Cambria Heights resident Nantasha Williams is a valued political strategist at age 30. She has served as executive director of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, and mounted an unsuccessful run for an Assembly seat in Southeast Queens in 2016. She then got involved in the Women’s March on Washington, working on the logistics team with national co-chair Tamika Mallory. She is now the group’s head of social impact and political engagement and serves on Queens Community Board 13.
10 Queens residents on the rise
10 Queens residents on the rise
City & State's Queens Power 50 list counted down the 50 most influential people in the borough that every politician needs to know. But with the power structure of Queens experiencing a seismic shift thanks to newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it's certainly not too soon to start looking to the future.
These 10 people who live or work in Queens have begun to make their mark on New York’s political world – and each of them is worth watching in the years ahead.
Shanel Thomas has been a passionate activist for her community in Corona and East Elmhurst, where she grew up and still lives. She has worked for local groups and boards, including the NYPD 115th Precinct Community Council, Queens Community Board 3 and Neighborhood Housing Services of Queens CDC. Recently she was named community outreach manager for the LaGuardia Airport Redevelopment Program, tasked with maintaining relationships with elected officials, business owners and community leaders while keeping them informed on progress at the airport.
Jennifer Hensley is in charge of Link, which seeks to replace old phone booths throughout New York City with more than 7,500 free Wi-Fi kiosks. She started at the company in 2005 as its general manager and became its president less than two years later, overseeing its global operations and development. Since moving to New York City from California and settling in Astoria, she has also worked at the Alliance for Downtown New York and the Association for a Better New York.
Currently in its fourth season, the Queens International Night Market has become a beloved tradition in the borough. Its founder, former lawyer John Wang, worked hard and took many risks to make the venture a success. The fair, inspired by similar open-air markets popular in many Asian countries, is held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and attracts thousands of residents with its affordable food from around the world, a range of merchandise from local artists and art performances.
Low-income tenants fighting landlords often rely on The Legal Aid Society. In Queens, they have a fierce defender in housing attorney Sateesh Nori. As attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Queens neighborhood office, Nori made headlines in recent months fighting for seniors forced to live without an elevator for weeks, battling the eviction of two Holocaust survivors and working to stop a landlord from intimidating low-income tenants. Since 2015, he has also served on the New York City Mayor’s Committee on City Marshals.
Shannan Ferry has worked as a reporter for the Queens local edition unit at NY1 since 2014, covering numerous stories, including the protests at Kennedy Airport after President Donald Trump’s first travel ban and the high-profile 2016 murder of jogger Karina Vetrano. The Queens native and Hofstra University graduate also fills in behind the anchor desk on NY1’s “Queens Week in Review,” where she interviews elected officials, activists, authors and other reporters about the most important stories in the borough.
The Nepalese community has been growing in Queens in recent years, with numerous stores and restaurants opening, many of them in Jackson Heights. Assisting this growing Nepali-speaking community is Pabitra Benjamin and Adhikaar, a nonprofit that educates members about access to health care and fights for workers’ rights. Benjamin, who has been a community organizer and a field director for Amnesty International USA, has become a powerful voice for the rights of immigrants, regardless of their country of origin.
At 32, Jessica Ramos is challenging state Sen. Jose Peralta in September’s Democratic primary. The former aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the now-dissolved Independent Democratic Conference, which Peralta joined last year. She already has endorsements from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Council Speaker Corey Johnson. A Jackson Heights resident and daughter of formerly undocumented immigrants, Ramos understands the struggles of ethnic communities in Queens and has served as their voice.
Several years ago, bank manager Edwin Wong found a new calling and decided to become a community activist. In 2015, he co-founded the Forest Hills Asian Association to give a voice to the rapidly growing Asian community in the neighborhood. The group organizes cultural and networking events and hopes to one day establish an Asian-American center in Central Queens. Wong also serves as a member of Queens Community Board 6 and the Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Since its establishment in 1975, Haitian Americans United for Progress has helped those in need with access to social services, health care and immigration assistance. Elsie Saint-Louis, the group’s executive director, has sought to expand its programs. She recently made headlines as a critic of President Donald Trump in the wake of his inflammatory remarks about Haitians and his decision to end temporary protected status for nearly 60,000 Haitians who have been living in the U.S. since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010.