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Zemsky finally approved for NFTA chairman's post

Years after former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer first nominated him, Buffalo developer Howard Zemsky on Tuesday overcame Western New York turf battles to finally win confirmation as chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

Zemsky, who was renominated for the job by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, takes over the NFTA at a time of financial troubles for the transit agency, questions over service routes and a push for it to relinquish land it owns on the outer harbor.

Zemsky, whose nomination was easily approved Tuesday afternoon by the Senate, has served on the NFTA board for seven years. Henry Sloma, a holdover Republican appointee from Niagara County, has served as acting chairman since 2009 while Senate Republicans declined to act on his replacement.

"It's a great pleasure for me to heartily recommend to my colleagues this positive appointment by the governor," Sen. George D. Maziarz, a Newfane Republican and Sloma ally, told colleagues Tuesday afternoon.

"OK, let's go, he's waited long enough," Sen. Tim Kennedy, a South Buffalo Democrat, told his colleagues before a Transportation Committee earlier in the day considered -- and quickly pushed through -- Zemsky's nomination.

Though nominated by Spitzer, Zemsky has grown close to Cuomo and his administration, and he is co-chairman of a regional economic development council that is charged with helping the state steer job-creation money.

"It's been a logjam for three years. It's been three different governors with no permanent chair of the NFTA, which is a disservice to the second largest transportation authority in New York State," said Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat who earlier this year had pressed for Sloma's resignation.

"During that time, we had a proposal for massive route reductions, we've had a fare increase, we've had a big outer harbor problem. No leadership that whole time, so Howard Zemsky, I hope, will be a breath of fresh air," Ryan said.

He noted New York has had three governors since Zemsky was first nominated to be NFTA chairman.

"We've got to streamline that process and depoliticize it. There's no reason why that appointment wasn't made immediately, but it wasn't, and the NFTA suffered and had to limp along without a permanent chairman," he said.

Two other nominations by Cuomo to the NFTA board have yet to be taken up by the Senate. The NFTA handles 30 million passenger trips a year on its bus and light rail systems.

Zemsky's post, which is unpaid, is set to end in June 2016. Like Sloma, he could remain on the board past that time if a governor does not nominate and win approval for his replacement. Born in Brooklyn, Zemsky has lived in Buffalo since 1981 and is a managing partner at Taurus Partners, a real estate investment firm.

"I'm happy that he believes the NFTA needs to get out of the real estate industry and focus on transportation," said Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican. Cuomo said Zemsky's business experience "will be an asset to the NFTA leadership team as they seek to provide quality and reliable service." He thanked Sloma for his service and the Senate for its "swift confirmation" of Zemsky.