Brooklyn Democratic Party Chairman Frank Seddio is the public face of the county’s political organization, but the party’s counsel Frank Carone helps many ambitious politicians get what they want. That doesn’t always happen of course – New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson boxed out Seddio’s choice of Brooklyn Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr., and newly mobilized leftist candidates could score primary upsets in September. But the Abrams Fensterman executive partner remains a key gatekeeper helping elect candidates and boost politicians.
Brooklyn Power 50; 11-50
In compiling a list of the borough’s leaders, we came up with so many local movers and shakers that it was hard to whittle down the list to a manageable number.
In this special issue, we recognize 50 people in the borough who are key players in the world of New York politics and government. Since we cover politicians on a day-to-day basis, we limited this list to those who are not strictly in government but instead influence it from the outside.
We reached out to insiders and experts to compile this list, ranking each person based on their accomplishments, sway in political and policy matters, economic clout, philanthropic efforts, ties to powerful politicians and the constituencies they represent.
Without further ado, we’re pleased to present the Brooklyn Power 50.
The better half of Brooklyn’s top power couple (the mayor and first lady now live in Manhattan’s Gracie Mansion) is the chief operating officer of the New York Public Library and, in Brooklyn, has helped make Prospect Park the most beautiful green space in New York City. In addition to exchanging ideas with her husband, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, Iris Weinshall recently celebrated the anniversaries of Prospect Park (150 years!) and the Prospect Park Alliance (30 years).
What does the CEO of Forest City New York, who spearheaded Pacific Park, one of the most complex real estate projects in Brooklyn’s history, do for an encore? Why, start her own firm. MaryAnne Gilmartin launched her own development firm L&L MAG in January, taking a slew of Forest City executives with her. The connection won’t be severed. She plans to serve as a liaison with government agencies to help Forest City build 2,250 affordable units on the 22-acre Downtown Brooklyn site.
The Rev. A.R. Bernard has hosted political hopefuls at his Christian Cultural Center megachurch on Flatlands Avenue for a generation. The influential religious leader – and short-lived 2013 mayoral contender – recently made waves when he quit President Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board last August, the first pastor to do so. He has continued to speak out against the Trump administration, calling its immigration policy of separating families at the border an “atrocity.”
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio keeps a lower profile than his Manhattan counterpart Cardinal Timothy Dolan, but the Brooklynite has been just as forceful critiquing congressional policies on immigration. Recognizing that many of his parishioners are Mexican and Central American immigrants, DiMarzio slammed President Donald Trump's proposals as “restrictionism, somewhat based on racism.” And he wrote an editorial in the Daily News decrying the Trump administration’s policies that separated children from their parents at the border and use of migrants as “bargaining chips.”
The Brooklyn Nets may not be the best team in the NBA (they missed the playoffs last year) and the New York Islanders can’t wait to play hockey back in Nassau County, but Maureen Hanlon and Brett Yormark have built up the Barclays Center into the city’s premiere home for sports and entertainment. Yormark is also working to renovate the LIU Brooklyn Paramount Theater, which would seat 3,000 people and rival Radio City Music Hall with music and comedy.
Brooklyn’s favorite son has a broader portfolio these days as the president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Carlo Scissura is pushing for New York City to raze the Gowanus Expressway and replace it with a tunnel, and is also advocating for an overhaul of the MTA, including an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport. And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio just named him secretary of the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission.
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s President and CEO Andrew Hoan stepped down in May, but the chamber is in good hands with Rick Russo. The chamber’s new acting president has spent four decades working on economic development in New York City, and most recently helped make the influential group’s centennial celebration a success. Fun facts about Rick: He was the associate producer of the Village Halloween Parade for a decade and was an executive producer on the John Cage Meets Sun Ra concert album in 1986.
David Kramer’s 36-story condo tower is the biggest project to hit Cadman Plaza in years. His Hudson Cos. real estate firm is developing affordable housing projects across New York City, but its revamp of the Brooklyn Heights library branch, purchased for $52 million, is the crown jewel in his portfolio. Hudson signed the deal last summer and the project will feature a new three-floor library opening in 2020, plenty of off-site affordable housing and condos with an average price of $3.6 million.
The careers of siblings Gina and Tony Argento are like something out of a movie. Tony helped found Broadway Stages, a growing company providing production space across the outer boroughs for films and television shows. Gina, who now runs the company, plans to convert a former Staten Island prison into a movie studio. And with Gina’s support for politicians like Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the governor’s extension of the state film tax credit, there’s more shows on the way.
Since being named president of Brooklyn College in 2016, Michelle Anderson has steadied the borough’s flagship public university. She defused tensions among students and staff while discouraging police from using campus restrooms following a controversial NYPD undercover investigation of Muslim students. And she put together a daylong conference addressing what universities can do to help Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria’s devastation. An expert on the law of rape and sexual assault, she previously served as a dean at CUNY School of Law.
In a city with no shortage of crisis communications consultants, Risa Heller stands out for her effectiveness and her behind the scenes ties. She cut her teeth in the office of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, where many top communications professionals got started, and has assisted such figures as David Paterson, Anthony Weiner and Ivanka Trump. The Brooklyn-based PR wunderkind is now speeding ahead with her political and corporate clients and expanding her firm with smart veteran hires, including Jake Goldman.
Now is a great time to be a progressive Democrat, and Doug Forand has Red Horse Strategies well positioned to help insurgent candidates on the left. After shepherding the Brooklyn City Council re-election campaigns of Carlos Menchaca, Mark Treyger and Antonio Reynoso, along with a dozen others, Red Horse boosted Yonkers Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer to the state Senate and nearly toppled Rep. Yvette Clarke with rising star Adem Bunkeddeko. They’re taking to heart the lessons of 2016 – to compete everywhere.
Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak is a star, man. The leading art museum’s David Bowie exhibition surpassed 2 million visitors as part of its five-year worldwide tour, was a hit with critics and has brought record-breaking crowds to Eastern Parkway. Pasternak, who came on in 2015, is also seizing the moment with her emphasis on social justice – even though the museum has found itself in the crosshairs of activists for a recent curatorial hire.
Since 2015, Katy Clark has led the venerable Brooklyn Academy of Music high atop the city’s cultural heap while avoiding some of the workplace pratfalls that have befallen rivals at Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Clark instead has kept the drama where it belongs – on the stage with an eclectic lineup of film and live programming – while making good hires, including former “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” producer David Binder as artistic director.
Woodhull Medical Center is both the first and last resort for many North Brooklyn residents seeking medical care, and CEO Gregory Calliste is expanding the public hospital’s offerings. In December, Woodhull, which is part of the New York City Health + Hospitals system, launched its new Pride Health Center, which New York City first lady Chirlane McCray lauded as a “safe haven,” providing LGBT patients with primary care, obstetric and gynecologic care, HIV testing, hormone therapy and other services.
The former New York City councilman representing Brooklyn Heights has carved out an influential niche as a real estate attorney, lobbyist and political sage at Cozen O’Connor. Kenneth Fisher has been consulting on dozens of rezoning projects throughout the city as the mayor advances an ambitious affordable housing plan. Fisher also helps lawmakers and journalists alike understand complex land use matters and political machinations – like last year’s council speaker race, which he called “three-dimensional chess where the pawns get to make their own deals.”
As a Brooklyn-based PR maven, Joni Yoswein deals with City Hall and Albany budgets, land use and grass-roots campaigns – exactly what you’d expect from a former assemblywoman. No wonder the most important institutions, developers and trade groups in town – including the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Law School, Thor Equities, Two Trees Management, Industry City and Ikea – have hired her company. Yoswein even hosts an annual Turkey Classic to raise money for scholarships at St. Francis College.
As dean of the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, Katepalli Sreenivasan has kept the Downtown Brooklyn-based school on firm footing while finalizing NYU’s merger with Brooklyn Polytechnic. On his watch, hundreds of graduates have helped spur Brooklyn’s thriving tech sector, including a growing number of women. After five years on the job, Sreenivasan, who is also an accomplished experimental physicist, is passing the torch to Jelena Kovačević, the school’s first female dean and a biomedical engineer from Carnegie Mellon University.
Affordable housing developer Martin Dunn has found a willing partner in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. His Dunn Development Corp. has embarked on a half dozen projects totaling 633 housing units – 531 of them affordable – since de Blasio took office as part of an effort to create or preserve hundreds of thousands of below-market-rate units. Four of those projects are in East New York, adding new vitality to the neighborhood while keeping people in their homes.
Few organizations in New York have grappled with external crises as formidable as Make the Road New York has in the past year. The Bushwick-based immigration group has stared down a multitude of threats, including immigration raids, family separations, the revocation of temporary protective status for Salvadoran workers and the likely reduction in funding following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision. But politics has reinvigorated Make the Road New York, which has stood up to the White House – and Gov. Andrew Cuomo – despite the consequences.
It’s no easy task to run a nonprofit hospital when uncertainty over subsidized insurance is high and health care costs are rising. But Maimonides Medical Center President and CEO Kenneth Gibbs has helped fortify the southern Brooklyn hospital and expand its medical services. In addition to having the borough’s only pediatric trauma center, Maimonides announced a new partnership with New York Community Hospital in January, opened a new spinal center in March and appointed a new vice chairman of orthopedics in June.
New York City’s higher education world has been abuzz over who will replace former CUNY Chancellor James Milliken, who recently stepped down. One name that kept surfacing is Medgar Evers College President Rudy Crew, who once ran the city’s public school system under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Among his many accomplishments is the Pipeline program, which Crew launched in 2014 to reduce the number of college freshmen who require remedial classes – and the number fell from 85 percent to 68 percent in just two years.
As Brooklyn’s most powerful Hasidic Jewish leader, David Niederman performs two functions: providing housing, job training and other needed services to Williamsburg’s Satmar community and corralling votes in his bloc for preferred candidates during elections. He’s been remarkably successful, maintaining strong relationships with both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo while protecting his community’s way of life, most recently going on the offensive to prevent legislators from requiring beefed up writing, math and reading curricula at yeshivas.
Frances Bronet, a former leader at Illinois Institute of Technology, brought executive experience as well as architecture and engineering expertise when she came on this year, replacing Thomas Schutte. She benefits from a strong faculty, including Ron Shiffman, the co-founder of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development. For decades, Shiffman, the former city Planning Commission member, has urged planners to make neighborhoods more livable, and his most enduring legacy may be populating government agencies with planners who thrived under his tutelage.
The economic development whiz’s fortunes have risen like gleaming condo towers off Flatbush Avenue. The former Downtown Brooklyn Partnership president launched his own real estate consulting firm, Totem, two years ago. Reed has picked up clients like The Rabsky Group with its Fulton Street office development and Hello Alfred, a startup that helps tenants with their chores. And he’s even found the time to write insightful essays about the Brooklyn rental market for The Bridge.
The de Blasio administration may not have the track record of the cycling-friendly Bloomberg administration, but that hasn’t deterred Paul Steely White. His Transportation Alternatives organization has notched victories for riders across the borough, including new bike lanes, a car-free Prospect Park and redesigns at the entrance to the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges. Getting the state to pass congestion pricing and the city to effectively manage traffic during the L train shutdown loom on the horizon.
Rick Zimmerman was named TD Bank’s regional vice president for Brooklyn-Staten Island in 2012, bringing more than two decades of experience in banking and lending. His past experience includes stints at Sterling National Bank and Wachovia Bank, where he focused on the New York City and Long Island markets, and as a senior loan officer at TD Bank starting in 2010. In his current role, he oversees around 25 banks across the borough and beyond.
Former Maimonides Medical Center executive Dominick Stanzione has a gargantuan task of running the nonprofit Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center with its catchment area of nearly 1 million Brooklynites. Fortunately, the hospital, along with Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, is a recipient of $700 million in state aid that will allow it to partner with community health centers, develop 2,000 units of affordable housing on underutilized properties and launch a network of 32 new ambulatory care centers.
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo wanted to speak at an African-American church on a Sunday after Cynthia Nixon declared her candidacy, he called the Rev. Clinton Miller. Surprisingly, the Brown Memorial Baptist Church pastor declined, saying the governor had not helped enough minority- and women-owned businesses. This month, he signed a letter chiding Nixon for auctioning drug paraphernalia at a fundraiser. Miller is one of the few religious leaders in Brooklyn who can call his own shots with politicians, something both candidates are realizing.
Since she landed at the Brooklyn Community Foundation five years ago, Cecilia Clarke has nudged the venerable charity toward encouraging local social activism while recruiting a cross-section of philanthropists – without holding a major gala. She has held roundtables with experts, moved its headquarters to Crown Heights and distributed $5.4 million to nonprofit programs last year – $1.5 million more than the previous year. Much of that went to youth initiatives, helping the next generation of Brooklyn leaders fight for social change.
Bertha Lewis is a survivor. Following the dissolution of ACORN, the largest community activist organization in the country, Lewis founded The Black Institute in 2010 to shape public policy. Once an ally to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Lewis isn’t afraid to criticize him, calling his administration “incompetent and immoral” over the city’s rate of contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses. These days she’s going all-in with Cynthia Nixon against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, citing the incumbent’s “disingenuous” recent visits to NYCHA.
Donald Boomgaarden took the helm of St. Joseph’s College of New York a year ago, and so far it looks like a good fit. The president of the quaint Clinton Hill-based private Catholic college has pledged a deep love for the Roman Catholic Church and the school’s Jesuit tradition. Trained as a classical pianist and fiddler, he’s even taught a three-credit class on “North American Roots Music and the Birth of Bluegrass” at the school’s Patchogue campus.
It takes a patient and resourceful leader to tackle the intractable problems of urban homelessness, and Monique George is up to the challenge. As an organizer with experience at the New York Public Interest Research Group, 1199SEIU, Empire State Pride Agenda and Community Voices Heard, George has brought a breadth of experience since stepping into her role as executive director of Picture the Homeless last year. She’ll play a key role as the de Blasio administration tries to help homeless New Yorkers.
Since joining the Brooklyn Community Pride Center as its executive director in 2016, Floyd Rumohr has galvanized supporters to demonstrate for gay rights while securing grants from donors to keep its programs going. In January, the center received a $120,000 grant to establish a paid internship program for LGBT young professionals, which should go a long way toward connecting them with employment opportunities. Rumohr is also working to get progressives elected in the midterms to combat the national backlash against gay rights.
It takes a lot of spunk to argue that Brooklyn’s industrial areas are worth preserving more than, say, affordable housing. But Leah Archibald of Evergreen, which runs several industrial business zones, has made that case for more than a decade. City Hall may finally be listening as it works on a plan to preserve manufacturing in East Williamsburg. Archibald wants a public review process for nonindustrial development, a small step that may prevent hotels, music venues and housing from displacing high-paying industrial jobs.
Elizabeth Yeampierre is in high demand following Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico. The executive director of Uprose, a Latino community-based environmental justice organization, has fought for cleaner air, more green space and the passage of brownfield legislation throughout New York City. She has earned a national profile by organizing the People’s Climate March, while her advocacy work on lead paint removal is incredibly timely as NYCHA grapples with remediating lead in its housing developments.
Brooklyn really loves its telenovelas. The Spanish-language cable network HITN TV, the first Latino-controlled noncommercial media company, is growing so rapidly that Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network President and CEO Michael Nieves signed off on a 10-year deal in May to triple the amount of space it leases in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The larger headquarters will allow the network to make its own television shows and hire 40 to 65 new employees, doubling its current workforce at the Navy Yard.
When Brooklyn’s Russian-American population wants to know the latest gossip from Sheepshead Bay to the Caspian Sea, they turn on WSNR 620 AM, the Russian-language talk radio station owned by Gregory Davidzon. The media mogul is something of a local kingmaker, advising southern Brooklyn candidates who want to tap into the fertile Russian vote. Davidzon has been grappling with President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity in Brighton Beach, where support for both men may be among the strongest in the city.
It took a couple years but John Raskin finally got his fair fares. Raskin and his transit organizers at Riders Alliance have been one of the driving forces behind half-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, which the mayor and New York City Council included in this year’s budget. With victory in hand, Riders Alliance is tackling other transit crises, including a lethargic bus system, stalled congestion pricing proposals and the state’s underfunded commitments to the MTA.