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Cuomo's economic development chief plans to step back

Howard Zemsky, seen on Feb. 24, 2015.

Howard Zemsky, seen on Feb. 24, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s economic development czar plans to step down from day-to-day operations but will remain chairman of Empire State Development, the primary business-aid agency, officials said Thursday.

“Leading Empire State Development and serving as Governor Cuomo’s head of economic development has been the honor of a lifetime,” Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo real estate developer who was raised in Woodbury, said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work together to grow the economy across the state.”

Cuomo tapped Zemsky, 59, as president and CEO of Empire State Development in January 2015 after being sworn in for his second term as governor. Zemsky succeeded Kenneth Adams, who served during Cuomo’s first term.

Zemsky’s decision to step back, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, comes about two months after New York State lost Amazon’s proposed second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. He was heavily involved in the project and was dismayed when opposition by some Queens politicians led the online retailer to scrap the project.

He is proud of his Long Island roots, often telling the ESD board and others that he sometimes skipped school to go to Jones Beach. He graduated from Syosset High School in 1977 and was a Newsday newspaper carrier.

Zemsky has lived in Buffalo for more than 30 years, developing a community downtown with links to famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He came to Cuomo’s attention while serving as voluntary head of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, one of 10 councils created by Cuomo to help distribute state tax credits and grants.

As ESD CEO, Zemsky declined a state salary and was paid $1 per year.

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said, “New York is the better” for Zemsky’s work. “We are thrilled and honored that he will continue his public service and remain a beloved part of the [Cuomo] team.”

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