Estelle Cooper, 81, administrator of Flushing Meadows Park for the last 17 years, has resigned to lead a new political consulting firm.
To be known as Cooper and Company, the business is also being headed by Cooper’s grandson, Michael Balsamo. Neither could be reached for comment before the Chronicle’s deadline.
Cooper, a Republican, was appointed to head Flushing Meadows in 1994 by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. She was also named assistant Queens Parks commissioner. During her tenure, the Whitestone resident helped set up Unisphere Inc., a fundraising arm of Flushing Meadows.
Last summer, her daughter, Ilene Balsamo, got in hot water for allegedly not paying some camp counselors and vendors involved in her Community Day Camp, which she operated in Flushing Meadows Park.
Although the tuition ran from $900 to $2,675 for two- to eight-week sessions, the camp reportedly only gave the city $1 a camper.
According to insiders, who asked not to be named, the publicity was an embarrassment to the Parks Department and Cooper was allegedly asked to step down.
Michael Balsamo is listed as associate executive director of the camp.
The Parks Department issued the following statement on Cooper’s retirement: “After 17 years of service to NYC Parks, Estelle Cooper has resigned from her position as assistant commissioner and Flushing Meadows Park administrator. Estelle has announced that she will begin a new career as a partner in a political communications firm. Under Estelle’s tenure, the park has seen many transformations. A set of synthetic soccer fields were constructed and Parks built the new Flushing Meadows Aquatic Center and the new Al Oerter Recreation Center. The United States Tennis Association expanded and Citi Field was built as the new home for the New York Mets. We all wish Estelle the best as she embarks on her new endeavors.”
Some insiders are questioning Cooper’s actual role in the new consulting firm, saying the family is using her name to gain clients.
Several people interviewed, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Cooper was not in the best of health, having suffered at least one stroke in 1996, and wondered where the financial backing for the consulting firm was coming from.
“It looks like they are trying to open up a Republican shop,” one person said.
Vince Tabone, spokesman for the Queens Republicans, said he has known Cooper for many years and thinks the new business is not an attack on the county party. “I see it as more of a broadside to the Parkside Group,” Tabone said. “And Estelle knows a lot of people.”
The Parkside Group, a powerful political lobbying group, is headed by Evan Stavisky, son of state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing).
Cooper is no stranger to politics. She ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 1978 against Emanuel Gold and for borough president in 1986 against Claire Shulman. She is also the former secretary of the Queens Republican Party.