In a letter to President Obama, representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud have recommended Steven Minkowsky to be the New England regional administrator for the Small Business Administration, along with state senator Seth Goodall. Behind the scenes, members of Maine’s business community are outraged that Minkowsky – known for his contentious relationship with businesses and his lack of private-sector experience – is being considered for the post.
The Maine Wire spoke with multiple sources who have worked with Minkowsky but wish to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. These sources say Minkowsky’s anti-business attitude is so explicit that he even referred to the business community as the “al-Qaeda of Maine,” a claim that Minkowsky unequivocally denies.
Minkowsky resigned as the Deputy Director of the Maine Workers Compensation Board (MWCB) in February 2011. He spent a large part of his career as manager of the Office of Monitoring, Audit and Enforcement, in a role that some have described as an “enforcer”.
His department was established by Angus King in 1997 to, “provided an enforcement mechanism when violations of the Workers’ Compensation Act are identified,” according to their website.
Minkowsky has worked for the State of Maine since 1980, when he graduated from Southern Maine with a degree in political science. He worked for the Department of Human Services until 1988 as an “Income Specialist,” according to his resume (view full resume at end of post).
Eventually Minkowsky worked his way up to Deputy Director of the MWCB, where he took a hard line stance and was aggressive in his enforcement of workers compensation laws according to members of the business community.
Minkowsky has developed a reputation for supporting pro-government, anti-business initiatives. In 2010, he supported the controversial “predetermination application” that must be filled out for every job a contractor works on to prove they are an independent contractor and not an employee. At the time, a contractor noted that he would have to fill out 400 applications per year to meet the demands of the new worker compensation law. Minkowsky said of the new law in a 2010 MaineBiz article, “I think this is a reasonable step to take.”
Other members of the business community said Minkowsky could be “overly aggressive” in his pursuit of enforcing laws and punishing businesses.
Another source that has worked with Minkowsky for a number of years referred to him as “extremely intelligent” but “spiteful”, a “mean-spirited partisan” who is “pathologically committed to revenge.”
The sources were uncomfortable being named, citing the possibility that Minkowsky may return to the Workers Compensation Board at some point in the future as the Director. The sources fear retribution if he returns to that post.
Minkowsky’s resume, which includes no actual business experience, along with the accounts of his adversarial role in dealing with Maine businesses, doesn’t seem to fit well with the profile of someone to lead an organization like the Small Business Administration, who says their mission is in part, to, “assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise.”
Peter Gore, the Vice President of Government Relations for the State Chamber of Commerce, said he was, “very surprised to see Steve Minkowsky’s name in play,” for the position.
The SBA position is viewed by some as a patronage appointment. A Mainer has held the head post for New England since 1992.
There is speculation that Democrats Pingree and Michaud recommended Minkowsky in return for his years of active service to the Democrat party. Minkowski lists on his resume his extensive experience with the party, including stints as a Democrat State Committee Member in 2011 and 2012, and several years spent serving as the Treasurer for State Democrat Party.
In a joint letter to President Obama, Pingree and Michaud advocated for both Minkowsky and another nominee, State Senator Seth Goodall. “Both of these candidates would make the Administration and the people of New England proud. After lengthy discussions with both of them, we believe they each would bring a wealth of knowledge, talent and breadth of experience to the position.”
When asked for comment on Minkwoski’s alleged al-Qaeda comments, and his reputation as an anti-business bureaucrat, Pingree and Michaud issued a joint statement saying they had not heard anything about the comments. The rest of the statement is considerably less supportive than the initial letter to the President:
“The Regional Administrator of the Small Business Administration has traditionally come from Maine and the current Administration typically looks to the Maine Congressional delegation for suggestions. Ultimately it’s up to the Administration to decide who to nominate for that post.”
Minkowsky declined a telephone interview, preferring questions be emailed to him. In his response, Minkowski denied making the Al-Qaeda statements.
“I never made any comment comparing Maine’s business community to al Qaeda. I have worked with Maine’s business community for two decades and would look forward to continue to work to improve our business climate through the SBA. Access to capital is one of the greatest needs for small businesses in Maine and the SBA can be an important partner in helping existing businesses expand and new businesses get off the ground.”
Minkowski would not address questions about his lack of private sector experience, or the philosophy he would bring to the position if he became New England SBA administrator.
“Until this process is completed, it would be inappropriate for me to respond to any further questions.”
Minkowsky was also a subject of an investigation by Pine Tree Watchdog in January of 2012 regarding disclosure of financial information by public officials. Minkowsky’s wife was CEO of four facilities owned by Continuum Healthcare, who received $21.6 million from Maine government while Minkowsky was working for the State.
It is unclear when President Obama will make the final SBA appointment.