Cuomo's stunning pick: Jon Kaiman to head NIFA

Jon Kaiman, supervisor of the Town of North Jon Kaiman, supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, speaks at the Smart Growth Summit in Melville. (Nov. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Ed Betz

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Ronald Stack's departure from the Nassau Interim Finance Authority is no surprise.

The stunner is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's timing and his choice to replace him.

NIFA's first chairman was Frank Zarb, a Nasdaq founder whose name's on the business school at Hofstra University.

Stack, the second chairman, is a banker and expert in municipal finance.

The third? Cuomo's appointment is Jon Kaiman, a Democrat and soon-to-be-former North Hempstead Town supervisor, who on Monday starts a state job as Sandy recovery adviser to Cuomo.

Kaiman's been a District Court judge and supervisor since 2004, which gives him some background in handling municipal finances. That's not the same as having Zarb's or Stack's expertise in finance.

Kaiman at one time was touted as a possible head of a slimmed-down Long Island Power Authority, a post appointed by Cuomo. The furor over LIPA's response to superstorm Sandy changed that.

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Then, under Cuomo's prodding, Kaiman formed a committee to explore a primary run against fellow Democrat Thomas Suozzi -- a former county executive who is running against the Republican incumbent, Edward Mangano.

Kaiman decided against entering the primary.

In July, Cuomo appointed Kaiman as liaison between Cuomo and Sandy-affected communities on Long Island -- most of which are on the South Shore. As for timing, Cuomo's decision to swap Stack for Kaiman as part of a surprise NIFA shake-up just weeks before Nassau's budget is due comes at a bad time.

NIFA has scheduled a meeting next week, likely to offer the board's first review of the budget and four-year plan proposed this week by Mangano.

Will that meeting happen? Possibly not, since Kaiman told Newsday Wednesday he needed briefings to come up to speed.

Then comes the obvious question: Is Cuomo's shake-up aimed at hurting fellow Democrats Suozzi and county party chair Jay Jacobs, with whom he has strained relations?

Is it to help Mangano, with whom Cuomo has a good relationship, or keep peace with Dean Skelos, the GOP co-leader of the State Senate, with whom Cuomo has a working relationship?

Kaiman is the first NIFA chairman to work for the governor who appointed him to the control board. Would that make Kaiman more or less inclined to, say, vote in favor of a police pact negotiated by Mangano that NIFA, under Stack, criticized as possibly illegal just last week?

With three new board members, Cuomo appointees now have NIFA's majority. Should Mangano win re-election, the politics of having a Cuomo-majority board could help.

Should Suozzi win, however, the politics of such a board could hurt -- even with 2010 changes to the state authority's law that provide authority members a legal shield against pressure from governors or other elected officials.

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Then there's the question of whether Kaiman's state job of coordinating state support for Sandy-impacted communities creates a conflict of interest with his NIFA post, which gives Kaiman authority to review and approve millions of dollars in Sandy-related and other county contracts.

In response to Newsday's query on the matter, Cuomo's storm recovery office said in an email that twice misspells Kaiman's first name: "John was hired to do intergovernmental and community work for Long Island Storm Recovery and he will recuse himself from any decision related to financing for Nassau County government."

With Yancey Roy

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