Donna Proske started out as a registered nurse at Staten Island University Hospital. Rising through the ranks over the years, she was named SIUH’s first female executive director in 2013. SIUH, a 714-bed teaching facility, is one of the borough’s biggest employers. Under Proske’s leadership, it has continued to expand and improve its services. She is also deeply involved in the community, working with local nonprofits, improving resiliency planning in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and partnering with the Cuomo administration to combat cancer.
The Staten Island 100 continued, 11-50
The Staten Island 100 continued, 11-50
Daniel Messina has run one of the borough’s biggest employers since 2014. The borough native has thrived under board Chairwoman Kathryn Krause Rooney and continued Richmond University Medical Center’s expansion, including a new emergency department and a women’s health center. RUMC participates in the state’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program to stem health care costs, and Messina recently joined the board of the influential Greater New York Hospital Association. He is involved fundraising to help those with multiple sclerosis, which his mother had.
Staten Island’s small businesses know Linda Baran has their back. One of the most powerful women in the borough has been at the helm of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce for the past 14 years. She’s helped companies recover from 9/11, the 2007-2008 financial crisis and Superstorm Sandy. But Baran is really excited about the borough’s future. Bay Street is bustling and the North Shore is seeing major waterfront development that began in the Bloomberg era.
New York City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo is one of three Republicans in the body, but he has made waves in City Hall as a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration. The councilman has called for better communication during school lockdowns, ripped the mayor for not saving enough money in his budget, chastised the Vision Zero transportation safety plan and demanded more cops in schools. He has also overseen a delicate investigation into a colleague accused of harassment.
James Molinaro, the 87-year-old former borough president and Conservative Party leader, has kept his kingmaker status among right-leaning Republicans on the island. So far Molinaro is staying out of Michael Grimm's uphill battle against Rep. Dan Donovan, but he maintains an influential role in the borough’s Conservative Party and could play a role in that race. Continuing efforts that began while he was borough president, he has also lobbied for the redevelopment of the Staten Island waterfront, including a new outlet mall and a Ferris wheel.
Correction: An earlier version of this profile incorrectly stated that Molinaro is backing Grimm.
When elected officials in Staten Island leave office, they tend to stay involved in the community. The poster boy for that trend is Vincent Ignizio, the former New York City Council minority leader who left office in 2015 to take his current position as CEO of Catholic Charities of Staten Island. Since taking the job, he has been as active as ever in the community, capitalizing on his political ties to help feed the hungry and provide shelter for the homeless.
New investment has been pouring into Staten Island and its population is expanding, but New York City needs a master plan to ensure residents have opportunities to continue to live and work there. Enter Cesar Claro who, as president and CEO of the Staten Island Economic Development Corp. for more than two decades, is a key link between state and local government and the private sector. Claro also is involved in philanthropy as the executive director of the Richmond County Savings Foundation.
When you give nearly $60 million to 700 community organizations in the borough, you make a lot of friends. Betsy Dubovsky has led The Staten Island Foundation almost since its inception, doling out grants to improve the health and education of the borough’s residents. The foundation recently funded an early childhood initiative for North Shore children and is working with District 31 Superintendent Anthony Lodico to help disadvantaged students succeed on achievement tests and graduate from high school.
The 35-year-old South Shore councilman, “The Hill” contributor and early Trump endorser hoped to get a call from the White House about a staff job, but Joe Borelli is probably better off in New York City. The council minority whip’s stock is rising in a city where there are few Republican officeholders. The future looks bright, and Borelli is focused on expanding property tax relief for veterans and getting the Trump and de Blasio administrations to curb opioid abuse in the borough.
The deputy borough president is always the most popular guy in the room (sorry, Jimmy). Edward Burke has served Staten Island in some capacity for more than three decades, corralling tourists to visit its parks, beaches and cultural centers, promoting small businesses and commercial redevelopment, and even serving as master of ceremonies for the Staten Island Zoo’s Groundhog Day celebration. Burke, who is well-known across the borough, also serves on various boards and is deeply involved in the community.
Can you name a more iconic duo of Staten Island power brokers? We’ll wait. Vincent Pitta and Jon Del Giorno go together like mozzarella and marinara sauce. Only a decade old, their eponymous lobbying firm has risen to become one of the top firms in New York City, representing multiple unions, the Richmond University Medical Center, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden and Empire Outlets, which has snagged $66 million in state economic development grants with their help.
The 37-year-old lawmaker did better than expected in her long shot bid to topple New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last year with 28 percent of the vote. Nearly a quarter of Nicole Malliotakis’ support came from Staten Island, where she trounced de Blasio by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. Now that people have gotten to know her, she’s become one of the state’s leading conservative voices and could run for Congress or borough president when she’s ready to leave Albany.
Living in New York City when you have nothing is not easy. But for more than three decades, Staten Island’s neediest residents have depended on Terry Troia and Project Hospitality to give them shelter and a filling meal. State and city leaders count on the Reformed Church minister too, appointing her to boards and task forces on homelessness, reducing HIV and AIDS and helping runaway youth. Plus, her organization was on the front lines of the Superstorm Sandy response.
The North Shore Democrat is making his move this year to run for Surrogate’s Court after a decade in Albany. The borough’s first gay elected official is leaving the state Legislature, where he helped legalize same-sex marriage and passed various animal welfare bills. But the court is in his blood, as his father served on the state Court of Appeals. The Democrat will face Richmond County Public Administrator Anthony Catalano and, if he gets to the general, Republican Assemblyman Ron Castorina Jr.
William Fritz can smell what “The Rock” is cooking. The College of Staten Island’s president is an internationally renowned field geologist who has written more than 50 articles on sedimentation around active and dormant volcanoes as well as on paleobotany and stratigraphy. There aren’t any volcanoes near Willowbrook that we know of, so Fritz has instead focused on making the CUNY school one of the best “bang-for-the-buck” colleges in the Northeast, according to one publication.
This could be Ron Castorina Jr.’s year. When Jimmy Oddo said he wouldn’t run for Surrogate’s Court judge, the assemblyman saw an opening. He announced he would be leaving elected office to run for Surrogate’s Court judge and has resigned as Staten Island Republican Party chairman. It could be a heavyweight fight against Democratic Assemblyman Matthew Titone, who is also seeking the post. Castorina’s move will set off a round of musical chairs for both of his positions among the borough’s ambitious conservatives.
The senior opinion writer at the Staten Island Advance has seen it all, so it takes a lot to rattle him. A secret congressional family? Yawn. Michael Grimm’s impetuous threats? Predictable. An army of emasculated deer traipsing across the borough’s open spaces? Now you’re talking! Tom Wrobleski has been one of the borough’s top thought leaders and a steady voice of reason at the Advance since he joined the newspaper in 1995 as a reporter covering police and fire.
Will the jury please rise for Stephen J. Fiala. The popular former New York City councilman has been shuttling jurors through the Staten Island Supreme Court since 2001, when then-Gov. George Pataki appointed him Richmond County clerk. He has since sat on the New York City Charter Revision Commission, which reviewed city government from top to bottom and helped Jimmy Oddo get ready for Borough Hall, while continuing to play an active behind-the-scenes role in the island’s Republican politics.
To the vicar go the spoils. The Jersey City, New Jersey, native and Seton Hall University alum has risen to become one of the highest-ranking religious leaders in New York City. Since Cardinal Timothy Dolan appointed him auxiliary bishop of New York in 2014 to oversee churches on Staten Island, he helped with the diocese’s long-term planning, marched to decry gun violence and subbed in for Dolan to lead Christmas Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral last year when Dolan was ill.
As the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island’s dynamic leader, David Sorkin has transformed the organization over the past decade by doubling its budget, cultivating a membership that has grown tenfold and shepherding construction of its new 120,000-square-foot Sea View facility. And that’s not to mention a slew of innovative programs, including a summer day camp for children with cancer. Who knew that the promised land was just off Interstate 278?
The longest-serving president of Wagner College boosted the school’s reputation while emerging as a national leader in higher education. In the 16 years he has been president, Richard Guarasci developed a four-year undergraduate curriculum, founded a civic engagement partnership between Wagner and Port Richmond High School and helped its endowment grow from $4 million to nearly $100 million. In January, Guarasci announced he will retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year. He will be sorely missed.
The Rev. Victor Brown, senior pastor of Mount Sinai United Christian Church for more than 30 years, has served as a spiritual adviser for the family of Eric Garner, who died during a controversial encounter with police officers in 2014. Since then, Brown has burnished a reputation as a bridge builder between his Tompkinsville community and the NYPD while calling for a more compassionate police force. Change does not happen overnight, but Brown is helping lead the way.
Tom Feeney Jr. is hitting his stride two and a half years into his job as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's man in St. George. The recent American University alum and former executive director of the Staten Island Democratic Party represents the governor at events throughout the borough, helps coordinate his visits and relays constituent concerns to the executive chamber. Politicos should keep an eye on him as a number of legislative seats begin to open up in the coming years.
Staten Islanders entrust FDNY Borough Commander Richard Howe and the rest of his firefighters to help them when a fire or medical emergency occurs. It’s a tough job and perhaps the hardest in the five boroughs. Firefighters and emergency medical services workers are arriving at fires and health crises more quickly since 2015 and the borough had the fewest fire deaths in the city in 2016, even though there were more 911 calls. Howe’s efforts are partially to thank.
Staten Island’s top cop has come home. The assistant chief worked in Southern Brooklyn for most of his 30-year career, but he’s called The Rock home for the past 23 years. Now that he has replaced Edward Delatorre at the helm of the Patrol Borough Staten Island, Corey says his top priority is to stop drug overdoses, acknowledging cops can’t “arrest their way out of the problem,” and also to reduce traffic fatalities and domestic violence.
Whoever replaces him on the bench next year will have some “gigante” shoes to fill. Robert Gigante, a Democrat who has served as Staten Island Surrogate's Court judge since 2007, is the first borough resident to serve as president of the Surrogate's Association of the State of New York. He has also served on multiple boards and founded a nonprofit that provides after-school programming. His forced retirement, due to age, already has a few politicos angling for his seat.
When Staten Island drivers are speeding too fast on your street, traffic is a mess or you think a nearby avenue could use a bike lane, better call Tom. For the past decade, Tom Cocola has been the city’s point person for all matters involving roads, bridges and ferries. These days he’s managing new traffic circles on Greeley Avenue, breaking ground on a waterfront plaza at Richmond Terrace and finally opening up lower level boarding at both ferry terminals.
Community Education Council 31 President Michael Reilly decided against a long shot mayoral run last year. But he could still play an outsized role in shaping public schools in Staten Island now that New York City has a new schools chancellor who has little familiarity with how city schools work. The Eltingville resident and former NYPD lieutenant has criticized the state’s standardized testing policies and its now-discarded Common Core curriculum.
Staten Island’s most trusted reporter delivers the latest news around the borough every night on NY1. Amanda Farinacci has chronicled all manner of stories in her home county since 2004, covering scandal-scarred congressional candidates, the death of Eric Garner and the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy’s devastation, which earned her Emmy nominations. Another Emmy-nominated exclusive on a Staten Island attorney’s misleading political Facebook posts led to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the matter.
Since coming to Staten Island in the 1980s after growing up in Miami and then studying in Israel, the borough has become the promised land for Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield, who has led Young Israel of Staten Island for nearly 20 years now. The Orthodox shul has blossomed into one of the most dynamic temples in the whole city and its community is growing thanks to its array of programs for children and families as well as services for the developmentally disabled.
The former boxing trainer is known for his pugnacious analysis as a ringside commentator for ESPN, but the Staten Island native has generously helped his hometown through his charity. Since 1997, The Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation has operated boxing clubs, awarded college scholarships, paid medical costs for kids with cancer and given away turkeys on Thanksgiving and presents on Christmas. Now if only someone could get him to promote a Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden charity boxing match.
Justice Desmond Green has risen quickly through the court system since he was first elected as a Civil Court judge in 2004. After dispensing criminal verdicts and winning a judicial election in 2013, Green was named the administrative judge for both criminal and civil matters in Richmond County last year. The former Brooklyn assistant district attorney has won plaudits from his peers, and the borough’s Trial Lawyers Association honored him last year for his “fortitude and thirst for knowledge.”
It’s been a hectic year for Allyn J. Crawford, who was just named Richmond County Bar Association president last year. The University at Albany and Brooklyn Law School graduate has been representing homeowners, developers, small businesses and trade associations around the state through the law firm he founded in 2006. Now Crawford is the go-to attorney to speak on legal matters across the borough. He’s also served on numerous community boards and is an active scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts.
The South Shore’s favorite power couple share a love of politics and civic engagement. Charlene is the longtime district manager of Staten Island Community Board 3, representing the borough’s southernmost enclaves. Harold is the chairman of the borough’s Conservative Party chapter, endorsing right-leaning candidates for higher office up and down the ballot. Together they encourage Staten Islanders looking to make a difference while working with community leaders to solve problems in their neighborhood.
A growing opioid crisis has gripped Staten Island in recent years, and few are doing more to combat this epidemic than Luke Nasta. For nearly half a century, Nasta has been saving lives through his nonprofit Camelot, which serves as the borough’s only residential chemical dependency treatment program. Nasta knows firsthand how challenging the process can be for addicts, as a heroin addiction nearly killed him until he checked into a drug treatment facility at the age of 25.
It’s no “quirk” that one of the state’s longest-serving labor leaders resides in Staten Island. Dennis Quirk has led the State Court Officers Association for decades, pushing for adequate staffing levels in the courtrooms and taking no prisoners in political feuds. He is also a successful businessman, and like many Staten Islanders, he gives back to his community, serving on the boards of the St. Joseph Hill Academy and the Richmond University Medical Center.
The Staten Island NAACP chapter president knew Martin Luther King Jr. and thinks the reverend would be disappointed with today’s political climate. But Edward C. Josey, a civil rights leader, is known for having a calming effect in a crisis. He continues to fight for racial justice and equality, demanding that New York City Hall end segregation in public schools, the NYPD reduce unwarranted stops and searches, and that all New Yorkers work to end racism and intolerance.
Staten Island is lucky to have a compassionate humanitarian on its shores. Under Diane Arneth’s leadership, Community Health Action of Staten Island expanded from an agency of six employees to 120 and a budget that increased by a factor of 40. With those resources, Arneth and her team have helped people suffering from substance abuse, domestic violence, chronic illness and hunger as well as navigating health insurance plans. In October, she was recognized with the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.
At a time when local news is struggling around the country, Caroline Diamond Harrison has helped keep her beloved Staten Island Advance steady as a rock. Being a media mogul must be in her blood. The first cousin once removed of S.I. and Donald Newhouse and daughter of longtime Advance Publisher Richard Diamond, Harrison started her career as an intern reporter at the Advance. In 2004, she became its publisher and was just named president of Advance Local in January.
Representing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio where he won only 26 percent of the vote last year can be a difficult job. But Amoy Barnes, a Staten Island native and Curtis High School graduate, efficiently handles complaints and requests, supports programs like universal prekindergarten and assists with the mayor’s popular whistle-stop visits to residents’ homes. Barnes, who interned for then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton and state Sen. Diane Savino, is another rising star in Democratic circles.