Andrew Cuomo on what it means to be LIPA’s ‘overseer’

Cuomo with Benjamin Lawsky and Larry Schwartz. (Azi Paybarah)
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This afternoon, at a press conference in Manhattan, Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the ongoing power outages from Hurricane Sandy, and the questions about his oversight of the Long Island Power Authority.

Cuomo said "ninety-eight to ninety-nine percent of people have their power back," but thousands more are unable to get power restored because of damage to their homes. Those people — 17,000 in Nassau, a few hundred in Suffolk; 2,900 in Rockland and 1,200 in Brooklyn — could take months for repairs.

"The situation is going to shift from a power issue, a restoration-of-power issue if you will, to a housing issue," Cuomo said. Those who do not get power restored immediately could be without power for weeks, and will need housing assistance from anywhere from two weeks to eighteen months, Cuomo said. The state is looking to supplement the Federal Emergency Management Agency's housing program, but details have not been finalized he said.

For the last two weeks, Cuomo made a public display of showing his anger and frustration with the Long Island Power Authority, Con Edison and other utility companies.

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But, as the New York Post editorial page, and before them, my colleague Dana Rubinstein, pointed out, those companies are regulated by the state, and have board members appointed by the governor, making him responsible for them.

Today, Cuomo got pelted with a number of questions about his role in their performance.

"You are the head of that public authority," a television reporter sitting in the front row said, prefacing her question to Cuomo, before noting there are six board vacancies and no president. "Do you take responsibility for what's been happening, and what hasn't been happening, at LIPA?"

"Well," Cuomo said, folding his hands in front of him. "LIPA is not the provider of power," he said, before explaining that they subcontract that work to another company called National Grid. "LIPA has basically been an intergovernmental, political organization for most of its time."

Then, referring to a wide array of utility companies, he said, "I think they were not prepared. I think they were non-communicative in their response. I think their noncommunicativeness actually exacerbated the situation."

After promising to hold the utility companies "accountable," Cuomo was asked, "Why was nothing done in the months prior, in the years prior?"

"These are systems that go back decades, literally decades," Cuomo said. Then, he rattled off a number of areas where LIPA and other companies failed: communicating, responding, preparing.

"But do you take any responsibility for that, as head overseer?" the reporter asked.

"As the head overseer, when we get stabilized, I'm going to do a thorough review-slash-investigation and a very serious one and they will be held accountable," Cuomo responded.

When I asked if he thought LIPA would have performed differently if he had made appointments to its board, Cuomo said, "Nope."

"They haven't performed a meaningful function, in my opinion, in decades," he said.

Again, he referred to LIPA as a "political, intergovernmental organization."

Towards the end of his press conference, Cuomo also announced, as the New York Times reported earlier today, that he would seek $30 billion in federal aid to help New York State rebuild the damage, make up for lost economic activity, and fortify its infrastructure against future storms.

When a reporter asked if he'd personally travel to Washington to lobby Congress for the funds, perhaps with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose state was also devastated by the storm, Cuomo smiled for a moment before answering.

"Laura," Cuomo said, referring to the the Wall Street Journal reporter by her first name, "if I went to Washington now, what story would you write?"

He was, of course, referring to the speculation about his presidential run in 2016, which made for front-page news in the Westchester Journal and the Democrat and Chronicle.