During County Executive Laura Curran’s first hundred days in office, she made two mistakes: appointing Richie Kessel to Nassau’s Industrial Development board and then permitting him to be elected its chairman.
My guess is Curran succumbed to a slew of calls from donors, pols, consultants, lobbyists and charity heads urging Kessel’s appointment.
That’s the Kessel modus operandi. He hounds people who had benefited from his tenure in various government posts to lobby on his behalf.
Here’s the real scoop on Kessel.
A Democratic ne’er-do-well who served in Mario Cuomo’s administration, 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 [Republican] Pataki’s appointing him as [LIPA’s] chairman,” one pol told the Times, “[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.”
Republicans embraced Kessel because they understood that in his desperation to be perceived as a Long Island player, would always do as he was told.
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 Assemblymember Richard Brodsky revealed that LIPA awarded a $120,000 a year no-bid contract to former top advisors to Gov. Pataki, Kieran Mahoney and Michael McKeon.”
LIPA, which was to be nothing more than a holding company with 25 staffers, ballooned to over 100 employees under Kessel’s watch.
Many appointees were the friends and relatives of the politically connected. And 49 of them were making over $100,000 a year.
During his tenure, rather than investing in nuts and bolts infrastructure, Kessel — looking to curry favor with enviros — squandered hundreds of millions in failed fuel cells, electric buses, solar panels on roofs of favored companies and costly R&D projects that yielded little.
Shortly after taking office in 2007, Gov. Eliot Spitzer fired Kessel.
Kessel’s successor requested an opinion from then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on whether Kessel’s use of public monies of LIPA — over $1 million — to fund various Long Island charities and other not-for-profits was proper.
In a formal written opinion, the A.G. wrote in October 2007:
“[T]he charitable contribution program appears to conflict with the “sine qua non” of the LIPA Act, to give LIPA the authority “to save ratepayers money by controlling and reducing utility costs.” For these reasons, we are the opinion that the charitable contribution program is not authorized.”
Sadly, in October 2008, Gov. David Paterson — giving in to pressure from pols and lobbyists — insisted the board of NYPA, an upstate focused government entity, appoint Kessel chief executive officer.
As NYPA’s CEO, Kessel made a score of political hires, many from Long Island and most not having the credentials to do the job in which they were placed.
At Kessel’s direction, NYPA made numerous contributions and grants that did not comply with Attorney General Cuomo’s 2007 opinion on this subject, were not reported to the authority’s trustees and, in many cases, did not follow contribution approval procedures of NYPA.
Many contributions were directed to Long Island organizations having no business relationships with NYPA or state energy issues including thousands to his hometown Chamber of Commerce.
Shortly after taking office in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo fired Kessel and ordered the State Inspector General to investigate his tenure at NYPA.
I described that scathing report in my March 2, 2018 “On the Right” column.
After that report was released, I thought that would be the end of the Kessel soap opera. But like a bad penny, Kessel has turned up again. And the only ones cheering are the political sycophants that had their way with Kessel for decades.