney general? You get to sue the president, extract millions from bad banks, even send people to prison.

But rare is the child who dreams of becoming state comptroller, a statewide job so enigmatic that people sometimes disagree on how to spell it.

But as Republican Jonathan Trichter and Democrat Tom DiNapoli, the sitting comptroller, indicated in their appearances on WBAI’s Max & Murphy show on Wednesday, what the post lacks in profile it makes up in punch. The comptroller is sole trustee of a $207 billion pension fund, one of the largest in the world. He or she certifies one of the largest state budgets in the country, signs off on the issuance of debt that can simultaneously permit impressive investments and saddle future generations, and audits agencies and authorities across the sprawling state government.

The comptroller’s work could affect taxpayers now and in the future, other investors, thousands of state employees and retirees and anyone who uses or is affected by state services.

DiNapoli, who was appointed to the office from the state legislature after the resignation of Alan Hevesi over a corruption scandal in 2007, did not face a primary challenge this year. He leads in polls and enjoys the advantages of incumbency and the Democratic registration advantage in a year when Congressional midterms are likely to boost blue turnout. Democrats have controlled the comptroller’s office (or comptrolled the controller’s office, if you prefer) for a quarter century. When the candidates last filed campaign finance reports, in July, DiNapoli had $2.5 million on hand to Trichter’s $140,000.

But Trichter’s aggressive vision for the office — blocking the issuance of “back-door” debt, refusing to sign off on a state budget he doesn’t like, and moving the state’s pension money into indexed funds instead of paying private managers — translates into a muscular critique of the incumbent, whom surveys indicate is unknown to 62 percent of New York voters despite having been in office for 11 years and won two statewide elections.

The Green Party has nominated Mark Dunlea for comptroller and the Libertarians are backing Cruger Gallaudet.