Thruway Exec Director Departs, More Where That Came From

Another holdover from a previous administration is departing his post – the third in less than a week.

This time it’s Mike Fleischer, who has been around since the Pataki days. He sent an email to Thruway Authority and Canal Corp. staffers today informing them that he will be giving up his executive director job to “to pursue an attractive opportunity in the private sector.”

Fleischer has been in his current post since April 2003. Prior to joining the authority/corporation, he served as first deputy commissioner at the DOT. Here’s the rest of his email, which doesn’t provide any additional information about his day day on the job or his next move:

“It was an honor to serve with the men and women who work each day to improve the experiences of the users of the 570-mile Thruway and the 524-mile Canal System.”

“I have been struck by the ‘can-do’’attitude that is constantly displayed by our co-workers. Whether it is a lock operator going out of their way to help a boater, or a snow plow driver assisting a motorist in need, the phrase ‘it’s not my job’ is never part of our vocabulary.”

“We talk about the Thruway and Canal as a family, and we are. We care about each other – we sometimes disagree but we all want what is best for the organization and the people we serve.”

“I want to thank all of you for the work you have done – and will continue to do – on behalf of the State’s residents and visitors.”

(H/T to the DN’s Ken Lovett for beating me to the punch on this one).

Fleischer’s resignation comes 24 hours after NYPA CEO/President Richard Kessel announced he will be leaving the day after Labor Day and just short of one week after MTA Chairman Jay Walder surprised the political world by abruptly informing the Cuomo administration he will also leave this fall to accept a job in Hong Kong.

I expect these resignations to be coming thick and fast as the governor moves into Phase II of his first year on the job, which, as he put it, will include a focus on “operationalizing” state government.

An administration source informed me yesterday that “exempt positions are all under review,” and the the governor is particularly interested in appointments that demonstrates he intends to live up to his campaign pledge that his administration would be the most diverse in NYS history.

Walder’s Last Hurrah

Outgoing MTA Chairman Jay Walder released the cash-strapped authority’s preliminary 2012 budget today, which calls for no fare or toll increases in the short term, but also proposes borrowing billions of dollars to cover its capital costs and assumes a three-year pay freeze for TWU members.

“By keeping our focus on making every dollar count, this financial plan brings stability back to the MTA’s finances,” Walder said in a press release.

“As a result, we’re able to meet our commitments to avoid service cuts and fare increases next year. The savings also pave the way for a new funding strategy that will advance vital capital investments that protect the safety and reliability of our transportation network.”

You can read the full two-part plan here and here. The press release, which features an easy-to-read breakdown of the highlights, appears below.

The key elements of the budget were reported by various news outlets this morning. The Post, for example, noted that while there’s no fare or toll increases expected in 2012, another round of hikes is proposed in 2015 to help the MTA close its yawning budget deficit.

A $54 million shortfall is anticipated in 2014, while 2015 is still $178 million in the red.

The upshot here: Whoever takes over for Walder has a serious uphill climb facing him (or her).

And it’s not at all hard to understand why Walder, whose abrupt resignation announcement took the political and transportation worlds by surprise, jumped at the chance to take a job in Hong Kong – a place that is experiencing considerable growth – rather than remain in a place where innovation is taking a back to to preservation.

This all comes at a group of Senate Republicans, led by Long Island freshman Sen. Lee Zeldin, are crusading to get the payroll tax enacted as part of the 2009 MTA bailout repealed.

Release 2011-07-27 2012 Budget and Capital Program

Southern Tier, Long Island Economic Teams Unveiled

The two areas of the state couldn’t be any different, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the economic-development teams for Long Island and the Southern Tier.

Leading the Southern Tier panel is Cornell University President David Skorton and Tom Tranter, the president and CEO of Corning Enterprisies.

In (or “on” depending on your residence) Long Island, Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz and Long Island Association Kevin Law. One interesting name for LI is James D’Daddario, a former fundraiser for Rick Lazio, the Republican opponent Cuomo never had in 2010 (h/t to Azi’s tweet).

If anything, the twin announcements highlight just how different the regions of New York are — and the potential pitfalls of having the teams go head-to-head when it comes to competing for economic-development cash.

The Southern Tier panel should be closely watched. In a very smart post at Politics on the Hudson, Jon Campbell points out that many of the members of the council are generally supportive of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of the Southern Tier.

The controversial method being considered for gas extraction — high-volume hydraulic fracturing — is under review by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Business groups say the practice can be done safely, but environmentalists have sounded increasing concerns.

Though there’s no explicit mention of hydrofracking or gas drilling in the news release, each press statement includes this generic, but possibly pertinent, language:

Each Regional Council will develop a plan for the development of their region. The state will work with the Regional Councils to align state resources and policies, eliminate unnecessary barriers to growth and prosperity, and streamline the delivery of government services and programs to help the Regional Councils carry out their plans for development.

Gillibrand Raising Off Deficit Debate

As Washington continues to struggle with the never-ending debt-deficit debacle deadline-death spiral, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is sending out a fundraising email to supporters.

In the email, Gillibrand, D-N.Y., writes that Republicans are four seats away from capturing control of the upper house of Congress.

“Take my word: I will not be one of those four seats,” Gillibrand writes.

Her goal is to raise $25,000 by July 31.

Gillibrand has a pretty grueling political schedule. She was elevated by Gov. David Paterson after crushing Republican Sandy Treadwell in 2008. She ran for a two-year term in 2010, defeating Joe DioGuardi. And she has to run for a full, six-year term in 2012.

So far, her only GOP challenger is Republican George Maragos, who has an early start campaigning.

That’s a lot of campaigning for a senator.

From her email:

Cut Medicare. Destroy Social Security, as we know it. Increase the burden for the middle class.

When it comes to solving the serious economic problems our country is facing, the GOP keeps coming back to the same solutions. They expect students, the elderly and hardworking families to pay more, but refuse to require anything of the wealthy and corporate America.

It isn’t right, and it isn’t fair.

I know you’re counting on me to stand up for what we believe in and not allow the Republicans in Congress to ignore the plight of ordinary Americans as they look out for special interests. But I need your help so I can stay in the Senate and keep on working for what’s right.

Kessel: ‘Sense Of Accomplishment’

New York Power Authority CEO Richard Kessel said in a statement released late yesterday that he’s stepping at the right time.

“I’m leaving the New York Power Authority with a sense of accomplishment for the wide ranging measures we undertook over the last few years for spurring economic development around the state, particularly in Western and Northern New York where our large hydroelectric projects are located,” Kessel said. “It’s been my distinct pleasure working with Governors Paterson and Cuomo and carrying out their energy and economic development policies.”

As reported on Tuesday, Kessel leaves by Labor Day. He had trouble getting along with the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, despite his work as a political operative for the governor’s father, Mario.

And, in the No. 1 cliche in the world resignations, the statement says Kessel plans to spend more time with his family (doesn’t anyone want to spend less time with their family?)

He added that, “It’s the right time for me to be leaving and I’m very comfortable with the decision.”

Here And Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces the membership of economic development council No. 4 at SUNY Old Westbury at noon.

LG Bob Duffy unveils economic development councils 5 and 6 at Binghamton University (11 a.m.), and SUNY New Paltz (2 p.m.)

Headlines…

Is AG Eric Schneiderman “the left’s last hope“?

Schneiderman is gaining allies and momentum in his investigation into the mortgage foreclosure mess.

The AG is also challenging DOMA, saying it undercuts New York’s new gay marriage law.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly leads the 2013 pack of NYC mayoral hopefuls with 23 percent, even though he’s not running (yet), according to a new Q poll.

The same poll shows Mayor Bloomberg’s approval rating has risen slightly to 45-43 from 40-49 in May.

Kelly might not be interested in running NYC, but he does think Albany should raise the penalty for subway fare beating.

A Central NY village mayor says his hand is being “forced” by the new property tax cap to merge with a town and eradicate his municipality. He’s not alone.

The governor wants New Yorkers to get their heads out of the past.

A setback for House Speaker John Boehner: The vote on his debt reduction plan was delayed amid questions about its savings and opposition from conservatives.

The Post takes some credit for the resignation of NYPA chief Richard Kessel.

More >

Extras

ADDED: Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy, who played a big role in Assemblywoman Jane Corwin’s (failed) NY-26 campaign, benefitted financially from her bid, along with another Corwin booster: Former Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek.

Most Americans agree with the president on how to end the debt stalemate, saying they’d prefer a mix of cuts and tax increases.

Among the members of Congress whose official Websites crashed after the president urged Americans to contact their representatives: Bill Owens.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo held no Q-and-A sessions with reporters during his upstate swing today.

A slew of bills are awaiting action by the governor.

The National Council on State Taxation gave New York an “F” for the fairness of its property tax system.

Bob Turner seeks to cast Assemblyman David Weprin as a career politician.

Weprin is trying to make the NY-9 race about Medicare and Social Security and not about Israel.

Turner is having a pizza party fundraiser tonight.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says she’s already invited to be part of two same-sex wedding ceremonies.

“After ‘I Do,’” with Sen. Daniel Squadron.

Freshly married Buffalonian Kitty Lambert is going on the National Organization for Marriage Equality tour with a former National Organization for Marriage social media operations guru, Louis Marinelli.

Congress has hit a new low, according to Rasmussen’s latest poll.

Mrs. Charlie Rangel once had a “rather unfortunate incident” at the Nixon White House.

The Medicaid Redesign Team has a public hearing in Brooklyn Thursday.

A good day for apple farmers.

FLOTUS approves.

DiNapoli Warns Of ‘Severe’ Impact Of Default

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said a default or near default by the U.S. government would have a long-term impact on the economy and especially the state’s pension fund.

Lawmakers in Washington are still trying to piece together a deal that would stave off a first-ever default by the federal government, which the White House warns would throw the nation back into economic turmoil.

The deadline for the default is next Tuesday.

DiNapoli said such an action would erase whatever gains made in the nascent economic recovery.

“New York State is just beginning to regain its financial strength, but the battle over the federal debt ceiling is creating tremendous uncertainty for the State’s pension fund investments,” DiNapoli said. “Beyond the impact on our pension fund, the failure to act in Washington could have other severe consequences in New York. The potential for higher borrowing costs, cash flow disruptions and a negative impact on bond markets at both the State and local levels are hanging like dark clouds over this debate in Washington.

An Alleged Fraudster With Political Connections Arrested

It went somewhat unnoticed (I believe The New York Daily News had the story, but I can’t find it online. Help, dear readers!), but an alleged mortgage fraudster with ties to both Rep. Greg Meeks and Senate Minority Leader John Sampson was arrested by federal agents on Friday after boarding a flight at JFK.

Multiple reports online say Edul Ahmad, a Guyana native, was pulled off the plane and arrested by FBI agents. It is unclear if he was released on bail.

Ahmad, as you’ll recall, loaned Meeks, D-Queens, $40,000, which the congressman failed to disclose. The late dislcosure prompted calls for an ethics investigation of Meeks. It also resulted in the press casting an eye on Ahmad, a financier who has run afoul of multiple state investigations.

And Sampson, as the Times reported last July, performed legal work for Ahmad.

The NYT also reported at the time that Ahmad, a licensed real-estate broker, has been investigated for predatory lending and other cases of fraud by the Department of State.

NYPA Chief Kessel Resigning

Another day, another imminent vacancy for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to mull.

The Watertown Times reports embattled NYPA CEO Richard Kessel will resign, effective the day after Labor Day. Gil Quiniones, the chief operating officer of the authority, will take over as interim CEO while the board searches for a replacement.

Kessel, who has been in his post since September 2008, announced his departure at a NYPA meeting today. He received a round of applause from the NYPA trustees.

Quiniones was the energy policy guru for the Bloomberg administration, chairing the Mayor’s Energy Policy Task Force and playing a big role in PlaNYC. He was also senior VP of Energy and Telecommunications at the NYC Economic Development Corp.

Kessel served as CEO of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) from 1997 to 2006, and chairman of the LIPA Board of
Trustees from 1989 to 1995. He served on the state Consumer Protection Board from 1983 to 1995.

He has been at odds with the Cuomo administration for some time, even though he was initially an operative for Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

He faced firing by then-GOP Gov. George Pataki and subsequently became close to a host of Long Island Republicans, including ex-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Nassau County GOP Chairman Joe Mondello.

John Dyson, a former NYPA chairman who was reappointed to the authority by Cuomo this spring, said while awaiting Senate confirmation that he planned to launch an investigation into the use of funds for chartiable donations to organizations unrelated to NYPA’s mission. (In other words: A publicly-funded slush fund with no oversight).

IG Ellen Biben subsquently began an investigation into Kessel’s practice of handing out grants to politically-connected organizations, issuing subpoenas for his telephone and cell phone records, emails, schedules and contracts. This came in the wake of allegations of impropriety at NYPA made by former Port Authority Executive Director George Marlin.

The Post’s Fred Dicker reported yesterday that Kessel was “weeks away” from resigning after meeting quietly with State Operations Director Howard Glaser.

Kessel’s announcement comes less than a week after another Cuomo administration member (not appointeed by the current governor) – MTA Chairman Jay Walder – abruptly revealed he plans to depart this fall, too. Unlike Kessel, however, Walder is believed to have been welcome to stay on if he wanted to.