Every community should want to have a Howard Zemsky. Western New York is fortunate, really fortunate, to have him on our side, advocating for us as the governor’s right-hand man.
If anything, we’d like to clone him so that he isn’t stretched too thin. He has two assignments in state government in addition to his varied volunteer and business interests.
His toughest assignment is shepherding economic development in New York as the $1-a-year head of Empire State Development. He took on that job while chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, with the understanding that he would not be staying with the NFTA for long. But he’s now worn both hats for 10 months, generating criticism that the two roles are in conflict with each other. The only real conflict is that there may not be enough hours in the day for him to work.
While he rarely attends NFTA commissioners’ meetings, he weighs in via teleconference and regularly consults with staff.
Zemsky’s leadership is invaluable. His commitment to Buffalo and its people is deep and sincere. The man strongly believes in public service and has for decades worked behind the scenes for the betterment of the community. His generosity of time and resources knows no bounds.
Perhaps this is why it is has been difficult for the governor not to let him continue in his dual roles. The supposed conflict came about a year ago when Zemsky was one of several state officials touring the state praising the governor’s budget proposal. At that time, NFTA officials were fretting because the budget left the agency with almost $10 million less than needed. But during the budget process, much of that shortfall was restored. Despite vague hints of a conflict, there hasn’t been even a whiff of inappropriate actions by Zemsky.
Last April, Zemsky seemed determined to remain as NFTA chairman, but eventually the announcement came from the governor’s office that he would depart the agency. That has yet to happen. But consider that Zemsky just achieved one of his goals as NFTA chairman: getting the agency out of the land development business. Last month the authority approved transfer of its last 50 acres of property, at the Port Terminal Complex, to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
Then last week a Cuomo spokesman said, “we’re hopeful to have a nomination [as NFTA chairman] for the Senate to consider soon.”
Zemsky has been a strong leader for the NFTA. There is no better time than now to give up that hat. In a New York City-centered state, having a Western New Yorker heading up Empire State Development without holding a side job will be good for all of upstate.