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Awkward moment in LIPA debate

Rep. Tim Bishop, Assemb. Steven Englebright and Assemb.

Rep. Tim Bishop, Assemb. Steven Englebright and Assemb. Phil Boyle, from left, listen to ALI chairman Sheldon Sackstein speak at a meeting in Melville. (June 10, 2011) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

There was an awkward moment at Friday’s meeting in Melville of the business group Action Long Island. ALI chairman Sheldon Sackstein asked for the resignation of LIPA chairman Howard Steinberg, criticizing Steinberg’s call to privatize the utility. Sackstein said such a move would not solve LIPA’s problems, including overcharges.

But when a panel of three legislators at the ALI meeting — Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), and Assemb. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) — were asked whether they supported Sackstein’s call, they initially offered no comments.

“Come on guys, you’re not going to leave me hanging out here,” Sackstein said.

But they did, initially anyway. A bit later, Englebright said it was important to keep an eye on “the big picture,” which he described as the future of LIPA. “If a resignation is necessary for accountability, maybe,” Englebright said. “But a resignation does not restructure” LIPA, he added.

Sackstein said after the meeting he was not disappointed he did not receive complete support from the legislators. “They didn’t dismiss it out of hand,” Sackstein said. “What Steve said is they’re going to consider it.”

Sackstein said he understood the legislators’ caution. “They have to worry about getting re-elected. I don’t,” he said.

Sackstein is the second public figure on Long Island to call for Steinberg’s resignation. Two weeks ago, Suffolk Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) asked Steinberg to step down after Steinberg suggested LIPA be privatized. Horsely said Steinberg was “abdicating any responsibility for LIPA’s shortcomings.” A LIPA spokeswoman had no comment, saying Steinberg was appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Cuomo has ordered a broad audit of LIPA by the state inspector general on questions of overcollections, high rates and excess storm-related charges. Steinberg declined to comment other than to say of Sackstein, “He’s entitled to his opinion.”

ALI executive director Lisa Rosenthal said the organization will have further discussions about LIPA. The discussion continues today, when the Suffolk Legislature’s LIPA Oversight Committee meets at 2 p.m. at the Legislative Auditorium at 300 Center Dr., Riverhead.

Above, Sackstein with the three legislators.

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