Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
He may not be a trained museum professional, but no one knows more than Lance Reinheimer about the operations, finances or plans for the Vanderbilt Mansion planetarium and museum that overlooks Long Island Sound.
That's because Reinheimer, 59, had been the Suffolk County Legislature's chief watchdog of the museum operations for the past 15 years, until he retired last fall.
In his previous job as an assistant director of budget review, he knew details on everything from the return on endowment investments to repairs on the cobblestone driveway. Reinheimer makes $6,800 a month in his new post while getting a $97,000-a-year state pension.
Reinheimer was installed last month as the Vanderbilt's interim director in the wake of the departure of Carol Hart. She was the latest in a string of managers who have come and gone from the long-struggling county-owned estate in Centerport dubbed by late owner William K. Vanderbilt as Eagle's Nest.
"Lance is the perfect choice," said Paul Sabatino, former Suffolk legislative counsel. "No one knows the numbers inside out like Lance. And he's a low-key guy, which is important because the Vanderbilt has been embroiled in so much controversy and personality disputes over the years."
The museum's recent woes have centered around Wall Street's fiscal meltdown, which reduced the value of its endowment. The county legislature had to raise park fees elsewhere for a year to provide the museum a financial infusion to keep it afloat. Adding to the woes were delays in the $3-million overhaul of the planetarium's four-decade-old projection and sound system that museum supporters say will be crucial to the complex's future success.
But backers say the museum is valuable as a time capsule of the Gold Coast estate era - with its Spanish hacienda-style tile roof, stucco walls, seaplane hanger, boathouse and gardens - and that Reinheimer is the perfect temporary steward.
"It's a perfect marriage," said Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). "His mission is clear. We need a tough fiscal manager in these times and he gets it."
"I do a lot of my managing by just walking around talking to staff," Reinheimer said of his style. "And the people here have been aching for that. We have a very talented and creative staff."
In his first three weeks, Reinheimer has already bolstered the museum's family membership by 20 percent - in part through a Presidents Week contest that provided gift cards for employees who signed up the most new families. Reinheimer has also started a "Buy a Chair" campaign seeking donations of $400 from museum supporters to replace each of the planetarium's 250 seats.
"I have a vision and a plan to ladder the finances of the museum," he said.
While he's known as a budget expert, Reinheimer is also the scion of a prominent political family. His late stepfather was Gilbert Hanse, once a Suffolk Republican chairman and one-time candidate for county executive. Reinheimer, however, never traded on his family and won his posts by competitive civil service exams.
"Lance is the consummate professional," said Gail Vizzini, Suffolk's legislative budget review director, whom Reinheimer worked for. "He is very task-oriented and knows how to get things done. If you want to get something completed, Lance is your man."