Meet the important nonelecteds who have the ear of the state’s top politicians.
Behind every powerful politician is a top adviser. Behind every successful campaign is a key consultant. Behind every piece of landmark legislation is a well-connected lobbyist.
These influential figures often stay behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. But in this special edition we pull back the curtain on the state’s most influential political players who have not been elected to public office.
In City & State’s third annual “Influentials” list, we profile key players spanning the state from the worlds of business, journalism, organized labor, politics and government.
In these pages you’ll get to know the disciplined team, both in and out of government, that has made Gov. Andrew Cuomo one of the most effective state leaders in recent memory.
You’ll meet the top aides to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and the experienced staffers who keep New York City running.
We recognize their dedication, drive and accomplishments— and delve into what got them there, how they’ve developed their influence, and how they get things done.
Before Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs a bill or issues an executive order, the governor’s counsel, Mylan Denerstein, must lay eyes on it.
As counsel, Denerstein is responsible for drafting bills and assessing their potential effect. She makes sure new bills are constitutional.
Denerstein, who is involved in every major deal and piece of legislation in the Capitol, is also the highest-ranking woman in the Cuomo administration, giving the lie to the proverbial “three men in a room” style of dealmaking in Albany.
Denerstein, who also served as Cuomo’s executive deputy attorney general for social justice when he was attorney general, is a key architect of Cuomo’s use of the executive order, a potent policy tool the governor has deployed on issues such as executive compensation at nonprofits and the state’s health-insurance exchange.
She had a hand in crafting religious carve-outs in the passage of the bill legalizing same-sex marriage, a law she described in an email as the “best thing I’ve ever worked on,” adding emphatically that the “governor deserves ALL of the credit.”
Denerstein, who said her conflict-resolution mantra is to “be direct and to the point, pragmatic, and don’t suffer fools,” is also the source of some much-needed levity within the administration.
She described her daily routine this way: “Get up, check BlackBerry, read clips, drink coffee, get kids ready for school, camp, arrive at work, drink more coffee, meet with Seth (my deputy), review day’s schedule and things that need to get done, meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, drink more coffee, interviews, meetings, interviews, interviews, after 6 p.m. catch up on all the materials I need to read and think about.”
“I have the best one-liners at executive staff meetings,” she noted in response to a question about what Albanyites might not yet know about her. She added a dry postscript: “Nothing to do with work, but [I] lose my keys or card pass daily.” —Laura Nahmias
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York City Planning Department has radically reshaped the landscape of the five boroughs.
And while the mayor and planning commissioner Amanda Burden have received most of the credit, David Karnovsky has played a key behind-the-scenes role establishing the legal groundwork and developing legal strategies to make the grand vision a reality.
“Under the Bloomberg administration, there has just been a staggering amount of activity around zoning and land use and development, so I’ve been part of that ever since that took off,” Karnovsky said.
His department deals with all kinds of projects, from restrictions on small family homes to private developments to vast city-driven projects like the Hudson Yards.
Karnovsky has had a hand in everything from the Greenpoint-Williamsburg redevelopment to the High Line. He finds controversial expansion projects like those at Columbia University and New York University the most challenging and rewarding.
“Those are the ones that I dig into and like the most, where it’s really complicated and there’s a fair amount of controversy, conflicting viewpoints, and I enjoy getting into the mix and trying to sort the issues out, and try to balance out these competing concerns and make them work from a legal standpoint,” he said.
When Karnovsky joined the department in 1999, he found land use and zoning fascinating, but wasn’t an expert. But he capitalized on his deep knowledge of city government and his understanding of municipal law and city agencies and processes.
He described his small team, which includes just five lawyers, as “the little engine that could.” Beyond leading the legal staff, he regularly coordinates with other agencies and credits a collaborative approach for getting things done.
“I think that’s what make me good at what I do,” he said. “It’s a problem-solving attitude toward these things.” —Jon Lentz
When Josh Vlasto calls a reporter, he is armed with facts.
“I try to…pursue the information internally as aggressively as a reporter would,” he said. “This way I know what they’re looking for, what they are going to find, the type of questions they’ll ask and how best to answer before I even get on the phone.”
Since he arrived in Albany, Vlasto has developed a reputation as a pugilistic defender of the governor, willing to criticize a paper or reporter in response to negative stories.
“This is not personal,” Vlasto said. “This is a tough business, and sometimes in the heat of the moment things can get personal, but at the end of the day I respect reporters as colleagues and professionals.”
Vlasto, a New York City native, was raised in a political house. Although his parents divorced before he was born and he was raised by his mother, Carol Opton, both worked for former Gov. Hugh Carey. His father served as Carey’s press secretary. “I basically sit in the office my father had,” Vlasto said.
He volunteered on his first political campaign at age 12, for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. After graduating from Cornell, he began working for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (under a press team that included Blake Zeff, Stu Loeser, Izzy Klein and Eric Schultz), rising from legislative aide to New York City press secretary.
Vlasto now works alongside Cuomo’s communications director, Rich Bamberger, to help disseminate the governor’s agenda. Administration staffers call the pair “Frick and Frack.”
Vlasto seems to enjoy sparring with reporters. “I like being involved in everything that’s going on,” he said. “On any given day you can do crisis management and be a part of the big successes over the course of a few hours.”
“I really enjoy it,” Vlasto added. “I really, really do.”—Laura Nahmias
Will he or won’t he?
Regardless of whether billionaire supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis decides to run for mayor of New York next year—a possibility he leaves open—he will continue to be a force within the state’s Republican party.
Catsimatidis’ involvement in the state party, led by chairman Ed Cox, is as personal as it is political. Cox’s son, Chris, a former congressional candidate, is married to Catsimatidis’ daughter, Andrea, a student at New York University—the school Catsimatidis dropped out of in the 1970s to pursue his fortune in the grocery store business.
“I enjoy when my daughter’s father-in-law asks me for advice on various matters, and I enjoy when the five county chairs of New York City ask me for advice,” Catsimatidis said. “I try to offer common-sense solutions.”
Part of his common-sense philosophy is to eschew extremism.
“I tell them this is not Texas, this is not Louisiana, this is New York, and we’ve got to find moderate solutions, like Nelson Rockefeller used to do, like Jacob Javits used to do—even George Pataki,” said Catsimatidis. “That’s when the Republican Party was a significant party in this state.”
Catsimatidis, a former Democrat who was one of President Clinton’s biggest fundraisers and helped maintain diplomatic ties to his native Greece at the president’s behest, is now among the top donors in the state to Republican candidates, most notably Mitt Romney.
Though Catsimatidis has yet to take the plunge and become a candidate himself, he says that his great success in business has given him ample experience as a leader.
“I’m been a CEO for 42 years, so I know what it is to lead and to make sure people will follow,” Catsimatidis said. “That’s the most important—that people have confidence in what you’re asking them to do, that when you say ‘Charge!’ they’ll be behind you and charging with you.” —Morgan Pehme
“I make myself useful,” said Kathy Wylde about her ability to influence elected officials—an obvious understatement to anyone who follows New York politics.
An expert on housing, economic development and urban policy, Wylde is also deputy chair of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and sits on a host of other high-powered boards and advisory groups.
Wylde joined the Partnership for New York City in 1982, and has helmed it since 2000. The organization was founded to build alliances between government, labor and the not-for-profit sectors for the common good of the city’s various economic and societal interests.
“While I do represent the perspective of our members, we ask them to leave their self-interest hat at the door…[so that] when they sit down with the Partnership they’re really thinking about the interest of the city and the city economy,” Wylde said. “Unlike a trade association, we try and provide a broad prospective of the business community to help decision makers in government make better decisions.”
Wylde’s board at the Partnership is made up of a who’s who of the city’s most influential moguls and billionaires, headlined by Kenneth I. Chenault and Terry Lundgren.
The partnership’s resources and relationships have helped Wylde make an impact upon the city on a grand scale—though she is careful not to take credit for the accomplishments of elected officials. She does admit pride, however, in the Partnership’s role in rebuilding blighted neighborhoods in the 1980s, and the organization’s contribution after 9/11 to bringing jobs back and keeping companies in the city.
Despite Wylde’s network of titans, she sees her approach to city politics as fundamentally grassroots.
“I’ve always been rooted in the idea of the neighborhood as being the basic building block of the city, and I think of the city from the ground up in terms of how it works,” Wylde said. —Morgan Pehme
UPDATED: This article has been revised from a previous version, which incorrectly said Rupert Murdoch and Lloyd Blankfein were the Partnership’s co-chairs. The chairs are Kenneth I. Chenault and Terry Lundgren. It has also been corrected to reflect the fact that Wylde has helmed the Partnership for New York City since 2000, and joined it in 1982.
Whenever Robert Mujica wields power, he wields it for the Senate Republicans and their leadership.
His greatest accomplishments are when a budget deal is reached or a session ends, and a consensus has been reached in his conference, and the gap with the Assembly and the governor has been closed.
“At the end my job is really to get a deal done if there’s a deal to be done,” Mujica said. “What I find most fulfilling is accomplishing that goal to the satisfaction of all the members of the conference and the leadership.”
And, he added, “We can get that done on a regular basis.”
His integral role in Albany’s halls of power is a long way from his childhood, part of which he spent in the crime-ridden South Bronx.
His parents, who left Puerto Rico for New York, instilled in Mujica a fascination for public policy and its impact on everyday life. Ronald Reagan’s presidency also had an impact on Mujica, who went to Brooklyn College and later earned a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Pennsylvania.
Then a connection made during an internship helped him land a job in Albany as an analyst for the Senate Finance Committee.
“I planned to stay here a few years,” he said. “I ended up staying a lot longer, but that’s because it’s very satisfying and very fun.”
As a top adviser to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Mujica sometimes sits in on meetings with the so-called “three men in the room.” But it’s not all it’s made out to be, he says.
“You can’t have 200 people in the room,” he said. “At the same time, because I deal with members every day and the leaders deal with members every day, when we go in that room you’re representing everyone, all the members of the conference. I know that’s the way it is in this house.” —Jon Lentz
Whenever Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver gets involved with a bill or a conflict, his chief counsel, Jim Yates, is by his side.
In March, when Silver needed votes to pass the governor’s new Tier VI pension plan, Yates was out on the Assembly floor, talking to members, whipping votes.
That night was special because the legislators stayed up all night to pass bills, but Yates said that legislative staffers work through the night on a regular basis.
“There are a thousand things going on at any one time,” Yates said, noting that the speaker doesn’t get involved in every single bill. “What I become aware of are the things that become a problem, or things that I guess you would call speaker’s or conference issues.”
Yates specializes in jump-starting legislation that has long been stalled, such as the organ-donation bill known as Lauren’s Law, or the land-bank legislation.
His strategy is one of extreme patience, a skill he honed over 18 years as a judge on both the State Court of Claims and the State Supreme Court.
“One thing I’ve learned from being on the bench is: Don’t assume anything, and wait until you hear both sides,” he said. “First impressions are often wrong. It’s amazing how many times you can change your mind.”
This is Yates’ second tour as legislative counsel to the speaker. The last time he held the post was from 1989 to 1992, when he served under Speaker Mel Miller. When he was first hired to work for the Assembly in 1979, the Pennsylvania native was an Albany politics neophyte.
“I didn’t know anything about politics at that point,” Yates said. “I probably couldn’t even have told you who my Senate or Assembly representatives were. I remember when Mel [Miller] went to hire me he said, ‘You have to get final approval from Stanley Fink,’ and I said, ‘Who’s that?’ He laughed and said, ‘You’ll learn.’ ” —Laura Nahmias
The mid-1990s were a difficult time for progressives in New York City. President Bill Clinton’s moderate brand of liberalism was ascendant, and Mayor Rudy Giuliani enjoyed popularity in one of the nation’s bastions of the left as a law-and-order Republican.
Out of that environment grew the Working Families Party, which was created to push the Democratic Party across New York back to its progressive roots.
“A group of us came out of [former Bay Ridge Councilman] Sal Albanese’s campaign for mayor [in 1997] and believed that it was critical to articulate a populist economic agenda,” said Bob Master, a co-chair and founder of the labor-backed WFP.
Master, a Long Island native, works by day as the political and legislative director of the Communications Workers of America District 1, which represents 175,000 members. In New York he recently aided efforts to organize Cablevision workers, and also helped kill an under-the-radar but critical telecom-deregulation bill in Albany this past legislative session.
Master says the key to his job is making sure his union pursues the broader interests of all workers, so when his union is in need, allies from other labor sectors and lawmakers will join in coalition-based efforts.
“I think we have always had the viewpoint that the fortunes of our members depend on the fortunes of working people,” Master said. “We see ourselves and our employees in a broader context, and don’t look at it narrowly.”
That viewpoint extends to Master’s role in the Working Families Party, which is pushing the issue of paid sick leave, a cause that would help workers beyond organized labor. Master is seen as a key behind-the-scenes strategist within the party, which saw a remarkable run of success in the 2009 New York City Council elections that bodes well for the party in 2013.
“We’re committed to real organizing and building power in communities,” Master said. “We’re active 365 days a year.” —Chris Bragg
Amid Long Island’s much-publicized financial difficulties, Kevin Law has extended his organization’s work beyond economic development and job creation to supporting the fiscal reforms that Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone have tried to enact.
“It’s tough for them,” said Law, who has led the Long Island Association—the state’s largest business association—since September 2010. “Every time they propose a cut, somebody’s screaming.”
Though he has never been an elected official, Law knows what it’s like to deal with a large and diverse constituency of Long Islanders. Prior to working at the LIA, he was the president and CEO of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the second-largest public utility in the country, with over 1.1 million customers and a $4 billion annual operating budget.
Before running LIPA, Law served as chief deputy county executive and general counsel for Suffolk County and, earlier, as assistant county executive for planning, housing and environmental affairs.
Law’s firsthand experience in government has led him to embrace a collaborative, nonpartisan approach to influencing policy.
“At LIA we care about good government and less about which party,” Law said. “We want to see out elected representatives working together, because at the end of the day that’s what gets the job done.”
He cites being able to contribute helpful information, ideas and advice to elected officials, particularly in areas that might be too technical for many lawmakers to grasp otherwise, as one of the important ways the LIA builds relationships with legislators.
Law’s aim is to translate these relationships into not just a better business climate on Long Island but ultimately a more prominent voice for the island in statewide politics.
“We’re a region of three million people,” Law noted. “We’re bigger than most states.” —Morgan Pehme
There are bigger lobbying firms and political consulting firms in New York, but no shop has quite the reach in both arenas as the Parkside Group, the Manhattan-based firm that Harry Giannoulis and two partners formed more than a decade ago.
Giannoulis is more of a behind-the-scenes operative than partner Evan Stavisky, who often appears on television on behalf of the firm. But Giannoulis is well-known to anyone who travels in New York’s most powerful political circles.
Giannoulis, born in Queens to Greek immigrant parents, notes that he “didn’t go to very much school.” He dropped out of high school, got his GED and studied philosophy at NYU. He got hooked on politics working on Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign, and never looked back.
His big break came in 1990, when he landed a job as a statewide ombudsman for Gov. Mario Cuomo, making him responsible for managing the governor’s 21 regional offices.
“I feel I’ll never be able to repay the debt I have to Mario and his family,” Giannoulis said. “I learned that anything other than errorless ball is complete and utter failure. It’s a tough standard but it’s a good one to live by.”
Though the Parkside Group is known as the main consultant to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and for its close relationship with the Queens Democratic Party, Giannoulis says much of his time is actually spent working for corporate clients like Fresh Direct and Tishman Speyer, trying to bring jobs to New York City. He is also working to develop Willets Point in Queens.
Giannoulis emphasized that the success of his firm, which he says has won 100 campaigns and has a roster of more than 350 corporate and nonprofit clients, was the result of a team effort.
“Management of the company is the easiest part of my job, because of how talented my co-workers are,” he said. —Chris Bragg
Last summer, after helping to pass the law legalizing same-sex marriage, Steve Cohen left his position as secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Now, in his position as an attorney at the firm Zuckerman Spaeder, Cohen finds himself still closely involved with the Cuomo administration, often speaking openly in press accounts as a knowledgeable source about key figures like Benjamin Lawsky or the governor, in contrast to the governor’s staff members, few of whom are ever authorized to speak on the record.
“I have a particular perspective on how the administration operates and why it’s been successful, and in practical terms you don’t leave that behind when you leave,” he said.
Cohen, a Brooklyn native who attended New York University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School before eventually joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, was tapped by Cuomo in 2006 to
work in the Attorney General’s Office.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Cohen said.
Last year Cohen’s aggressive strategic planning on the same-sex marriage bill became the stuff of legend. He had been able to broker unity among disparate LGBT advocacy groups and stakeholders—a previously insurmountable obstacle.
When polite attempts at collaboration failed, Cohen said he had to make it clear to everyone that failure wasn’t an option.
“Sometimes clear and direct comes across as blunt. Or worse, rude,” he said. “It may not be the most polite way to operate, but in appropriate circumstances it’s effective.”
“The objective is not to have everybody love you,” he added.
Cohen’s new position in private practice has actually freed him up to become more directly involved in other political campaigns, and he spent some time this spring helping Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries with his congressional bid. He remains as busy as ever, he said.
“No two days are the same,” he said. “I feel like I’m the silver ball in a pinball machine.” —Laura Nahmias
Any credible list of the most influential nonelected officials in New York politics has to include Jennifer Cunningham.
The New York Post has called Cunningham the “most powerful woman in Albany.”
The New York Times identified her as “the top political strategist at what is considered the state’s most politically powerful union,” referring to her eight years as executive director of the SEIU New York State Council and her work as 1199’s executive vice president for politics and legislation.
Now a top-tier lobbyist, campaign strategist and issues advocate, Cunningham is known for her ties with the state’s most powerful politicians; she served as deputy counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and played a key advisory role in Andrew Cuomo’s election to attorney general in 2006 and governor in 2010.
Even more famously, she masterminded the election of the current attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, her ex-husband and “best friend”—in Cunningham’s words—an accomplishment she counts among her proudest.
Cunningham’s closeness to leaders like these has influenced her approach to politics and government.
“Having an understanding about the political arena and the challenges that elected officials face and the scrutiny that they’re under and the number of competing interests that are trying to also impact their decision making, I think, is really important,” Cunningham said. “I’m all for thinking big and working as hard as possible for a goal, but butting your head against a wall because you’re making an unreasonable demand of somebody who could be incredibly well-intentioned but is not able to go there with you makes no sense.”
Despite her pragmatism Cunningham, who was a significant player in the passage of marriage equality last year, has not given up on idealism as an approach to advocacy.
“If you are passionate about your cause, that comes through and makes for a much more compelling appeal to policymakers,” she said. —Morgan Pehme
Before she became chief of staff to New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Emma Wolfe was one of the hottest young campaign operatives around.
She played a key role in 2009 in getting de Blasio elected public advocate, a position that allowed him to burnish his record for a mayoral bid.
Before that she was a top Working Families Party campaign staffer, helping Democrats retake the State Senate. Wolfe’s work prompted Dan Cantor, the WFP’s executive director, to say she did “as much as anyone in New York to end 40 years of Republican control of the State Senate through the campaigns she oversaw in 2007 and 2008.”
Now in de Blasio’s office, Wolfe, 32, said the work isn’t so different. Like the 2009 campaign, the office is a lean operation that has to be creative and maximize every tool available, she said.
“The great thing about working for Bill is it’s a high-paced creative environment, so that feels very familiar,” Wolfe said. “We have to embrace the bully pulpit, for sure. But there are also all kinds of tools we can use: hearings, litigation, whatever appointments we have in whatever bodies, creative press actions, watch lists.”
Wolfe, a Barnard College graduate from Lowell, Mass., said that as a leader her approach is to listen a lot—to de Blasio, to staff, to advocates, to stakeholders.
“I’m a fan of the kind of war-room approach of getting folks in a room on a consistent and frequent basis to make sure we’re lined up with our strategic goals,” she said.
At some point, however, Wolfe said she expects to return to the campaign trail.
“Right now I’m simply focused on doing a job for the next year and a half, and then I’ll figure out what I’m doing after that,” she said. —Jon Lentz
Eric Schneiderman’s chief of staff, Neal Kwatra, is modest, but his accomplishments are well-documented.
During his time as political director for the Hotel Trades Council, he earned the appellation “political cloutmeister” from Crain’s after whipping the union’s membership into a force. He has also been given credit for helping Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reelection in 2009 and for Schneiderman’s successful run for attorney general.
Kwatra, 37, said he first entered politics because he “wanted to be in the mix.”
“I didn’t want to live my life just talking about how things should be,” he said. “I started out organizing immigrant hotel workers. Union organizing is all about building coalitions and organizing people so that they and their families can have better lives. Politics is a natural extension of that.”
Kwatra was a driving force behind Schneiderman’s push for broad inclusion of consumer investors in a nationwide settlement with banks over foreclosures, a move that helped elevate Schneiderman’s national profile as a liberal trailblazer.
As chief of staff he oversees roughly 1,700 employees, with a massive $215 million budget. The key to successfully running the organization involves knowing how to give employees room to work, he said.
“Mostly, it’s surrounding myself with smart and talented people to lead our priority initiatives, and giving those managers the running room and support they need,” he wrote in an email.
Kwatra is self-deprecating about his management style.
His approach to handling a crisis “depends on how much sleep I’ve had that day,” he said, adding, “Just kidding—kind of.”
For Kwatra, every day begins at 5 a.m. with his infant daughter. A few hours with her before political business starts gives him “perspective and clarity,” he said.
As for those who might aspire to Kwatra-esque levels of responsibility and power, his advice is very simple: “Do something you really have passion for; otherwise it’s just a job.” —Laura Nahmias
When the push to legalize casinos heats up again in New York next year, James Featherstonhaugh will be in the middle of the action.
As president of the New York Gaming Association, a coalition of the state’s nine racetrack casinos, he’ll be trying to add full-scale Vegas-style gambling at as many of those existing operations as possible.
And as a veteran Albany lobbyist, not to mention a part owner of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, he’s uniquely well-positioned to make his voice heard.
He’s worked with politicians on both sides of the aisle, from a stint as the upstate director of Mario Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign in 1982 to his close friendship with former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.
But Featherstonhaugh attributes his effectiveness as a lobbyist to his legal training, his decades of experience and his careful preparation.
“The only thing that works every time in lobbying, and it doesn’t mean you win, but it’s a thorough understanding of the merits and demerits of your position and of the bill, and you need to explain it in a persuasive way,” he said. “It’s not as much fun as ‘a bunch of influence peddlers,’ but it doesn’t work like that.”
Featherstonhaugh, who grew up on a farm outside of Albany, started watching horse racing in elementary school. When he was practicing law in Albany, he was part of a group that purchased the Saratoga Harness track in the late 1980s. He started doing some legal work for the track, and then grew more involved in its operations.
But it’s not the only issue he works on, and not necessarily even his favorite. He was counsel to and the chief lobbyist for the Civil Service Employees Association from 1975 to 1985, though more recently he’s represented top institutions like Goldman Sachs and Metropolitan Life.
“I’ve been fortunate over the years to have a wide variety of clients with very, very interesting matters to pursue,” he said. —Jon Lentz
Heather Briccetti believes that a key to becoming influential in government is demonstrating the ability to be reasonable.
“Being bombastic and being over-the-top negative—over time, you lose credibility,” said Briccetti, who took the helm of the Business Council in January. “You have to be rational and have a basis for your argument, but you have to have the credibility to begin with.”
Throughout her career, Briccetti has established that credibility. She was the first female chief public defender in Rensselaer County and served as a special counsel in the state Attorney General’s Office, coordinating with the Legislature and the executive branch.
She also worked on both sides of the aisle in the Capitol, serving as a legislative aide and counsel to Democratic Assembly members before joining the Republican Senate majority’s staff.
“It [was] a good lesson,” said Briccetti, who considers herself fiscally conservative and socially liberal. “Partisanship doesn’t really get you anywhere. You’ve got to recognize that there are tremendously smart people on both sides of an argument.”
Briccetti applies these lessons to her work at the Business Council, where her goals are to improve the state’s business climate and to unify the interests of business groups so they have more clout with the Legislature.
Though Briccetti describes the private sector in New York as “underdogs,” she said that the state was now “taking steps in the right direction.” She cites two years of state budgets with no growth in spending and the property-tax cap as remarkable feats, particularly in light of the country’s economic troubles.
Just because she extols moderation in politics doesn’t mean that Briccetti is reluctant to fight when the interests of the over 3,000 employers she represents are involved.
“On some issues, if there’s not a compromise solution, you have to say ‘No’ and you have to say ‘Here’s why,’ ” Briccetti said. “Just the fact of being right doesn’t mean you win the argument.” —Morgan Pehme
Everyone knows the New York Post’s clever headlines and eye-catching graphics, but its editorial page is also noteworthy for being among the most influential in the state.
And Robert George, who has been on the paper’s editorial board since 1999, is one of its most prolific voices.
“We all kind of dabble in the main issues,” George said. “I like writing a lot of the national political policy editorials and trying to explain how tax fights in D.C. are impacting our readers here.”
George grew up in the New York area, studied classics at St. John’s College in Annapolis, and worked in Washington for Newt Gingrich and the RNC for several years before editorial page editor John Podhoretz plucked him from Capitol Hill.
He has since written editorials about national tax policy, teachers unions and charter schools, explaining complicated subjects in 300 words of crisp prose. And each editorial reflects the Post’s distinctive, contrarian viewpoint, which serves as a counterweight to the city’s other opinion pages.
“The policy is important for the long-term for improving viable institutions in New York,” he said. “It affects our readers, their children and their livelihoods. The challenge is to make those policy stories almost as exciting as the sexy political ones.”
The editorials noticed most often touch on corruption and political indignities, including former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s “sexting” scandal.
“If there were a perfect story that married the editorial page with the front page, it was the Anthony Weiner episode from last year,” George said. “It was the absolute perfect storm.”
And it produced George’s favorite editorial headline: “Erections have consequences.”
“Occasionally you come up with a great headline and you have to try to write the editorial to fit it,” he said.
George’s prediction for the presidential race?
“I think Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee and Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee.”
You heard it here first. —Aaron Short
Howard Glaser, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s director of state operations and senior policy adviser, is tasked with making New York’s state operations run more smoothly.
The job description understates how massive a cleanup Glaser took on when he returned to Albany with Cuomo’s administration in 2011, as he faced the prospect of coordinating more than 180,000 state employees in hundreds of different agencies.
“I left New York State government in the 1990s,” Glaser said in an email. “When I returned in 2011 it was like finding the state agencies stuck in a time warp—outdated, inefficient and bloated. When people talked about ‘Albany dysfunction,’ they usually meant the Legislature, but the operations of government were just as bad.”
Glaser, who had served as a senior adviser to Mario Cuomo during his term as governor and held advisory positions at the Department of Housing and Urban Development while Andrew Cuomo was its secretary, is now overseeing a centralization of state operations.
Glaser’s day-to-day activities can involve working with the Port Authority on issues like the 9/11 Museum’s construction and fiscal crises. Glaser has been a point man on the state’s negotiations to build a convention center, and serves as a hub to coordinate conversations among Native American communities, gambling interests and the Capitol’s second floor on casino gaming.
Cuomo also trusts Glaser with ensuring a coordinated response to emergencies. He oversaw the state’s coordinated response to disasters like flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
“Our approach is to aggressively manage performance and results,” Glaser said. “You can’t leave a $100 billion enterprise on autopilot, which is what had been happening in Albany for a over a decade. That’s anathema to us—taxpayers deserve better, and so do the customers of state programs.” —Laura Nahmias
With job creation and economic development at the top of nearly every politician’s platform these days, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership is playing a bigger role than ever in its community.
“People are paying attention,” said Andrew Rudnick, who has served as chief executive officer of the partnership since its formation in 1993 and has been there every step of the way as the organization has grown to more than 2,500 “employer members.”
Rudnick said the partnership’s ability to be “smart, nimble and durable” has led to its success.
By Rudnick’s definition, to be smart “you have to be able to be very much on target with regard to what you say and what you want to do.” To be nimble “you have to be able to respond to or anticipate issues and problems quickly and mobilize what’s necessary to address [them].” And to be durable “you have to be able to stay with issues and problems and opportunities even in the murkiness of the political world and the fact that things don’t happen in a straight line or even a clear line, the way they might in the business world.”
Rudnick, who has degrees from Harvard and Columbia and a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama, has ample real-world experience to complement his tenure as a faculty member at the University of Buffalo’s department of planning and as a former associate chancellor of the University of Houston. Before moving to Buffalo in 1986 he was the chief operating officer of the Houston Economic Development Center. Since then he has served as director of the Dunlop Tire Corporation, vice chair of Univera Healthcare’s board and acting president of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We represent the customer—not the only customer—but one of the critical customers in [this] region…who are creating and retaining jobs and thus driving the regional, state and national economy,” Rudnick said. —Morgan Pehme
Defending hydrofracking is a tough job, but it has fallen to one of the few New Yorkers uniquely equipped to handle it.
Juanita Scarlett, a communications consultant at McKenna Long & Aldridge, works with clients including TransCanada, which is building the Keystone pipeline, and the American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and gas companies aiming to drill in Western New York’s energy-rich shale beds.
Environmental groups have lobbed stirring rebukes against those companies, but Scarlett has worked to deftly swat away their attacks.
“People don’t fully understand the issue,” she said. “Opponents have done a great job at framing the issue, but hydrofracking will have a tremendous economic impact on the state, particularly upstate New York where the need is great.”
Scarlett has had extensive practice representing complicated clients.
She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and majored in English at Syracuse University before joining former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s team as a press officer. For eight years Scarlett served as then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s press secretary, and worked stints at the Department of Law, the Port Authority and John Liu’s comptroller campaign.
She ranks handling the fallout from the economic crisis under Spitzer’s office among her most demanding jobs.
“We filed charges against Merrill Lynch, and I was there for Hank Greenberg at AIG when Spitzer pursued that,” she said. “There was excitement around the case. We knew we were doing something good. It impacted retirement investments for millions of people. It really did set the groundwork for changes in the banking industry that we see today.”
She credits her stint as the Empire State Development Corporation’s executive vice president for giving her an understanding about the diverse economic needs across the state.
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for economic development that will be successful,” she said. “You have to tailor your needs for the region and for communities across the state.” —Aaron Short
New York City hosts everything from street fairs to Central Park concerts to major events like the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The team that coordinates these events—some 40,000 to 50,000 a year—is the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management.
“We have the knowledge of what can and can’t be done in the city, and really at the end of the day try to make it easier for people to get their permits and problem-solve,” said Cristin Burtis, who heads the office. “It’s not your typical city agency, but we’ve really tried to be facilitators and get to a ‘Yes’ for event producers.”
The toughest event to coordinate was the 9/11 anniversary last year. She worked with the Secret Service and law enforcement agencies to make sure that no family members were kept waiting outside.
“If there was one event that definitely kept me up at night, that was the one that kept me up the most,” Burtis said.
Burtis, a New Jersey native, came to New York City to attend St. John’s University, and got an internship with the city working on events tied to the 1994 World Cup.
In 1999 she joined Mayor Giuliani’s NYC 2000 millennium committee, and two years later she jumped to the Department of Transportation’s Office of Special Events. When Bloomberg created the Event Coordination office she came on as a deputy in 2007, then took over as executive director in 2010.
Burtis said the key to running an effective office is allowing staff to do their jobs and avoiding micromanaging.
“What I say to them is, ‘Look, I can fix the problem, but I’m not doing my job if you can’t fix them,’ ” she said. “And if I’m not here, if you can’t fix the problems, then I haven’t done my job as the leader of the office.” —Jon Lentz
Queens native Larry Schwartz is the ringleader of the executive chamber in New York’s Capitol. Deputies and commissioners report to him, and he plays a key role in organizing negotiations between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislative leaders of both the Senate and Assembly on policy issues and budgets.
Schwartz, the former secretary to Gov. David Paterson, said he got into politics because “no other job gives you so many opportunities to improve people’s lives.”
He is the point man on the governor’s plans to rebuild the Tappan Zee Bridge, and helped push on-time budgets in 2011 and 2012. He also helped work on key Cuomo policy pieces, such as the property-tax cap, ethics-reform bill and teacher-evaluation laws.
Moreover, he was a key figure in helping to resolve the World Trade Center dispute between developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority.
Schwartz, a senior adviser to the Cuomo administration before taking the position of secretary after the departure of Steve Cohen, sees his role as executing the governor’s policies, and advises anyone considering government work like his to keep the boss in mind.
“Don’t forget that you serve your boss and the people and not yourself when making decisions,” Schwartz said. “You cannot have your own agenda.”
He articulated his idea of government as dynamic, emphasizing that while he holds staff to very high standards in terms of results, government “shouldn’t be about playing it safe.”
“We all make mistakes, and people should not fear making them,” he said.
Schwartz, who is said to have an unusual ability to remember minute policy details, can seem intimidating, and acknowledges having a reputation for being serious and intense.
Asked to name something about himself that would surprise Albany, he said, “It surprises people to learn that I can have a sense of humor and that I do smile from time to time.”
Trackback from your site.