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Selection of Roche to lead the NFTA board ends a long search for Zemsky’s successor

The naming of Sister Denise A. Roche, the outgoing president of D’Youville College, to replace businessman Howard Zemsky as chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority ends speculation on when a new leader would be put in place.

The governor appointed Roche as NFTA chairwoman, which would make her the first woman chair. Now it is up to the State Senate to approve both her appointment and that of one commissioner. Those approvals should be made expeditiously following the normal vetting process. The top choice has taken longer than expected.

Zemsky was stretched much too thin over two assignments in state government, plus a number of volunteer and business interests. His exit as authority chairman had been expected – with reluctance – for about a year.

This was never a reflection on the philanthropic businessman who is shepherding economic development in New York as head of Empire State Development. He took on that job, which pays him a whopping $1 a year, while chairman of the authority with the knowledge that his time with the NFTA would be short-lived.

Finding a replacement took longer than the public might have expected. But, if it took too long, the resolution appears to be a good one.

Roche has the endorsement of Zemsky, who was quoted in The News praising the NFTA’s management staff and adding that his replacement is “highly regarded in the community and has a wonderful track record as a college president.”

Roche will lead a board responsible for the oversight of vital public transportation hubs: Metro Bus and Rail, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport and the Niagara Falls International Airport.

She should be able to handle her new duties with aplomb, harnessing the same strong capabilities she displayed as longtime president of D’Youville College, from which she announced her retirement last year.

Roche, 73, is a member of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart and became president of the college in 1979. Her retirement date from D’Youville is set for July 1.

As reported in The News, Roche is credited with growing a small nursing school on difficult financial footing and, over the next 36 years, turning it into a popular school for students trained to become physician assistants, physical and occupational therapists and other health professionals. She has a doctorate in sociology.

The NFTA board will be fortunate to have someone with her experience. She led D’Youville’s growth as colleges everywhere faced financial and enrollment pressures, personnel concerns and all that goes along with running an institution of higher education.

The governor also appointed Joan G. Aul, an executive at M&T Bank, as a commissioner to replace Henry Sloma, a holdover commissioner.

Both women should gain favorable consideration by the State Senate.