Tom Falcone has said he will step down as CEO...

Tom Falcone has said he will step down as CEO of the Long Island Power Authority by May 31. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Daily Point

Falcone's departure a clear sign the fight is over

The prospect of transforming LIPA into a truly public utility, not the current hybrid, was always dicey but the resignation this week of LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone, who supported the proposed changeover, is the clearest sign yet that nothing will happen.

“This is a death knell for the goal of public power that would have meant cheaper and more accountable power for Long Island,” tweeted Nancy Goroff about Falcone’s departure. Goroff, who ran for Congress in 2020 and is again seeking the Democratic House nomination in CD1, was a staunch advocate for the power authority to directly operate the transmission and distribution system.

There were recent signs that Gov. Kathy Hochul was not going to support the public power effort, such as new appointments she made to the LIPA board where she controls the majority of seats. The board soon put Falcone on the hot seat in the midst of a brutal battle with PSEG-LI, which operates the system, an indication that Hochul had cast her lot with the New Jersey-based energy company.

This long struggle over LIPA’s destiny moved into a different arena two years ago this spring when the State Legislature established a commission to study the benefits of eliminating a private contractor. It was an effort largely driven by East End Assemb. Fred Thiele, who has long advocated for full municipalization.

But the commission was slow to get up and running, there was turbulence surrounding its outside advisers, and its draft recommendations were greeted with sharp criticism. The final report was sent to the legislature on Nov. 15, allowing a short time for the lawmakers to digest it and any grassroots effort to grow. The commission spent half its allotted $2 million budget to make its case.

Now Thiele is retiring at the end of this session, so it’s pretty much make-or-break time for this elusive quest that began after the exit of the for-profit and disastrously managed Long Island Lighting Company, LILCO, in 1998. And he’s not optimistic about its chances.

“LIPA is good in the Assembly,” said Thiele, who told The Point he wanted to make some tweaks on how a governing board would operate before it comes up for a vote, probably in May. “But I am not sure where it will go after that.”

As he noted: “There is no Senate sponsor and no input from the governor’s office.”

Former State. Sen James Gaughran, a co-sponsor of the law to create the commission, did not seek reelection in 2022 because of redistricting, making the reimagining of LIPA an orphan in the State Senate.

Of Long Island’s two current Democratic state senators who could carry the bill, Kevin Thomas is not running for reelection and has taken no position on municipalization, and Monica Martinez is opposed to it.

“No one has asked me to sponsor it and I wouldn’t carry it,” Martinez told The Point. “It’s not good for the workers and no one has explained the actual cost savings to our taxpayers,” she said. “Is it dead? I would say so.”

Without any momentum in Albany or groundswell of support from ratepayers, private operator PSEG, which recently received an extension of its current contract to 2025 to give the state more time to make its decision, is sitting in a much better position.

The poor prospect of municipalization is considered one of the factors that led to Falcone saying he would leave by May 31. Falcone had come to support the municipalization proposal. At a September commission hearing in Hauppauge, Falcone said that going public and not relying on a private contractor to operate the system would allow LIPA to save money by consolidating about 13 senior jobs while also making it more accountable to Long Islanders.

“The board can fire me,” Falcone said. “I can’t fire PSEG.”

— Rita Ciolli

Pencil Point

Changing signs

Credit: Granlund

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Reference Point

A war of the flowers

The Newsday editorial from March 21, 1941.

The Newsday editorial from March 21, 1941.

It was spring and Newsday’s editorial board was hunting for flowers. Which it found in Manhattan at the New York Flower Show in Grand Central Palace, the imposing Beaux-Arts building that was the city’s main exhibition hall for more than 40 years before it was demolished.

And the board had some advice for its readers: “The admission price is $1.00 plus 10 cents tax and we guarantee you will get your money’s worth.”

Yes, this was a long-ago show. The board wrote its piece on March 21, 1941, a date when the board could get away with its casually sexist remark that it was “strange” that “quite a few males” were present. There was no small amount of parochial pride in the board’s encouragement to attend the show. “Every prize worth winning seemed to have been won by a Long Islander, although maybe we are prejudiced,” the board wrote. “It gave us quite a patriotic feeling to see how the old home county was coming through with the honors.”

But the editorial is particularly notable for the juxtaposition it offered: In the flower show was a copy of a British bomb shelter, recognition of the horrors being inflicted on London by Nazi planes in World War II. “The shelter which had been built for six people was pitifully small,” the board wrote. “It was small even for one person.”

Its size and spareness “gave one a horrid feeling of reality.”

The board also noted that by looking at the display of flowers, “One was again made conscious of the war …”

“Everything was American and South American from the arrangements to the gardens. Flaming reds and yellows mixed at times with swearing purply reds drew mixed comment from the crowd. Many of them had been born and raised in the tradition of English and French gardens; of blending colours and architectural forms; of cool, shaved lawns and gracious, well bred borders. There was nothing at all refined or gracious in the riot of angry colours that clashed and fought with each other over the garden walks.

“Perhaps this war will at least accomplish one thing and that is to make us independent of European traditions.”

If it seemed that the board and the people it wrote about were somewhat aloof and removed from the war’s impact, that was not the case three years later to the day when the editorial board once again wrote about gardens — victory gardens, that is, planted by homeowners to help alleviate a food shortage brought on by the war, which America entered nine months after the flower show with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The board marveled that Americans had planted 20 million victory gardens that supplied “enough food to make the difference between adequate nutrition and sparse pantries for the nation.”

Nassau County had planted 50,000 victory gardens in 1943, and now was being asked by a Washington directive to increase its number by 10% to 55,000 and its acreage by 25%.

The editorial board’s advice on March 21, 1944, had to do with more intense cultivation, succession crops, filling in empty spaces with more produce, and not planting too early — the region was being hit by a “near-blizzard” that day. A blizzard of snow, thankfully, not bombs.

— Michael Dobie, Amanda Fiscina-Wells

CLARIFICATION: Andrew Garbarino won his CD2 race in 2022 with 61% of the vote, 22 percentage points better than opponent Jackie Gordon. His margin was 20 points larger than Donald Trump’s 2-point margin over Joe Biden in the district in the 2020 presidential contest. The totals and margins were unclear in an item in The Point on Wednesday.

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