Matthew Cordaro, a onetime executive of the Long Island Lighting Co. who battled in favor of the Shoreham nuclear plant and went on to advocate for affordable rates and a fully public utility as a LIPA trustee, died Friday after a three-year battle with cancer. The Shoreham resident was 77.
Cordaro had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma three years ago but recovered. The cancer returned in the fall and he ultimately died of pneumonia, said his wife, Martha Cordaro, who noted that he attended LIPA board meetings throughout his illness, including as recently as last month.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cordaro served on several occasions as LIPA's acting chairman at board meetings. LIPA trustees are not paid.
"He didn't let anybody know," Martha Cordaro said of her husband's illness and utter devotion to the job. "He got out of the car and walked in by himself. He was really sick."
Cordaro was LILCO’s point man in the 1970s and '80s when the privately held company ran the electric grid and attempted to open the Shoreham nuclear power plant. In the end, the plant was mothballed and sold to LIPA for $1, its billions in debt taken on by LIPA ratepayers. LILCO was broken up, the electric grid taken over by LIPA, and the gas and power plant operations by Brooklyn Union Gas, which ultimately formed KeySpan. In 2007, KeySpan was sold to London-based National Grid for $11 billion, including debt.
By then, Cordaro had moved on to greener pastures, including as president and chief executive of the Nashville Electric Service from 1993 to 1999, and president and chief executive of the Midwest Independent System Operator from 1999 to 2001.
Cordaro, who grew up in Merrick, where he was a star wrestler, baseball and football player, returned to Long Island in the early 2000s and entered academia. He had previously earned a doctorate in nuclear physics and engineering from Cooper Union in Manhattan, and a master's in nuclear engineering from New York University.
On Long Island he served in several top administrative, academic and research positions at C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University’s College of Management. He went on to become the dean of the Townsend School of Business at Dowling College.
At LIPA, Cordaro was an outspoken advocate for ratepayer affordability, voting or speaking out against rate increases at the utility. He was named to the board in 2013, after serving as co-chair of the Suffolk Legislature’s LIPA Oversight Committee. He was one of two Assembly appointees to the board, which is comprised of five members appointed by the governor and two by the state Senate.
"He was a walking library of insight and information about the industry," said Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). "He was a dedicated and honorable man, willing to invest himself on the LIPA board and give it guidance. He was literally irreplaceable."
Marie Cordaro, one of three daughters, described her father as a fighter who worked hard for everything he earned.
His mantra was "always fighting for getting what you want and doing the right thing and not taking the easy way out," Marie Cordaro, of Island Park, said. "It was that old school mentality that's just missing today. He had that belief in core values and hard work."
Cordaro at times clashed with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s influence on the board. In 2013, Cordaro differed sharply with Cuomo when the governor announced a plan to sell LIPA to a private company following the National Grid-run utility’s failures during Superstorm Sandy. Cordaro at public hearings was among the most prominent advocates for a fully public electric utility, arguing that a privately owned LIPA would see customer bills skyrocket.
"No matter how you try to disguise or camouflage it, privatization will result in significantly increased costs for ratepayers," Cordaro said at the time. Ultimately, Cuomo settled for allowing PSEG Long Island to take over management of the utility in an expanded role from National Grid.
Cordaro was an "outspoken industry leader on Long Island and across the country, and he wasn't afraid to take an unpopular position if it was the right thing to do," said LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone. "Few have matched his record of accomplishment, and I'll miss his friendship as well."
Last summer, Cordaro clashed with Cuomo on the governor’s repeated threats to rescind the state franchises of poorly performing utilities in the state, noting Cuomo is "the boss of LIPA," through his control of the LIPA board, which approves utility measures. "So if there’s anyone to blame, if the buck has to stop anywhere, it stops with him. This is his show. He is as much to blame."
In the end, Cordaro’s vision for a fully public LIPA may yet be realized. LIPA in recent months has openly broached terminating its contract with PSEG and carefully studying a fully public utility for Long Island, one that could save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade.
In addition to his wife, Martha, and daughter, Marie, Cordaro is survived by two daughters, Allison Cordaro of Manorville, and Anne Small of Little Elm, Texas; a brother, Vito Cordaro of Orlando, Florida; and three grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned for Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Alexander-Rothwell Funeral Home, 6447 Route 25A, Wading River. A funeral mass is planned for Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. John The Baptist Church in Wading River. Cordaro's remains will be cremated and his ashes interred at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury at a later date.