Howard P. Milstein, one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s top appointees as chairman of the Thruway Authority, has submitted his resignation.
Authority spokesman Dan Weiller confirmed Milstein’s departure late Wednesday following inquiries by The Buffalo News.
Though the Thruway Authority has endured the stiffest criticism of any state agency following the massive November snowstorm that stranded dozens of motorists on the highway for as much as 30 hours, sources close to the situation say Milstein’s resignation is not connected to the weather event.
Instead, the sources say the chairman decided it was time to leave even though his term was far from expired.
“After nearly four years of highly distinguished service, Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation Chairman Howard P. Milstein has resigned from the board of directors to focus on his many business interests,” Weiller said in the authority’s official statement. “We thank him for his dedication and service to the Thruway Authority, Canal Corporation and the people of the State of New York.”
The authority and other sources deflected any suggestion that Milstein’s departure is connected to criticism of Thruway operations during the storm that began on Nov. 17. Several sources said Milstein’s letter of resignation was dated Nov. 13 and he stepped down as of Nov. 30.
The authority also had come under fire following a similar storm in December 2010 that also stranded travelers on the Thruway in the Buffalo area. At that time, the incoming Cuomo administration vowed to revamp Thruway operations.
Late last month, Cuomo said he will seek a “debriefing” on the authority’s performance during the snowstorm after initially blaming motorists who illegally entered the closed road and then became stranded. He later changed his tone after sources said he received more information about the situation.
And though the governor conducted daily press briefings for six days in a row during the storm while joined by top state operations and emergency officials, no top Thruway authority officials were ever on hand.
The News also reported on Wednesday that local meetings will be scheduled in Buffalo to allow the authority and state Department of Transportation to assess response to the lake-effect storm.
Other state agencies were praised by various official and unofficial entities following the storm.
Milstein, who is a billionaire, has donated mightily to Cuomo and other state political interests. He and his brother – Edward – became one of the largest private landowners in downtown Niagara Falls over the years, though development plans for many of their parcels remain uncertain.
Milstein, a major New York City banker and former owner of the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders, was also mentioned earlier this year as a potential purchaser of the Buffalo Bills following the March 25 death of former owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Milstein said in May that he would not purchase the team but would support keeping it in Western New York.
Since the purchase of the team by Terry and Kim Pegula, however, speculation has cooled about Milstein’s land in Niagara Falls serving as the site for a new Bills stadium as attention turns more to downtown Buffalo.
Milstein already had proven himself a major force in Manhattan real estate and banking circles before he was appointed Thruway Authority chairman in 2011. He also is active in the circle of New York City landlords, who have been major contributors to statewide officials and legislators.
Over the years, Milstein has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican and Democratic politicians in New York, including a who’s who of players at the Capitol.
Vice Thruway Chairwoman Donna J. Luh of Depew is expected to serve as interim head until Cuomo nominates a successor to Milstein.