ALBANY -- North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman is the leading candidate to take the top slot at the Long Island Power Authority, and a LIPA trustee vote on the appointment could come as soon as next month, according to two sources.
The appointment, which has yet to be finalized by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office, is moving ahead as Cuomo's staff conducts a broad review of LIPA operations and is considering changes that could scale it down and give new contractor PSEG a more prominent role when it starts managing the grid in 2014.
"It's going to happen," one state source familiar with the decision-making process said of Kaiman's appointment.
Kaiman, 50, who has said he was "honored that people think I can take on these other roles," Thursday issued a "no comment" in response to Newsday inquiries.
The LIPA chief executive slot has been vacant for more than two years, since former chief Kevin Law left to head up the Long Island Association in September 2010. Kaiman, a lawyer and former Nassau District Court judge, doesn't have utility experience, but, like Law, earned a reputation as an effective manager and skilled political player.
"Jon fits the bill in terms of being a good manager and Democrat who would be loyal to the governor," said a former state official following the process.
A spokesman for Cuomo declined to comment. LIPA spokesman Mark Gross declined to comment.
LIPA trustees are charged with conducting a search for a new chief executive, and voting to approve their choice, but past governors have had wide leverage in suggesting a candidate.
The chief executive is responsible for all major LIPA operational decisions, from deploying crews in storms to keeping the lights on. The role could be scaled down under a reformed LIPA.
The effort to replace Law has been long and difficult -- begun when he first announced he was leaving office in May 2010. Law's $295,000 annual salary -- outsized for a state official -- is considered low for top-ranking private utility executives. Candidates also face confirmation hearings in the state Senate, further complicating the hunt because utility executives would have to leave their jobs to face an uncertain confirmation process.
LIPA trustees' short list of candidates last year was reported to have included LIPA's chief operating officer Michael Hervey, LIPA vice president of power markets Paul DeCotis and an unnamed PSEG official. Neither the governor nor LIPA trustees have acted on those candidates.
Cuomo's staff has said it wants to return LIPA to its initial role as an advocacy group and holding company. A team has also been exploring reforms that could give the New York Power Authority and other state agencies bigger roles in running some of LIPA's operations, Cuomo officials have said.
When it starts in 2014, PSEG is expected to take a bigger role in running LIPA than National Grid and KeySpan have had for the past 14 years. The PSEG brand could replace LIPA's, in part to moderate much of the blame that often befell LIPA through prolonged outages and low customer satisfaction ratings.
A person on the LIPA board said trustees had not been presented with a prospective appointment of Kaiman or any other chief executive candidate this week, but added that didn't mean one couldn't be presented as early as a LIPA trustee meeting on Oct. 2.
Nassau County Leg. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn), who is considered a top candidate to take Kaiman's supervisor post should he get the appointment, has said he would be interested in the North Hempstead post.
With Robert Brodsky
Jonathan S. Kaiman
RESIDENCE: Great Neck
EXPERIENCE: First elected North Hempstead town supervisor in 2003. Former Nassau County district court judge. Member of the Long Island Regional Planning Council and chairman of the town's Solid Waste Management Authority.
FAMILY: Married with three children.