If this list were titled “400 under 40,” there would probably still be some worthy people not in the pages that follow.
As it is, with a mere 40 slots, this year’s task of picking the Rising Stars in New York City politics and government was especially difficult, given the hundreds of nominations sent in and the transformative year in city politics that is now coming to an end.
The strength of this impressive group lies in each one and in their diversity as a whole—not in how “diversity” has strictly come to be understood, but rather in the true sense of the word.
There are people on this list from every borough and every major political party. There are government agency higher-ups, commissioners, political operatives and advocates representing a host of issues of vital importance to New York.
Some are even current, soon-to-be or almost-elected officials.
Politics, or government, is by no measure glamorous work. The public culture does not hold those who make sure our democracy or our government run smoothly in high esteem, and reduces those who get involved to caricatures, labeling them bureaucrats or hacks. These are jobs that come often with little pay, with little sleep and with the possibility of not seeing results for months or years.
Everyone on this list could have devoted their still-young careers to successes in other fields. That instead they chose to contribute to the worlds of New York City politics and government is enough of a reason to salute them, but the considerable talents they devote to their work is even more so. If past is prologue, there is good reason to be eager to see the next chapters for all 40 of these rising stars.
Democratic Council nominee
When asked how he was able to muscle out a bunch of challengers in a competitive Council race to fill David Yassky’s Council seat, Steve Levin gives one answer.
“My friend and mentor Vito Lopez,” he says. “I would not have been elected if it were not for him.”
Indeed, the former chief-of-staff for the Assembly Housing chair and Brooklyn Democratic leader says that his old boss has given him lots of advice over the years, but that he led more by example.
“He is a tireless worker and he always does everything he can for the people he represents,” Levin said. “It comes from the heart.”
But when the Brown University graduate was deciding whether or not to make a run for the Council, he did not only get heart-to-hearts from local political big wigs. His father’s first cousins, Michigan Senator Carl Levin and his brother, Rep. Sandy Levin, weighed in as well.
“They both encouraged me to go for it,” he said. “They said work hard, be true to yourself, and always try to do the right thing.”
But, he added, the real motivation came from within.
“I’ve always wanted to serve people and to make people’s lives better,” he said. “That’s been the goal all along.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are today? My past jobs were as a community organizer and chief of staff to Vito Lopez, and there has always been a commitment to serving people and serving their needs.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing: Public interest law
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card: Councilmember for the 33rd district
Who would play you in the movie? Harry Connick, Jr.
Chief of Staff, Assembly Member Carl Heastie
Marricka Scott-McFadden was a college student working at a bank when she decided it was time to make a bold career move. She started with the bank’s customers, offering her services to a judge who Scott-McFadden thought could help her get ahead in law. Instead, when the internship was over, the judge recommended her for a position with Roberto Ramirez, then the Bronx Democratic leader.
“I was not impressed at all—I didn’t know anything about politics,” Scott-McFadden recalled. “I knew I needed a job.”
Having grown up in the northeast Bronx and gone to school at Lehman College, Scott-McFadden also liked the idea of working on behalf of Bronxites, so she took the job. Soon, she was working on Carl Heastie’s campaign for Assembly in 2000. Then just 23, she was hired as Heastie’s chief of staff. She has worked for him ever since, and while she said she is absolutely not considering giving up her privacy to run for office, she is open to other opportunities and considering law as a backup.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? I think I’ve learned to deal with all kinds of people and meet them where they are, and to use my organic people skills just to get as much knowledge and experience as I can from any given situation.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? MSM, Consultant
If you weren’t in politics, what would you be doing? My first thought was to be a ringmaster in a circus. But I’d probably be a corporate lawyer.
Who would play you in the movie? Angela Bassett, but she’s a little old.
Senior Account Executive, Yoswein New York
Melvin Norris got his start the same way a lot of the leading political operatives in the city did: working out of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, in the office of Rep. Charlie Rangel.
He came in to the office as a low-level community affairs officer, but worked his way up to become Rangel’s deputy chief of staff here and in Washington, D.C.
“I learned a lot from him about how to handle certain political issues, or certain district issues,” he says. “It was amazing that he would listen to my opinion considering how limited my experience was in politics.”
After a stint lobbying on behalf of Verizon, Norris was picked up by powerhouse PR firm Yoswein NY, where he lobbies Albany on behalf of his clients.
“To me, effective lobbying is communicating to an elected official what impact something will have according to them and their constituents,” he said. “Really localizing an issue makes it possible for you to communicate effectively how it affects the bottom line in their districts.”
He adds that his approach is to not neglect individual members, even in such a leadership-driven body as the Assembly or the Senate.
“People in leadership have a strong hand, but individuals definitely count,” he said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? Congressman Rangel gave me some of the political and analytical skills needed to perform this kind of work.
If you were not in politics, what would you be doing? Sports Management
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Effective Representation for Clients and Issues that Matter.
Who would play you in the movie? If Denzel is busy, then Omar Gooding or Boris Kodjoe.
Communications Director, Thompson for Mayor
Carly Lindauer, although only 25 years old, is no newcomer on the campaign scene. Currently the communications director for Bill Thompson’s campaign, she also filled the same role for the State Democratic Committee and worked before that on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, with responsibilities ranging from New Hampshire to Wisconsin.
Lindauer worked in Washington, D.C., for a bit after she finished school at Boston University, but she could not stay away from home for too long.
“Everything that I’ve done has been to get back into the New York political scene,” Lindauer said.
A native of Roslyn, Long Island, she is glad to be back home, closer to her friends and family, and back in the midst of the fast-paced world of city politics.
“After living in seven states over the past two years, it’s amazing to be back in New York. There’s nothing quite like the New York political scene,” Lindauer explained, especially “with the added benefits of public transportation, 24-hour diners, and my own apartment to go home to at the end of the day!”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? It’s a bit like evolution—you figure out what you like, what you don’t; start in one place, end up in another. Working for Clinton’s presidential bid gave me a great love for the competitive nature of campaign politics.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? The best thing about politics is how unpredictable it is. It’s hard to say what tomorrow brings—let alone five years from now.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I’m passionate about public service and giving back to my community—if it wasn’t politics, I’d likely be working in the non-profit sector.
Who would play you in the movie? Reese Witherspoon
Queens GOTV Coordinator, Bloomberg ’09
It took a few months but, eventually, David Yassky caught on to him.
The Brooklyn Council member, chewing over new policy proposals, would bat them back and forth with his staff. Matt Gorton, Yassky’s scheduler and later community liaison, would try offering his thoughts without revealing a closely guarded personal secret.
“I think I let the cat out of the bag with my take on some things,” Gorton said. “At some point he must have had an epiphany and he asked me, ‘Wait a minute. Are you a Republican?’”
Yassky may have found out in 2005, when Gorton worked for him, but most of the rest of the political world only learned of Gorton’s secret earlier this year, when his name was floated as a potential GOP candidate for the Queens Assembly seat vacated by Anthony Seminerio, and won earlier this month by Mike Miller.
The idea appealed to Republicans—even to Gorton, who considered it briefly before declining—because of Gorton’s roots. He grew up in Glendale, and has spent the better part of his political career racing across Queens and putting out fires, first as the Queens liaison for the mayor’s community affairs unit and later as a staffer in the office of legislative affairs.
At first, Gorton opted out of city government. After graduating from Loyola College, he was offered two jobs in the administration, but chose instead to work in the service department of a Catholic high school in Baltimore for three years.
“I figured, I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to do something like that again,” he said.
He has now come full circle, in a way, working as the Queens coordinator for the Bloomberg campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort.
“It’s sort of weird, four years later, doing what I’m doing now,” he said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? It’s all tied together. Legislation starts down at the community and then it gets passed at the city, and then it gets passed at the state. It’s all interconnected.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? I’ve had five jobs in five years, so god only knows.
If you were not working politics, what would you be doing? I think I’d be pretty good in the CIA or FBI, or as a detective, things like that. One of the things I’ve liked about my jobs is the channeling of information back and forth.
Who would play you in the movie? Tobey Maguire
Downstate Senior Advisor to Chairman and CEO of Empire State Development
Originally from sunny Fresno, California, Jen Hensley first landed in New York City as a student at Barnard College and has yet to look back. While studying sociology, Hensley took an internship working in the marketing department of the Downtown Alliance. After graduating she took a full-time position but eventually transitioned to corporate, intergovernmental and community affairs in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and, as the Downtown Alliance took a greater role in the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan, focusing on developing short- and long-term solutions.
Now with the Empire State Development Corporation, Hensley is an advisor to CEO Dennis Mullen, working on efforts to protect the economic growth occurring in New York’s downstate regions. Hensley tries to spend the little spare time she has traveling, whether between her hometown in California and her Astoria neighborhood, or to more exotic destinations.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? My previous experiences helped by exposing me to the variety of different interests that have to come together to solve a problem.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? I hope it says “President and CEO.”
If you weren’t involved in politics what would you be doing? Developing real estate in New York and California
Who would play you in the movie? Ellen Page
Blogger, The Politicker
Azi Paybarah is the D.A. Pennebaker of New York politics.
And though he makes no comparisons himself to the cinéma vérité filmmaker, Paybarah’s ever-trained Sony Handycam has added an element to City Hall of every gaffe and hiccup by politicos being blasted out onto the web for viewers to sit in judgment.
“I think of it as a more honest way to show readers and viewers what it is really like,” he says.
He admits that what he does is not new, but is using video to hold politicians to account in the grand tradition of Jon Stewart and Tim Russert. What is odd, he adds, is that it took everyone else so long to catch on to what he was doing.
“I think it speaks to the level of disengagement people have with local politics,” he said. “City politics is the last bastion of where modernity hits.”
The moment, though, that Paybarah will never live down is the one where Mayor Bloomberg looked directly into his camera at the end of a press conference and called the young reporter “a disgrace.”
“It is always nice to be recognized, even if it is not for something I wrote,” he says. “It just gave my mom more news stories to cut out for her scrapbook.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? Working as a lighting assistant to a wedding photographer showed me that it’s not technical skills—that you need an actual rapport with people to get them to show you themselves.
If you weren’t working in politics, what would you be doing? Teaching
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Hopefully it will have the word journalist in there somewhere.
Who would play you in the movie: That guy from Friends [David Schwimmer]. I used to get that a lot.
Campaign Coordinator, Yassky ’09
Sara Haile-Mariam was too young to pay much attention to Barack Obama when he delivered the speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that catapulted him into the national consciousness.
It was not until later, after she saw him on The Daily Show that she caught the speech on YouTube. Later, when he was working a rope line after a speech at NYU, Haile-Mariam, then a student there, yelled at the man who would later become the 44th president, “I’m going to help you!”
“He looked at me like I was crazy,” she recalled.
But the Ethiopian-born Haile-Mariam grew to become a key member of the Obama ’08 team in New York, speaking at rallies on his behalf, writing for the Huffington Post and taking the Illinois senators case to the cable airwaves.
When that campaign ended, she leapt right into the next one, to get David Yassky elected city comptroller.
“I see a lot of parallels between them,” she says. “Both are audacious, innovative, and ultimately good people.”
She adds that she does not miss the glamour of a presidential campaign while working in the trenches in New York City.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but for me this is about making a difference,” she says. “We need people on the local level as well.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? The Obama campaign brought me to the political process in a big way.
If you weren’t working in politics, what would you be doing? It’s hard to say, because if you told me four years ago I’d be in politics now I wouldn’t have believed you.
What is your business card going to say in five years? Sara Haile-Mariam
Who would play you in the movie? I haven’t thought about movies in about five months, so I’m like, “Who’s acting now again?”
Deputy Commissioner for Development, Department of Housing Preservation and Development
Holly Leicht has experience with erratic markets.
Before she became the administration official responsible for stoking development deals in an otherwise frozen housing market, Leicht dabbled in another infamously difficult industry: health care.
“I was working in marketing for an HMO in Boston,” she said of her immediate post-college days in the early 1990s, when the new Democratic administration in Washington was attempting a far-reaching health care overhaul for the first time. “I got very interested in the legislative aspects of health care.”
She has taken those lessons with her as she tried to reignite the housing market in New York, where new construction of affordable housing has all but ceased.
“When we put together the first housing plan, it really capitalized on crazy hot housing markets,” she said, referring to plans she etched in 2004, along with then-Commissioner Shaun Donovan, to build or preserve 165,000 new units of affordable housing.
The year the plan was put in place was Leicht’s first at HPD. Before then, she attended law school at Northwestern, helped envision the future of the World Trade Center site as a counsel to the Municipal Art Society and took a fellowship in historic preservation law.
Now, Leicht said, she is pulling her disparate experiences together to tackle one of the most challenging times HPD has ever faced.
“We’re spending a lot of time now both addressing that long-term goal of getting to that unit count in 2014 but, at the same time, recognizing that there’s immediate crises,” she said. “It is definitely the busiest time in my five years here.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? The jobs that I’ve had have all been working on the City of New York, and about understanding the City of New York. I think they just built on each other.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? I gave up having a five-year plan a long time ago … That’s antithetical to how I’ve done my career and lived my life.
If you were not working in government or housing, what would you be doing? I definitely think I’d be doing something involved with cities, probably something with how to support small businesses. I think that’s one of the greatest needs, and it’s really, really difficult.
Who would play you in the movie? Tina Fey
Commissioner, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
A month into the job, Fatima Shama has wasted no time making her mark at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. A former assistant to Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Shama has taken a page from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s playbook by moving her desk out from her corner office and in with the rest of the office’s employees.
“I’m recreating a mini-bullpen,” Shama said. “I believe in it. I think it works.”
This being the Office of Immigrant Affairs, Shama has dubbed the new setup “Ellis Island.”
Born in the Bronx to immigrant parents (her mother is Brazilian and her late father was Palestinian), Shama attended the same elementary school as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—though a few decades later, she is careful to note. Shama speaks six languages.
Shama sees her job as making it easier for new immigrants to access government services.
“The story of New York is rich, and ripe, and it is fundamentally one of a city that was built by immigrants,” Shama said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? One aspect of all the jobs I’ve had is that there was a sense of mission and a will to get things done. That will help me implement an agenda and act upon it.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? I’ll probably be finishing my job up here. I’ll be serving the immigrant community and bringing voice to the voiceless. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years, and I’m pretty sure it’s what I’ll be doing in five years.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? If I could afford it, I would be home raising my two children. That is one of the richest experiences a person can have.
Who would play you in the movie? Anne Hathaway or Julia Roberts. Someone who can laugh in stressful situations and is able to take on real, serious challenges.00
Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Department of Youth and Community Development
Andrew Miller says his strength is knowing exactly how government works, and he has the credentials to back it up after 19 years of experience. He started his career in the office of a Staten Island Council member at age 19 and made his way to the Housing Authority, where he oversaw community and seniors’ centers. From there, he went to the Department of Youth and Community Development, where he now heads Intergovernmental Affairs.
As a student, he had perfect attendance from kindergarten to college, and he says he has continued that record as a city employee. Over the course of three mayors, he has gotten to know the inner workings and long-term staff of the Council and many agencies. He has tended to focus on youth issues in all of his jobs.
Miller grew up in Staten Island, where his ex-Marine father instilled a strong sense of civic duty in him and his siblings. He is a passionate New Yorker and wants to continue in local politics, although he would consider trading his job as a bureaucrat for a Council run someday.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? They opened doors. One job led to the next. I guess if I want to round off my résumé with youth services, I’ll have to hit the DOE and Children’s Services next.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Chief of Staff to Deputy Mayor Jeanne Mullgrav. I see Jeanne going far.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I never even thought about that. I would probably be in law.
Who would play you in the movie? Brad Pitt
Cathleen Sims Devito
Chief of Staff, City Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr.
A willingness to sweat the small stuff has kept Sims Devito close to home in Queens, working her way through the ranks to become Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr.’s chief of staff. After interning for Sen. Charles Schumer and eventually commuting from Astoria to his Long Island office, Sims Devito heard about an opening on Vallone’s staff. Not only did the job give her a chance to work in city politics, as she had always wanted, but it put her office in walking distance.
After being forced to live in Maryland as a teenager, Sims Devito said she is a fully committed New Yorker for the rest of her life, and likes how her job keeps her grounded in Queens. She has a special interest in life at City Hall, having worked as Vallone’s legislative director for three years, but now she makes a point of dealing with whatever phone call comes her way, whether a policy question or a resident needing tree-trimming.
“I’ll leave my house on a Sunday and it drives me crazy when I see trash piled up on the street because of cutbacks,” she said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? Senator Schumer’s office was an extremely intense place. I just started out doing his scheduling as an intern. You need to know everything possible about an event. I think that works well for me now.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Hopefully, Chief of Staff to Queens Borough President Vallone.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I’ve been an Irish step-dancer my whole life—I still am. I like to think I’d be toying around with Riverdance.
Who would play you in the movie? Everyone thinks I look like Maggie Gyllenhaal… but she and I don’t exactly align politically.
Executive Director, Rep. Greg Meeks’ New York operation
Brian Simon has a résumé few his age can match, having served as Rep. Greg Meeks’ executive director in New York for years, advised John Kerry during his 2004 presidential campaign, helped draft foreign policy and met with world leaders.
A few years ago Simon was a college student from Hollis, Queens, fresh from an internship on Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Then he won an internship with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and was sent to Meeks’ D.C. office for a summer. When the foreign affairs specialist was out sick, Simon was asked to help draft memos.
At the end of the summer, Meeks asked him if he was going back to a job, and Simon answered that his old job as a stock-boy—cleaning toilets and unloading boxes— was waiting for him. Instead, Meeks offered him a part-time job in his New York office and has kept him there since, save for an important period when Simon worked as Kerry’s campaign adviser on African-American affairs, meeting major black leaders across the country.
Simon considers himself politically tied to both Washington and New York, and he has a strong interest in some international issues, especially the Middle East conflict and AIDS in Africa. He was considering a run for Council in Queens before the term limits law was changed, but immediately abandoned the plan as a friend and supporter of Leroy Comrie. Instead, he spent the past few months working on Eric Gioia’s public advocate campaign.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? They’ve sharpened my analytical skills and strengthened my network. When you think someone is not paying attention to you, someone is always watching you, and sometimes you may get a phone call.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? President of the United States—but I won’t even be 35… Okay, it’ll say ‘Owner of the New York Mets.’ Or ‘Owner of the New York Knicks.’
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? Philanthropic work, working with an NGO or in private industry.
Who would play you in the movie? Denzel Washington
VP for Government And Community Relations, Economic Development Corporation
Ashley Cotton says she is far more comfortable out of the glare of the spotlight than in it.
Perhaps that is because the former Bowdoin College ice hockey star got her start in politics working on the 2002 campaign of Charlie King, who was then running for the distinctly out-of-the-limelight job of lieutenant governor.
“It wasn’t very high-profile, but I got to do everything,” she said.
That included hiring staff and furnishing the campaign office—in this case, with desks and chairs recovered from a dumpster.
Political campaigns proved the best path for an aspiring political operative and public servant, Cotton said.
“On all levels you are really in the game,” she said. “You are with the candidate all the times, and you experience everything from neighborhood picnics upstate to community meetings in the Bronx to donor dinners and celebrity guest fundraisers.”
After spending years working for Andrew Cuomo while he was running for and then serving as attorney general, Cotton took a job with EDC, where she does outreach to labor unions and community groups, on the advice of a professor at Columbia who told her it was the perfect place to work in the midst of an economic crisis.
“He said this is the engine you want to be on board with,” she said. “And it’s an amazing place to be working at this time, trying to figure out how to bring jobs and economic growth to the City of New York.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? I had some of the best political training you could ask for working closely with Andrew Cuomo for so many years. I am grateful for the many lessons he taught me.
If you were not in politics, what would you be doing? Trying out for the U.S. Women’s hockey team.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? I have no doubt that I’ll still be trying to find ways to make government work more effectively for the people who rely on it. That’s probably too much to put on a business card—but I’ve got five years to condense it down, right?
Who would play you in the movie? Cate Blanchett
Democratic Council nominee
Kevin Kim burst into the public consciousness on Sept. 15, when he won the primary to replace Council Member Tony Avella by a surprising margin. The first Korean-American ever to win a Democratic Council primary—and the odds-on favorite to become the first Korean-American elected to the Council—Kim in recent days has seen his face plastered all over Korean language newspapers in Flushing and beyond.
Kim believes his victory could lead more Korean-Americans to become politically active.
“For them, I hope this brings an understanding that there should be more involvement in the civic process,” Kim says. “We have an up-and-coming second generation now in their 20s and 30s that feels like if they work hard, they’ll get all the benefits that America has to offer.”
If elected to the Council, Kim wants to encourage greater use of technology in government through public-private partnerships and implement innovative ideas to fight crime, such as putting the type of “police boxes” seen at the United Nations in his own district, since there is a lack of money to build new precincts.
“I’m practical,” Kim says. “I’ve been fortunate to have many teachers and mentors who always emphasized thinking outside the box, but who have tempered that with practicality.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? I was once a law clerk, so I understand the judicial branch, and that’s critical now that I’m on the legislative side. When you see government from different viewpoints, then you see how the checks and balances work.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? City Council—District 19
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I would be a case worker, because they really serve the public. And it makes you realize elected officials can’t solve all problems by cutting through bureaucratic red tape. You realize that you have to empower people.
Who would play you in a movie? I would say Brad Pitt, simply because people would then actually be interested in seeing a movie about my life story. Who cares about what the movie’s plot is if Brad Pitt is in it?
Executive Vice-President and Political Director, Parkside Group
From the very beginning, Joe Reubens knew his future was going to be in politics. Even during his college years at the University of Michigan, Reubens said, he managed to pull himself away from Michigan’s famous football games long enough to get involved in university politics.
“I was always reading about politicians and campaigns,” Reubens said. “The strategy behind it, the competitiveness—it always appealed to me.”
A third generation New Yorker, Reubens returned to his native city to get a masters degree from NYU.
During the course of his short yet highly successful career in politics so far he has worked on hundreds of campaigns in seven states across the country and unseated a handful of incumbents along the way. Now with the Parkside Group, Reubens continues to focus his efforts on helping his incumbent clients stay in office and helping new candidates get their foot in the door. Although politics is his true passion, Reubens also enjoys collecting and tasting wines.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? There’s an old adage in the campaign world—all campaigns are different and all campaigns are the same. You take the fundamentals you learn in one election cycle and that knowledge is brought to the next so you can do a better job for your clients.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Parkside Political Consulting & Wine Bar
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? Politics has always been what I’ve been passionate about and I can’t imagine a life outside of it.
Who would play you in the movie? John Malkovich
Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Sen. Charles Schumer
Chuck Schumer is a notoriously demanding boss. But Phillip Goldfeder, Schumer’s director of intergovernmental affairs, says he would not have it any other way.
“It’s all worth it,” Goldfeder said. “Working for Chuck Schumer is a challenge because he is constantly challenging his staff to do better.”
Goldfeder’s role is to serve as a liaison to the city, state and federal agencies. Before coming to Schumer’s office, Goldfeder spent two years in the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit. He has also worked for Council Member Simcha Felder.
“Working for an executive is very different than working in the legislative branch, because the type of work is very different and because of the different staffing levels,” he said. “But I would never work for somebody that I didn’t respect immensely.”
Goldfeder says he is often asked whether he is related to Jerry Goldfeder, the prominent New York City election lawyer. (He is not.)
One time, the two randomly ran into each other at Starbucks.
“I said, ‘People always ask me if you’re my father,’” Phillip Goldfeder recalled, “and he said, ‘People always ask me if you’re my son.’”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now?
I like to think every job I’ve had has carried over to the next one. I wouldn’t be where I am now without any of those experiences.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Retired. I haven’t figured out how.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing?
I would teach history and politics. Throughout my career, I’ve tutored at schools near my home in Far Rockaway on the side. I teach what I know.
Who would play you in the movie? Matt Damon. He’s clean-cut, has the ability to charm, and he’s non-confrontational. He always has a smile and exudes a certain softness.00
State Director, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
At 39 years old, Peter Hatch has already seen a lifetime of political
victories and failures. He has worked for H. Carl McCall, Bill de
Blasio, Mark Green, Jonathan Bing, John Edwards and John Kerry.
But this year, Hatch may have set a personal record.
One day, he was heading Learn NY, the pro-mayoral control lobbying
group that spearheaded the effort to push state lawmakers to renew
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s authority over the city’s schools. Almost as
soon as the law was reauthorized, Hatch was snatched up by Sen. Kirsten
Gillibrand and tasked with running her nine offices across the state.
He has barely had time to catch his breath.
Having known Gillibrand since her time as a Manhattan attorney, Hatch
said he jumped at the opportunity. Based in New York City, Hatch said
he will be working closely with Gillibrand’s Washington staff to
coordinate constituent outreach, which he hopes to make the best in the
But what ties together his current job to all his past stints working
for various politicians and candidates is a personal connection to each
“I had personal relationships with candidates,” he said. “These are
people I got to know through broadly shared progressive, democratic
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? I worked in the
Senate about a decade ago, and more recently in the New York City
legislature and in state government. I’ve worked in all levels in
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? State director, I hope.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? Maybe a return to education and urban policy.
Who would play you in the movie? Jason Statham
Chief of Staff, Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro
Being chief of staff to Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, a Conservative, may sound like an unusual career choice for an environmental scientist such as Meagan Devereaux.
Yet she said that Borough Hall has become an ideal place to remedy the borough’s environmental issues.
“I always say he puts the ‘conserve’ in conservatism,” Devereaux said.
Molinaro has made environmentalism a priority during his time in office by advocating for wind farms, cleaning up the contaminated Brookfield landfill site and closing the Fresh Kills landfill, formerly the largest garbage dump in the world.
“It was the community’s collective drive to get that landfill closed,” Devereaux said. “That was so exciting to witness and be a party to.”
Originally from a small Pennsylvanian town outside of Pittsburgh, Devereaux moved to Staten Island when Molinaro’s predecessor and boss, Guy Molinari, placed an ad for an environmental scientist in the New York Times. After figuring out the route to the borough on a map, she made the move.
“Staten Island is very unique from the rest of city,” Devereaux said. “Our issues are local and so many are environmentally based.”
Though Devereaux has been a member of two administrations in Borough Hall, there is much to accomplish with Molinaro, who is running for a third term in November. With the Fresh Kills landfill a memory, Devereaux is focused on transforming the blighted area into useful roads and park land.
“When I leave here, if my daughter can someday go there, it’ll be something I’m proud of,” Devereaux said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? My past jobs really taught me the ability to listen to both sides of the issue, and that helped a lot in the interview process.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Hopefully, happy mother of a happy teenager.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I would be hopefully working in a job that has a positive impact, whether it’s in a laboratory or whether it’s doing field work.
Who would play you in the movie? Holly Hunter
Deputy Director of Policy and Advocacy, United Neighborhood Houses of NY
If someone is looking for Anthony Ng, the best place to check is
downtown at City Hall. When not in his office at the United
Neighborhood Houses of New York, Ng can usually be found advocating for
the dozens of groups he represents, providing services to young people,
immigrants and senior citizens. In fact, his tireless efforts have
helped to earn him a reputation as an up-and-coming leader in the
city’s Asian community.
With an education encompassing everything from city planning to
economics and sociology, Ng returned to his hometown after college.
“Growing up in New York, the city was kind of on its rebound,” Ng said.
“I grew up in the ’80s, and after college I wanted to come back and
help the city be a great place to live. I wanted to make sure all the
opportunities the city had to offer were there for all New Yorkers, not
just the ones with means.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? I’m inspired by
the people in this field—the non-profit leaders, staff of CBOs and the
participants of programs. I carry their stories, challenges and vision
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Chief of Staff
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I would be an architect.
Who would play you in the movie? Tony Leung [the famed Hong Kong movie star].
Executive Director for District Office Operations, State Senate President Malcolm Smith
Katharine Pichardo-Erskine could not speak English when she came to New York from the Dominican Republic at age 13. But in the years since, she has parlayed that experience into policy ideas and worked her way to a series of jobs for local leaders, most recently Senate President Malcolm Smith.
An internship for then-Council Member Helen Marshall led her to a position at the National Association of Latino Appointed Officials, which led her to a job with then-Councilman John Sabini, starting as his Latino liaison.
As Sabini’s chief of staff in the Senate, she helped draft and promote policy to meet needs in the Latino community. The mother of two small children, she helped lead a multilingual campaign, including a new bill, to increase the use of car seats for children. She also helped create one of New York’s first pieces of anti-human trafficking legislation that was specifically meant to help the victims.
Being an immigrant is “one of the biggest assets I’ve brought to the table,” she said, explaining that working for Smith has given her an even greater chance to have an influence.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? They taught me hard work, dedication, and a commitment to the people we serve.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Assemblywoman. And No. 1 Mom.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? Running an office.
Who would play you in the movie? Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director for External Affairs, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer
Sasha Puritz left Scott Stringer’s small Assembly staff for law school
in 2002. She returned in 2007, when her old boss was halfway through
his term as Manhattan’s borough president.
Instead of crafting legislation in Albany, Puritz partnered with
Manhattan’s elected officials to release reports on school overcrowding
and housing issues. Though the office has little, if any, power, Puritz
assisted the borough president’s appointees to various boards, as well
as getting the city’s contract with Verizon approved.
“We went from an office with a couple of people to one with a lot of
different moving parts,” Puritz said. “Everything’s faster in New York
Having grown up on Roosevelt Island, Puritz brings a unique perspective
on housing and transit issues to the borough president’s office. Her
mother moved to the island after it opened in 1977, when Puritz was a
month old. As she got older, new housing cropped up alongside the
Mitchell-Lama units where she was raised.
“Affordable housing issues were always part of my family discussion at the dinner table,” Puritz said.
Though Puritz enjoys the policy-heavy work of the Manhattan borough
president’s office, Puritz cut her teeth in politics on Al Gore’s 2000
presidential race. She traversed the country until the Florida recount,
where she helped count ballots and oversaw volunteers.
Although the Supreme Court ended Gore’s campaign—“Incredibly
frustrating. I was devastated.”—the experience was unique and exciting
“It made me want to stay in politics because I was so angered by the results of the election,” Puritz said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? The political,
governmental and legal jobs all got me here, where I’m dealing with
policy and community issues.
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? Deputy Mayor for Intergovernmental Affairs
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I’d say street-hockey player. I love hockey.
Who would play you in the movie?
I look like Blossom.
First Deputy Press Secretary, Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Being the mouthpiece for a billionaire mayor has its perks: you get to meet the famous and the powerful, and fly to far-flung capitals around the globe.
But for Jason Post, the mayor’s first deputy press secretary, his favorite moment came when a previously obscure pilot flew into town to soak up his sudden fame and receive the key to the city.
“It was great talking with Sully Sullenberger,” he says. “He’s a guy who went from zero interaction with the media to a lot all of a sudden.”
Post got his start in the local political scene as a producer of Inside City Hall with Dominic Carter, a job which had him traveling around Iowa with the host covering the 2004 presidential primaries. He put in a stint with DCPI before coming over to the bullpen in 2006.
Now his job involves working with city agencies to get the administration’s story out to a hungry press corps.
“It’s a long day but I enjoy it,” he says “You get a front row seat to a lot of interesting things.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are? I worked hard and had good luck.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? The news business
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card:? Professional golfer
Who would play you in the movie? The actor who is also a gaffer, grip and extra.
Chief Family Engagement Officer, Department of Education
Few people make a career jump like Martine Guerrier did in 2007. After almost 10 years as a mom—an outspoken, critical public school mom—Guerrier was offered a $150,000 salary by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to keep doing what she was doing, as the Department of Education’s chief family engagement officer.
As the official in-house independent voice for families, Guerrier has criticized the city’s education policy over the last two years.
Some parents have accused her of selling out, but she said her involvement was never about confrontation and protest.
“Sometimes you have to say no, but it has to be meaningful. You have to have a solution,” she said. “We all do better when we have a really good mix of voices.”
The child of a Haitian family in Brooklyn, Guerrier ran in 1998 for a spot on the local community school board before her son entered kindergarten. From there, she took a series of jobs at non-profits and was appointed as the Brooklyn representative on a citywide panel. When her current job ends, she plans to continue in politics on her own steam, maybe at the state level.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? They gave me the technical skills I need to understand the practical applications of running a major organization efficiently, and maintaining a strong vision that has the potential to impact millions of people—if you don’t have a strong vision, it’s really hard to keep things moving.
In five years, what will it say on your business card? Chief Mom of New York State. In 10 years? Governor.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I would probably be a lobbyist or working at a corporate foundation.
Who would play you in the movie? Gabrielle Union
Press Secretary, City Council
Stoking the engine rooms of the City Council press office is basically all Maria Alvarado has ever done.
She began her career at City Hall soon after graduating from college and interning briefly with Sen. Hillary Clinton.
From there, she got a job working on the City Council Health Committee. That committee, of course, was chaired by none other than Christine Quinn, who, when she became speaker, brought her trusted aide with her.
Now among her colleagues in the press corps Alvarado has developed a reputation as a take-no-prisoners kind of spokeswoman.
“I certainly wouldn’t say I am a hard-nosed person, but yes, being tough is certainly a necessary element of being a press officer,” she says. “What people don’t realize about communications is that it is not just about reporters on deadline, or about the interests of your office, but about the two of those together. You are disseminating public information that the public has every right to know but you are also doing the responsible thing and structuring and controlling that information in the best way.”
Inside the hallways of City Hall, Alvarado has developed a reputation for taking on more than merely disseminating information, but for getting her hands dirty in all sorts of heated moments.
“The strategy end of it, where you have 10 people in a room all of whom feel their idea is the best, and arguing all through that,” she said. “I love being in those moments and dealing with those challenges.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are today? When I first came to New York I worked as a restaurant hostess, in retail and dog walking just to pay for housing and food. It taught me not to let go of the dream, to do whatever it takes to make that end vision happen.
If you were not in politics, what would you be doing? Probably advocating for young girls in some capacity.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Five years ago, I would never have imagined my business card would say “Press Secretary for the City Council,” so I can only imagine.
Who would plays you in the movie? Katharine Hepburn
Vice President, Connelly & McLaughlin
After working as a journalist and at the City Council, Michael Woloz joined the public affairs firm Connelly & McLaughlin in 2000. Woloz handles everything from media relations to high-profile clients in the transportation, energy and non-profit sectors.
Woloz admits that at first he was not exactly sure what he was getting into when he jumped onboard with the new firm.
“When I joined Connelly & McLaughlin nine years ago, I had no inkling of what a public affairs firm actually did,” he explained. “But I was incredibly impressed by Maureen Connelly and Marty McLaughlin—and I had a good feeling about it.”
Besides Connelly & McLaughlin, Woloz is also involved with the Community Resource Exchange and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
When asked what the key to his accomplishments so far has been, Woloz was adamant about defining success by one clear measure.
“If you stick with good people,” he said, “you’ll learn a tremendous amount, get better at your craft and, most of all, enjoy the ride.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? My past jobs included politics, journalism and writing, so when an opportunity came along to join an established public affairs firm, it really brought together all of those experiences into one. What I’m doing now is almost a perfect combination of various interests and jobs I’ve had in the past.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? We’ll probably all be paperless by then.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? I would probably be in journalism, which is what I was in before politics.
Who would play you in the movie? John Cusack
Legislative Director, Council Member James Gennaro
As Costa Constantinides was working his way through Cardoza Law School in 2008, he decided to unleash a group of New York City lawyers on the rest of the country.
Constantinides organized hundreds of volunteer attorneys to fan out all across the country to monitor polling sites in swing for Obama under the umbrella of the New York Democratic Law Students Council.
The group raised over $10,000 to finance “election protection” trips.
Constantinides said the issue really hit home for him when there were voting discrepancies in a 2004 Westchester State Senate election lost by Andrea Stewart Cousins by 18 votes.
“There was voter harassment, voter challenges,” Constantinides said. “Folks talk about issues at a national level, but it’s even more important on the local level. Every registered voter should be able to vote.”
The head of the Queens County Young Democrats, Constantinides also served as the volunteer coordinator during Gennaro’s 2008 State Senate race. Given the margin of majority in the State Senate, Constantinides believes working on this race was every bit as important as his work on the presidential election.
“We were fighting Frank Padavan,” he explained, “who is a giant.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? Everything is a stepping stone. From working for Council Member Mealy, to working for Councilman Gennaro, who has been like my political father.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? I definitely see myself running for office at some point. I’m just not sure which one it’s going to be.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? Prior to my career in politics, I was assistant district manager at a KB Toy store. So I might be selling toys.
Who would play you in the movie? I would say Luke Wilson—the straight guy that bad things always seem to happen to.
Blogger, Daily Politics
Liz Benjamin achieved a rare level of journalistic infamy when, late one evening, as the State Senate tried to patch themselves back together, State Sen. Ruben Diaz delivered an address directed to his Republican colleagues, his Democratic partners and a certain New York Daily News blogger who was one of the few reporters still burning the past-midnight oil in the chamber.
Her name has now been entered into the official government record.
“Forty years from now if anybody wants to access the debate on the sales tax bill, they are going to look at the record and say, ‘Who the hell is Liz Benjamin?’”
For now, everyone knows Benjamin and her blog, a must-read for its thoroughness, up-to-the-minute updates of everything happening in City Hall and in Albany, and its obsessive documenting of all things political.
“I’m totally neurotic and have a short attention span, and there is nothing else to say about it,” she says. “Some people remember TV jingles. I remember useless political information.”
She now divides her times between Albany and New York City.
“It’s like being one of them,” she says, referring to her sources and subjects in state government. “When they bitch about the commute I can tell them, ‘Yeah, the commute sucks.’”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? I started the Capitol Confidential blog at the Times-Union.
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? Blogstress
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? Personal Trainer
Who would play you in the movie? Sarah Silverman
President, Get Out The Vote
Even as Steven Kramer began a well-deserved break only days after this year’s primary elections—he was heavily involved in about 30 races—he was being fitted for more of his trademark shiny shirts.
“My heart lies in fashion,” he confided.
And he has the master’s degree from the city’s Fashion Institute of Technology to prove it.
While Kramer may be known for his lavish invitation-only parties and his conspicuous fashion sense, he has also become a political force in city politics as a consultant and as the president of Get Out The Vote. His company has been crucial in raising the profile of his political clients and their campaigns before elections.
When he is not consulting on his own clients’ political campaigns, Kramer is often traveling and making movies documenting politics in other places.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? I’ve worked on campaigns every year since I was six. Denny Farrell showed me how to hand out fliers, Shelly Silver showed me how to lick stamps. I’m a lifer, I’ve always worked in politics.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? “Steve Kramer,” it will have the American flag on the back and it will say “Political Consultant.” Things won’t have changed.
If you weren’t involved in politics, what would you be doing? I would be doing all the fashion week stuff that’s going on right now.
Who would play you in the movie? Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Policy Advisor, Bloomberg ’09
Brian Mahanna worked his way through his three years at Yale Law, graduating in May. But he could not make the time to sit for the bar exam in July—he had already been recruited to work as a strategist for the mayor’s re-election campaign.
Mahanna says that he specializes in “the intersection between substance and strategy” and envisions a career of staying behind the scenes, hopping back and forth between law and government and politics. He got his start at a summer job in the City Council press office, following it up by working for Andrew Cuomo in his 2002 run for governor, and then moving the next year to a position under Bloomberg’s senior advisor. Since then, he has been a fixture in the Bloomberg camp, working on the 2005 re-election campaign and continuing through the present.
With a special interest in energy policy and certain areas of law, Mahanna said a wide range of jobs could pique his interest, and he is in no big rush to get to the next one. After the November election, he is planning to travel in Latin America. Once that is done, he said, he will finally take the bar exam.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? I worked for [Bloomberg’s] senior advisor, and I basically got to touch all the agents and the commissions, and I got a sense of the breadth of City Hall and who does what. I know how the place works downtown.
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card? Counsel to someone, but I don’t know who it would be. I think at some point I’ll be in Washington, but I don’t know if that’ll be five years from now or not.
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? Law
Who would play you in the movie? The Rock
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