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Howard Zemsky, Cuomo's new economic development czar: I get Long Island

Howard Zemsky on Sept. 5, 2013 in Buffalo.

Howard Zemsky on Sept. 5, 2013 in Buffalo. Photo Credit: AP / Robert Kirkham

A Buffalo real estate executive who this week was appointed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's economic development czar said he understands some of the challenges facing Long Island, having grown up here in the 1960s and '70s.

Howard Zemsky, 55, was nominated by the governor to serve as chief executive of Empire State Development, the state's primary business-aid agency. He succeeds Kenneth Adams, a Brooklynite with Long Island ties, who was tapped to become tax commissioner.

Both appointments must be confirmed by the State Senate.

"I grew up on Long Island and I think I know it pretty well," Zemsky said Tuesday. He is best known for converting a Buffalo manufacturing complex into offices and retail shops.

Zemsky, who was born in Brooklyn, said his parents moved to Woodbury after his birth. He graduated from Syosset High School in 1977.

While Zemsky has lived in Buffalo for 33 years, he said he returned to Nassau County recently to satisfy "this itch to go back and check out the hometown." He said he barely recognized the split-level house that he grew up in because of changes made by subsequent owners. The tennis center where he played has been replaced by condominiums.

The visit wasn't prompted by Zemsky's appointment, which Cuomo first asked him about weeks later. But Zemsky said he recognizes the challenges facing Long Island, including an exodus of young people, high costs, the need to nurture technology companies and to build more housing near LIRR stations.

Zemsky, a Democrat, vowed not to forget the Island or any of the state's 10 regions, saying he'd witnessed how Cuomo's predecessors had ignored Western New York. Zemsky, at his suggestion, will be paid $1 per year.

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association business group, said Zemsky "understands the appropriate role government can play in spurring economic development." The men got to know each other as co-vice chairmen of their respective Regional Economic Development Councils. Cuomo established the councils in 2011 to devise job creation plans and vie for state business aid.

Adams said he was "excited" to lead the state Department of Taxation and Finance because it "will provide new and important opportunities to continue to improve how we do business" in the state. He is a former president of the Business Council of New York State, a lobbying group.

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