Congressional contender Anna Throne-Holst has taken fire for her recent switch to the Democratic Party, but backers say primary foe David Calone has political baggage of his own — his tenure on the Long Island Power Authority board.
Critics say Calone, as a member of LIPA’s governing board, voted for two rate increases, in 2011 and 2012, boosting what were already the fifth-highest utility rates in the nation.
They also note he headed a LIPA storm management committee, which was created after the utility had paid $34 million for unnecessary storm preparations when Hurricane Earl missed Long Island.
Days before Superstorm Sandy hit in October 2012, the LIPA board, which included Calone, spent only 39 seconds of its meeting on storm preparation, news reports later revealed. Calone resigned from the board soon after the storm, as a chorus of complaints about how the utility’s performance arose.
James “Butch” Langhorne, a former Riverhead Democratic leader and a Throne-Holst backer, called Calone’s record with LIPA, “very damaging, especially jumping ship right afterward.”
Calone said his role in storm management was limited to a three month assignment in the aftermath of Earl, and that his committee had recommended that crews be assembled before storms hit, and be subject to better oversight. Without such actions, “the response to Hurricane Sandy would have been worse,” Calone said.
Calone said he sees no political impact from his role on the LIPA board, and said his decision to leave the board was made long before Sandy because of work commitments.
“Trustees don’t make day-to-day management decisions on storm response,” said Calone, who called himself an “unpaid volunteer who might be involved in LIPA matters 10 hours or more a month ... not remotely close to a full-time managerial job.”
Calone said he pressed for what he called, “the largest expansion of renewable energy in its history.” He said he does not recall his vote on the rate hikes, but that there were “rate changes in both directions” during his stint on the board, from 2009-2012. “There’s a lot more work that needs to be done to reform LIPA, but by implementing the renewable energy expansion, the organization is a lot better at clean energy than it had been,” he said.
Tying election opponents to an unpopular utility is nothing new in local politics.
Republicans in 1986 balked at running veteran Rep. Bill Carney, a Conservative, because he supported the unpopular Shoreham nuclear power plant. Last year, Republican Steven Tricarico, Brookhaven’s top deputy highway aide, lost to Suffolk County Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) by 17 votes after Anker backers attacked him in mailers about his past LIPA job.
Patrick Halpin, a lobbyist and former Democratic Suffolk County executive, said serving on the LIPA board is akin to being a school board member, which “almost automatically disqualifies you” for other elected offices because of property tax increases they often have to put forward.
In their first debate, Throne-Holst criticized LIPA but did not mention Calone’s past role with the agency, nor did Calone. Calone, a former federal prosecutor and Suffolk Planning Commission chairman who heads Jove Equity Partners, makes no mention of his past LIPA board role in his campaign biography. Calone said his biography focused on his paid work and his recent volunteering.
Throne-Holst, an Independence Party member while Southampton Town supervisor, has been criticized by Calone backers for enrolling as a Democratic voter only last year. The issue is aimed at stirring Democratic activists who are most likely to vote in the June 26 primary in the First District. Throne-Holst backers say she always has run with Democratic backing in a town where GOP voters dominate.
Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), the Southampton Independence Party chairman, said criticism of Throne-Holst’s party stripes “won’t hold a lot of sway,” in a year when being independent will be “a major asset” with voters who are fed up with both parties.
But of Calone’s LIPA stint, Thiele said, “If you were the lookout for icebergs on the Titanic, you’d probably not raise it as a qualification for your next job.”
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, warned both sides about potshots. “People want to get beyond the negative,” he said. “They want to hear how they are going to help the middle class, protect us from terrorists, enhance our quality of life and get the country back on the right track.”