When the New York State Office of Inspector General released in Dec. 2013, a scathing critique of the New York Power Authority during Richie Kessel’s tenure as CEO, and found, among other things, “an apparent violation of the Public Officers Law and NYPA’s Code of Conduct regarding a financial loan made by a subordinate to [Kessel],” I thought New Yorkers were finally free of this political ne’er-do-well.
Well, I was wrong.
Like a bad penny, Kessel turned up again; this time as chairman of the scandal-ridden Nassau County Industrial Development Authority.
I suspect County Executive Laura Curran yielded to a barrage of calls from Kessel’s friends— lobbyists, consultants and fundraisers — who have profited from his past political gigs and hope to do so again.
Now that he’s hanging out in County Hall, I’m sure he wanders the corridors kibitzing with public employees and lecturing them on how to run the government, despite his own inability to be elected to the office of county executive.
That’s why I was not surprised to hear he was the force behind Curran’s appointment of a task force “to address persistent deficits in the county’s $3 billion budget.”
This committee of so-called “wise men” is political theatre at its worst — something Kessel excels at.
The committee is not needed for several reasons.
First, there’s the 330-page Grant Thorton Report, commissioned by NIFA in 2011, which offers “a wide range of options and ideas that will help Nassau County prioritize services and programs, minimize or eliminate waste, inefficiencies and redundancies, and afford greater flexibility in the delivery of government services.”
To update the Grant Thorton Report, NIFA commissioned Capital Markets Advisors, LLC, in 2017. C.M. Advisors recommended reduction initiatives to the tune of $87.7 million.
“Based on the findings of our analysis,” C.M. Advisors concluded, “we believe the County could pursue the [reports] series of cost reduction initiatives to achieve structural balance on a GAAP basis.”
Then, there’s Nassau’s Deputy County Executive for Finance, Mark Page.
Page is the state’s most respected government fiscal expert.
He worked in New York City’s Office of Management and Budget for over 30 years (1978-2013). During the Bloomberg Administration (2002-2013), he held the top post in the Budget Office.
Page, who was responsible for balancing the city’s budget under GAAP, was also a consultant to NIFA (2015-2017).
NIFA’s special cost reduction reports and Page’s expertise make the Kessel/Curran Task Force superfluous.
Let’s face it, with the exception of Mark Page, no one on the task force is going to get into the financial weeds. It’s chairman, Frank Zarb, for instance, lives in Florida and left the NIFA board 15 years ago.
No, this is a classic Kessel stunt — all sizzle and no steak.
One can always rely on Richie Kessel to be Richie Kessel.
For instance, Kessel recently made news when he announced the IDA’s offices were “hideous” digs. “Basically,” he said, “it was pretty run down, not painted, falling apart.”
Kessel probably badgered Curran’s people to approve more luxurious space on the fourth floor of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building on 1 West Street.
Unable to resist bloviating with the media, Kessel boasted he was back in the building where he spent lots of time, “dealing and dueling with prior county executives.”
The IDA chairmanship is a part-time volunteer job that does not require a fancy office. In fact, a “dingy” office sends the right message to CEOs looking for tax breaks.
It tells them that Nassau’s tax dollars will not be wasted on fluff and the IDA will no longer be giving away the store to every politically-connected caller.
My guess is Kessel misses the preposterous perks he abused as CEO of NYPA before he was fired. During his tenure, he squandered ratepayers’ money wandering around the state in a chauffeur-driven car or in the Agency’s plane.
Laura Curran should not have surrendered to Kessel’s whine for new office space. Instead, she should have demanded his resignation for wasting money to satiate his massive ego.
Richie Kessel can’t help himself. He will impose himself on the Curran administration, hassle and exasperate her staff.
Hopefully, Curran will quickly learn that there can only be one county executive, and that it should be a person who has been elected county executive, and shows Kessel the door.