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By Mike Hudson

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's nomination of Howard Milstein, one of Niagara Falls' largest taxpayers and philanthropists, to the powerful position of chairman of the state Thruway Authority is the best news the city has gotten from Albany in a long, long time.

"He'll bring a professionalism and a business mentality and acumen that I think is very helpful in government," Cuomo said. "Having a private-sector businessman who's a success in real estate and finance makes total sense for the Thruway Authority."

Milstein and his brother Edward are the owners of Niagara Falls Redevelopment, a company that has invested $40 million to $50 million here over the past dozen years acquiring some 441 properties downtown. The company's ongoing demolition of derelict buildings in the district has rivaled the city's own demolition program in the sheer number of structures they've taken down, they pay their taxes on time and, thus far, have not taken a dime of public money.

NFR has always maintained an office in the city, and this presence has set them apart from the many national and multinational corporations who have come -- and in many cases, gone -- without ever establishing themselves as a part of the community.

Additionally, charities ranging from Community Missions to the Firefighters Toy Fund to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center have benefited from Milstein's philanthropy to the tune of millions of dollars.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said he was elated by the news.

"He's very tough minded, he's very energetic, and those are probably two qualities that will serve him well at the Thruway Authority," Dyster told reporters. "The fact that you've got someone who's so heavily invested here in Niagara Falls that obviously has such a strong relationship with the governor that the governor nominated him for this important position has to be a positive."

Milstein's nomination marks a rare instance of agreement between Dyster and state Sen. George Maziarz.

"The Senate doesn't normally stand in the way of gubernatorial appointments, and I don't see that happening in this case," Maziarz said. "He'll get my vote."

State Sen. Mark Grisanti also said the appointment was positive news.

"I wouldn't have a problem with his nomination at this point," he said. "They have been maintaining these sites and pay close to $1 million in taxes to the city of Niagara Falls. His company, from what I've seen, is actively pursuing development."

Dick Palladino, business manager for Laborers Local 91 here, praised the appointment as well.

"Howard Milstein and Niagara Falls Redevelopment have gone the extra mile on behalf of the unions here in Niagara Falls," he said. "I don't think Gov. Cuomo could have made a better choice."

The Thruway Authority chairmanship carries no salary. Previous chairmen have included Robert Moses, one of the most powerful men in the history of the state. The Authority manages the state's 641-mile Thruway system, as well as the 524-mile Erie Canal.

If confirmed by the New York State Senate, Milstein will preside over the authority's nearly billion-dollar annual budget. He is also president and CEO of Emigrant Savings Bank. Forbes magazine estimated his family wealth in 2010 at $3.8 billion.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 7, 2011