This election season, underrepresented groups in politics are making waves on the campaign trail – from women to minorities to members of the LGBT community. Another group is making its presence felt as well: young Americans.
The prime example is 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who upset Rep. Joseph Crowley in the Democratic congressional primary. Assuming she’s elected in November, Ocasio-Cortez would become the youngest member of Congress – taking that title from upstate Rep. Elise Stefanik, who was first elected at age 30.
But they’re just two of many millennials in New York who are not waiting their turn. Each year, City & State identifies 40 members of the next generation – all under the age of 40 – who are already leaders in elected office and in state offices, in labor and in business, in advocacy and in academia, in government affairs and in journalism.
We profile the behind-the-scenes figures crafting groundbreaking legislation, shaping public opinion and driving the news cycle. We recognize young labor leaders battling in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision, business representatives helping their constituents compete and young lawmakers shaking up Albany.
We’re pleased to introduce the 2018 Albany 40 Under 40 Rising Stars.
Assistant Secretary for Health, Governor's Office
When Megan Baldwin graduated with a master’s degree in business administration, she never anticipated entering the world of government. But when she returned to Albany searching for a job, she found little luck in the private sector. So when she had the opportunity to interview for a position in the state Senate, she took it. “(I) really anticipated I would stay a couple years to build my resume a little bit and move on, and I got sucked into the vortex and I’m still here,” Baldwin says.
Baldwin loves the fast-paced world of Albany and the fact that each day brings something new and unexpected. She is not someone who likes routine. And for Baldwin, her colleagues became like family. “I’ve experienced people playing guitar, singing songs, dancing on desktops, people looking for their 5 a.m. snack,” Baldwin says. “It’s really just that camaraderie of being in it together.”
Baldwin first joined the governor’s office in 2016. And although the state Senate is the place where she learned how Albany works, Baldwin said some of her most fulfilling work has been in the executive office, such as increasing wages for direct care workers and coordinating aid for Puerto Rico. She works behind the scenes to get it done, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “My goal always was never end up in the press, never end up in the paper,” Baldwin says. “Working behind the scenes is actually where the work happens.”
From a very young age, Assemblyman Brian Barnwell wanted to join the military. But, he was born with scoliosis and, at age 13, required surgery that inserted metal rods in his back that prevented him from enlisting. “I was devastated. Absolutely devastated,” Barnwell says. “I wanted to make a career out of it. I wanted to serve my country for as long as I could.” So Barnwell looked for “the next best way” he could serve and found himself turning to politics. He had already been engaged in his community and concluded that laws affecting his neighborhood needed to be fixed. When Barnwell ran in 2016, he stunned the establishment by beating then-Assemblywoman Margaret Markey. Today, he takes pride in how accessible he is to his constituents, no matter what time of day. “People have my cellphone number,” Barnwell says. “Call me at 2 in the morning, I pick up. What do you need, what’s going on?”
One issue that is of the utmost importance to Barnwell is affordability. One piece of legislation he has introduced would change the formula that determines who is eligible for affordable housing in order to help ensure that those who truly need it can get it. Barnwell has been revving up for re-election since January and he faces a primary fight in September. But as he serves in Albany, he still has not given up hope on his dream to serve in the Army.
“If they called me today, I would go in a heartbeat,” Barnwell says.
Policy Director, Cordo & Co.
“I learned early on that there is no right way to get to the career of your dreams,” Nora Boyle says. “I knew from a very early age that I wanted to work in policy.” While many people who work in policy tend to have a background in law or public administration, Boyle says she took a unique path to her current job as policy director at Cordo & Co. She earned a master’s in social work with a focus on macro social welfare policy – a specialization that takes a broad look at how policies affect large communities. “It allows you to see the human perspective,” Boyle says of her training. “In law and politics, we focus a lot on creating good laws. … We don’t always remember how it will impact the community.”
After an internship at the New York state Office for the Aging, where she worked on policies affecting older adults, Boyle took a position with the Assembly working on veterans issues, housing, government operations and other areas. In a subsequent position, at the Public Consulting Group, she worked on health care policy across different states.
Boyle says her work at Cordo & Co., where she focuses primarily on health care and policy, has given her the opportunity to represent some of the major actors building the infrastructure of health care in New York state, including pharmacies, health care workers and organizations participating in innovative health care projects.
Patrick D. Boyle
District Director, State Sen. Thomas Croci
For Patrick D. Boyle, homeland security has always been a chief role of government. Boyle recalls how the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks spurred his decision to enroll in The Citadel, the South Carolina military college. “I was in the eighth grade and I lived out here on Long Island, so we were literally in the shadow of the twin towers coming down,” he says. Boyle’s entry into politics came later.
He was working as a yacht broker fresh out of college in 2010 and looking for a new direction when he applied to work on Tom Croci’s campaign for Islip supervisor. After Croci won, he asked Boyle to be his executive assistant. “So I was at the town of Islip during Hurricane Sandy, which was both eye-opening and thrilling and horrible all at the same time,” he says. Boyle witnessed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross work together in response to a natural disaster. When Croci ran for state Senate, he took Boyle with him as his deputy chief of staff, a role that Boyle describes as the “bridge between Albany and Long Island.”
Boyle is now district director for Croci, who is leaving office to return to active service with the Navy. Boyle does not know what will happen after the fall elections, but when it comes to his role as director of the state Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee, Boyle says, “I’m going to stay on as long as they want me.”
Kevin M. Bronner Jr.
Government Relations Director, Jackson Lewis
When Kevin M. Bronner Jr. was studying at the University at Albany, he read a book that deepened his interest in the world of finance: “Liar’s Poker.” Bronner says the famous Michael Lewis book – which came to define the high-stakes, no-holds-barred culture of 1980s Wall Street – taught him about the dynamics of the stock market and the upsides and downsides of risk. “Life is about outcomes,” Bronner says. “It’s about taking a risk.” It was during college that Bronner began his career in financial services – with a job as special assistant to the commissioner at the state Department of Taxation and Finance.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in economics and finance, both from the University at Albany, Bronner went on to work for the state Senate Finance Committee. It was during this time that he gained valuable budget negotiating experience, working on seven state budgets from 2007 through 2014. Bronner says his work negotiating the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act, which authorized the establishment of several casino resorts, was another highlight of his time with the Senate Finance Committee. He was part of a team working to address the various budgetary concerns of New York lawmakers representing areas as diverse as Western New York and Long Island.
In his current job as government relations director at the law firm Jackson Lewis, Bronner continues to work on fiscal matters, advocating for clients in both legislative and regulatory arenas.
Regional Chief Development Officer, American Red Cross
As a kid, Kevin Coffey was a Red Cross-trained lifeguard. His father was notified by the Red Cross in Vietnam when Coffey’s older brother was born. And when, more recently, his brother lost his home in Superstorm Sandy, the Red Cross was on his block.
Today, Coffey sees an opportunity to give back to his community as the Red Cross’ regional chief development officer for the eastern New York region, following previous work in sales and marketing. “I can see the impact that our team and the work that the organization does every single day,” he says.
In response to hurricanes in 2017, he oversaw the deployment of more than 120 volunteers and raised more than $2.5 million to support disaster relief. “The biggest challenge is that the work never ends for a humanitarian aid organization,” he says. “There are home fires every single day, hospitals always need blood products, and we work to provide services to our veterans.” Born and raised on Long Island, Coffey moved upstate with his wife to raise their family. For his three children, he makes it a priority to attend their Little League games and sporting events. “But once they’re in bed I fire up the laptop and take care of some of the work of the day,” he says. “It’s important for me and my wife … to be good role models. … My kids are really proud, and they like to see all the work I’m able to show them.”
Senior Vice President, Ostroff Associates
Earlier this year, when Kate Corkery addressed a room full of interns at the state Capitol, she reminded them to soak up as much knowledge as possible during their internships. No task is too small, she told them – whether it’s organizing memos or answering phones.
“This is a business of relationships and reputation,” Corkery says, remembering how her own internship with the state Senate, in 2003, helped launch her career in government and lobbying. “You’re either learning process or you’re learning people.”
It was thanks to this internship that Corkery later received a job offer from then-state Sen. Jim Alesi in 2006. Then, a stint volunteering during a 2007 special election introduced her to “the campaign side of things,” Corkery says, leading to a job as deputy finance director for the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee.
After two years of campaign work, she took a job as legislative director at lobbying firm Wilson Elser while pursuing an evening graduate program in organizational management at The Sage Colleges. In 2011, she landed her current position at Ostroff Associates through a networking connection who encouraged her to apply. Corkery enjoys working in government – something she’s been interested in since high school – and having the opportunity to return every day to the state Capitol, where her career began. “This is a beautiful place,” she says. “It looks like a castle.”
Jeffrey D. Denman
Vice President, Yoswein New York
Jeffrey D. Denman lives seven blocks away from the home where he grew up, in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The son of a retired New York City school principal, Denman says he attended public schools his entire life (save for one year of Catholic school), beginning with grade school in Brooklyn through graduate school at Stony Brook University.
It was at one of these schools – the now-closed Freedom Academy High School in Brooklyn – that a government teacher noticed Denman’s interest in the subject and spent hours with him discussing current events. “From there you develop a love for government and a love for politics,” Denman says.
This appreciation for the intricacies of government – as well as his respect of communities – enables Denman to synthesize issues and communicate policies to people who are most affected by them. “How do you address problems and how do you mitigate collateral consequences of policy?” he asks. “It’s a matter of bringing relevant stakeholders to the table.”
Denman says he thinks of himself as an advocate, and his work at public affairs firm Yoswein New York is twofold: helping government talk with communities and helping organizations communicate with government. He says the work, which is nuanced and challenging, “requires a profound respect and love of government.” He added, “You can have an issue that affects people, but people who are affected aren’t the most interested. How do you really do that in a way that they become energized?”
Vice President, Gramercy Communications
David Doyle’s passion for communications is rooted in a phrase he heard early in his career: “Tell me a story.” The famous saying is attributed to legendary broadcast journalist Don Hewitt, creator of CBS News’ “60 Minutes.” Doyle landed at CBS shortly after graduating from SUNY Oswego with a degree in history, and he spent the next eight years doing everything from answering phones to working on “60 Minutes.”
Eventually he left New York City to work for a CBS affiliate television station in Albany, and a few years later left the news business to work for then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
Now, as vice president of Gramercy Communications, Doyle continues to draw on his journalism background. “You’ve got to tell me a story, … present it in a way that’s digestible,” he says, underscoring the principle behind every project he works on. “Know your audience and present it in a way that they can understand.”
Doyle, who works in the agency’s Troy office, says one of the most rewarding aspects of his job is seeing the work of so many people inside and outside of government become a reality. Among other issues, he has worked to educate lawmakers and the public about opioid addiction. “We’ve taken on some of the big issues in this state and won,” Doyle says. “There’s a lot of good people that are trying to do good things. It’s great state and they’re trying to make it even greater.”
Director of Government Affairs, New York State Restaurant Association
Kevin Dugan was having an intense day. Restaurateurs across the state were panicking that they would have to adapt to a new law that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to serve alcohol. As the director of government affairs for the New York State Restaurant Association, Dugan has the job of mediating between business owners, state legislators and the media. In this case, he was able to assure the association’s members that the legislation was only going affect craft breweries and wineries. “How do you know the rules? How do you abide by them and still remain profitable? I see my job as helping to help facilitate that,” Dugan says.
During the legislative session, he spends a lot of his time at the state Capitol, talking with state legislators about what he has heard from his membership base about regional issues. Before taking his current position, which encompasses the whole state, Dugan was the association’s director for New York City. His new role has opened him up to the regional differences across the state. In the city, restaurants are contending with high rents, whereas in more rural areas, restaurants struggle to attract customers. What remains constant across the board is the consequential relationship of regulation and business. When restaurants go through an audit, he says, “It’s easy enough to make mistakes, and those fines can be heavy and can close restaurants’ doors. So some of this stuff is really a matter of survival.”
Assemblywoman Ari Espinal met her mentor Francisco Moya, who is now a New York City councilman, when she was 13 years old. At the time, he was running for district leader in their Assembly district. He also coached her in basketball at St. Leo Catholic Academy. “He saw potential in me to get involved in local organizations, local clubs,” Espinal says. “He pushed me to say, ‘You could do something good and clean up the neighborhood, get involved.’”
Espinal did exactly that. As a teenager, she became a community organizer. She followed in the footsteps of her mentor and became a district leader, then went to work in Moya’s office when he was in the Assembly.
But Espinal had not originally planned to run for office. “I always like to get my hands dirty as a staffer, as a senior staffer,” Espinal says. “That’s who I am.” Moya left the Assembly in January after his election to the New York City Council. With his seat empty, Espinal seized on the opportunity to continue helping her community in Albany. Coming full circle, she won a special election in April to succeed the man who first inspired her civic engagement.
Now, Espinal faces a primary challenge in September after less than six months in office. Although she has had little time to rack up legislative wins she can tout, Espinal feels confident her record of community involvement will speak for itself as she once again runs on a platform of immigrant rights and improving public schools.
Associate Counsel, Civil Service Employees Association
As the son of two teachers in Richmondville, a small rural town upstate, Jeremy Ginsburg grew up with a window into the struggles of working-class America. “Since I was in high school, I had a desire to become a union-side lawyer,” Ginsburg says. “It’s really born from a desire to do good for working people.”
When he was in college at the University at Albany, teachers in his hometown launched a lawsuit to protect their retiree benefits. “That really fired me up and made me want to help out people facing those types of situations,” Ginsburg says.
That background ultimately led him to becoming an associate counsel for the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents employees in state and local government, school districts and child care.
At any given moment, he has 40 to 50 open cases that range from matters of contractual or statutory discipline to contract grievances or agency hearings. But work at CSEA isn’t just case management and litigation – it’s also outreach. Ginsburg splits his time between union meetings and door-to-door campaigns to explain the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision, helping him remain in contact with the people who drew him to the vocation in the first place. “What I’m doing is working to improve the working conditions and living conditions of our members who many of whom, if they didn’t have a union, would be working at the mercy of their employer, perhaps making poverty-level wages and without any benefits,” he says.
Elizabeth Quinn Gray
Special Assistant to the Provost for Special Projects, University at Albany
To Elizabeth Quinn Gray, her trajectory from earning a master’s in philosophy and planetary science to serving as special assistant to the provost for special projects at the University at Albany is directly connected. “When you study philosophy, you’re expected to write extraordinarily well, to think about complex ideas at very high levels of abstraction, but still support those abstract ideas with well-organized, well-argued, concrete support,” she says. “It’s kind of like cross-training for your mind.”
After earning her master’s degree, Gray went to Ecuador and worked on a project to build a local school in an underserved area. She returned to the U.S. to do the fundraising and project planning, then went back to Ecuador for the school’s construction.
While working on the project, Gray rubbed elbows with the international development community in Albany – and got involved in creating the Global Institute for Health and Human Rights at the University at Albany. Her next project at the university was helping establish a new program for the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity. Gray was recently promoted to her current role, where her responsibilities involve developing ideas for grant proposals, writing grants and managing funding that supports new approaches for the university. True to her philosophical nature, Gray described her career as a “pattern of there being this vague idea of something that we want to have exist and figuring out what programs and systems would make that idea real.”
Director of Multimedia, Corning Place Communications
Several years ago, when Rensselaer Common Council members were considering a measure to reduce the size of the fire department due to budget constraints, Andrew Gregory had the opportunity to work on a communications campaign that affected him personally as a resident of the city. In a campaign that included media outreach and social media messaging, as well as meetings with local lawmakers, Gregory communicated to residents that the elimination of four firefighter positions would jeopardize the safety of the remaining firefighters, and of the city as a whole. Rensselaer, a community of about 9,000 residents, was already a challenge for firefighters due to its narrow streets.
“It was a real awakening for folks,” says Gregory, who is the director of multimedia at Corning Place Communications in Albany. “People are so busy … they don’t always have the time to pay attention to what’s going on in a city council meeting.” Corning Place emphasizes its ability to merge strategy with creativity in its communications campaigns, which can include a video posted on social media, infographics and media outreach. He enjoys having the opportunity to tackle issues that impact a lot of people, but that many may not know about. “I know that policy can be really complex and is really hard to translate,” Gregory says. “How can we find a way to make people aware of this and get them energized so that they take action?”
Director of Government Relations, Dickinson, Avella & Vidal
Lobbying work may not be the most popular field for college students contemplating a career. But Eglantina Haxhillari says she knew this was her calling after an inspiring internship at the Civil Service Employees Association.
“It wasn’t an internship where you sat down and got someone’s coffee,” Haxhillari says of working at the labor union that’s been around for more than 100 years. She remembers joining lobbyists in committee meetings, where she had a chance to watch lawmakers craft legislation dealing with pension plans and raises.
This training prepared Haxhillari for her current work at Dickinson, Avella & Vidal in Albany, where she has the opportunity to guide legislation through every stage of the process. One recent piece of legislation she has worked on is called Breakfast After the Bell. It requires public schools that qualify for free or reduced-price meals to offer students breakfast after the start of the school day.
The measure, which could include grab-and-go options that can be eaten in the classroom, is designed to ensure students do not skip the meal.
Haxhillari says one of the things she enjoys most about her job is the wide range of issues she works on. On any given day, she could go from monitoring a piece of legislation in the morning to watching lawmakers consider it in the afternoon.
“Then you are boots on the ground, in the Capitol, advocating on behalf of the client,” she says. “Every day you learn so much.”
Director and Counsel, New York State Senate Higher Education Committee
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed his Excelsior Scholarship into law, critics said it would leave out many college students, including part-timers at community colleges.
So Kelly Hendricken explored how to expand scholarship access, and helped add several million dollars in the budget for students who don’t attend college full-time. “When we were dealing with all the issues last year regarding college affordability, one of the biggest components is that a lot of people go to school part-time, and have to do that, so how do they pay for that?” says Hendricken, who works for state Sen. Kenneth LaValle as the state Senate’s lead higher education staffer. “How do they deal with that kind of debt? And this is just another piece of the puzzle that helps people have less debt when they come out of school.”
The Long Island native knows firsthand the value of advanced study. She was the first in her family to attend college, at SUNY Geneseo, then went to Albany Law School. She interned in the state Attorney General’s office and the state Inspector General’s office, then won a coveted state Senate fellowship and has been in Albany ever since.
“Working with such great attorneys when I was in law school, it really made me realize how important it is just to give back and how important it is to be in public service,” she says. “At the end of the day, everything you do is for the taxpayer, and recognizing what’s important to your constituency.”
Ryan V. Horstmyer
Partner, Shenker Russo and Clark LLP
When Ryan V. Horstmyer was 18 years old, he ran for a town council seat in his hometown of Colonie. At the time, in 2001, no Democratic candidate had won a town board race since the Great Depression. “I ended up losing that election, but I learned a whole lot,” says Horstmyer, who spent the summer before starting college at the University at Albany campaigning door to door.
Although he had the help of a seasoned campaign manager, Horstmyer knew his chances were slim. The lessons he learned during that campaign have stayed with him and prepared him for a career in government and lobbying. “I stuck with it,” he says. “You learn how to talk to people at a door, when you’re interrupting dinner.”
In 2006, Horstmyer ran for office again and won a seat in the Albany County Legislature, representing the 25th Legislative District, which included Latham, Loudonville and Newtonville. During his time as a county legislator, he was the main sponsor of an ethics and financial disclosure law for Albany County officials. He says the experience taught him that crafting legislation takes patience, because a lot of the work happens in private conversations. “It was such a big undertaking, because ethics is a very sensitive issue,” Horstmyer says, adding that he learned it’s important to “assume the best about people.”
“Take your time to figure it out and build trust,” he says. “You just have to be patient and have a lot of conversations.”
Wayne Lair Jr.
Partner, Statewide Public Affairs
Wayne Lair Jr. dove into state politics straight out of college, with internships and work at New York StateWatch doing legislative tracking as well as at a lobbying firm. “I sort of had a late start. I went to college late in life. I just kind of traveled and worked and messed around for a few years after high school,” he says. “Politics had always interested me and I just kind of fell into it.”
Lair, now a partner at Statewide Public Affairs, has worked on issues that include the minimum wage, wine in grocery stores, and casinos. This year, as a representative of the New York State Restaurant Association, the biggest issue his firm focused on was pushing back on the potential elimination of the tip credit. In the past few years, he says lobbying has changed a lot from when he started.
“Navigating that has been the biggest challenge,” he says. “It used to be you could make a phone call and either the bill passed or you could make a bill go away, and now every day you’ve got to work from the ground up. It’s not a top-down legislature anymore, it’s more of a grass-roots legislature.”
He grew up an hour west of Albany and has been in the region his whole life. “I have a 3-week-old daughter, so I’m just starting to figure out how to balance family and work life,” he says. “You have to know when to put the phone away.”
As a child, Jordan Lesser spent a lot of time in Europe with his professor father, inspiring his love of history. After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in medieval history, Lesser combined that love with his passion for the environment and became a park ranger at a national park before attending law school.
“It was great to go and educate visitors and educate the public about concerns we were seeing,” Lesser said. “Anything from water rights issues out West and impending droughts.”
Lesser felt that by attending law school and focusing on environmental law, he could do even more, make a difference through policy.
“You really have a hand in developing direct bill language,” Lesser said. “You don’t need to necessarily operate as an advocate and be out there trying to convince someone of your idea.”
For Lesser, this has allowed him to tackle issues close to home like hydraulic fracturing and climate change initiatives. But he has also been able to broaden his reach to international environmental law. “That all comes about as a result of people having an interest in the legislative process in New York … and the flexibility to pursue your own initiatives off-session.”
Those initiatives include co-chairing the International Law Committee and chairing the Water Law Subcommittee at the American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law as well as being involved with the New Leaders Council in Albany.
Capitol reporter, Times Union
As a state Capitol reporter for the Times Union, David Lombardo has landed his dream job. “For me, that was where I wanted to end up when I was just starting out as a print journalist,” he says.
Journalism is the career he “fell into” following college with an internship at the Legislative Gazette when he felt “this was the coolest thing ever.” Lombardo, who brings experience from various roles, including in communications, is excited to expand the newspaper’s Capitol Confidential brand into the new medium of podcasting.
He also has enjoyed one particular area of coverage. “I love covering gambling,” he says. “I don’t gamble, really, but I grew up in Saratoga Springs about half a mile away from the racecourse. I was so excited to cover sports gambling this spring and that whole mess as it continues to evolve in New York state.”
He also “nerds out” over using data like party enrollment to cover elections. “I love tweeting election results,” he says. “The night of every election, it’s hard for me not to rapidly just refresh every county website as I share all the different results.”
Around the state Capitol, he’s widely known by his Twitter handle, @poozer87, which started as an inside joke with a former girlfriend, with one candidate he covered even addressing him that way. He says he hasn’t figured out the eight-hour shift yet. “My fiance is also a reporter, so it makes for an interesting home life.”
Corrections: Kate Corkery first worked with then-state Sen. Jim Alesi in 2006. Patrick Boyle served as Thomas Croci's deputy chief of staff when Croci was first elected to state Senate.
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