Paul Tonna steps down as Suffolk IDA chairman

Paul J. Tonna stepped down as chairman of

Paul J. Tonna stepped down as chairman of the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency after only seven months. (Credit: Newsday, 2008 / Thomas A. Ferrara)

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Paul J. Tonna stepped down Thursday as chairman of the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency after only seven months.

He was succeeded by Joanne Minieri, the county's economic development commissioner who had been vice chairman.

Citing his voting record, Tonna said he had been forced to recuse himself too often to avoid conflicts of interest. He said the IDA "deserves" a leader who can vote on most business development projects seeking tax breaks.

Tonna has recused himself from six of the 29 votes taken at seven meetings, according to the meeting minutes. He also abstained twice and voted "yeah" 21 times. "I came on this board to be an active member . . . I can't do this. I recuse myself every single time," Tonna said in an interview.

The IDA needs "a chairperson and a board member who has less business contacts," he said.

Tonna, a former presiding officer of the County Legislature, works as a business consultant and serves on a dozen other boards. The IDA job is unpaid.

Tonna's departure comes three months after he wrote a memo to local village officials, criticizing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Long Island Power Authority plan and former Govs. Mario Cuomo and George Pataki. The memo's personal tone angered the current Cuomo administration, according to several sources who requested anonymity.

Tonna and a top aide to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Thursday denied the memo led to Tonna's fall. "I think the governor of New York has bigger fish to fry," Tonna said.

A spokesman for Cuomo said Thursday night "we had no knowledge of this situation until contacted by Newsday" last week.

Bellone Thursday night praised Tonna, having lobbied the legislature to appoint him even though the IDA is ostensibly independent of Bellone.

Tonna's last hour as IDA chief saw three of the six board directors successfully revolt against Bellone's drive to install Grant Hendricks as vice chairman.

The three said Hendricks, who wasn't at the meeting, lacked IDA experience. He has served for one year. A tie vote scuttled his nomination.

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