New York's political power couples

Sid Davidoff and Linda Stasi.
Sid Davidoff and Linda Stasi.
Submitted photo
Sid Davidoff and Linda Stasi with Mayor Bill de Blasio officiating at their wedding.

New York's political power couples

Romantic relationships that have flowered in New York's political world.
February 13, 2018

What’s more complicated than politics? Perhaps one thing is love – yet some people try to combine the two. This Valentine’s Day, City & State is celebrating five politically connected couples in New York who have survived everything that mixing love and politics can bring.

Daniel O'Donnell and John Banta.jpg

Daniel O'Donnell and John Banta
Daniel O'Donnell and John Banta
Submitted photo

DANNY O’DONNELL & JOHN BANTA

Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell represents Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Manhattan Valley and Morningside Heights, and John Banta is the director of special events at the Metropolitan Opera. The two met in college in 1978.  

How did you meet?

Danny: We met when we were 17 at Catholic University. I was studying political science, and John was studying theater. For two years we were inseparable friends, so much so that people would refer to us as “Danny and John” rather than individually. Back then the idea of being more than friends was something I never could have considered. One night John kissed me and from there my life was changed forever. That day transformed me like the frog and princess fairy tale, except John was a prince instead of a princess.

John: It was a leap of faith. Danny was my best friend, and I think our relationship has lasted all these years because it was founded on conversation, dinners, and laughter. Forty years later, those are still some of the most important parts of it.

Do your professional lives ever overlap?

John: Danny serves as the chair of the Assembly Committee on Arts & Tourism, and I’m the director of special events at the Metropolitan Opera. I like to think that the events at the Met Opera are a little more fun than committee hearings in Albany, but they’re still work. We know we’d be there for each other if need be, but it’s nice to be able to relax.

Danny: There’s only so many hors d'oeuvres that a person can eat.  Tiny food isn’t my thing. But John’s right, we really like to be able to enjoy the time we spend together. We’re patrons of the arts and love spending time upstate together, which is related to our work, but being able to enjoy those things without it feeling like work makes us all the more effective.

Have you ever disagreed on a political issue?

Both: Of course!

Danny: We’re both opinionated New Yorkers. But I think that those discussions are crucial. Most importantly I know that when it really matters, John will fight right next to me. It took us five years to pass marriage equality in New York. And I say us because John was with me during the marriage lawsuit in which we were plaintiffs, and he was with me during the emotional roller coaster of passing the marriage equality bill five times in the Assembly and watching it die in the Senate year after year until 2011. John was integral to its passage, introducing himself to my colleagues and explaining why this was important to our community, and convincing some of its toughest opponents to change their mind.

John: Every couple disagrees on things, especially if they’re both passionate about progress. Our disagreements are rarely about the issue at its core, but what we factor into our decision. I often revel in analysis of the nuances, while Danny takes a more direct and decided path to his decision. We usually end up in the same place, but it can be a process. I think those moments highlight what teamwork is about; our differences serve as our biggest contributions to our relationship.

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Carmen de la Rosa and Jose Louis Espiritusanto
Carmen de la Rosa and Jose Louis Espiritusanto
Submitted photo

JOSE LOUIS ESPIRITUSANTO & CARMEN DE LA ROSA

Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa represents the 72nd District, which includes Washington Heights and Inwood in Manhattan. She has been married to Jose Louis Espiritusanto, chief of staff to New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, for a little over a year after dating for six years.

How did you meet?

We met at a political event for Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez. At the time Carmen was the councilman's legislative and budget director and Jose was working for then-state Sen. Adriano Espaillat.

Do your professional lives ever overlap?

Our political lives overlap almost daily as we both work within the same community. Tackling the issues that affect everyday New Yorkers and specifically the residents of Northern Manhattan.

Have you ever disagreed on a political issue?

We often disagree on approach and strategy but the end goals are always in line as far as ideology and common purpose.

Sid Davidoff Linda Stasi.jpeg

Sid Davidoff Linda Stasi
Sid Davidoff and Linda Stasi
Submitted photo

SID DAVIDOFF & LINDA STASI

Linda Stasi is a columnist for New York Daily News and a novelist with several published works, including “The Sixth Station” and “Book of Judas.” Her spouse, Sid Davidoff, is a founding partner of Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron. Four years ago, they were the first couple to be married by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

How did you meet?

LS: Our meeting is almost an embarrassing New York City cliché. Yes, we met at Opera in the Park way back around 1989. I was with my best friend who is gay and he was with a date. He thought I was dating my friend and still managed to hit on me when my friend was talking to someone else. I hated him. He didn’t care. We finally got married in 2014.

Do your professional lives ever overlap?

LS: Our professional lives are an overlapping nightmare. As a lawyer he is politically active among the very politicians and power brokers I often write about and investigate – and not kindly. When we were the first couple married by Mayor de Blasio, he joked, “Does this get me off the hook from your column for a week?” I said, “Hell no, Mr. Mayor, hell no.”

Have you ever disagreed on a political issue?

LS: The question should be: Have you ever agreed on a political issue? But in reality we do hold the same basic principles and believe in doing what’s right – no matter the consequences.

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Anne Ackerley David Lewis
Anne Ackerley and David Lewis
Submitted photo

DAVID LEWIS & ANNE ACKERLEY

David Lewis is the metropolitan news editor for New York Public Radio and Anne Ackerley is a managing director at BlackRock, where she runs the firm's U.S. & Canada Defined Contribution Group.

How did you meet?

We met randomly at a hole-in-the-wall bar named Pedro’s on the Upper East Side. We were each out with friends, and we wound up at the Surf Club together. Our first dance was to “Heroes,” by David Bowie. That was 33 years ago next month. It’s still a great song.

Do your professional lives ever overlap?

Not much. We discuss our professional lives and how the day went and we ask each other for advice. But we keep our work responsibilities separate. We’ve built a barrier around the particulars to avoid conflicts of interest, and that’s worked pretty well for us over the years.

Have you ever disagreed on a political issue?

Probably. Maybe one day we’ll share them with you.

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Rima Brusi Jose Luis Cruz
Rima Brusi and Jose Luis Cruz
Submitted photo

JOSE LUIS CRUZ & RIMA BRUSI

José Luis Cruz is the third president of Lehman College of The City University of New York and, and is married to Rima Brusi, who is an independent scholar teaching at Lehman College. They were both born in Puerto Rico but now live in the Bronx, and have five children.

How did you meet?

We were professors at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. Rima worked in the social sciences department, José Luis in the electrical engineering department. But we had never met. It was a small research project led by the English department that brought us together. The project sought to understand how instructors in very different disciplines and courses used writing to increase student learning, and Rima (who was helping carry out the interviews) ended up interviewing José Luis. After spending a couple of weeks engaged in a virtual and nerdy conversation about a subject they both knew little about (biology), he finally asked her out to dinner. They've been together since.

Do your professional lives ever overlap?

Always. We were academics and talked about the classroom and the institution at work and at home. At one point we even shared an office. When José Luis became vice president of student affairs of the University of Puerto Rico System, he focused on the issues of access and success of low-income students. Meanwhile, Rima led a project that included research, outreach, and advocacy on behalf of some of the most disadvantaged populations of the island.

This shared purpose continued when they moved to Washington, D.C., to work at a nonprofit research and advocacy organization focused on educational equity. And their work together continued after José Luis moved on to become provost of Cal State Fullerton and then president of Lehman College. During this time, Rima took care of the family, developed an independent scholarly, writing and advocacy agenda, and supported José Luis with numerous ambitious initiatives to increase equity and student success in higher education. Their journey together has informed their current quest to help Lehman College double the number of degrees and credentials that its students earn by the year 2030.

Have you ever disagreed on a political issue?

Honestly, no. We have frequent discussions and conversations on the details of implementing social justice and equity principles, and we do not always agree right away, but we are continually learning from and educating each other. We do try to make the other think and get out of their comfort zone and are each other's first reader of written pieces (and critique each other firmly but helpfully). Our shared belief in the need to tackle inequality and increase social and economic opportunity has been there from the start and played (and still plays) a significant role in bringing us together.  

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the names of Jose Louis Espiritusanto and Anne Ackerley. An earlier post also had the wrong title for Ackerley. She is a managing director at BlackRock, not the managing director. 

Fernanda Nunes
is a reporting intern at City & State.
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