Cuomo Appoints Jon Kaiman as NIFA Chair

Jon Kaiman
Jon Kaiman
Jon Kaiman

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Wednesday outgoing North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman as chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the New York State board that controls Nassau County’s purse strings—a move that comes amid election and budget season.

Kaiman, a Democrat stepping down from his town job Friday who Cuomo also recently appointed Long Island’s Sandy recovery czar, replaces NIFA Chairman Ronald Stack, who led the watchdog’s increased role and county worker wage freeze after County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, took office in 2010.

“Each of these individuals bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise that will benefit both state government and Nassau County,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing Kaiman and two other NIFA board member appointments: Paul Annunziato, a vice president at Morgan Stanley, and Lester Petracca, president of Triangle Equities, who are filling two vacancies on the seven-member board.

NIFA was created in 2000 to oversee Nassau’s recovery from fiscal crisis when then-Republican County Executive Tom Gulotta led Nassau to the brink of bankruptcy. The watchdog agency maintained its oversight role through  Democrat Tom Suozzi’s administration from 2002 to 2009 but became a stricter control board requiring more stringent accounting three years ago out of concern for Mangano’s budgetary policies.

The move to replace Stack with Kaiman came shortly after Mangano released his proposed $2.8 billion county budget for 2014, which the county legislature will begin debating Monday, and while Suozzi is running for his old job against Mangano, who unseated Suozzi in 2009.

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who was presiding officer of the legislature when NIFA was created, expressed concern about the timing of the switch.

“In my opinion, it is a travesty to lose not only Mr. Stack’s leadership on this board, but his institutional knowledge of the County and his expertise,” she said in a statement. “To replace him, while in the middle of debating the 2014 budget and other critical financial decisions which are looming, absolutely makes no sense.  I certainly have the respect for Jon Kaiman’s leadership but NIFA needs the continuity and historical background which Mr. Stack offers, especially at this critical time.”

NIFA board member George Marlin, one of Mangano’s harshest critics, issued a statement saying: “This is a sad day for taxpayers.”

“Ronald Stack, a municipal finance expert, has been a brilliant and fair-minded NIFA Chairman,” said Marlin, whose term expires Dec. 31. “Although Stack’s NIFA term expired nine months ago, for Governor Cuomo to replace him during Nassau’s critical budgetary process is sheer folly.”

Another NIFA board member, Chris Wright, whose term also expires at the end of the year, said: “Stack has provided sound, apolitical, professional judgment and tireless service to Nassau County since the inception of NIFA.  He has shown leadership when, at times, our elected leaders could not – or would not.  Nassau County taxpayers and NIFA bondholders are better off for his service.”

Mangano issued a statement through his spokeswoman, Katie Grilli-Robles, saying: “County Executive Mangano looks forward to working with the board to clean up Tom Suozzi’s mess.”

Suozzi and Kaiman were not immediately available for comment.

“I have had the privilege of serving on NIFA under four Governors for nearly 14 years, over 10 as Chairman,” Stack said in a statement. “I informed Governor Cuomo early this year that I thought it appropriate that a successor be named.  I have enjoyed working with my NIFA colleagues in helping Nassau County in moving towards fiscal stability and wish them well.”

NIFA is expected to meet next Friday to discuss Nassau’s multi-year plan. The board is also awaiting a federal appeals court decision on its wage freeze.

-With Rashed Mian