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Depew woman draws wide backing to head Thruway Authority board

A host of New York officeholders and political leaders are urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to appoint Depew resident Donna J. Luh as the next head of the Thruway Authority board of directors.

Assemblyman Mark J.F. Schroeder of Buffalo, Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo and Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell of Manhattan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, are among those urging that the current vice chairwoman of the board be elevated to the top spot.

"Over the past year and a half, she's the only one from any state authority who has communicated with me," Schroeder said. "When she approached me and said she would be interested in becoming [chairwoman], I said I was interested because she is from Western New York."

Luh is a former Erie County chairwoman of the old Liberal Party who now runs her own public relations and marketing firm. She previously held a key Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority post connected with the reconstruction of Buffalo Niagara International Airport. She was appointed to the Thruway board in June 2008 by Gov. David A. Paterson and soon became vice chairwoman.

She noted this week that with the Jan. 1 expiration of the term of current Chairman John L. Buono, she has let it be known she would like to succeed him.

"I would be honored to be [chairwoman] of the Thruway Authority. It's a great organization," she said. "And I certainly would look forward to being the first woman and the first from Western New York."

Luh occupied a very public spotlight during the December snowstorm that stranded hundreds of travelers on the free section of the Thruway near Buffalo. After authority officials initially defended their response to the emergency, Luh stepped forward to call for major changes.

"You can't have people stranded for all those hours and say things are fine," she said then.

Luh now says the entire episode should lead the authority to review many of its longtime procedures.

"It's time to look at all our procedures, and time to see if other changes need to be made," she said.

Luh noted that Buono has done a "great job" as chairman but that the new governor may be looking to make his own appointment. Buono is a former Rensselaer County executive who was appointed chairman by Gov. George E. Pataki. He is also the former president of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy and was head of the State Dormitory Authority.

Luh said a number of area officials and political figures are supporting her effort.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com