Richard Kessel to resign NYPA post
Updated: July 26, 2011 8:30 PM
By MARK HARRINGTON
Photo credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile | Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) Chief Executive Officer and President Richard M. Kessel speaks about the LIPA’s Power Supply Charge in Uniondale. (Jan. 30, 2001)
Richard Kessel announced Tuesday that will step down as chief executive of the New York Power Authority amid a state inspector general’s investigation into donations and other expenditures he made while at NYPA.
The resignation, effective Sept. 6, ends a three-year stint marked by controversy similar to that which Kessel faced during 11 years as the head of the Long Island Power Authority. Kessel has strongly denied any improprieties.
Kessel, 61, a thick-skinned political survivor who navigated the tenures of five governors, said in an interview that he wasn’t leaving in response to any political pressure. “If I was running from something, I would have done it many, many months ago,” he said. “This is a decision I made and I’m very comfortable with it.”
He said he wants to spend more time with his wife and his son, Eli, 3, before making a decision about his next job. “I’m not retiring,” he said, adding he has several options to consider, although he has “no plans” to run for public office.
NYPA, based in White Plains, declined to comment. The agency provides energy to home and business customers throughout the state, including to the Long Island communities of Greenport, Rockville Centre and Freeport.
In a statement, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said: “I want to thank Richard Kessel for his long service for the people of the state of New York. His efforts directly led to the creation of good jobs and economic growth for this state. I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Kessel’s decision to step down will not end the probe. “The investigations remain ongoing,” inspector general spokesman John Milgram said Tuesday.
Gil Quiniones, chief operating officer at NYPA, will take over Kessel’s post when he leaves the day after Labor Day, Kessel told NYPA board members Tuesday. Trustees will launch a national search for a new chief executive, said board member Jonathan Foster.
“He made a lot of important contributions over his tenure,” Foster said of Kessel. “There’s nothing untoward here. It’s what often happens in a new administration in a very visible post.”
As it did during his decade-long career at the Long Island Power Authority, controversy followed Kessel during his three years at NYPA. He championed a Great Lakes wind farm project that drew criticism from some communities while drawing praise from environmentalists. He caught heat last year when he hired former NYPA board member Elise Cusack for a $77,500 part-time job.
And he was criticized for proposing a 12 percent rate increase in 2009 while planning to give out $3 million in NYPA bonuses. He rescinded that plan on orders from then-Gov. David Paterson, who had appointed him.
“He’s been embattled, to say the least here, for some period of time,” said Matthew Cordaro, an energy expert and longtime Kessel sparring partner, who described the Merrick native as a lightning rod whose accomplishments matched his outsized record for controversy.
“I disagreed with many of his decisions, and his politically motivated reasons for making those,” said Cordaro, a former LILCO executive who now co-chairs a LIPA Oversight Committee for the Suffolk Legislature. “But he’s a passionate individual, and he sincerely threw himself into the job.”
Earlier this year, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ordered Kessel to cease making donations at NYPA amid reports that entities such as the chambers of commerce in Bellmore and Merrick had been recipients. NYPA trustees, under newly named trustee John Dyson, launched a probe in March, but that was put on hold as Inspector General Ellen Biben’s office came in.
Newsday reported earlier this month that the probe expanded from NYPA donations and other expenditures to include similar practices at LIPA. In 2008, then-Attorney General Cuomo ruled that authorities such as LIPA could only donate to causes and entities related to their core mission.
George Marlin, who first publicized Kessel’s donations on his Street Corner Conservative blog, said, “He’s resigned. The mission is completed.”
But others said Kessel’s departure signals a worrisome trend. “You get the sense this is a statement of our political times, that big ideas and the people who advocate them are getting crushed,” said Neal Lewis, executive director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College and a LIPA trustee. ” . . He will definitely be missed by the environmental community.”