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Will APA chairman Curt Stiles get a second term?
Will APA chairman Curt Stiles get a second term?

Political fight brews over leadership of APA commission

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A fierce political fight is building over the make-up of the Adirondack Park Agency board. Over the next year, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo - a Democrat - will have the power to completely reshape the commission.

As many as eight members of the 11-seat panel could be replaced, including APA chairman Curt Stiles. With the Agency set to make landmark decisions in the coming months, various factions are lobbying hard to shape the commission. Brian Mann reports.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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So here’s how high the stakes have become. Last week, WNBZ radio reported that commissioner Art Lussi – the Lake Placid resort owner whose term on the APA board expired more than a year ago – wants to be reappointed by the new governor.

So much so that he changed political parties, from Republican to Democrat, in order to be considered.

"Some friends of mine from Saranac Lake suggested that would be a good way to show my interest in staying on as commissioner," Lussi said.

Lussi is a popular pick with many local government leaders and with state Senator Betty Little.

Meanwhile, Peter Hornbeck – a boat builder from Essex County who was appointed to the APA panel by Governor David Paterson but never confirmed by the Senate – has also been pushing for a seat on the board.

 "I've got calls into people, people in the governor's office and other individuals, and I haven't heard anything back," Hornbeck acknowledged.

Hornbeck has strong backing from green groups, but his nomination was blocked by Little.

The Senator – who will be in the majority next year in Albany and have a lot of say over confirming new board members – says she’s begun urging local government leaders to submit the names of candidates they want Cuomo to consider.

 "We have legislation that would require a list from [local government groups]," Little said.  "But we don't even have to wait for that legislation [to pass].  I think if we put forward and suggest names, there are a number of appointees whose terms are up."

Governor Cuomo will have the opportunity next year to replace a total of eight out of eleven APA commissioners.

That includes five appointed seats and also the three designees who represent the department of state, department of environmental conservation and the department of economic development.

With that shift, Cuomo could redefine how the APA board views huge decisions, including the Adirondack Club and Resort proposed for Tupper Lake, relations with local government leaders, and regulatory reform.

Thrown into the mix is the fact that APA chairman Curt Stiles also sees his term expire next year.  Some lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Teresay Sayward, say they want Cuomo to pick someone new.  Here’s Sayward speaking in October.

"It's one thing to go around and say you're working with communities," she said. "But you have to be genuine about it and I don't feel that the current chairman has been.  I think we would do better with a fresh face."

But speaking this week, Stiles said he is interested in being considered for a second term.

"The job of the chairman of the Park Agency is an intriguing and satifsying opportunity," he said.  "It really is something I feel very strongly about and am committed to."

Stiles acknowledged the fierce politics that surrounds the APA board, but he also insisted that members shouldn’t lobby for their seats – comments that appeared to be directed at fell Commissoner Lussi.

"I think anybody on the board of the Park Agency should not be lobbying in a public way for that position," Stile said.  "I think that really distorts the value of what we're trying to do here."

Speaking last night, Lussi said he has had no contact with the Cuomo administration.  Other than changing political parties, he said he hasn’t actively lobbied for the post.

"As far as me doing outreach to the political leaders, I can tell you I haven't done that.  I feel that I should be appointed on my record, not on lobbying."

Lussi said environmental groups had offered to lobby on his behalf with the new Cuomo administration.

"If they want to lobby for me, that's their prerogative, but I'm not asking for their help.  I don't want to be obligated to support any of their positions or stances."

If Cuomo does wipe the slate clean at the Park Agency, he would be replacing some of the most experienced and knowledgeable members, some like with deep ties to green groups, others closely connected to local government and business leaders. 

Stiles says he thinks that could be a problem.

 "This is a very complicated business," Stiles said.  "Yes, my preference would have been to have those seats filled when they were supposed to be filled."

Stiles own term on the board expires in June.  But Governor Cuomo could replace him as chairman at any time after his inauguration next month. 

So far the Cuomo transition team has been largely silent on the new governor’s environmental agenda and on how he plans to approach the Adirondack Park Agency.

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