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Meet Gil Quiniones, the highest ranking Fil-Am in the Cuomo Cabinet

If his life could be summed up in bullet points, Gil Quiniones’s would look something like this. The president and CEO of the New York Power Authority (NYPA) is:

•    A mechanical engineer
•    An energy nerd
•    A West Village family man
•    A Jewish Filipino
•    Sela’s dad

Judging from the multiple executive positions he has held over the years, he appears to be extremely knowledgeable at what he does, is decisive and creative with his solutions, and is a person of integrity. He is disgusted by corruption and bewailed the fact that the Philippines is still bogged down by it.

I first met Quiniones, 48, in October when he represented New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the 4th The Outstanding Filipino Americans of New York. We chatted briefly on a side aisle at Carnegie Hall before he went up the stage to deliver the governor’s address to the awardees.

He struck me as a pleasant person, easygoing, and with a good sense of humor. I imagined him having an enthralling story about his path to Albany, the state capital and the seat of political power. In reality, though, the NYPA is headquartered in White Plains. Several months after that Carnegie Hall encounter, he agreed to sit down with The FilAm for an interview at a coffee shop in his West Village neighborhood.
In front of his apartment building in the West Village where he met his wife: ‘We met on this stoop.’ The FilAm
“I was disappointed he did not win,” Quiniones said with a shrug and a smile.

It was the Monday after Manny Pacquiao lost the Fight of the Century. A post-match critique seemed to go nicely with a bowl of cereal.

But there is a “silver lining,” he quickly added. “Maybe, now, he will not be coaxed into running for president of the Philippines.”

Quiniones may have been out of the Philippines since the 1980s, but he is not exactly out of the loop about the idiosyncrasies in Manila politics where sports and movie celebrities are routinely elected to Congress. One even became President! Pacquiao’s loss to Floyd Mayweather, he said, has just knocked him out of the race.

Quiniones was born in Iowa in the 1960s, the youngest of four children all of them accomplished professionals: Lily, the eldest, is an ophthalmologist in New Jersey; Sebastian Jr. is a general manager at Shell Philippines; Bessie is a pulmonary & critical care doctor; and Gil is a mechanical engineer who is a recognized authority in the U.S. on the energy industry. Gil is the only American-born among his siblings.

The family lived in the Hawkeye State while their parents were scholars at the Iowa State University.

When he was 4, his family returned to the Philippines because his parents were accepted into research fellowships at UP Los Banos. His father worked as a plant pathologist, and his mother was then completing her doctoral degree.

“My parents were always working as professors and researchers,” he said.

It was in the Philippines where Quiniones received his education from elementary to college.

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from De La Salle University, Quiniones returned to the U.S. in late 1980s. In the U.S., he completed graduate courses in engineering management and technology management at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and attended executive education programs at the Columbia University Business School.

He worked for a small energy consulting firm after college, before joining public utility company Consolidated Edison where he worked for 16 years as an energy engineer.

“At Con Ed, my role expanded,” he said. He and three others later co-founded Con Ed Solutions, a retail energy supply and services company. He stayed with Con Edison until 2003, or two years after 9/11.

The FilAm photo

An opportunity to join then New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg opened up. It would be his initial sortie into public service. He became the city’s chief consultant on energy policy. He established and led Bloomberg’s Energy Policy Task Force, described as a “public-private group that developed a comprehensive strategy for meeting New York City’s future energy needs.”

He led the city’s energy and telecommunications programs for four years before joining the New York Power Authority, the largest state-owned electric utility, in 2007. He served two governors before Cuomo: Eliot Spitzer from 2007 to 2008, and David Paterson from 2008 to 2010. Cuomo became governor in 2011.

“Gil has been a key part of my administration’s work to transform energy generation, transmission and distribution,” said Cuomo after Quiniones was named in April to head the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute.

Quiniones said he and Cuomo did not know each other all that well when he was named president and CEO of NYPA. It was in 2011 when hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee caused massive flooding throughout the state that Cuomo “got to know me better.” They attended a lot of emergency meetings together, and Cuomo witnessed how Quiniones led herculean operations to restore energy and telecommunications during the time.

The NYPA was one of the state agencies that performed admirably, according to a report prepared by the Governor’s office a year later.

“As a result of needs identified during last summer’s storms, the state through the New York Power Authority (NYPA) put in place a one-time funding program for large equipment and other items that will help staff at the Blenheim-Gilboa hydroelectric project and first responders in the surrounding communities respond during any future emergency,” it states.

The NYPA also made plans to “improve cell-phone coverage primarily along the Route 30 corridor from Grand Gorge to Middleburgh, helping address shortcomings in area cell communications.”

This summer, Quiniones, his wife Paula, and their daughter Sela will be visiting the Philippines to attend a nephew’s wedding. Sela, 9, will be a flower girl. It will be his first visit since graduating from college.

How he met Paula Kieffer, a social worker, is such an endearing story it has touches of Woody Allen. They were next-door neighbors in the same apartment building where the family now lives.

“We met on a stoop,” he said. “I lived in 1 Rear, she lived in 1 East. Her apartment is better than mine, so I moved into her apartment.”

He converted to Judaism, Paula’s religion, by choice. “She didn’t push me,” he said. He studied with a rabbi at the Congregation Rodeph Sholom on West 83rd, and “fell in love with it.”

As the family prepares for their upcoming trip, Quiniones said he is teaching Sela some Tagalog, starting with numbers and counting. Her “outgoing” daughter goes to a public school in Greenwich Village. She loves acting and attends after-school classes on repertory theater.

Beaming with pride, he tapped his smartphone to show me a couple of family pictures, and said, “She’s very curious about the Philippines.” —The FilAm