Officials Hesitant To Blame Cuomo For LIPA
By ROSS BARKAN
|Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently called for an investigation into how public utilities have responded in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Photo by Ira Cohen
As residents, civic leaders and elected officials continue to condemn the Long Island Power Authority and various City agencies for their response to Superstorm Sandy, one elected official has skillfully avoided almost all criticism: Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Still hobbling behind the rest of Queens, most of the LIPA-served Rockaway Peninsula was without power in the weeks following the brutal storm. Along with residents, local elected officials took turns blasting LIPA, a New York State authority, for not quickly restoring power to the area. Critics also lamented that coordination between the various City, State and Federal agencies assisting in the storm relief effort was lacking — one clergy leader begged for a relief “czar” — but these criticisms, easily sticking to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, did not reach Cuomo.
“I don’t think that Cuomo could have foreseen what LIPA’s problems would be and their shortcomings,” said State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach).
Local elected officials eagerly attacked LIPA, a state-created public authority governing power-supply matters in Nassau County, Suffolk County and the Rockaway Peninsula. Cuomo appoints LIPA’s trustees – there are five vacancies out of 15 slots – and LIPA picks contractors, now National Grid and soon to be the Public Service Enterprise Group.
Cuomo recently created the Moreland Commission to investigate how LIPA, Con Ed and other public utilities responded to Sandy and Hurricane Irene. The commission includes former Queens congressman Rev. Floyd Flake.
Elected in 2010, Cuomo had the authority to fill LIPA’s vacancies, like its Chief Executive Kevin Law, who retired that year.
Unlike the term-limited Bloomberg, Cuomo is halfway through his first term and the beneficiary of extraordinarily high approval ratings. The perceived dysfunction of previous gubernatorial administrations has created a stark contrast for the scandal-free Cuomo Administration. Elected officials in the state legislature may also be unwilling to compromise their relationship with the governor.
“While I don’t think criticism and finger pointing helps our people directly in the aftermath, I agree with the Governor that we have to investigate LIPA,” Addabbo said. “There needs to be an investigation to find out what went wrong.”
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Howard Beach), representing much of the Rockaways, agreed with Addabbo that Cuomo should not be criticized for his handling of the storm. In a press conference in early November, Goldfeder, like other elected officials, denounced Bloomberg.
“When there is a situation like Sandy that was completely unequivocally mishandled, the Mayor’s got to own up,” Goldfeder said.
Asked if Cuomo should face the same sort of blame, Goldfeder said he should not, pointing to “all that he has accomplished in two years.”
“You know what they say, hindsight is 20/20. There are 20 things I can point to that were operational before the storm and now aren’t.”
Councilman James Sander Jr. (D-Laurelton), representing Far Rockaway, is another vocal LIPA critic who was reluctant to also critique Cuomo. Sanders was elected to the State Senate and will begin his term next year.
He said he would use the success of the Moreland Commission to ultimately judge the Governor.
“I think Hurricane Irene was a warning sign to all of us,” Sanders said. “It certainly should have woken everyone up and apparently it did not, especially when they [LIPA] did their own internal audit which showed glaring deficits. There’s a leadership problem that needs to be looked at.”
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and U.S Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.