- Albany 11/08/2012 by DANNY HAKIM (NY Times)
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has dismissed his chief of emergency management after learning that he deployed government workers to clear a tree at his Long Island home during Hurricane Sandy, an administration official said Wednesday.
The aide, Steven Kuhr, was the director of the State Office of Emergency Management. The office coordinates the state response to disasters and is New York’s counterpart to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Mr. Kuhr was appointed little more than a year ago; he had run an emergency management consulting firm called the Strategic Emergency Group. Before that, he spent two decades working for New York City in a variety of jobs, including deputy director for operations and planning for the Office of Emergency Management and a chief and division captain of E.M.S. special operations at the Fire Department.
Mr. Kuhr could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday, and a call to his wife, Terri, who was also a partner at Strategic Emergency Group, was not returned.
During the storm, Mr. Kuhr, who lives in Suffolk County, was working in Albany. At a time when work crews were in high demand, he is believed to have told the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management to clear a tree from his driveway, an administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the dismissal had not yet been made public.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, recently found out what had happened and dismissed Mr. Kuhr, who earned $153,000 a year, according to state records compiled by the Empire Center for New York State Policy.
State Senator Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican whose district includes areas like Gerritsen Beach, which has about 2,000 residents still without power, said the action ascribed to Mr. Kuhr was “definitely an abuse of power.”
“I’ve got people sitting in their homes with two inches of snow outside, they have no electricity, no hot water, they’re sitting in their homes and freezing to death,” Mr. Golden said.
“This guy’s only worried about his own home? It’s sad. The governor made the right call.”
Mr. Cuomo has expressed increasing frustration that so many New Yorkers are still without power — about 240,000, according to the latest report from the federal Energy Department — and has repeatedly threatened the public utilities that have been scrambling to restore service, even warning that they could lose their operating certificates.
The numbers are down from the more than two million New Yorkers who were without power immediately after the storm, but that has been little comfort to people, many of them on Long Island and in Westchester County, who are still in the dark as temperatures drop, the governor has acknowledged.
“Power continues to be a struggle,” Mr. Cuomo said Tuesday. “Until every family has their power back, we’re going to continue to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to make that happen.”
Mr. Cuomo has been unusually visible during the periods before, during and after the storm, and he has repeatedly talked about the efforts the state is making to help hard-hit communities.
The firing is particularly unusual because it comes in the middle of the crisis, when parts of the state are still reeling from hurricane damage and some communities are experiencing further damage from a northeaster that arrived in the region on Wednesday.
Mr. Kuhr, however, was not the senior aide leading the recovery efforts. That role is being filled by Howard Glaser, the state’s operations director and one of Mr. Cuomo’s most trusted aides, who has frequently appeared by his side in news conferences.
Mr. Kuhr, who lives in East Northport, was profiled along with his partners in a brief Newsday article last year. It said Strategic Emergency Group had advised the New York Yankees on an emergency plan for their new stadium.