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Lawmakers cool on Kessel taking over as NYPA chief

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ALBANY — State lawmakers representing upstate districts are lukewarm at best to the possible appointment of a Long Islander as the state's energy chief.

Richard M. Kessel, who headed the Long Island Power Authority for all but two years between 1989 and 2007, is on Gov. David A. Paterson's short list for appointment to head the New York Power Authority.

The authority is the largest state-owned energy authority, according to its Web site. It operates 18 generating plants and more than 1,400 miles of transmission lines throughout the state. The authority sells power to government agencies, community-owned power systems, rural electric co-ops, private utilities for nonprofit resale, and to neighboring states.

Mr. Kessel generated considerable controversy during his tenure at LIPA, drawing criticism for big rate hikes and political job patronage. A 2003 comptroller's audit found that he used customer money for political polling and ignored competitive-bid contracting laws. A law enacted in 2006 prevented him from serving as both chairman and CEO at LIPA.

Assemblyman Daniel J. Burling, R-Warsaw, did not seem overly impressed with Mr. Kessel.

"I didn't know anything about him until I read the newspapers," Mr. Burling said. "I can't speak from being well-informed. What I've read, I don't like."

Mr. Burling called NYPA "a big job" that has many important issues facing it in coming years, including the reauthorization of the Article X siting law for power plants and a pending renegotiation of how power from Niagara Falls, which provides 10 percent of the state's power, is distributed.

"With all the talented people in the state, Gov. Paterson ought to reconsider," Mr. Burling said.

Other legislators were less direct.

"I don't know him, though I know of his service on Long Island," said Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, R-Batavia, adding that he's heard about Mr. Kessel's job performance from "a variety of sources on both sides of the aisle."

Mr. Hawley said Mr. Kessel's appointment could be "disconcerting," and he hopes Gov. Paterson will take his history into account: "But it's the governor's choice and I'm sure he will use his discretion."

The chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he has never met Mr. Kessel.

"I would withhold my opinion until I have the chance to meet and talk with him," Mr. Maziarz said.

"I'm doing my homework and talking to other people," said Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome. He added that Paul DeCotis, state deputy secretary for energy, would be a strong candidate.

Former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer appointed Mr. DeCotis to his current position last November. Frank Murray, former state energy commissioner during the Cuomo administration, is reportedly being considered for the NYPA job as well.

Roger B. Kelley last week resigned as president and CEO of NYPA, effective Aug. 1.

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