Richie Kessel, Chairman of Nassau’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA), was known during his tenures as CEO of LIPA and the New York Power Authority, to flout the rules to curry favor with politicians, lobbyists and consultants.
Kessel’s tendency to “push the envelope” is why investigative reports by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, the State Attorney General and the State Inspector General castigated him.
His misbehavior also explains why two Democratic governors fired him — Spitzer at LIPA and Cuomo at NYPA.
Sadly, Kessel was redeemed by County Executive Laura Curran, for reasons only God knows, when she appointed him to the IDA board and then elevated him to the Chairmanship.
Since becoming IDA Chairman — a volunteer, non-salaried job — Kessel appears to have reverted to old habits. Unhappy with what he considered a shabby office, Kessel pestered County officials until he was given luxurious offices in the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building.
That’s only the beginning. It appears that Kessel is pushing the envelope once again at taxpayer expense.
But first some background information.
To create jobs and to enhance New York’s economic base, the governor and State Legislature approved in 1969 the Industrial Development Act that permits local municipalities to establish agencies that “promote, develop, encourage and assist in the acquiring, constructing, reconstructing, improving, maintaining, equipping and furnishing industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial, research and recreation facilities…”
In brief, IDAs have the right to give away school and other local taxes, in theory, to create jobs. The foregone taxes are made up at the expense of all other local taxpayers.
Not for Kessel.
True to form, Kessel sidestepped the law’s intent when he announced in July that the IDA “is looking to grow the County’s stock of affordable housing” and expects to hire “a consultant to help the agency work with private developers…”
His flawed rationale for this questionable action: “If you’re creating more affordable housing, it makes it easier to attract new businesses.”
Needless to say, Newsday reported developer groups “applauded the IDA’s efforts.”
A recent plea by the Association for a Better Long Island (ABLI) — a group that represents the real estate industry — proves that Kessel’s position will benefit large owners at the expense of Nassau middle class homeowners.
In August, ABLI asked Albany to change the review process for housing projects. ABLI “requested that IDA-supported housing projects be judged on the number of units created, not the number of permanent jobs created and/or retained.” ABLI’s spokesman argued, “The reporting requirements are a disincentive for IDAs to support affordable housing.”
Interesting, don’t you think?
Coincidence? I think not.
In early September, Curran and Kessel announced a $2.3 million tax giveaway of Oceanside and East Rockaway School Districts’ property taxes, as well as sales and other taxes.
This huge shift of taxes from a well-heeled housing developer to middle class taxpayers will not create the hundreds of jobs created by a traditional IDA project but only up to seven non-union jobs for a market rate apartment deal.
(Coincidentally, the owner was represented by the former law firm of felon Dean Skelos and indicted Hempstead Councilman, Ed Ambrosino.)
Kessel is giving tax breaks to developers who concede they don’t create local jobs, while overtaxed residents who improve their homes with extensions, dormers, etc., get tax increases.
Does that seem fair to you? It’s unfair, because there is no reason to believe that rental housing in Nassau County requires subsidies from the middle class to be built.
The IDA issued in June a Request for Statements of Qualifications (RFQ) seeking firms or persons to, among other things, “develop a ‘clean energy’ development plan for the Agency to help the Agency identify opportunities related to the development of renewable energy production facilities and systems in Nassau County.”
This RFQ has nothing to do with the mission of the IDA. It’s just another Kessel special.
At LIPA and NYPA, to receive accolades from far-left environs and interested vendors, Kessel squandered hundreds of millions of ratepayer’s dollars on various questionable projects including failed fuel cells, Lake Erie windmills and expensive R&D projects that yielded little.
Readers should also know that Kessel has received lobbying compensation — as has Alfonse D’Amato — from Florida Power and Light (FP&L), a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, the nation’s largest wind-energy provider.
(Coincidentally, a former LIPA Chairman, Frank Zarb, who currently heads Curran’s budget task force, has served on the board of FP&L.)
Kessel’s RFQ for clean energy doesn’t pass the smell test.
To get a better handle on the “coincidences” and Kessel’s antics, I filed this week with the County a Freedom-Of-Information Request (FOIL), seeking access to, among other things, Kessel’s schedule, phone logs, memorandums, emails, and financial disclosure.
County Executive Curran pledged a transparent administration. If she’s serious, my FOIL request will be answered promptly.