Gov. Kathy Hochul’s pick to lead New York’s public power operations has drawn the ire of climate activists and progressive lawmakers for his opposition to legislation that would expand the New York Power Authority’s green energy production. Past political contributions by nominee Justin Driscoll to the Republican Party and its candidates have led to more criticisms by activists trying to keep him from becoming the permanent head of NYPA.
Driscoll has served as the interim CEO of NYPA since October, when the previous head, Gil Quiniones, left for a job in the private sector. Hochul nominated him for the permanent role in July, pending state Senate confirmation. It would cap off a nearly decadelong tenure for Driscoll at NYPA. “At a time when New York is leading the fight against climate change and rapidly transitioning to clean energy, NYPA needs strong visionary leadership at the highest level,” Hochul said in a statement announcing her recommendation.
Despite the vote of confidence from Hochul, a Democrat, Driscoll’s past political contributions revealed someone who was more closely aligned with Republicans in the state. According to campaign disclosures, Driscoll gave Rob Astorino nearly $2,000 between 2009 and 2012, when Astorino was Westchester County executive. Driscoll also gave $500 to the Assembly Republican Campaign Committee in 2010. And in 2009, he donated $1,000 to then-New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie. Each contribution came from Driscoll’s current address in Harrison, New York.
Driscoll has given to some Democrats from that address, with one of his last recorded contributions coming in 2013 to Bill de Blasio. But donations to Republican candidates and causes far outweighed those to Democrats. A spokesperson for NYPA did not return a request for comment.
Climate activists decried Driscoll’s past ties to Republicans and Hochul’s decision to nominate him. “From Brian Benjamin’s resignation to Madeline Singas’ overturning of New York’s district maps, Albany’s failure to vet powerful appointees has made New York a national embarrassment,” the Public Power New York coalition said in a statement. The group referenced former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, who resigned after his indictment on corruption charges that he has denied, and state Court of Appeals Judge Madeline Singas, who garnered opposition to her confirmation last year for her aggressive prosecutorial style as Nassau County district attorney.
Already, Driscoll has attracted opponents who have said they would not vote to confirm him after the testimony he gave to the Assembly stating his opposition to the Build Public Renewables Act, which would expand NYPA’s ability to generate green energy and is considered a major climate priority by advocates. Right now, that list includes only state Sens. Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport, but their ranks will likely grow if Singas’ confirmation offers any indication. “The NY State Senate voted to pass the (Build Public Renewables Act) this session because we know how crucial it is for climate action in New York,” Salazar wrote in a recent tweet. “We cannot then turn around and vote to confirm a NYPA CEO who isn’t up to the task, which is why I wouldn’t be able to support Justin Driscoll’s nomination.”
A spokesperson for Hochul defended her recommendation of Driscoll to lead NYPA. “Gov. Hochul recommended Justin Driscoll because of his stellar qualifications and proven ability to lead the Authority’s transition to a carbon-free electric utility, as demonstrated by his ongoing service as Interim President and CEO,” spokesperson Avi Small said in a statement. Despite a track record of donations to Republicans that may seem contrary to the goals of a Democratic governor, state civil service law does not permit such factors to play a role in appointing people to positions that don’t require party affiliation.