The Kessel NYPA Watch, May 3, 2009 – By George J. Marlin
NOTES AND ASIDES
Richie Kessel is continuing to use NYPA as an employment agency for Long Island political hacks.
The latest hire: Bert Cunningham who will be making an outrageous $174,500 annually to serve as Richie’s P.R. flack, a mere $500 less than the governor’s communications director. Cunningham, another LIPA retread, spent 9 years aggrandizing Kessel as he ran that agency into the ground. Interestingly, this news was not announced by NYPA or leaked to an upstate paper but rather to the Long Island Business News as part of Kessel’s campaign to maintain his profile in the event Nassau County Executive Suozzi moves on to greener political pastures.
Other high-salaried Long Island hacks Richie hired at NYPA: Thomas DeJesu, a former LIPA employee, who is reputed to be the cousin of our unelected Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, is Vice President of Government Affairs. Fran Evans, former chief of staff to the former Democratic leader of the Nassau County legislature, serves as Richie’s “Special Advisor.”
Richie’s NYPA inner circle looks more and more like a shadow political campaign team for a race for Nassau County Executive. Many observers believe that Kessel is counting on State and Nassau County GOP Chair Joe Mondello to deliver 9 Republican votes on the County Legislature plus one Democrat to make Kessel County Executive should Suozzi move on. Some wonder if Mondello is dumped as State GOP Leader, whether he will remain County Chair to make one last gasp attempt to control the County Executive seat through his friend Kessel.
On another front: as reported by Ken Lovett of The Daily News, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has subpoenaed LIPA records pertaining to the lobbying firm, Patricia Lynch Associates. Lynch, former communications director for Speak Sheldon Silver, was hired at LIPA by Kessel and the records relating to LIPA have been subpoenaed by the AG. Richie Kessel squandered LIPA ratepayer money to pay Democratic and Republican lobbyists to represent LIPA, a state agency before the state government – how ludicrous is that? It is notable that LIPA is the only State agency whose Pat Lynch records were demanded by AG Cuomo. After Kessel was fired as LIPA C.E.O. by Governor Spitzer in 2007, his successor, Kevin Law, had the good sense to fire all the lobbyists. Lest we forget: the State Comptroller’s office publicly criticized Kessel for bypassing LIPA’s bidding requirements when the Republican lobbying firm, Strategic Planning Systems, was paid $45,000 to conduct “political polls.” Also, an investigation by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky revealed that during Kessel’s tenure at LIPA, a $120,000 a year no-bid contract was awarded to former top political advisors to Governor Pataki, Kiernan Mahoney and Michael McKern. Mahoney and McKern left the Pataki administration to become private political consultants.
Street Corner Conservative eagerly awaits the results of the Attorney General’s LIPA investigation.
As reported by Newsday‘s Mark Harrington in late April, under Kessel’s leadership, LIPA spent $357 million on its clean energy initiative and even environmental supporters are raising questions about massive waste. According to Harrington: “Critics have questioned the 10-year old Clean Energy program, which effectively ended in 2008. LIPA chief Kevin Law has already requested two separate audits of the program, which funded research projects such as fuel cells, solar panel installations and incentives to reduce home energy consumption. In a March 13 letter to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the Neighborhood Network, an environmental and civic group, took aim at two programs for which it suggested LIPA got little bang for the combined $18 million it spent during the five years they were in effect.” The letter cites LIPA’s own financial disclosures in noting the authority spent $8.62 million between 2002 and 2007 – years Kessel ran LIPA – on a program called Home Performance with Energy Star, which provided energy efficiency improvements to just 114 existing homes. Neighborhood Network noted that the average value of the improvements made by Energy Star contractors was $6,771, yet LIPA paid an average of $75,614 per home to get those results. The letter also notes that LIPA spent far more money and received far less environmental benefit than a similar program run by another state agency, NYSERDA. Harrington noted that, “The letter stated that a related Energy Star Labeled Homes program did somewhat better, costing an average $18,708 per home while reaching some 511 residences, at a total calculated program cost of $9.5 million.”
NYPA trustees and ratepayers would be well-advised to review very carefully the cost estimates and return on investment of any environmental, clean energy or renewable program advanced by Kessel. A future installment of the Kessel Watch will report on the sad and expensive tale of Kessel’s pursuit of wind power on Long Island.