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New new face of NYPA?

Kessel Folks who think the Power Authority focuses on downstate at the expense of Western New York are not going to like these developments.

For starters, several dailies, including Newsday, are reporting that Roger Kelley, who unexpectedly "resigned" Sunday, will likely be succeeded by Richard Kessel, at left, the former head of the Long Island Power Authority. Kessel appears to have two skill sets that may appeal to Gov. David A. Paterson -- experience in public utilities and a history of getting along with with both Democrats and Republicans. More on him in a minute.

The other development is the prospective make up of the authority's governing board. It's likely to take on more of a downstate flavor over the summer, round about the time Kelley's resignation takes effect (Aug. 1). That will allow the "new board" to vote on a successor, if the deed hasn't already been done.

The seven-member board will be different in a couple of ways. Right now, appointees of former Gov. George E. Pataki hold five seats. The terms of two trustees are expiring, and they will be replaced by nominees recommended by former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (Jonathan Foster) and Paterson (Eugene Nicandri). That will give the Dems a 4-3 advantage.

The change will also give another voice to downstate, as Foster, from New York City, would replace Robert Moses, from the Syracuse area. Still, most of the trustees would hail from upstate, not that it's deterred the authority from pursuing an agenda focused on serving the growing energy needs of New York City.

The GOP-controlled State Senate must confirm the nominees, and they'll go through the Energy Committee chaired by George Maziarz of Newfane, who says he's going to aggressively vet nominees. The Legislature wraps up its session at the end of this week, and Maziarz said he doesn't expect to act on the nominations by then. Instead, he said, the Senate will reconvene in July to consider nominations.

Maziarz said he's concerned with the prospect of a growing downstate influence on the authority. So what's he going to do about it?

He says he's looking for more than just the usual expressions of interest in helping Western New York and the upstate economy. A commitment to move authority headquarters from White Plains, just north of New York City, to Western New York would warm his heart.

"A positive message would be to relocate their headquarters," Maziarz said.

That idea was floated in the spring of '07 and has gone nowhere, even with Kelley, who lives in Clarence, at the helm. What are the odds with someone from Long Island running the show?

As for Kelley, a lot of people are scratching their heads about his resignation. There are suggestions that the authority's handling of the Troopergate scandal played a role, but Maziarz is among those who feel Kelley's departure is part of a political house-cleaning.

"After the session, I expect you'll see Paterson moving a lot of Spitzer people," he said.

You could say Kessel has been a lot of people's people. Mentored, it's said, by Alfonse D'Amato. Appointed to the Long Island Power Authority first by Mario Cuomo and later by Pataki.

Newsday reported Kessel's tenure at Long Island Power Authority "was replete with ups and downs, including ... sharp criticism of the authority's spending and disclosure policies."

The New York Post was less diplomatic in an editorial published today:

"There couldn't be a worse choice to run the New York Power Authority than long-time Long Island gadfly and political gofer Richie Kessel -- yet Gov. Paterson seems set to tap him for just that post.

"What a huge mistake."

The editorial went on to complain how Kessel, prior to his reappointment to the authority by Pataki, incurred the governor's wrath.

"In '94, Pataki himself branded Kessel as incompetent. He said the Long Island Lighting Company (which LIPA has since acquired) was poorly run, but 'if there's anybody who could run it worse, it would be Richie Kessel.' "

Paterson's press people wouldn't answer questions today about Kelley's departure, standing by a press release issued on Father's Day. As for Kelley's successor -- is it Kessel? - spokesman Errol Cockfield said:  "We're in the midst of a search and we're near to finalizing that search."

Given that Kelley's resignation was only announced a few days ago, it doesn't sound like there's been an extensive search conducted. Newsday reports that others potentially in the mix are Frank Murray, state energy commissioner under Cuomo, and Paul DeCotis, the state's present deputy energy secretary.



New York Power Authority
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