50 Over 50 2018
50 Over 50 2018
Three years ago, former New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum asked us why City & State only honors people under 40. From this innocent question, City & State’s annual 50 Over 50 Awards were born.
This is our third year honoring 50 leaders who have distinguished themselves by helping New York in civic affairs. From crime prevention to education reform to vital nonprofit work, we are highlighting a wide array of leaders – some widely known and others who have become influential behind the scenes.
In this issue and at a gala event on Jan. 29, we recognize and thank these 50 people for making our city the greatest big city in America. We also highlight the work of 10 Lifetime Achievement award winners, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, activist and television host Rev. Al Sharpton, former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and seven other great New Yorkers.
If you know of a colleague or another New Yorker who deserves to be on this list next year, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
City & State President and Publisher
When he asked Bill Bratton to lead the NYPD again, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was coming off a campaign whose theme had been “A Tale of Two Cities.” The same could be said of the city Bratton returned to, at least compared to the one he’d helped turn around two decades before.
“We were able to, in a very short period of time, dramatically change not only the reality of safety in city, but the perception and feel of safety in the city,” Bratton recalled of his stint under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
When he returned in 2014, the CompStat system Bratton introduced was still in place, but the department's priorities had changed. Aside from keeping pace with evolving terrorist threats, Bratton had to reassure New Yorkers that crime wouldn’t rise under a progressive mayor and assuage minority communities over their concerns about stop and frisk.
Bratton said his job required exceptional precision in both the diagnosis and treatment of problems. “Like doctors, we try to do no harm – or minimal harm – to our patient while dealing with the illnesses,” he said.
Like many Americans, Patty Clark was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s call for civic action in his inaugural address. Decades later, she would join the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to help bring to fruition a public work that bore the late president’s name. For Clark, who had served as an aide to U.S. Sen. Patrick Moynihan, the importance of the AirTrain at Kennedy Airport transcended that particular infrastructure need. The city hadn’t completed a large work since the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
“It was important to say: ‘We can still do big projects,’” Clark recalled. “There was more riding on it than just the train itself.”
Not long after, Clark was on the 65th floor of the north tower when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11.
Much later, while attending a meeting after the site had been cleared, she noticed the stairs that had led her to safety were still standing. “The bottom was mostly destroyed,” she said, “but the top was as pristine as on Sept. 10, 2001.” Today the Survivors’ Staircase stands in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Mayoral metaphors are not known for being colorful – with one exception. New York City: The Gorgeous Mosaic. It was David Dinkins, the first African-American mayor of New York City, whose trope captured the collective imagination, but the idea actually came from Peter Johnson, a friend who used to write speeches for him.
“I like to mention it,” Dinkins said, “because everybody remembers that Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ But that was written for him by Ted Sorensen.”
On the topic of credit, many believe Dinkins deserves more for the decline in crime that began under his watch. His administration's Safe Streets, Safe City program significantly increased the size of the NYPD.
Since 1994, when Dinkins started serving on the Columbia University faculty, many students have approached him for advice.
“I say if your reason for wishing to be involved in government or politics is because you envision seeing your name in lights, you’re not properly motivated,” he said. “You should seek office because you want to help people.”
As a first-generation American who learned English in public classrooms, Carmen Fariña felt she needed to “pay it forward.”
“I think everything I accomplished, I accomplished through having good teachers and good educational experiences,” she said.
Her father, who fled Galicia during the Spanish Civil War, probably agreed that teaching was a good fit. “(He) said I always had something in me that was a little bossy,” Fariña joked.
Though she began her career in the classroom, Fariña would eventually serve as a deputy chancellor under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The next mayor, Bill de Blasio, coaxed her out of retirement and, as chancellor of the country’s largest school system, Fariña would implement universal pre-K, widely seen as his signature achievement.
Fariña also points to initiatives during her tenure, such as free SAT courses and the tripling of Advanced Placement courses, as important steps toward providing every student with the opportunity to attend college.
And just because Fariña will soon take a second stab at retirement doesn’t mean she won’t be heard from again. “An educator never really goes away,” she said.
While there may be some irony to an acclaimed Lincoln scholar serving as director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, Harold Holzer sees important commonalities between the two presidents. When confronted with unimaginable crises, for instance, each experimented.
“If they had not made government work to save government, we wouldn’t have a government,” he said.
Holzer has authored, co-authored or edited more than 50 books. One of those, "Lincoln on Democracy," Holzer co-edited with the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, whom he served as press secretary.
“Mario Cuomo was a such a brilliant writer and he knew his Lincoln,” he said.
More recently, Holzer wrote "Lincoln and the Power of the Press" – another area where a Roosevelt-Lincoln comparison is apt. Each president, in his day, was criticized for using new mediums to communicate – not unlike the current president and Twitter.
“The effective communicators are the ones who harness new media and make it work to their advantage,” Holzer said. “History and voters ultimately catch up with them if they’re not doing the right thing policywise."
In an era marked by concerns around economic inequality, count CUNY Chancellor James Milliken among those who believe public education represents the best hope for America to fulfill its promise as a land of opportunity.
“Education – and particularly public higher education – provides the opportunity to transform lives on a grand scale,” Milliken said. “Seventy percent of college degrees in this country are awarded by institutions of public higher education.”
For generations of New Yorkers, CUNY has served as an engine for economic mobility, and Milliken has made advancing that historical role a priority. Under his watch, CUNY has become the country’s largest provider of private scholarships for undocumented students. It has also started providing housing and support services to students coming out of foster care and implemented programming to help students graduate in a timely manner.
“Public higher education is an essential part of what’s made this country great,” said Milliken, who previously served as president of the University of Nebraska. “Countries around the world want to emulate what the United States has done over the last 70 years, so we can’t fall back now.”
Roberto Ramírez was a second-year law student when he was elected to the Bronx’s 78th Assembly District.
“I would go to Albany from January to July and then come back to NYU to learn about the legislation I’d just worked on,” Ramírez recalled.
Ramírez, who moved from Puerto Rico to the Bronx when he was 18, received his law degree at the “tender age of 43.”
In his decade as a legislator, Ramírez earned a reputation as an anti-discrimination crusader. He spent 40 days in prison for protesting the U.S. bombing of Vieques Island. In 2000, he left office to run Fernando Ferrer’s New York City mayoral campaign. Believing that the constituencies he’d represented “weren’t well-understood,” he co-founded the consulting firm MirRam Group.
As Ramírez sees it, politics is a “combination of art, magic and science.”
“When the magic comes in a campaign, you begin to feel there’s something special, a series of interconnected events that no one can explain,” he said. Then you apply some “science.” “When you do that, you create the art. You defy conventional wisdom, you defy gravity and you change the world.”
A Baptist minister, talk show host and founder of the National Action Network, few New Yorkers have cut a larger figure on the national stage in recent years than the Rev. Al Sharpton. And few Americans have been as staunch in confronting racial injustice.
Sharpton got an early start in civil rights, serving as youth director of the New York City branch of Operation Breadbasket, where he was schooled in the principles of nonviolent direct action practiced by Martin Luther King Jr. At the age of 16, he founded the National Youth Movement.
According to Sharpton, his “activism has evolved as the nation has evolved.” He can shout his message from the street or talk within the corridors of power. And while Sharpton believes that society has made some progress in police and criminal justice reform, he cautions against “congratulating ourselves” yet.
As for his own legacy, the reverend would like to be remembered as someone who “never deterred from fighting for equal rights for all. And (I) made my errors along the way, but always got up and kept fighting."
Queens Library is one of the largest library systems in the country, and the population it serves is among the world’s most diverse, so it’s fitting that the president and CEO works from the main floor of its Central Library, a building he spent time in as a student.
“That type of accessibility is important for people,” said Dennis Walcott, a lifelong Queens resident.
Indeed, public libraries have evolved over the years to offer a wide spectrum of services, but their fundamental premise remains: open to all.
“I believe libraries are the last true open democratic institution,” said Walcott, who has made democratic openness a central theme of his tenure.
In his career, Walcott has been chancellor of the New York City public school system, New York City deputy mayor and president of the New York Urban League.
“People come through our doors and leave more informed,” he said. “We provide a safe haven for individuals escaping the madness of the day or who need a place where they feel safe and comfortable, and that to me is what public service is about.”
When she was a teenager, Randi Weingarten’s mother, a teacher, went on strike. Weingarten would see up close the pain as well as solidarity. In 11th grade, in response to a teacher’s dismissal, Weingarten and fellow students banded together to fight budget cuts.
“That was one of my first experiences in taking action,” she recalled.
Years later, as president of the United Federation of Teachers, Weingarten led New York City's largest organizing campaign in half a century, unionizing 28,000 child care providers.
Reflecting on her UFT tenure, Weingarten said, “When I left, there was much more of a bond between teachers and community. I’m most proud of that, and that we raised teacher salaries.”
In 2008, Weingarten was elected to lead the American Federation of Teachers, becoming the first openly gay president of a national labor union.
“Public education creates prosperity for kids and young adults and a commitment to lifelong learning and the labor movement creates a vehicle for people to have a decent life," she said. "To merge both things together I feel like the luckiest person in the world."
As president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, Richard Aborn develops and implements solutions to improve the justice system, reduce illegal gun trafficking, stop youth violence and prevent cybercrime. Aborn is a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and former president of Handgun Control Inc. (now the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence). He also serves as president of CAAS LLC, which advises clients on criminal justice policy.
At Capalino+Company, Richard Barth is responsible for guiding housing and development projects from conception to approval. A former executive director of the New York City Department of City Planning, Barth oversaw the implementation of innovative rezonings and comprehensive neighborhood planning. “I am particularly proud to have played a key role in ... both the Hudson Yards project ... and the rezoning of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront,” he said.
Monica Blum got her start in government working for then-Rep. Ed Koch and served as executive director of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Appointments under former Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani. Blum is the founding president of the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District. “My single proudest professional accomplishment has been creating and growing a vibrant and vital nonprofit from scratch,” she said.
When he joined the Citizens Budget Commission in the early 1980s, Charles Brecher recalled, the organization “was at a low point due to the fiscal crisis and the absorption of its initial mission by state agencies.” Brecher helped rebuild the organization’s reputation as an independent, nonpartisan think tank. His work has promoted accountability in using sound fiscal practices. Brecher is a professor emeritus of public and health administration at New York University.
As president of the East Midtown Partnership, a business improvement district, Rob Byrnes oversees commercial development and quality of life enhancements in a 48-block area. Byrnes previously served as chief of staff to two Assembly members and is the award-winning author of six novels. “New York is a city of characters, so exaggerating them to satirize the social and political quirks I experience on a daily basis can be cathartic,” he said.
Marcia Bystryn joined the New York League of Conservation Voters as executive director in 1999 and was named its president in 2008. She previously served as a senior corporate policy manager for the environment and then senior business manager for economic development at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She is a former assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Sanitation, where she designed the city’s recycling program.
As president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180 for 39 years, Arthur Cheliotes was a strong advocate for worker education, pay equity and the enforcement of civil service laws. Under his leadership, the union engaged in litigation to enforce civil service laws that resulted in the promotion of the largest number of minority women in New York City’s history to managerial positions through competitive civil service examinations.
As a former top aide to New York City Mayor John Lindsay, Sid Davidoff has the historical distinction of being one of 20 people to appear on former President Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies list.” “I would have to say I am still very proud of being No. 12,” he said. In 1975, Davidoff founded the midsize commercial law and government relations firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron and now chairs its administrative law and government relations groups.
Rev. Jacques Andre DeGraff has served on the pastoral staff at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ since 1998. He has spearheaded political campaigns on local, state and national levels. DeGraff served as the lead negotiator on behalf of the New York City Minority Business Leadership Council.
Giorgio DeRosa opened the Albany office of Bolton-St. Johns in 1996 and has helped to grow the firm into a leader in government relations. Prior to joining Bolton-St. Johns, DeRosa was the legislative and political director for the 55,000-member state Public Employees Federation. He began his career as a political and union organizer with the United Auto Workers and later served as district director for Rep. Louise Slaughter.
Before joining Mercury Public Affairs, Thomas Doherty was then-Gov. George Pataki’s deputy secretary for appointments. He also oversaw the Governor’s Office of State and Local Government Affairs, and coordinated with local, state and federal officials in response to the 9/11 attacks. On the secret to his success, Doherty, a frequent political talk show guest, said: “Identifying and hiring the most talented senior people and letting them do the work."
Bill Driscoll advises his clients on their budgetary, programmatic, land use and legislative priorities on the federal, state and local levels. He previously served as chief of staff for Rep. Thomas Manton, New York City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and Assemblyman Denis Butler, and as counsel to then-Queens County Clerk Gloria D’Amico. He is a member of the executive committee of the state Democratic Committee, and a partner at Renfroe Driscoll & Foster.
Prior to joining the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce as its president and CEO, Robert J. Duffy served as lieutenant governor in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration. Duffy was mayor of Rochester from 2006 through 2010 and chief of the Rochester Police Department from 1998 to 2005. “My proudest professional achievement is to be so fortunate to have had four different careers – all of which I have loved,” he said.
A former chairman of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, Richard Emery is a founding partner of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, which focuses on commercial litigation, civil rights and election law. Emery argued and won a U.S. Supreme Court decision that restructured New York City government by eliminating the Board of Estimate. “As a result, New York City government transformed into a far less corrupt municipal government,” he said.
As a member of the New York City Council from 1991 to 2001, Kenneth Fisher represented parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn and Dumbo. As an attorney, he has represented numerous projects that have shaped the East River waterfront. “My years in government in the 1990s were devoted to stopping the decline and building confidence that New York was governable and now I get to help the city ascendant manage its remarkable growth,” he said.
Robert Freeman has served as executive director of state Committee on Open Government since 1976. Through his work involving the state's Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law, there has been an expansion of the public’s right to access government information. “I view my role as a teacher, and it’s gratifying to educate state and local officials, the public and media regarding rights and obligations associated with open government laws,” he said.
Since joining the New York State Nurses Association as executive director, Jill Furillo has overseen campaigns against hospital closures and emerged as a progressive voice in local politics. Previously, as government relations director of the California Nurses Association, she led a lobbying effort that resulted in better nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. As the national bargaining director at National Nurses United, she helped secure safe staffing standards across the country.
Jim Gannon joined the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents 41,000 people, in 1982. “Transit workers provide the most vital public service in New York – that being safe, reliable and affordable public transportation,” said Gannon, whose father was a bus operator. “The work is tough and dangerous and we try to drive home an accurate message that transit workers are essential to the city's economic growth and stability."
Paula Gavin was appointed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as the city's chief service officer to promote and support volunteer service as a way to address the city’s greatest needs. She is a former president of the YMCA of Greater New York and National Urban Fellows. “My proudest professional achievement is the successful work with teen leadership at the YMCA and NYC Service, helping young people in New York City fulfill their potential,” she said.
George Gresham has served as president of 1199SEIU since 2007, overseeing the union’s growth to more than 400,000 members in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Florida. As chairman of the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, Gresham helped orchestrate the passage of the state's $15 minimum wage. “The role of the union is to educate and mobilize our members, and support them as they stand up for what they deserve,” he said.
Suri Kasirer grew the company that bears her name out of a studio apartment into one of New York’s top lobbying firms. Kasirer had previously served as a special assistant to former Gov. Mario Cuomo and takes pride in transitioning from government to become “an independent businesswoman in a very competitive space that has not always been welcoming to women.” She is a recipient of the National Organization for Women's Women of Power & Influence Award.
As the managing partner of Phillips Nizer LLP, Marc A. Landis has led the firm’s expansion in corporate, employment, fashion, financial services, litigation and real estate, while continuing its tradition of involvement in pro bono legal, civic and philanthropic work. Landis sits on the Union for Reform Judaism’s board of trustees and co-chairs Reform Jewish Voice of New York State, which advocates for voting and campaign finance reform, abortion rights and civil rights.
As president of the New York Yankees, a position Randy Levine has held since 2000, he played the lead role in creating the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network as well as the development and financing of the $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium. Levine previously served as deputy mayor for economic development, planning and administration under former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He also served as New York City's labor relations commissioner.
At IBM, Stanley S. Litow's career was as an innovator in corporate responsibility. He developed and launched P-TECH, the redesign of high schools that creates a clear pathway from school to college and career as well as the IBM Corporate Service Corps and Teacher Advisor With Watson. His book "The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward" is due out in May. Litow currently serves on the SUNY board of trustees.
Patricia Lynch is the founder and president of Patricia Lynch Associates, a multinational government relations firm that began in 2001 as a two-person startup in Albany. A former communications director for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Lynch has influenced policy decisions through her firm, including the defeat of a proposed soda tax, the passage of the SUNY 2020 plan and the expansion of Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.
George McDonald is the founder and president of The Doe Fund, a New York City nonprofit organization founded in 1985 that has served more than 22,000 people with paid work, transitional housing, employment skills and social services through its nationally replicated Ready, Willing & Able program. “Nothing is more gratifying than witnessing a person transition from a life of incarceration or homelessness to one that is stable and productive,” he said.
As president of QED National, Colleen Molter provides information technology services to government agencies and Fortune 500 companies. Over the past two decades, she has been a leading advocate for minority and women-owned business enterprises, serving on MWBE advisory boards for de Blasio and Bloomberg. “I’m very thankful that my work has led to opportunities to give back in a pro bono fashion to the community of MWBE business owners,” she said.
Cristyne Nicholas co-founded Nicholas & Lence Communications in 2007 and has built the startup into a leading public relations firm. Nicholas previously served as communications director for Mayor Rudy Giuliani. As then-CEO and president of NYC & Company, Nicholas helped rebuild the city’s $27 billion tourism industry following 9/11. On the reopening of Broadway just two days after the attack, “It was a huge middle finger to the terrorist thugs,” she recalled.
In his two years at the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, a nonprofit Spanish-language television network, Michael D. Nieves has added more than 10 million new Latino households to its audience. Nieves previously served as a consultant to elected officials and held high-level positions in the New York City Council. “The HITN platform allows me to use my experience to craft programming that helps inform our community,” he said.
Stewart O'Brien recently retired as executive director of Plumbing Foundation City of New York, a position he held for two decades. He was previously deputy inspector general of the New York City Department of Correction and inspector general of the departments of Probation, City Planning, Buildings and the Board of Standards and Appeals. From 1986 to 1994, O’Brien worked in a variety of positions at the city Department of Buildings.
As an assistant district attorney in Nassau County, David M. Oddo handled high-profile cases and secured convictions of career criminals. “What I found most satisfying,” he said, “was getting justice for victims of violent crimes.” A fellow of the American Bar Foundation, in private practice Oddo concentrates on the litigation of complex civil cases in medical malpractice, products liability and catastrophic personal injury, which he hopes will lead to “a safer world.”
During his tenure with Doctors Council SEIU – as executive director, first vice president and now president – the union has expanded throughout the state and into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Dr. Frank Proscia has instituted Collaboration Councils at all NYC Health + Hospitals facilities to improve quality, doctor engagement and patient experience. “They are the framework for a true partnership between ... management and the front-line doctors,” he said.
For three decades, Vincent F. Pitta has concentrated his legal practice on labor and management relations. He is a founding partner of Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno, a government relations firm. His professional mentors were the legal titans William “Bill” Shea and Milton Gould. “Their inspiration and admonition to always strive be the best and hardest working lawyer guides me to this day – almost 40 years after they first hired me,” he said.
At Win, Christine C. Quinn oversees the largest provider of shelter, social services and supportive housing for homeless families in New York City. She is a former speaker of the New York City Council. Quinn was instrumental in passing the state's same-sex marriage law. “It’s hard to express the feeling that after years of hard work, the stroke of a pen can still change the lives of New Yorkers across the state – including your own,” she said.
As a CUNY deputy vice chancellor, Burton Sacks oversees the Office of Communications and Marketing, the Office of State Relations in Albany, CUNY TV and Citizenship Now. Sacks was the chief executive of the New York City Board of Education from 1992 to 2002, and has also served as senior assistant to the president of the United Federation of Teachers. He has worked in education for almost 50 years.
As vice president for education, health and human services at Tonio Burgos & Associates, Ninfa Segarra provides strategic planning, consulting and lobbying services to her clients. She served on the New York City Board of Education from 1990 to 2002, and as deputy mayor under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. That she could “represent the interests of the Latino community as city government made difficult financial and policy decisions” is a source of pride for Segarra.
Jon Silvan built Global Strategy Group from a boutique firm in 1995 into a leading communications and public affairs firm. The largest Democratic polling firm in the country, GSG has advised the campaigns of many politicians, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Silvan is grateful for the opportunity to have been “involved in so many of the issues and fights that matter in the city and the state over the years.”
As the chief customer officer for MetroPlus Health Plan, a subsidiary of New York City Health + Hospitals, Gail L. Smith oversees the Customer Services Division. When she joined MetroPlus in 1997, the plan had approximately 40,000 members. Today, it has over a half million. Smith said the most rewarding part of her job was ensuring "the uninsured and underinsured access health care in a nonstressful, transparent fashion."
Since founding the firm that bears his name in 1991, Ken Sunshine has represented a range of clients, including corporations, nonprofits and unions. Sunshine has also advised local and national political campaigns, most recently the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Sunshine served as chief of staff to former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. “I will never forget the pride I felt in the election of one of the most decent human beings ever to hold high office,” he said.
After his 2001 election to the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, Justice Milton Adair Tingling stopped the state from shackling youths being transported to court without due process. He also struck down then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s large soda ban. Since 2014, he has served as the first African-American New York County clerk and commissioner of jurors. His passion is “speaking to anyone about the importance of jury duty and diversifying the jury pool."