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DuCharme vaulted into top spot over Lesko
President Donald Trump signed an unprecedented executive order Thursday to upend the established rules of succession for U.S. attorneys, installing a loyalist to Attorney General William Barr as head prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York.
Seth DuCharme, a career prosecutor in the EDNY, had been detailed to the Justice Department in D.C., first as special counselor to Barr, and at the end of the year took over as principal deputy coordinating the work of the nation’s U.S. attorneys. He will now succeed Richard Donoghue, who is heading to Washington to take the slot DuCharme is vacating. Unknown is whether Donoghue, who coordinated the Ukraine investigations, including those of Rudy Giuliani and Hunter Biden, would continue that oversight from D.C. or whether DuCharme would take over the role.
Donoghue’s resignation initially was to take effect just after midnight Monday, but on Friday afternoon he made his departure effective immediately.
— Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli
LIPA foe now supports settlement deal
The battle between LIPA and the communities where its legacy power plants sit has been waged for nearly a decade, ever since the power authority filed suit to challenge its property tax assessments on the Northport, Barrett, Glenwood Landing and Port Jefferson plants. LIPA was seeking reductions of as much as 90 percent in the huge sums it paid on the plants, led by the (now) $86 million annually on the Northport plant, arguing the aging plants are wildly overassessed.
The stakes were monumental, which led Brookhaven Town to take a settlement and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to agree to one the county legislature now must approve.
In the case of Huntington, a court loss would have cost the town’s taxpayers at least $500 million and could have immediately doubled the school tax bills in Northport-East Northport.
But the settlement offer, essentially a “glide path” in which a 50 percent reduction in the taxes would have been phased in over eight years, infuriated locals, too, not least because LIPA leadership had written a letter promising never to appeal the assessments in the 1990s.
So the battle was always hot, but the volatility and profile of the fight increased significantly in March of last year when Northport banker Paul Darrigo founded the Facebook page Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA, which has since grown to include nearly 5,000 members.
Darrigo and his group were outspoken and aggressive, and not just on Facebook. In-person protests were organized and politicians were pressured.
Darrigo never said he opposed any and all settlements on the Northport plant (although a lot of his most vocal allies in CTAL did) but he did take a hard line against the deal LIPA put on the table at the time. Darrigo argued that the “glide path” was a disaster and an “insult” that would have correspondingly driven down home values as residential property taxes went up.
Now, LIPA has agreed in principle to a somewhat better deal negotiated with the Northport-East Northport School District that also outlines a settlement with the Town of Huntington. The taxes are reduced 47 percent over seven years, LIPA also gives the district another $14.5 million over that time, and the $46 million annually paid on the plant in 2027 would extend to 2032 if the plant continues to be a part of LIPA’s power supply agreement.
Some politicians and advocates who’ve been fighting LIPA seem poised to keep fighting, but not Darrigo. He supports the deal, assuming the details match what he’s been told, and said so in a lengthy post on the CTAL Facebook page Friday afternoon.
“Is it a victory,” Darrigo said in a phone call with The Point. “Yes and no. I was getting a sense that if this deal didn’t happen, that was it. It would be left to the judge, and that would not go well for us.”
The judge overseeing the case had been pushing the parties to settle, leading many on both sides to believe a decision, if it were handed down, would side with LIPA and crush the community.
“I'm not sure I had the stomach to be the community member leading the community off the cliff,” Darrigo said. “Let’s just say that in any negotiation, if all the parties end up unhappy, it’s been somewhat successful."
And LIPA CEO Tom Falcone thinks Darrigo has the right idea. Speaking of the politicians and community members who’ve fought so hard, he said Friday: “They ought to declare victory. They got a better deal, and it certainly won’t get better with a court verdict.”
As for continued opposition, Falcone said he expects there will be some, but he thinks that if the school district, the most heavily affected body, approves the deal, people may be convinced.
And, he conceded, Darrigo’s support won’t hurt, either.
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
The three R's
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Listen: How the Bronx Zoo animals are handling the pandemic
The Bronx Zoo announced this week that it will be reopening at the end of July. But for months, it has been not visitors but just animals and essential workers in the wide green expanse. And some of the animals notice the lack of people, says zoo director Jim Breheny.
Episode 33 of “Life Under Coronavirus” is an interview with Breheny, who has worked at the zoo since age 14. The pandemic was a challenging time for the zoo, which stocked up on food and worked hard to keep workers and animals healthy. It also was home to some interesting sights, like bears and giraffes, and other animals suddenly interested in viewers: “When we would go to exhibits and we would go to look at animals,” says Breheny, “we'd find that the animals would actually stop what they were doing and look at us because all of a sudden it was novel to have somebody there watching them.”
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano