Kathy Hochul tapped taints Richie Kessel to oversee NY county | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

Late on Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul named Nassau County’s leading bipartisan political hack, Richie Kessel, to be the new chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state financial oversight and control board.

As a former member of the NIFA board, I am appalled.

I know how important it is to have board directors who are independent and above the political fray to oversee Nassau, with its long history of fiscal mismanagement.

Kessel doesn’t come close to reaching that bar. This is akin to putting the fox in the hen house.

A Democratic ne’er-do-well, Kessel first served as a political flunky in Gov. Mario Cuomo’s administration.

In 1998, The New York Times described him 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 Gov. George] Pataki appointing him as the [Long Island Power Authority’s] chairman,” one pol told the Times, Kessel “degenerated into a disingenuous snake-oil salesman.”

Pataki, like Cuomo, embraced Kessel because he knew Kessel would be a political lackey — who would follow orders to keep a high-profile public job.

And so, he was. LIPA, a holding company that required a staff of no more than two dozen, grew during Kessel’s watch to over 100 employees.

More than half made over $100,000 a year; many were relatives or cronies of the political class.

In addition, an audit by the Office of the State Comptroller revealed that LIPA ignored its rules for bidding contracts when it paid the Republican lobbying organization, Strategic Planning Systems, $45,000 to conduct political polling.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer had the good sense to fire Kessel in 2007.

Shortly thereafter, a formal opinion from the office of then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, released in October 2007, questioned Kessel’s approval of over $1 million of LIPA contributions to various favored Long Island charities.

“The Charitable contribution program,” the AG report stated, “appears to conflict with the ‘sine qua non’ of the LIPA Act ‘to save ratepayers money by controlling and reducing utility rates.’ For these reasons, we are of the opinion that the charitable program is not authorized.”

But, like a bad penny, Kessel turned up again.

Gov. David Patterson, succumbing to political pressure, named Kessel the CEO of the New York Power Authority in June 2008.

At NYPA, Kessel was true to form.

He made a score of political hires to the upstate agency, many from his home base of Long Island.

And in his first six months on the job, NYPA records soon revealed, Kessel took 34 separate flights on the agency’s Hawker Beechcraft 300 twin-engine turbo prop, totaling over 23.8 hours of flight time and an average trip length of only 141 miles.

Apparently, Kessel, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, was not concerned with the carbon footprint of his travel to Albany, a city well-served by Amtrak.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, familiar with Kessel’s antics, not only fired him in 2011, but ordered the state Inspector General to investigate his tenure at NYPA.

The December 2013 IG report, which I assume Hochul did not review, is gruesome reading.

One disturbing finding was “an apparent violation of the Public Officers Law and NYPA’s Code of Conduct regarding a financial loan made by a subordinate to a superior”: Kessel accepted a $15,000 loan from an employee and both individuals failed to “report this loan on their Annual Statements of Financial Disclosure as required by and in violation of the Public Officers Law.”

The report concluded: “The loan by a subordinate to a superior by itself appears to violate the Public Officers Law and NYPA’s Code of Conduct.”

The IG also determined that Kessel appeared “to have violated the New York State Public Officers Law and NYPA’s Code of Conduct” by failing “to disclose an ongoing personal legal relationship he had with Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, PC, which responded to and was awarded Legal Services Counsel contracts.”

So: Kessel has been investigated by the state Attorney General, state Comptroller and the Inspector General — and each found irregularities.

With that disgraceful record, I can’t imagine why Hochul would appoint Kessel to head up NIFA.

That board needs a dedicated fiscal overseer, not a political toady.

George J. Marlin served on the Nassau Interim Finance Authority from 2010-2014.


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