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Long Islander Kevin Law, Chair of Empire State Development Board, Is NY State’s ‘Mr. Long Island’

empire state development
Kevin Law (Courtesy TRITEC Real Estate Company)
June 19, 2023
By Claude Solnik

Kevin Law, Chair of Empire State Development Board, Is NYS’s Businessman on LI

On a recent day, Kevin Law, chair of the board of Empire State Development (ESD), New York State’s primary economic development agency, looked out the window as he rode the Long Island Rail Road home after a board meeting in Manhattan. 

Once the train reached Huntington, Law saw the 208-acre former Froehlich Farm that he helped preserve when he was the Suffolk County Department of Law’s director of real estate.

“Every time we reach that part of the train trip, I see it. It’s a pretty cool feeling I get,” Law said. “A lot of satisfaction. That land will always be preserved.”

Kevin Law is among the best-known and most influential Long Islanders in government who have never been elected. Law joined Tritec Real Estate Co. in April 2021 as executive vice president and partner, as well as impacting Long Island through numerous high-ranking volunteer positions.

“The only job I draw a paycheck from is Tritec,” Law said. “All the other things are volunteer.”

The former chief of the Long island Association has been chair of the Long Island Housing Partnership for 14 years and chair of the Stony Brook University Council for 13. Gov. Kathy Hochul last year appointed him chairman of the Urban Development Corporation, DBA Empire State Development.

“I have a deep commitment to public service in my DNA,” Law said in his East Setauket office. “I spent most of my career in the private sector, but a good portion of it in the public sector.”

Sometimes called “Mr. Long Island,” Law has a long history of serving in positions that have helped shape Long Island, from Suffolk County government and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to the Long Island Association (LIA) and beyond. 

“I have a deep commitment to Long Island, our state, and making the region better,” he said. “That’s why I stay involved in all these organizations.”

Governors have often reached out to Law to take key posts. And Law has added new positions with successive administrations.

“The last four governors have asked me to serve in different capacities,” he said. “They sort of viewed me as one of their key Long Island advisors.”

The governor’s man on Long Island

An alumnus of Stony Brook, Law was appointed by Gov. David Paterson as chairman of the Stony Brook Council before Gov. Andrew Cuomo reappointed him as chair for his second seven-year term. 

“Kevin is a dedicated partner and staunch advocate for advancing our university’s promise as a New York State flagship institution,” Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis said of Law. “Kevin is a trusted advisor and friend to Stony Brook University and to me personally.”

Matt Cohen, president and CEO of the LIA, put it simply. “If there were a mayor of Long Island, it would be Kevin Law,” Cohen said. “He has dedicated his career to serving our region and cares so much about its future.”

Drinking a Diet Pepsi (“I don’t drink coffee. I get my caffeine from Diet Pepsi”), Law recently looked back on decades of making a difference on Long Island.

“In some ways I’m a behind-the-scenes advisor to governors, but I’ve had very visible roles on Long Island, running LIPA or the Long Island Association,” Law said.

Over the years, he often headed upstate, lobbying for Long Island. “When I was at the LIA, I spent a lot of time in Albany,” Law said. “Not much now. I was up for the governor’s inauguration. I spend time in New York City now, because that’s where ESD’s office is.”

Long Island roots

While Kevin Law, whose father worked in Manhattan, has lived and worked much of his life on Long Island, he wasn’t born here. “I was born in New Jersey, but I moved out to Smithtown when I was 1,” Law said. “I’ve been here my entire life.”

While attending law school at St. John’s, he became an intern for New York State Assemblymember Pat Halpin, of Lindenhurst. On the day in 1987 that Halpin was elected Suffolk County Executive, Law found out he passed the bar. “It was a memorable day,” Law said. “Rather than work for a law firm, I went and worked with him.”

Law became assistant county executive for environmental affairs and affordable housing and then director of real estate for the Suffolk County Department of Law.

“I was buying up land, open space, to preserve it,” Law said, “but I also started helping the Long Island Housing Partnership with their affordable housing efforts.”

When Halpin lost re-election in 1992, Law went to the private sector, working in Nixon Peabody’s Garden City offices. He spent 12 years in their environmental and energy practice and became a partner and then managing partner of the Long Island office.

“While I was there, I was doing pro bono work for the Long Island Housing Partnership and I served on the board for The Nature Conservancy,” Law said. “I stayed very involved in Long Island affairs and issues.”

Accomplishment by association

Law went back to work for Suffolk County and became chief counsel and administrator for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy from 2004 to 2007. Gov. Eliot Spitzer asked him to chair LIPA in October 2006 before he became LIPA CE0 in January 2007. 

“When I was doing pro bono work, I was getting paid by my law firm and volunteering,” Law said. “When I was at the county, as chief deputy, I got paid.”

After LIPA, he ran the Long Island Association for 11 years, and served on the MTA board, a volunteer position, as a Cuomo appointee.

He spent more than a decade at the LIA, including time as co-chair of Long Island’s Regional Economic Development Council. “I feel like I had a very successful run at the LIA,” Law said.

He helped attract billions of dollars of investment to the region, supporting projects including the Long Island Rail Road’s third track. He helped attract investments from the state for Long Island’s research corridor spanning Stony Brook, Cold Spring Harbor and Northwell. And he helped Brookhaven National Laboratory get $2.5 billion for its electron ion collider.

“It was time to do something new. I believe in term limits,” Law said of leaving the LIA. “I thought it was time to pass the torch. I wanted to try something new.”

Law says he got more than a dozen job offers including several from real estate development companies such as Tritec, led by co-founders Bob and Jim Coughlan. He says they are committed to revitalizing downtowns and housing, including affordable housing.

“I thought this was a company where I could use my prior experience with law, government, business, and affordable housing,” Law said.

Running from office

A resident of St. James for 26 years, Law is married to Elizabeth and has two sons, Matt and Greg. 

His wife Elizabeth is the office manager for a dental practice in St. James who, he says, supports his volunteer positions, although she is aware of a price they pay. “She knows how important those things are to me,” Law says. “And she encourages me to be involved.”

“I‘m a true Long Island guy. We do staycations almost every summer,” Law says. “We make sure we get out to Montauk every summer.”

Tritec these days is continuing with site selection for projects that Law believes could help shape Long island’s future in positive ways. “They’re all in the incubation stage right now,” Law said. 

Although Law works with elected officials, he says he doesn’t miss being one himself. He found he can be effective working for, and with, public officeholders. 

“Some people feel the need to become an elected official to make a difference,” he said. “Throughout my entire career, by serving the public in these voluntary capacities, I’ve bene able to make a big difference for our region.”