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ASSEMBLYMAN TO BE NAMED NEW INSURANCE COMMISSIONER

State Assemblyman Howard Mills, who failed miserably in his bid this year to unseat Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, will be nominated by fellow Republican George Pataki to become state insurance superintendent, the governor announced Thursday.

Mills would replace Gregory Serio in the $127,000-a-year post. Pataki said Serio, who has headed the state Insurance Department since May 2001, would be taking an unspecified job in the private sector after he departs next month.

Mills' nomination will be subject to confirmation by the Republican-led state Senate.

"Howard has built a solid reputation in the New York state Legislature and worked extensively on insurance issues, and I know he will do an outstanding job as our state's next insurance superintendent," Pataki said in a statement issued by his office.

"Mr. Mills is a bright, capable and hard-working public servant and I believe he is a fine choice for the post," Schumer said.

Mills, a graduate of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, also studied at Oxford University in England and holds a master's degree in government and public affairs from American University in Washington, D.C.

New York's insurance superintendent regulates more than 1,000 insurance companies operating in the state and oversees a state agency that has about 1,500 employees.

Serio will leave the department and join his new employer in mid-January. He said it's not an insurer and he would not be lobbying his current office. "The opportunity I'm looking at is not a lobbying opportunity, not in Albany," he said.

Serio joined the insurance department in 1995 as first deputy superintendent and general counsel. Over the past few years, he was a leader in the state's battle to reduce auto insurance fraud, working more closely with local district attorneys around the state and changing regulations to give insurance companies more power to investigate claims.

Those efforts led to a dramatic decline in insurance losses since 2002. In response, Serio last month called on the 15 largest auto insurers in the state to immediately lower their insurance rates. So far, Geico Corp., MetLife Auto & Home, and Progressive Corp. responded with cuts.

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