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Filler: A utilities expert wasn't the right fit to run the political LI Power Authority

Michael Hervey, LIPA's chief operating officer.

Michael Hervey, LIPA's chief operating officer. Credit: Newsday, 2011 / Karen Wiles Stabile

If the Long Island Power Authority were actually a power company, Michael Hervey might very well have had success running it. But LIPA is mostly a political organization, and Hervey is an operations guy. It was never a very good fit.

Hervey, 54, resigned Tuesday after two years as interim chief executive and 12 years with the authority. He has said his last day will be Dec. 15, but agreed to stay on until the end of the year when asked to by LIPA’s board.

Considering the criticism he’s received after Sandy, that was fairly kind of him.

Hervey’s predecessor, Kevin Law, was an attorney and county official before heading LIPA. Law’s predecessor was Richard Kessel, the ultimate political player, who got his start some 30 years ago as a self-styled consumer advocate. And, at least until the firestorm and weather storm that was Sandy, the top candidate to replace Hervey was reported to be North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, another savvy operator.

It’s little wonder that Hervey held the interim title for two years without ever being offered the spot permanently.

In person, Hervey is a nice guy, a straight shooter who spoke knowledgably about confronting the technical challenges LIPA faces. He seemed a bit lost, though, when confronting the vagaries of Albany, of legislatures and governors.

It can be argued that LIPA, the organization he headed, did all right at getting power back on, even if it was actually National Grid, which runs transmission and distribution for the authority, that accomplished that feat. But LIPA failed miserably in its responsibility to communicate with customers, operate a decent computer system and respond to requests for both service and information. Local officials also said LIPA did a very poor job of coordinating its workers to cooperate with municipal employees tasked with clearing trees and debris.

So while it may have been politics that cost him a chance to knock the “interim” off his title, it wasn’t purely politics that blew up in his face after Sandy. Hervey’s organization performed dysfunctionally, and he is paying the price.