By Walter Mugdan
Last week we lost a prince of a man. Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff was our Regional Administrator (RA) from 1989-93. He died on December 26, at the age of 81.
Few other public figures were so universally admired and respected. Ask anyone who knew him and it’s likely the first thing said about Connie is that he was a true gentleman. You’ll also hear about his devotion to conservation, his environmental leadership, his unimpeachable integrity, and his long career of public service in government and with a variety of NGOs. But mostly you’ll hear about his decency and civility.
Connie’s government service started in the 1960s when he was NYC Transportation Commissioner. A strong proponent of mass transit, he went on to serve for 15 years as a member of the MTA Board of Directors.
In 1989, newly elected President George H.W. Bush selected William Reilly to be EPA’s Administrator. Reilly knew exactly the right person to be RA for Region 2 – Connie Eristoff. But the then senior senator from NY had a different candidate in mind, a man of no apparent qualifications for the position. Reilly took his case directly to the President, and won.
With his avuncular style and obvious dedication to EPA’s mission, Connie brought out the best in everyone around him. He wasn’t a micro-manager, but he was deeply and crucially involved in two decisions of extraordinary and lasting importance.
Connie authorized the reassessment of PCB contamination in the Hudson River. EPA had decided half a decade earlier that the river should not be dredged. The reassessment culminated in the Region’s 2002 decision calling for dredging of 2.6 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment. That work, now underway, will yield unparalleled benefits.