Few would argue that when Estelle Cooper, the longtime administrator for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, resigned in early January, the park lost a true champion of cause and attention.
The park had long been ignored since the 1964 World’s Fair until the early 1990s. But when Cooper was appointed assistant parks commissioner and administrator of the park in 1994 by the Giuliani administration, she saw her role as an advocate for programs and funding for the 1,200 acre public space.
According to a source, Cooper also relinquished her role in Unisphere, Inc., a nonprofit fundraising group for Flushing Meadows Park.
Cooper, 81, is reportedly leaving the post to start a political consulting firm.
A longtime Republican in a county dominated by Democrats, she ran against Emanuel Gold for State Senate in 1978, and again against Claire Shulman for borough president in 1986. She lost both campaigns.
Her Republican connections run deep. Phil Ragusa, the head of the Queens County Republican Party, was retained as the accountant for Unisphere, Inc.
Cooper’s new consulting firm will be known as Cooper and Company, and will be helmed by Cooper’s grandson, Michael Balsamo.
Balsamo was also executive director of Community Day Camp, a company owned by Cooper’s daughter, Ilene Balsamo, which secured a deal with the Parks Department to operate out of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Despite charging fees of between $900 to $2,675 for two- to eight-week sessions, the camp only paid the Parks Department $1 a day per camper to use park space and facilities, a deal that came under fire.
However, according to sources, other camps using the park were charged the same $1 per camper fee.
Community Day Camp was then accused of failing to pay counselors and contractors in a scandal that became public when former employees complained to a local television station.
Balsamo’s familial connection to Cooper and the subsequent scandal is believed to be at least partly behind Cooper’s resignation, sources say.
However, the Parks Department said the resignation was part of Cooper’s desire to start hew new consulting firm.
“Estelle has announced that she will begin a new career as a partner in a political communications firm,” said a department spokesperson in a statement. “We all wish Estelle the best as she embarks on her new endeavors.”
In its statement, the Parks Department noted the many improvement to the park under Cooper’s leadership.
“The park has seen many transformations,” read the statement. “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.”