ALBANY -– The billionaire nominated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to head the Thruway Authority sailed through his first Senate confirmation hearing this morning.
Howard Milstein, a banking and real estate executive from Manhattan and a major donor to Cuomo’s campaign, fielded mostly softball questions and compliments from members of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Aides to Cuomo cut off two reporters trying to question Milstein after the committee meeting, saying he would be available if confirmed later today by the full Senate.
A protest against Milstein is planned for later today in Niagara Falls by religious leaders concerned about the hundreds of parcels of land Milstein and his brother have acquired over the last 12 years in the city. Milstein has not publicly said what he will do with the land, much of which sits vacant or with boarded up buildings on the lots.
Milstein’s nomination has been controversial, beginning with the Cuomo administration quietly sending his name to the Senate for consideration without making it public. Far lesser titles than the head of the state’s major road and canal systems have been featured in press releases throughout the past six months.
Also, Milstein is a major donor to Democrats and Republicans, including many of the senators who will be voting to confirm him.
And this week, New York Times columnist Michael Powell checked in with this item about Milstein.
In his transportation meeting, Milstein talked several times about wanting to use more private companies as partners with the Thruway Authority in future projects, especially larger construction and economic development endeavors.
He said private/public partnerships "will be high on the agenda" if he is confirmed.
Cuomo has said Milstein will avoid conflicts of interests that may involve the businessman’s real estate interests downstate and in Niagara Falls and the Thruway Authority.
Milstein provided no specifics to the committee about potential deals with private developers or financiers, or any details about tolls along the highway.
UPDATE: The full Senate approved Milstein's confirmation shortly after 4 pm today.