The Richie Kessel NYPA Watch – By George J. Marlin

Succumbing to pressure from Long Island pols and lobbyists, Governor Paterson made his greatest mistake since assuming the office of Governor:  insisting the board of the New York Power Authority appoint Richard Kessel Chief Executive Officer.

Richard Kessel, who served for a decade as Chairman and CEO of the Long Island Power Authority, is the Island’s most notorious political hack.

For those unfamiliar with Kessel, here’s a little background:

In 1994, just weeks before the gubernatorial election, Governor Mario Cuomo announced an incredible $9 billion proposal for the state government to take over the Long Island Lighting Company.

LILCO, whose fiscal woes can be attributed directly to years of government interference exacerbated by management incompetence, would now be operated by a government authority, who had had no experience running a retail electrical company, let alone one that is heavily dependent on expensive oil to generate its power.

Reacting to Cuomo’s takeover plan, candidate Pataki told Long Islanders: “[Cuomo’s] trying to buy our votes. . . . We’ve taken a look at [the plan]. We think it’s not going to result in the savings Mario Cuomo has been talking about. . . . There are better alternatives, like allowing in low-cost power from the outside . . . private power that is available at significantly lower rates that Cuomo’s [Public Service Commission] is keeping out right now.”

Two days after his victory at the polls, Pataki confirmed his opposition to the Cuomo plan for the state to purchase LILCO.  Pataki said, “I think they’ve [LILCO] been poorly run. But on the other hand, I think if there is anybody who could run it worse, it would be Richie Kessel.”

However, in late 1995, to achieve short-term political gains, Governor Pataki turned around and dropped his opposition to a LILCO takeover. He endorsed a dismantling proposal that further extended the arm of government into people’s daily lives. “To return a tiny rebate to Long Island voters,” said Change-NY’s Tom Carroll, “Pataki used a new state authority to take over the Long Island Lighting Company.  The move required a jaw-dropping $7 billion municipal debt offering – the largest in U.S. history.  Moreover, as other states move toward efficient market-based provision of energy – low energy costs being a key consideration of business when they decide where to locate – Pataki has extended inefficient government control over energy.”

And whom did Pataki appoint as LIPA chairman and CEO to oversee this expansion of government?  None other than Richie Kessel.

A political ne’er-do-well who regaled anyone who would listen with tales about his experiences at summer camp as a boy, the then-48-year-old Kessel was a classic example of the kind of has-been Democrat that Pataki found attractive.  The New York Times described Kessel as a “gadfly,” “a talkative upstart in a rumpled suit” who “invented himself as a consumer advocate, shamelessly pulling stunts like posing in a Ninja Turtle mask at a news conference criticizing the cost of Halloween candy.”

After “selling his soul in return for Mr. Pataki’s appointing him as the Authority’s chairman,” one pol said, “[Kessel] degenerated into a disingenuous snake-oil salesman.”  In 2003 Mario Cuomo told Newsday, “I lost contact with Richie Kessel, who somehow was able to swim the political rapids from the Democratic side to the Republican side.”

Pataki and then Senator D’Amato understood that Kessel, desperate to be perceived as a Long Island player, would always do as he was told in order to keep his LIPA job.

Kessel lived up to his reputation as a political lackey.  A Citizens Budget Commission report highlighted these two instances of LIPA procurement controversies on his watch:

State Comptroller’s audit finds that LIPA bypassed its own bidding requirements when it paid [the Republican lobbying organization] Strategic Planning Systems $45,000 to conduct “political polls,” LIPA is required to put contracts of $5,000 or more up for competitive bid “to the maximum extent possible.” . . .

An investigation by Assembly member Richard Brodsky revealed that LIPA awarded a $120,000 a year no-bid contract to former top advisors to Governor Pataki, Kieran Mahoney and Michael McKeon. McKeon and Mahoney recently left the Pataki administration to become private political consultants.

Kessel, who ran LIPA into the ground now has the opportunity to destroy NYPA. intends to publish regular reports on Kessel’s NYPA tenure. NYPA employees should contact with any information concerning Kessel’s follies.

Explore posts in the same categories: Richie Kessel NYPA Watch

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