In compiling our second annual list of political rising stars, City Hall drew on nominations from across the government and political community living and working throughout New York City and State. Scores of nominations came in for elected officials at every level of government, but scores also came in for the staffers, activists, consultants, lobbyists and many others who power New York’s political world.
And these nominations were more than on-the-run Blackberry emails or rushed phone calls. Most nominations were at least effusive, extensive paragraphs. Many were emails that, if printed, would have run over multiple pages.
Winnowing these down to just 40 was no easy task. We carefully considered each recommendation we received, basing the final determinations on the sources of the nominations, the number of nominations received, the content of the nominations and our independent evaluation of the nominations from other information available.
The criteria came down to two questions:
1) Who are the New Yorkers under 40 involved in
government and politics who have had the most impressive professional accomplishments in the past year?
2) Of those, whose professional political ascent seems to have only just begun?
Some elected officials from last year’s list reappear this year. Some do not. Those who did were judged in the same pool as all the rest, and we are proud to honor those who earned spots on the list again.
All the winners were asked the same three questions about how they got where they are and where they are going. All were asked to select a nickname for themselves. Their answers, as they gave them, are provided with each profile. They were randomly grouped for the photographs, as their schedules allowed.
The first nominations for this year’s list came in the day we closed last year’s. Already we have received suggestions for the 2008 rising stars, and we hope we will soon see more. With a likely New York-centric presidential race ahead next year and 2009 promising more local political action than perhaps ever before, the list of rising stars may have to get longer—but whatever happens, we are sure the 40 people in the pages that follow will have increasingly major roles to play as it does.
Profiles by John Desio, Edward-Isaac Dovere, Matt Elzweig, Andrew Hawkins,
Adam Pincus, Dan Rivoli, and Becca Tucker.
All photos by Andrew Schwartz.
Ruben Diaz Jr.
Assembly Member (D-Bronx)
Nickname picked: The President
While most politicos tend to be very coy about their future plans, Ruben Diaz Jr. is not shy to tell the world he will be running for Bronx borough president in 2009. A fixture in Bronx politics over the past decade, Diaz rose to prominence as a leader in the protests that followed the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo, which took place within his South Bronx district.
Now, Diaz hopes to move to an executive position, taking with him all that he has learned in Albany and applying it to his home borough. He has also learned a great deal from his father, State Sen. Rev. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), whom he counts not only as a mentor but a traveling companion to the capitol. But though public service runs in his family, Diaz is quick to note that his own accomplishments can easily stand on their own.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “It was more my family and our commitment to civic duty that enabled me to run for office and serve the community for the past 11 years.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “That I’ve helped, for 11 years, work on multi-billion dollar budgets for the State of New York.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Unfortunately, we don’t have a borough president’s mansion. I wish we did.”
L. Joy Mitchell
City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. (D)
Founder, Brooklyn Lives
Nickname picked: Memo Queen
Joy Mitchell likes to bounce between public service and nonprofit work. Mitchell was the president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats, campaign manager for Assembly Member Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn) and special assistant to former Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) before joining the comptroller’s office.
She called her position a “little bit of everything rolled into one.”
She represents the comptroller at community events and takes note of any trends developing in the city’s community boards.
In the nonprofit sector, Mitchell does work for Demos, a voting rights organization, and founded Brooklyn Lives, an AIDS advocacy group.
With AIDS spreading throughout central Brooklyn, the organization works with 25 high schools to promote AIDS awareness and prevention. To reach a younger audience, the organization uses peer education and free HIV tests at parties and concerts.
Mitchell uses resources from public and private organizations to solve community problems.
“Every now and then,” Mitchell said, “you come across particular issues that need more attention than government can provide.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Patience with bureaucracy.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I write a lot of memos. And if you don’t read them, you can read them in the paper two weeks afterwards.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “President or CEO.”
New York City Public Affairs Director,
State Sen. Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R)
Nickname picked: Feisty
Lisa Black is bullish on Republican chances to pick up Senate seats in the New York City area next year.
The communications office for Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R), which she opened last, year will help, keeping Republicans in better contact with voters.
“We have a head start in knowing the communities’ needs in the five boroughs,” she said. She identified eight local races with Democratic incumbents that are competitive.
“It is wonderful. It is exhilarating to be a part of this,” she said.
Her inspiration for government work is a grandfather, who was the president of the Suffolk County Association of Retired Firefighters. In the 1980s, he brought her along as he lobbied for greater benefits for his members.
However, she insisted, she is not looking to be in the spotlight.
“I like being behind the scenes,” she said. “But I am aggressive enough to tell them what to say and when to say it.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I learned not to waste anyone’s time—tell it straight, bottom line it and good or bad, sell it at its best.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I’ve worked in government communications for over a decade so don’t worry. I’m well versed in crisis communication.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “(Seeing as Eliot will be out of a job by then): 633 Third Ave., at the office of our next Republican governor.”
State Senator (D-Bronx/Manhattan)
State Sen. Serrano readily admits that he has been inspired by the legislative accomplishments of his father, Rep. José Serrano (D-Bronx). But he is quick to point out that he is more than just a well-known name, and that his own desire to rebuild the Bronx is what really placed him on the path to public service. The Bronx was indeed burning, Serrano said, and he wanted nothing more than to clear away the rubble and help redevelop his home borough.
Getting to do that as an elected official was no easy feat. He was the only challenger to defeat an incumbent for the City Council in 2001, and he faced and defeated longtime State Sen. Olga Mendez to win the State Senate seat representing upper Manhattan and the Bronx three years later. And though he has made no official decision, many believe Serrano might be preparing for another big electoral fight, the 2009 race for Bronx borough president.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Before the City Council, I worked for about six years with the New York Shakespeare Festival. That really gave me an appreciation for what the arts can do for poor communities.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “That I defeated two incumbents, first in the City Council and then on the state level.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Right now, I would love for it to be labeled ‘State Senate Majority Member.’”
Community Program Specialist,
Food Bank for New York City
Nickname picked: Mi Líder
Haile Rivera has grown from just a tech-savvy commentator on the political world to a full-time participant. He started by posting his thoughts and opinions on the popular blog Room Eight, discussing not just the state of his native Bronx but the city as a whole, and advocating for new blood in the city’s political spectrum. He gained national attention when Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) picked him as one of five small donors to have dinner with in July.
At that dinner, Rivera discussed a variety of issues with the presidential candidate. He appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show” alongside Obama, and invited the presidential hopeful to visit him in the Bronx. Energized following the meeting, Rivera announced plans to run in 2009 for the Bronx City Council seat currently held by Maria Baez, who will be barred by term limits from seeking reelection. True to his tech roots, Rivera made the announcement not at a press conference, but with a video posted to his website, furthering his desire to bring politics not only to the street but to cyberspace, as well.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “All of my jobs have been in the non-profit, public service field, helping the people directly. They all flow into one another.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “My commitment to helping the people and to helping the community.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “250 Broadway.”
Jewish Community Liaison,
Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D)
Nickname picked: Number One Rising Star Under 40
At age 10, Ross Wallenstein was already a spirited debater. In 1988, he remembers defending Michael Dukakis as the superior presidential candidate during a playground argument.
Those early skills served him well at the University of Maryland, helping him get an internship with then-Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) his senior year. After graduation, he briefly worked with Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) on the Senate Labor Committee, chipped in for Mark Green’s (D) 2001 mayoral campaign and ultimately landed at the office of Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens/Nassau).
Wallenstein said he was lucky to have a close working relationship with Ackerman, whom he said taught him first and foremost that every elected official must answer to their constituents. Though Wallenstein left Ackerman’s office to become Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s (D) Jewish community liaison, he still takes those words to heart. In his first four months, he focused on reaching out to Jewish New Yorkers in the city and Westchester, and he is looking forward to reaching out to communities further north in the months ahead.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I think especially working for Congressman Ackerman carried a lot of weight. His reputation in the Jewish community is outstanding.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I would relay the accomplishment of representing the governor, not only in the Jewish community but when I meet people on the streets and at functions, and that is a true honor.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “I just started this job four months ago. In five years, Spitzer will still be doing his job for the people of New York.”
Communications Director, for Richmond County District Attorney Dan Donovan (R)
Since William Smith, a “dyed-in-the-wool Republican,” was 13, he was interested in politics—as a Democrat. He was the youngest president of the Young Democrats of Richmond County and a staff member of then-City Council Member Jerome O’Donovan’s (D) 2001 Staten Island borough president campaign.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Smith became a Republican.
He took the position in the district attorney’s office after his contribution to the 2003 campaign. Since the election, Smith said he helped raise Donovan’s public profile from district attorney of a small county to a possible contender for attorney general as Republicans searched for a candidate last year.
But though Smith said he would like to see his own name on a campaign button in the future, for now, he said, his focus is on doing his part to get Donovan re-elected.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Although it’s not as true in the public service industry as it is in private, everyone is expendable and you have to make yourself as valuable as possible.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “The press operation for the Staten Island district attorney’s office has been invisible. I think I’ve had a key role in building that operation from the ground up.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Hopefully to the right address. I would not even begin to speculate on that.”
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn)
Nickname picked: Wonder Woman
From the very beginning, Tara Martin wanted big things from life. She traces her political origins to a stint as Staten Island’s north shore liaison for then-State Sen. Vincent Gentile (D). Wanting to delve deeper into the legislative process, she took a position in the office of U.S. Rep. Una Clarke (D-Brooklyn), where she said she learned the “real side of what government does everyday.”
Her job in Clarke’s office led to the top position at the New York State Young Democrats, where she really started flexing her muscles. Martin was bothered by a real absence of young people of color active in politics. As the first chair of the organization’s Caucus of Color, she has started to do something to change this.
Under her leadership, the Caucus of Color grew from 10 people to almost 300 statewide.
And she has continued to have professional success as well, now serving as the district director for Rep. Yvette Clarke, a position that excited Martin because she saw a lot of her mentor Una in Yvette.
“She asked me,” Martin said proudly, “to help continue her mother’s work.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Helping young people understand their roles in society was a big motivation for me.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “You have to have a customer service mentality when you are working in government.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “I can’t even tell you what I’m doing tonight. I guess helping Yvette get re-elected.”
New York State Co-Political Director and Executive Assistant to the General President, Unite Here
Nickname picked: Mike
Mike Rabinowitz’s passion for the labor movement started before he was born. Nearly everyone in his grandparent’s generation was a member of a union or worked for one.
“I got from them a deep sense that unions are a key component in making sure that everybody has a chance to share in the immense wealth that their work has created,” Rabinowitz said.
He spent five years working for his first boss, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), getting a taste for government and how it should work, but now he sees himself in the labor movement for the long haul.
One of his successes over the past year was helping to bring 200 Unite Here members to lobby in Albany.
“Watching people who don’t work in politics realize that elected officials work for us, and therefore, our opinions matter,” he said, “is a pretty transformative experience.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Every job I’ve done has given me skills I am using now—legislative, electoral and organizing.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “If I were looking for another job, I’d stress the fact that I can relate to many different types of people.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Hopefully: Michael Rabinowitz, UNITE HERE, 275 7th Ave., N.Y., N.Y. 10001.”
Environmental Policy Coordinator,
WE ACT for Environmental Justice
Nickname picked: KCG
Kizzy Charles-Guzman grew up in Venezuela, where she says it was impossible not to be conscious of class. “With the whole debate about Chavez, and the economic status of the country, there is a sharp division between the haves and the have-nots, so in that respect I was always very aware,” says Guzman.
When she moved to Brooklyn to live with her father’s side of the family before her second year of high school, those divisions were still apparent.
But what Guzman was really good at was science. She majored in geology at Carleton College and found herself drawn to environmental science. From there, she was drawn into work issues of racial justice. Her position at WE ACT gave her a career path that merged it all.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I took a year after college to volunteer at two environmental organizations, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do policy from a top-down approach versus a bottom-up. One was WE ACT, and they did a lot of grassroots community organizing and mobilizing.”
What’s the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “My commitment to carrying out the air quality initiatives I’ve been working on as part of the Bloomberg Administration’s PlaNYC. Air quality is a huge deal in the city, and it’s an issue that disproportionately affects poor people and people of color.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Kizzy Charles-Guzman, Senior Policy Advisor.”
Principal, Global Strategy Group
Nickname picked: Fritz
“One of the things that my father taught me and practiced was a level of access and openness that I thought was very cool,” Ryan Toohey said, reflecting on growing up the son of the then Assembly parliamentarian Timothy Toohey and godson of Joe Crangle, then the Democratic state chair.
Disillusioned with his studies during his first year at Columbia Law, Toohey was encouraged to meet with Eliot Spitzer, then making a second run for attorney general. Spitzer hired Toohey as his body man and driver, provided Toohey pledge to return to Columbia after a year off.
He did. After graduating, he worked in consulting, with clients as far flung as Oklahoma and Venezuela.
He reconnected with Spitzer in February 2005, hired as the gubernatorial campaign manager.
One of the few senior campaign staffers not to follow Spitzer to Albany, Toohey joined Global Strategy Group. He continues to work with Spitzer and other politicians, as well as with corporate clients engaged in “big fights” like Silverstein Properties.
He calls it a “Hair Club for Men” transition.
“Not only am I partner here,” he said, “I was a client for a long time.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I hope that Democratic politics becomes increasingly professionalized, and I think corporate life meeting political life should become more common and I hope I’m a good example of that.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I don’t think I’ve ever had a job interview, and I don’t plan on having one in the near future.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “HRH Ryan Toohey.”
Director for New York City Regional Office of Assembly Republican Leader James Tedisco
Nickname picked: Teach
To hear him tell it, J.C. Polanco has never had a job he did not love. As a teenager, he was a batboy for the New York Yankees for two seasons, a dream job for any Bronx baseball fan. He gushes about his time as a high school social studies teacher, about how he earned his law degree as a night student from Fordham University and how in 2002 became one of the youngest candidates in state history when he challenged then-Assembly Member Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) at the age of 25.
In late August, Polanco was approved by the City Council to serve as the Bronx commissioner for the Board of Elections, which he will do in addition to his work for Tedisco. But what really drives Polanco is his desire not only to strengthen the Assembly’s minority conference, but to work toward rebuilding the struggling Bronx wing of the Republican Party, which has fallen on hard times during the past few years. Things can only get better, said Polanco, and there has never been a better time to reestablish the GOP in the traditionally Democratic borough.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Interestingly, in no way, when you think about it. My work as a teacher did not, at least directly, put me in a position to be where I am today.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I’d make sure they knew that I prepared myself relentlessly for the opportunity to contribute to the team.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “At my home in Morris Park.”
Press Secretary, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum (D)
Nickname picked: “John Collins—no one ever uses just my first or last name.”
John Collins came to politics by way of Columbia University, where he studied philosophy. After a very brief and unfulfilling stint as a paralegal, Collins let his hobby in political history (he would analyze past Senate and presidential election results for all 50 states for fun) guide him to a press office job with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C, where he spent hour after hour pouring through newspapers and the internet for articles of interest.
Since his return to the five boroughs, Collins worked on two Senate campaigns, for Jon Cohen’s short-lived campaign for lieutenant governor last year and as a press aide to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) before joining Gotbaum’s office in March. He has been leading the charge to raise Gotbaum’s profile in the outer boroughs, a necessity if she is to move forward with her rumored 2009 mayoral run.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Tell me what job you can’t get when you have to get up at 5:00 a.m. to do the clips.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “Don’t forget radio. The radio guys always get shafted.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “To my East Village home in New York City. I love it there.”
Fundraising Consultant, Cathy Blaney & Associates
Former State Chair, New York Young Republicans
Nickname picked: “Gos, an old softball nickname.”
In 1980, five-year-old Jason Weingartner was already in the thick of it, handing out fliers for Ronald Reagan’s presidential bid with his parents in Glendale, Queens. Later on, as an undergraduate at Fordham College, he volunteered for two big GOP races: Rudy Giuliani’s 1993 mayoral run and George Pataki’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign.
All his volunteering eventually paid off: an internship at Friends of Pataki, the former governor’s fund raising arm, turned into a paid job.
In 2000, Weingartner joined up with the New York State Young Republicans, a small club which at the time had only 12 members. But by 2004, thanks to Weingartner’s organizing efforts, the club had almost 400 dues-paying members.
He was voted president and then state chair of the group. This encouraged him to run for national chair of the Young Republican National Forum this past July. Though he lost, and his term with the state association ended in May, Weingartner said he has stayed involved.
“Now I’m sort of an elder statesman, but I’m not that old,” he said laughing. “I have more free time to focus on other things,” he said. “Like softball.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now?
“It helped teach me to be more appreciative of volunteers, who are often overlooked.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview?
“I would bring up my organizing ability.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed?
“I’m not a big fan of titles. ‘Chairman Weingartner’—I’m not a communist dictator!”
Empire State Development Corporation
Nickname picked: “Wordsmith, because I do slam poetry sometimes.”
Errol Cockfield spent the majority of his professional life covering politics as a journalist, but these days he is working for one of the organizations he used to cover—the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).
“I’m very new to this side of the government aisle,” he said.
At age 10, Cockfield immigrated to America from Guyana. After graduating from Stony Brook University and completing a brief journalism training program, he went to work for The Los Angeles Times. But Burbank, Calif. was not as “walk-able” a city as New York, so he returned, first working for The Hartford Courant and then as the Albany bureau chief for Newsday.
Cockfield said covering the nuts and bolts of Albany politics for several years has helped him successfully navigate the world of economic development in New York. “It makes me much more aware of the pitfalls of my decision,” he said.
Cockfield believes he has grown tremendously since making the leap from journalism to the ESDC, which he refers to as “the real intersection between the public and private sectors.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “The great benefit of journalism is that it opens all doors.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I would bring up the variety of experiences I’ve had as a journalist.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “1 World Trade Center.”
Chief of Staff and Legislative Director, Assembly Member Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan)
Nickname picked: Boss Lady
Eliyanna Kaiser draws a sharp distinction between politics and government. Politics are about an individual’s quest for power, while government is about working with everyone toward a common goal. A Canadian by birth, Kaiser began her political career working for Jenny Kwan, a legislative member of the British Columbian Assembly representing Vancouver’s poorest district. Kaiser was inspired by Kwan’s pioneering methods of dealing with drug addiction and disease prevention.
After moving to New York, Kaiser took a job in the office of Assembly Member Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan). She admired the longtime legislator’s commitment to taking on issues “no one else would touch,” such as universal health care, gay marriage and medical marijuana.
As chief of staff and legislative director for the freshly-elected Kellner—who gave her the nickname “boss lady”—Kaiser is now working with a legislator in the infancy of his elected career. She has spent much time working to prevent the illegal conversion of apartment buildings into hotels, and now Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Unaff.) is putting together a legislative package of his own on the issue, and Kaiser has just finished authoring a state bill on the issue. But most of all, she’s proud to be working alongside so many other lesbians in city government, especially Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who employs Kaiser’s wife.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “My first real job was in a government office. It’s really all I know.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I always like to interview people who interview me.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “I really don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought six months ago that I’d be here. “
Legislative Assistant to City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. (D)
Nickname picked: Bookworm
Andrés Ledesma’s first job in government was as a legislative aide to former City Council Member Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn). To get the position, Ledesma slipped Dilan his résumé after interviewing the Council member for a college journalism class. When Dilan’s son, Erik Martin, was elected to the Council, Ledesma became his chief of staff.
After years of helping the two Council members craft legislation, Ledesma joined the comptroller’s office to apply his skills citywide.
But as a liaison for the comptroller to the City Council, Ledesma still pays close attention to the bills passed at City Hall. In addition to his duties as the comptroller’s legislative assistant, Ledesma briefs the comptroller on any issues that effect the city, whether national problems like home foreclosure prevention or the funding for baseball fields on Randall’s Island.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I worked for local elected officials, so it’s the same issues just on a smaller scale. It gave me a good foundation to come here.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I’m very focused on making sure that my work has an impact here in the office and that work has an impact on others. It requires me to be very thorough about things.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “How about commissioner? Citywide commissioner.”
James Van Bramer
Director of Government and Community Affairs, Queens Library
Nickname picked: The Mets Fanatic
Among the many hats he wears—he is also Democratic State Committeeman for the 37th Assembly District and a member of Queens Community Board 2—James Van Bramer is most proud of the work he has done in his professional capacity for the library this year. The additional $11 million he helped secure is the reason the Queens libraries are starting to open on Saturdays again. He stood on picket lines with his father, a pressman, as a kid, and knew he “was a pro-union Democrat” at a young age. As a gay teenager, he says he early on had “a clear sense of what injustice was.”
As for what the future holds, City Council Member Eric Gioia (D-Queens) will be forced out of office by term limits in 2009. Van Bramer, who ran unsuccessfully for Council in 2001, is being discussed as a candidate again.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Working for one campaign, volunteering on others and running for City Council in 2001 provided me with a whole range of beneficial experiences.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I live, eat, breathe, sleep, the Queens Library, and will do everything I possibly can to make sure it gets what it needs.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “My partner and I just bought a home in Sunnyside Gardens, so God willing, we’ll be living there for a very long time.”
City Council Member (R-Staten Island)
Nickname picked: “Everybody calls me Vinny.”
When Vincent Ignizio first ran for office in 2003, he unseated an Assembly member who held the seat for 24 years. Two years later, Ignizio won a special election to the City Council, a return of sorts: he was once chief of staff to then-member Stephen Fiala (R-Staten Island) and then, briefly, an acting interim-council member when Fiala left the council.
Ignizio plans to stay in the Council longer than he did in the Assembly, with his eye on becoming minority leader when James Oddo (R-Staten Island) is forced out by term limits at the end of 2009.
Ignizio sits on six committees. He recently added Dennis Gallagher’s (R-Queens) seat on the Finance Committee after Gallagher was indicted on rape charges.
“It’s a tall order,” he said.
However, he looks forward to Gallagher being vindicated, and taking back his committee assignments. “I hope,” Ignizio said, “that it’s the shortest stint in the Finance Committee that the Council has seen.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “The chief of staff job is one that’s charged with executing the vision of that member. The minutiae and inner workings of it uniquely prepares you for being a Council member.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “My employers—all 144,000 of them—I will ask them to reelect me for the job and convey what I’ve done.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Minority Leader Vincent M. Ignizio.”
Assistant Director of Intergovernmental Relations to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D)
Nickname picked: Spartan
Paul Thomas attended this year’s New York State Fair in Syracuse for the first time. Now that Thomas is the attorney general’s intergovernmental liaison to the city and Westchester County, he has the opportunity to see the state as he builds support from the clergy, unions and other community groups.
Thomas also briefs Cuomo on the bills passed by politicians on the city, state and federal level.
His past employers include Assembly Member Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and City Council Member Maria Baez (D-Bronx). He also joined former State Comptroller Carl McCall’s (D) 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
Thomas helped organize civil rights forums, called “New York, Know Your Rights,” sponsored by the attorney general’s office and held throughout the state from Buffalo to Harlem.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Having an understanding of working with people from different communities, having an understanding of this political apparatus, this understanding that you need to respect people.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “That I am a team player and I have strong leadership capabilities.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “I am not a person that is really interested in titles. It would be working for the New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office.”
President and Founder,
The Public Advocacy Group
Nickname picked: The Altruistic Advocate
Chad Marlow put plans to go into public interest law on hold after his father was hit and severely injured by a drunk driver. To help his family out financially, he spent five years in private practice, while staying politically active as president of the Village Independent Democrats.
When he left the firm to found the Public Advocacy Group, he carried the lessons of his experience there with him, aiming to provide “the same quality that a Fortune 500 company would receive at my previous job.”
These days, the Drum Major Institute, the Yankees, the Pedicab Owner’s Association and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr.’s (D) campaign committee are just some who have retained him.
Meanwhile, he has been very vocal about lobbying reform.
“It’s in the public’s best interest,” he said. Noting his firm’s commitment to transparency, he added, “and it’s in ours.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “It taught me how to deliver the very best quality possible.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “If I’m with a client, I’d bring this up: our philosophy is ‘only results matter.’”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “President of the Public Advocacy Group.”
Communities Assistance Unit
Nickname picked: The Scrapper
Jarrod Bernstein was 16 when he got his first taste of retail politics, knocking on doors in Long Island for then-Assembly Member Charles O’Shea (R).
“I was blown away by his endurance and his command of all the issues,” said Bernstein. “I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is really smart. There must be smart people in government.’”
He joined Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign in 2001, while still in college, and served in several capacities. After graduating, he joined Bloomberg’s administration as a deputy press secretary at the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). He was tapped for the top press secretary job just before the 2003 blackout, and he held the post until this March, when he moved to his current position.
At nights, he is pursing a law degree at Fordham, but he plans to see Bloomberg’s administration through.
“I worked Inaugural Day,” he said, “and hopefully I will be here to turn out the lights when we leave in 2009.”
As for what comes after that, he seems to have incorporated Bloomberg’s stress on having experience outside of government. His next job, he said, might be “some time in the private sector. I don\’t want to get stale.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “My time at OEM showed me the best of communities—but also how fragile they can be in the aftermath of a large-scale emergency.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I don’t plan on having a job interview for 854 days.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Mr. Jarrod Kuryk (My wife’s last name—she is much more important than me).”
Public Relations Consultant,
Karol Sheinin Consulting
Nickname picked: K
Karol Sheinin is no stranger to being on her own. She was the only Republican in her graduate program in political management at New York University, which she completed in 2004. After working with Republican consulting powerhouse O’Reilly Strategic Communications, the woman famed Republican political consultant Ed Rollins calls “the little right winger” went solo in the spring, forming her own company and taking on her own issue-based clients. Though most of her clients tend to lean toward the right, she will take on any issue if it appeals to her. An avid poker player, she counts a poker firm as one of her first clients.
Many of those unfamiliar with her consulting work know her through her writing: since 2003, she has been at the helm of AlarmingNews.com, one of the most popular blogs in the city’s political atmosphere.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “They taught me what I don’t want to be doing. I only do work for clients who I believe in, whose causes I support.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I tend to let the interviewer know about my blog pretty early on. It’s a big part of what I do, and there’s no sense in hiding it, though I feel it’s only helped me.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Since I’m currently working out of my home, I’d like to grow my consulting company and actually have an address by then.”
City Council Member (D-Queens)
Nickname picked:“Eric is fine.”
Eric Gioia was a law clerk in the White House under President Bill Clinton (D) and campaigned with Al Gore in 2000, but his mentor in politics and life is his father, Neil, who owns a flower shop on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens.
“He works harder today, day in and day out,” Gioia said.
That work ethic stayed with Gioia, whether he was working his way through college as a janitor and doorman, working in the Clinton White House while at Georgetown Law or running an insurgent campaign against the Democratic establishment for City Council in 2001. Gioia ran a grassroots campaign, priding himself on being a “guy from the neighborhood.”
Now in the middle of his second term, Gioia has fought for affordable housing and financial services to Long Island City, Queens. He is also raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each filing for a run at some future office, and though he will not say which race he has his eye on, he often speaks about wanting to continue being an advocate for the public.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Being up at 4 o’clock in the morning cleaning up a high-rise building in Manhattan is harder than what I do today, no matter how many hours I put in.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I plan to continue in public service, I have a lot of job interviews. Every conversation with a New Yorker is a job interview.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “My mail has always been addressed to Eric Gioia, and I don’t see that changing.”
Lisa Hernandez Gioia
President, The Esler Group
Nickname picked: LHG
Lisa Hernandez Gioia grew up in a very political household. Her mother, who arrived here from Cuba at age 12, was a City Council member in Washington state.
Her own entry into politics came in 2000, while interning at MTV’s “Choose or Lose” campaign. She was assigned to ask candidates “Where were you at 22?”
She left after a month.
“The job wasn’t exactly what I moved all the way across the country for,” she said.
Instead, she went to the New York offices of Vice President Al Gore’s (D) 2000 presidential campaign. There she met Eric Gioia, who was running the office. Not long after, she was helping run his campaign for Council in 2001. Not long after that, they were engaged and married.
Since then, she started her own fundraising firm and helped raise money for a variety of organizations and some of the biggest names in New York politics. One of her clients, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn/Queens) raised $2 million for his 2009 mayoral bid as of the July filing, more than any mayoral candidate in history at such an early stage of the race and twice as much as any of his presumed primary opponents. Her other clients include Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D), Lt. Gov. David Paterson (D), Council Member David Weprin (D-Queens) and her self-described “favorite pro bono client,” her husband.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “One of my first jobs was as a Chiquita Banana girl—that fruit headdress prepares you for anything.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “How much do you want to raise?”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “‘To: The Best Mommy in the whole world’—letter from my daughter.”
Principal, Kasirer Consulting
Nickname picked: Obi-Wan
Patrick Jenkins got his start as an executive assistant for State Comptroller Alan Hevesi (D), whom he dubs “one of the smartest people I know, despite everything.”
His résumé also features a stint working for Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens). Last year, he was Eliot Spitzer’s (D) deputy gubernatorial campaign manager.
Despite the big shots whom he has worked with over the years, the running theme throughout Jenkins’ political career is tireless advocacy for the people of Queens, he said.
“People can lose touch of the political process,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life. I know what people want.”
Jenkins lobbied for the borough and helped shape the party’s agenda while a Democratic Party state committee member before he took the job for Hevesi. For the past eight months, he has done a different kind of lobbying. As a principal at Kasirer Consulting, the city’s top lobbying firm, he represents a diverse array of groups, from T-Mobile to construction firms to the American Cancer Society.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “My past jobs have provided me with the foundation to have a greater level of understanding of what’s going on at the local level.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I feel like the luckiest guy in the world sometimes. I’ve learned new things every step of the way. “
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “My mail comes to my house.”
Assembly Member (D-Queens)
Nickname picked: The Busy Bee
Lancman first got involved in politics in his teens, when what he says was an unfair rent increase in the Kew Gardens building where he and his mother lived prompted him to run for and become vice president of their tenants association.
He lost a race in 2000 to State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Queens), but won his first term in the Assembly last year, replacing Brian McLaughlin (D-Queens). Over the past eight months, he said he has been pleasantly surprised to learn that for those who make the effort, there is a lot of “opportunity to have an impact in Albany.”
His agenda is driven by his constituents’ concerns, not personal ideology or interests, he says. He has been vocal and active on many issues, including proposing an alternative congestion pricing plan which includes tax breaks for companies that allow telecommuting, creating car pool lanes and reducing or eliminating tolls for delivery trucks.
After years working as a private attorney, Lancman said, “to have a seat at the table is an incredible opportunity and something I’m very conscious of.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “My experience as a lawyer representing average people injured on the job or by defective products, or who were discriminated against in the workplace, told voters a lot about my values and my willingness to work for their interests.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “This is my dream job, and my only personal career aspiration right now is getting another two-year contract next November.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “‘Dad,’ as in, ‘Dear Dad, summer camp is lots of fun,’ signed by my three kids.”
City Council Member (D-Bronx)
New York City Council Majority Leader
Nickname picked: The Marathon Man
As the chair of the Council’s Health Committee, Joel Rivera has been fighting for the health and well-being of not just his own constituents but the city as a whole. His proposal to use zoning changes to keep fast food restaurants out of poor neighborhoods drew worldwide media attention last year, and he has introduced legislation that would raise the legal age for smoking to 21. But he is not only concerned about others’ health. Rivera is training to run a marathon, and is logging 30-40 road miles each week, with some runs as long as 18 miles.
And there is another race he has his eyes on—the 2009 campaign for Bronx borough president. Rivera has announced that he will be running, and, between his own accomplishments and the backing of his father, Assembly Member and Bronx Democratic boss José Rivera, he is set to be a major contender in the race.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I’ve had the privilege of hands-on-learning from working with other elected officials on the budget, constituent services and a variety of other issues.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “My next interview will be with the 1.4 million people of The Bronx, and I’ll bring up my record and my vision to represent them as borough president.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “I’d have to ask my wife first, but I’ll always stay local in The Bronx. We have two bosses in the house.”
Chief of Staff for Chief Information Officer, New York City Board of Education
Nickname picked: Mr. Organized
When he was her chief of staff, Bruce Lai learned a simple lesson about grassroots politics from Council Member Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan): “public policy should be driven by regular people, not just the smartest,” he said.
They held town hall meetings on how to bring new technologies to every economic group, and they passed legislation to create the New York City Broadband Advisory Committee. During that time, Lai also served as policy director for the City Council’s Committee on Technology in Government.
During college, the Minnesota native interned for his own state’s senator, Paul Wellstone (D), on Capitol Hill. Lai later studied public policy in graduate school at Harvard.
He says there is a great deal of technology in New York City schools, though what is there is haphazard. One of the challenges he faces in his new job is coming up with a vision for integrating technology “into the classroom to improve student achievement.” Just started on the job, he said that possibility excites him.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I learned from Gale that she’s in politics for the right reason. What I learned from her and what I’d like to continue here is ‘how do you make technology work for people?’”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “The ability to think about the big picture, and about how to get something done, and to actually manage the execution.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Begins with ‘Chief’ or ‘Executive.’”
Assembly Member (D-Queens)
Nickname picked: G
It has been over a year, but Queens legislator Mike Gianaris is still steaming about Con Edison’s 2006 blackout, and the August Midtown explosion only increased his will to push legislation to tame the utility.
“Right now they are a monopoly, and their franchise is never reviewed,” he said. “With Con Ed there is no mechanism to hold them accountable and they can continue to fail.”
One of his bills would change that, and he has others.
Challenging the powerful utility will be tough but so was challenging the airlines, which he did successfully last year.
Legislation he sponsored takes effect in January and gives airplane passengers some relief when they are delayed on the tarmac. Another high-profile bill he sponsored gives the state oversight over gas pipeline security, a response to the alleged JFK terror plot in early June.
Even with these successes in Albany, Gianaris is mulling a job change.
He said he is “taking a look at 2009 and the city elections.” But though he has made no decisions, he said “the citywide focus is what I am looking at.”
With most of about $2 million in his campaign account left over from his cancelled 2006 bid for attorney general, he could count on a head start in the money race.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “[They] made me realize the importance of public service in my life.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I hope Kevin Burke doesn\’t work here.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “How about general manager, New York Mets?”
Government Relations Counsel, MetLife
Nickname picked: Quiet Fire
These days, Ellie Jurado-Nieves is collecting awards for lobbying on behalf of insurance from places as far away as Texas and New Hampshire—a long way from the office of then-Assembly Member Hector Diaz (D), where her mother worked and she volunteered after school.
She graduated from Pace Law in 1997. By 1998, she was working on Peter Vallone Sr.’s gubernatorial campaign. By 2000, she was Al Gore’s New York policy director. By 2001, she was Fernando Ferrer’s mayoral campaign manager.
Not long after, she joined MetLife, where she is responsible for lobbying on behalf of disability, insurance, dental and the company’s New York City corporate real estate.
And though she would like to get involved more directly in politics again, for now, she said, “sometimes it’s just nice to be in the background and still be influential without being right in the mix of things.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I think it’s the insight that I have. Nothing fazes me anymore, and it helps me to really attack a problem or situation wisely.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I think just my successes in general. I started at a young age and I’ve always been able to be rise to the occasion, and I think that would be an asset to any employer.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “The Honorable Ellie Jurado-Nieves.”
Deputy State Director for Sen. Charles Schumer (D)
Nickname picked: Rising to the Max
Teri Coaxum said she would not be where she is today if she had not started out “in the trenches.”
Her political career began inauspiciously, stuffing envelopes and answering phones after Marty Needleman of Brooklyn Legal Services introduced her to Assembly Member Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn).
Liberated from the office life, she dove headfirst into the community. Coaxum helped create what she calls “youth speak outs,” open forums for kids to talk to adults and each other about domestic violence, safe sex, drugs and other issues.
Then she signed on with Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes (D). Her job got a little harder.
“It was my job to be the positive face of the Brooklyn D.A.,” she said laughing, recalling her experience fielding tough questions about law enforcement and helping drug addicts avoid jail by getting treatment.
She said working for Schumer is something of an aggregate of all her past experiences. She loves how “the Boss” is active, aggressive and on top of all the issues. She takes it upon herself to help him include “a caring touch.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Working in grassroots activism helped me look at local issues from a legislative and federal standpoint.”
What is the first thing you would bring up on your next job interview? “I don’t believe in blind interviews. You need to be clear about the job you’re going for and who was there before you.”
Five years from now, how is your mail going to be addressed? “Ultimately my goal is to be a Supreme Court Justice. So I guess the Supreme Court.”
Assembly Member (D-Brooklyn)
Nickname picked:: Kool Ha
Hakeem Jeffries had to overcome a few obstacles to get to the Assembly. In addition to winning a primary against an incumbent, his home was no longer in the district after the lines were redrawn in 2002.
In 2006, when the incumbent, Roger Green (D-Brooklyn) ran for Congress, Jeffries won a three-way primary.
This was Jeffries’ first job in politics. He, with several young lawyers in the community, decided to study low-voter turnout and funding in the district.
“I knew I wanted to use my law degree in a public-interest capacity,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries worked at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where Sen. Charles Schumer (D) and Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) started their legal careers.
Jeffries joined the law firm for their pro-bono litigation practice and dedication
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