He Leaves Cooperstown Village Board,
But Stays Involved In Public Affairs
By JIM KEVLIN
‘It’s been my longest job – at the lowest pay,” former Mobil Oil executive vice president Lou Allstadt told his colleagues Monday, Jan. 28, in resigning from the Village Board.
Resigning, but it doesn’t mean he’s exactly retiring.
He’s remaining on the Village Board’s Economic Development Committee. Gaining a local, state and even national profile for his arguments against fracking, even speaking to San Francisco’s prestigious Commonwealth Club, he said he intends to continue advising environmental groups about what makes sense and what doesn’t.
Surfacing last year as a member of an Otsego Now delegation that visited NYSEG President Carl Taylor to express concern about the lack of natural gas for current uses, he said he is involved in another so-far unspecified economic-development initiative that may surface in the next few months.
He’s also involved in an undertaking spearheaded by his son-in-law and daughter, Jay and Sally Webb, to expand an eco-lodge development in Costa Rica.
At 76, not bad.
This week in Cooperstown, though, people he worked with were focusing on his municipal accomplishments.
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch credited him with the almost complete renovations of 22 Main – the Village Hall, which also hosts the library and Community Art Association. Recently, a $270,000 state grant was announced for a final piece: restoration of the ballroom’s skylight.
Tillapaugh, in consultation with Allstadt, chose Steve Cembrinski, a local accountant, to fill the vacancy resulting from the resignation. He will serve until the March 2020 village elections.
Allstadt was appointed to fill a one-year vacancy in 2013, and ran for three-year terms in 2014 and 2017. (An independent, in 2014 he hurried from the Democratic caucus in the fire hall to the Republican one in the Village Hall, seeking to win a bi-partisan endorsement.)
Most of his service was under the mayoralty of Jeff Katz, who retired last April 1. Katz called it “a real honor and a thrill to work with him – to have a guy of that caliber on the board.”
When Allstadt decided to run, Katz said, “one of the things he said to me was: He had watched me and he wanted to be part of it. To hear something like that from a guy like him may have been among the top five compliments I got in my life.”
A graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with an MBA from Columbia, Alstadt spent most of his career with Mobil, with responsibilities ranging from North Sea exploration to overseeing construction of hundreds of gas stations in Japan.
As executive vice president of Mobil, he agreed to stay on and facilitate its merger with Exxon in 1998-2000, with the agreement he would retire at that point to ensure his objectivity during the process.
“Once we were talking about something,” said Katz, ”and he said: ‘When I ran Mobil Canada.’ I just remember saying to him, tell me more.”
Living next door to Village Hall, his interest in restoring that deteriorating historic building pre-dated his election; he resigned from The Friends of 22 Main on taking office.
He served on the Village Board’s Building Committee throughout, and saw the replacement of a front porch that was about to collapse, the upgrading of the mechanicals, installation of a new roof, and the transformation of the top-floor ballroom into a multi-purpose facility. He estimated about $250,000 in village money was spent on the project, much from new revenues from paid parking.
Embracing the anti-fracking campaign piqued his interest in environmental issues, and he studied village participation in a solar farm, abandoning the idea when he found such energy was more costly than what NYSEG could provide. Recently, though, he found a wind-power contract that is now providing 100 percent of municipal power for less than NYSEG, he said.
One controversy arose when Allstadt convinced his colleagues to shift the village’s pension-fund portfolio away from fossil-fuel stocks, and he was challenged in the pages of this newspaper by David Russell, a Credit Suisse banker who had overseen the state pension fund under state Comptroller Carl McCall.
The back-and-forth in Letters to the Editor went on over several weeks, and was picked up by New York Times’ business columnist James Stewart in a column headlined, “Once an Oil Executive, Now a Crusader Against Fossil Fuel Stocks.”
Today, Allstadt said events have borne him out, with the village’s non-oil portfolio consistently running a point or more ahead of the S&P 500.
“He is smart, tough, analytic,” said Katz. “But his conclusion was not based on beliefs. It had to be supported by facts.”