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Money In Politics:

Zemsky’s donations to Democrats

Published January 6, 2021

Howard Zemsky, with his wife Leslie, may be best known for developing Buffalo’s Larkinville business and entertainment district. However, the businessman is also a political power player. In 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped Zemsky as co-chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, then in 2015, appointed him president and CEO of the Empire State Development Corp. In that job, Zemsky helped steer economic development policy and investment statewide. He left the post last year but remains chair emeritus. Ken Kruly, Investigative Post researcher and publisher of Politics and Other Stuff, examined the Zemskys’ campaign contributions over the past five years.

Largest recipients of Zemsky donations

Andrew Cuomo Governor $ 35,000
Kathy Hochul Lt. Governor $ 21,100
Mark Poloncarz County Executive $ 20,000
Hillary Clinton President $ 16,200
Byron Brown Mayor $ 16,100
Brian Higgins Congress $ 15,700
Gareth Rhodes Congress $ 10,800
Joe Morelle Congress $ 10,500
Anthony Brindisi Congress $ 10,400
Tim Kennedy Senator $ 10,250
Erie County Democratic Com. Party $ 10,000
Sean Ryan Assembly, Senate $ 6,000
Joe Biden President $ 5,000
Mark Schroeder Comptroller $ 5,000
Crystal Peoples-Stokes Assembly $ 4,500
Lidsay Boylan Congress $ 4,000
Paul Dyster Mayor $ 2,500
Source: New York Board of Elections, Federal Elections Commission.

Talking Points

  • Howard and Leslie Zemsky personally have donated a total of $236,355 to candidates running in federal, state and local elections over the past five years.
  • All of the 32 candidates who received those contributions were Democrats.
  • The couple donates to establishment politicians, either incumbents or candidates endorsed by the Democratic Party.
  • $151,130 was directed to state and local politicians. The largest amounts went to Gov. Andrew Cuomo ($35,000); Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul ($21,100); Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz ($20,000); and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown ($16,100).
  • Local recipients of Zemsky contributions also include the Erie County Democratic Committee ($10,000); Assemblymember/Senator-elect Sean Ryan ($6,000); former Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder ($5,000); Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes ($4,600); and former Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster ($2,500).
  • The Zemskys gave  $85,825 to federal candidates. The largest donations went to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ($16,200); Congressman Brian Higgins ($15,700); Hudson Valley congressional candidate Gareth Rhodes ($10,800); and Rochester Congressman Joe Morelle ($10,500).
  • Lindsay Boylan, who ran a primary race for Congress in NY10 in June 2020 received $4,000 from Leslie Zemsky; in December 2020 Boylan accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, a charge the governor’s office denied.
  • Unlike many real estate developers, the Zemskys seem to prefer personal, rather than corporate, contributions. In the past five years, just two corporate entities the family controls made contributions to candidates, adding $3,100 to the totals documented above. LCO Building LLC, which owns 11 addresses in the Larkinville district, made two $550 contributions to Brown. Taurus Capital Partners, the family’s investment firm, sent two $1,000 contributions to Peoples-Stokes.


Ken and Geoff Kelly discuss Howard Zemsky’s political contributions, plus Ken’s analysis of the money local businesses, organizations and even governments spend on lobbying state officials in Albany.

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Coming the week of January 17 – The cost of winning state legislative seats.