The 2017 Albany Power 100
The 2017 Albany Power 100
Who are the most powerful people in state politics?
It’s not an easy question to answer.
Power is an amorphous concept, defined differently by different people. So as we at City & State compiled this year’s list, we identified a few general principles to guide the process.
One criterion is an individual’s track record: What bills has a governor or lawmaker passed? What policies have top aides, advocates or activists shaped? What programs have top deputies or commissioners run, and how effectively have they carried them out?
Another criterion is a public figure’s capacity to effect change. The governorship of New York, for example, is a powerful office, and the current occupant has tested its limits. Others who have been appointed or elected to influential roles have not fully capitalized on them – at least, not yet.
A related factor is one’s constituency. The mayor of New York City has faced obstacles in Albany, but the fact that he runs a government serving around 8.5 million people means he cannot be ignored. Others – elected officials and leaders of unions or corporations – also have a responsibility to represent their constituents and empower them.
Finally, we took into account proximity to power – Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ever-changing inner circle, longtime allies of legislative leaders, loyalists of the new president who hails from New York.
As we applied these principles, we reached out to trusted sources, reviewed major news developments over the past year and spent hours debating where each and every person on this list deserved to fall.
So without further ado, we present the 2017 Albany Power 100.
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio position themselves as progressive foils to President Donald Trump, Bill Lipton’s role as the state director of the Working Families Party will be to keep agitating for left-wing causes. Under the altered national political landscape, the WFP has gained traction in a campaign to fight the Independent Democratic Conference for partnering with Republicans in the state Senate.
While the lieutenant governor’s relative lack of influence over the state Capitol is widely noted, it is undeniable that Kathy Hochul is next in line to be governor if Andrew Cuomo were unable to serve. Hochul also was a high-profile attack dog for Cuomo against Republican Reps. Chris Collins, an early Trump supporter, and John Faso during the fight against their federal health care bill amendment to shift county Medicaid costs to the state.
In a state dominated by Democrats, Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro is a Republican rising star seen as a potential contender to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The photogenic former mayor and state assemblyman has touted his fiscal stewardship since taking over as county executive while blasting Cuomo’s policies on property taxes and local government consolidation. As 2018 approaches, he has taken steps to position himself as a centrist, finding opportunities to distance himself from President Donald Trump's administration.
When it comes to public policy and election polling, many New York politicos rely on Siena College’s research. As director of the Siena College Research Institute, Don Levy wields great influence in measuring the support or opposition of issues and candidates – something that does not go unnoticed by political parties. Levy often appears in news articles about ongoing Albany issues. Outside of politics, the Siena College Research Institute has been employed by private companies because of its reliable results.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan is primarily tasked with tending to his large flock, but the religious leader’s role also involves weighing in on national issues like abortion and immigrant rights, hobnobbing with presidential candidates and meeting with other high-profile politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In recent years Dolan has pushed for legislation that would boost funding for private Catholic schools and argued against a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for alleged acts of child sexual abuse.
As founder and research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, E.J. McMahon is a go-to expert on budget plans and policy proposals. His organization promotes greater transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility in state government, which often puts him at odds with lawmakers and the governor. McMahon previously worked as a journalist in Albany, as an Assembly Republican staffer and a budget adviser for almost 30 years, giving him great insight into the goings-on in the Capitol.
As a lifelong friend of the Cuomos, Tonio Burgos served under Gov. Mario Cuomo in a number of roles and is now a confidant of current Gov. Andrew Cuomo. While he maintains a significant presence in Albany and New York City, Burgos’ scope extends beyond New York’s borders to the broader tri-state region, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. – where the veteran Democratic National Committee member could be a valuable ally should the younger Cuomo run for president in 2020.
In a blue state like New York, being chairman of the state Republican Party is not easy. While Donald Trump’s presidential victory has given a boost to Republicans nationwide, maintaining the GOP’s tenuous hold on the state Senate majority – only possible in recent years due to a partnership with breakaway Democrats – remains challenging. Cox came late to the Trump bandwagon, but he gets a boost for his close ties to Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
Evan Stavisky grew up in politics, as his father was a longtime state lawmaker and his mother, Toby Ann Stavisky, replaced her late husband in the state Senate. His experience at the New York Public Interest Research Group and as an assemblyman's chief of staff led to The Parkside Group, where he is a well-known Democratic operative and strategist. Stavisky is a key figure in the state Senate Democrats’ ongoing effort to regain the majority.
Rossana Rosado is one of the inner circle loyalists in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's orbit that doesn’t seek recognition, which makes her experience, knowledge and passion valuable to the governor. Case in point: her understanding of the reforms needed on the parole board and what happens to the formerly incarcerated. Her recent reappointment to the Port Authority board is another example of the trust the governor has in Rosado, who also enjoys a good relationship with Alphonso David.
In another signal of his rumored 2020 presidential ambitions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month hired GOP operative Maria Comella to fill a top administration post. Comella has campaigned for some heavy hitters in the Republican Party, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Despite her Republican ties, she broke away from Christie to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. Observers will be watching to see whether she rises within Cuomo’s inner circle.
The criminal probe of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s state Senate fundraising practices recommended by Risa Sugarman and the state Board of Elections didn’t lead to charges, showing that the power of the governor’s hand-picked election law enforcer has limits. But she’s not just sending prosecutors on wild goose chases – a Sugarman referral led to charges against state Sen. Robert Ortt and his predecessor George Maziarz in March. With Sugarman watching, candidates and committees are sure to triple-check everything.
As No. 2 in the state Senate Democratic Conference and chairman of New York’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, state Sen. Michael Gianaris has long been poised to gain power – yet the GOP keeps finding ways to stymie him. Democrats once again failed to take control of Albany’s upper house last year, despite winning a majority of the seats. The backlash against President Donald Trump has fueled the Democrats' renewed fight against the breakaway IDC, so things could change in 2018.
Gil Quiniones’ public electric utility is a true power player in the state, and with three hydroelectric plants it plays a big role in keeping up New York’s reputation – and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desire – for clean energy. Quiniones seems to be running a tight ship, with NYPA making enough profit to take on the unprofitable state Canal Corp. last year. He’s a player on the national stage too, co-chairing the energy efficiency coalition Alliance to Save Energy.
With three decades of experience in asset management, Vicki Fuller brought a wealth of experience to her role as chief investment officer for the New York State Common Retirement Fund when she came on in 2012. She is responsible for the state’s $178.6 billion retirement fund, one of the largest in the nation. The state’s pension fund covers more than a million members, though last year the fund reported earning its lowest return since 2009.
Lou Ann Ciccone was known for her close ties to former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and her knowledge of the lower house’s inner workings ensured she was kept on by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie when he took over in 2015. As Heastie grows into his role and brings on his own people, her influence over the speaker is decidedly less than it was under Silver – even though her insider knowledge of Albany makes her a valuable asset.
The former Westchester district attorney is making her mark a year after taking over as New York’s top judge, using her first State of the Judiciary address to define herself as a competent manager working to unburden the justice system of its notorious backlogs that often leave the accused waiting years for a trial. Still nine years from the mandatory judicial retirement age, DiFiore has plenty of time to use her bully pulpit and carry out the reforms she’s envisioning.
Insiders opine that if Basil Smikle had decided to run for the state Senate seat vacated by Bill Perkins, he would’ve won. Then again, others thought that Smikle’s favorable reputation, service to the Democratic Party in New York and good standing with Hillary Clinton would’ve had him in Washington, D.C., if she had won. For now, the Harlem-based executive director of the state Democratic Party remains a political leader and trusted consultant.
Marcos Crespo, the articulate and personable assemblyman, has potential, but he hasn’t stepped up to the plate as a Democratic leader in Albany. While he has yet to capitalize on his access to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, he may still provide a new vision for the caucus as chairman of the state Legislature’s Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force, which organizes the Somos el Futuro conferences, and as chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party. For now, he’s a status quo player.
With more than two decades of experience at AARP, Beth Finkel has established herself as a leading advocate for New Yorkers over 50. The organization brings facts and hard numbers to legislative debates, and pushes for priorities like access to Roth IRAs, financial support for family caregivers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s effort to make New York an "age-friendly state." And as usual, Finkel and her red-shirted army will be visible around the Capitol at the end of the session.
With the success of the Fight for $15 campaign and a recent mobilization to organize workers at airports in Queens, Héctor Figueroa can take a victory lap. But as president of 32BJ SEIU, one of the state’s largest private sector unions, he’s also positioning himself as a vocal opponent of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. And as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sidesteps what could have been a grueling primary, he might have Figueroa to thank for the early endorsement.
You either love him or hate him, depending on your party affiliation. Though state Sen. Simcha Felder is registered as a Democrat, he has conferenced with Republicans since his election, buttressing their hold on the majority in the chamber. The Brooklyn lawmaker’s popularity among his conservative Jewish constituents bolsters him against potential primary challengers, putting him in a pivotal position where Republicans rely on him – and Democrats hope he will one day conference with them.
When the rest of the Albany press corps zigs, Buffalo News Bureau Chief Tom Precious zags. Precious is renowned at the state Capitol for always being at the right place at the right time and getting scoops few others can. It doesn’t hurt he’s one of the few reporters to know all the secret passageways around the state Capitol – like he’s Harry Potter with the Marauder’s Map. The Buffalo News is also bolstered by its partnership with PolitiFact.
For years, Cynthia Shenker was a powerhouse at the state’s top lobbying firm, Wilson Elser, where she helped start the government relations arm. In 2015, the Albany veteran struck out on her own, launching her own firm with partners Theresa Russo and Douglas Clark. Given her long client list and longstanding ties in the Assembly – she served as counsel for three majority leaders – Shenker could shake up the list of the state’s top lobbyists.
Michael McKeon, a partner at the consulting and strategic communications firm Mercury, first made a name for himself as a spokesman for Republican Gov. George Pataki. Since then he has thrived as a pragmatic operator, with ties to the Trump camp, to centrist politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and to left-wing activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton. McKeon’s hard work has paid off, as Mercury landed on the list of Albany’s top 10 lobbyists by revenue in 2015.
Former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato has reveled in Donald Trump’s come-from-behind presidential victory, and the Republican lobbyist is no doubt thrilled that U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who knocked him out of office in 1998, failed to win enough seats to become majority leader. Yet the influential founder of Park Strategies has also faced some challenges, including a drop in state lobbying revenue from 2014 to 2015 and a confrontation this year that got him kicked off a flight.
As host of “The Capitol Pressroom,” Susan Arbetter brings a lot of experience and insight to political coverage at the state Capitol. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not appear on the radio show as frequently as he used to, he still is a guest when he wants to get a message out and Arbetter frequently scores key Albany politicos as guests. During state budget negotiations, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan came on to provide updates.
Jefrey Pollock leads one of the top political consulting firms in the state, Global Strategy Group, whose clients include Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state Democratic Party and a handful of New York members of Congress. Pollock’s focus tends to be more national – he was hired in 2016 as a pollster for the Hillary Clinton campaign – meaning he could be an increasingly valuable asset to Cuomo as the governor prepares for a potential presidential run in 2020.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley arguably has less clout in Albany than he does in New York City, where as leader of the Queens Democratic Party he helps decide who controls the City Council and its top committees, and in Washington, D.C., where he’s the fourth-ranking House Democrat. But state senators and Assembly members who hail from his home borough make up a sizeable contingent in the state Legislature, giving him some sway over what gets done in the state Capitol.
One of the champions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s successful push last year to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour was Jill Furillo, whose New York State Nurses Association had long advocated for a wage hike. Another looming test for the union is its Safe Staffing legislation. This session, nurses have been promoting the bill, which would limit how many patients a nurse can care for at a time, after being stymied in recent years.
Steven Cohen, who served under Andrew Cuomo in the state attorney general’s office and joined the governor as secretary for part of his first term, has since spent several years out of government in the private sector. Yet he remains a trusted adviser to the governor, filling in for a time on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey board and offering him advice as Cuomo’s official inner circle has seen a number of deputies come and go.
Few people offer stronger critiques of the New York City public school system than Jenny Sedlis, who can always be relied on for a pro-charter, anti-teachers union stance. StudentsFirstNY is a well-organized advocacy machine, but Sedlis’ real power is in the money behind her from the political action committee New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which leveraged huge donations from the likes of hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb and Walmart’s Walton family into donations to state Senate Republicans in 2016.
Patrick Jenkins has been quieter of late than usual. But make no mistake about the political player, who is using his extensive government and political experience and insider status to stay relevant in state politics. He’s a trusted paid consultant, and his friendship with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie remains as solid as ever. While his services remain in demand, the real test will come when Heastie is no longer in power or if their buddy status changes.
While state Senate Democrats are poised to regain a numerical majority, the GOP alliance with breakaway Democrats is still keeping Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ out of power. However, a backlash against renegade Democrats in the Trump era could tip the balance. And as Gov. Andrew Cuomo promotes an increasingly liberal agenda – she got a one-on-one meeting with him during the latest budget talks – a woman may finally get a seat at the negotiating table dominated by the “three men in a room.”
If promised federal infrastructure funding makes its way to New York, members of the Associated General Contractors of New York State will certainly benefit. Mike Elmendorf, its president and CEO, has spearheaded the Rebuild NY Now campaign, which is urging legislators to earmark more money for infrastructure. It doesn’t hurt that Albany legislators recently approved $2.5 billion to upgrade the state’s water system, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing numerous transportation projects across the state.
Peter Mooney’s experience in both houses of the state Capitol makes him a key adviser to state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan – especially since Mooney already earned the trust of the GOP leader years ago when Mooney was a staffer to Flanagan, at the time a rank-and-file senator. As Flanagan grows into his role – after abruptly being thrust into it in 2015 – top aides like Mooney are critical to retaining control over his geographically diverse conference and cementing his power.
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan’s years of experience and her position leading the Assembly Education Committee make her an influential Democratic voice. When Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped aside in disgrace in 2015, Nolan was in the running for the speakership, although her colleagues instead selected Carl Heastie. Nolan has successfully pushed for more education funding in recent years, but she faces another fight to extend mayoral control of New York City schools this session.
H. Carl McCall, the chairman of the State University of New York board of trustees, is keeping the expansive public university system on track in a time of transition – its long-serving Chancellor Nancy Zimpher is set to step aside. As incoming chancellor Kristina Johnson gets up to speed – and a new program ensuring tuition is fully covered for eligible in-state residents is implemented – the former state comptroller will continue to play an important role.
Things should be looking up for New York congressional Republicans with one of their own in the White House, but the relatively moderate U.S. Rep. Peter King finds himself in a difficult position. As the dean of the state’s GOP House delegation, King is seeking to deliver for the state amid pressure from conservative Republicans. He voted “yes” on the controversial American Health Care Act, and it remains to be seen how that will play at home during the next election.
Ronnie Hakim took the reins of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as interim executive director after Thomas Prendergast stepped down in January. But Hakim’s reign might not be temporary – she is considered a leading candidate to get the top post, along with Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority. While Foye has a long history working with Cuomo, Hakim’s decades of operational experience, including running New Jersey Transit and New York City Transit, should give her a boost.
The (very expensive) dust has settled at the World Trade Center transportation hub, leaving New Yorkers with a new architectural wonder. Now, the Port Authority’s building boom is continuing with a $4 billion LaGuardia Airport renovation, a $10 billion Kennedy Airport overhaul and a $1.5 billion Goethals Bridge replacement. Foye, who some saw as the hero of the Bridgegate debacle, has stayed on despite reports that he was leaving, and is now a contender to lead the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Greenberg Traurig is an international law firm with offices across the country and overseas, but it takes more than a global presence to consistently land among the top lobbyists in the state Capitol. The man behind the strong performance is Harold Iselin, whose legal acumen and expertise in policy areas like health care have helped the firm deliver for its clients. Additionally, his experience in Washington, D.C., and as a former assistant counsel to Gov. Mario Cuomo, come in handy.
James Capalino is more known for lobbying in New York City Hall, given his history in city government and his support for Mayor Bill de Blasio. But his firm is no slouch on the state level, coming in fifth in lobbying compensation in 2015. While the firm has no real Albany office, Capalino focuses heavily on state agencies, bringing home the regulatory bacon for its list of clients that's heavy on real estate, plus tech darlings Airbnb and Uber.
If the 2018 gubernatorial election were held today, Rob Astorino would once again be a solid bet to be the Republican nominee. The question is whether Astorino is any better positioned to vanquish a relatively popular two-term Democratic incumbent in a state where Republicans are still at a severe voter registration disadvantage. If it’s a Cuomo-Astorino rematch, expect the governor to tie his opponent to President Donald Trump, who considered Astorino for a Cabinet position.
After several years of failed attempts, Uber’s Josh Mohrer got Gov. Andrew Cuomo on board and successfully persuaded lawmakers to pass legislation that will expand ride-hailing services to upstate New York. Credit for the victory is also shared by Matt Wing, a former Cuomo staffer, and the politically connected Josh Gold – two valuable allies to have as the company made a final push in the state Legislature this year to broker an agreement on insurance limits and regulatory oversight.
With less than two years under his belt as president of the mostly white-collar New York State Public Employees Federation, Wayne Spence won a key victory in December when his union overwhelmingly ratified a three-year contract giving the state workers 2 percent annual pay hikes with no increase in health care costs. His next big fight in Albany will be to line up opposition to a potential state constitutional convention that unions fear could weaken their influence.
Bolton-St. Johns’ roots are in New York City, but today it’s a top-five lobbying firm in the city and the state – and much of its success in Albany is due to the hard work of Emily Giske and Giorgio DeRosa. DeRosa’s daughter, Melissa DeRosa, is now secretary to the governor, but the former union official and founder of the firm’s Albany office has long had strong ties in state government. Giske, a frequent face in the state Capitol, is equally indispensable.
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle was always going to be a long shot as a contender to replace Sheldon Silver as Assembly speaker in 2015, given the dominance of downstate members among the Democrats. But the likable and long-serving lawmaker from the Rochester area remains an important voice for upstate Assembly Democrats. He has the ear of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has made a point of listening to all of his members.
State Sen. Catharine Young fell just short last fall as the chairwoman of the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee, with Democrats winning a narrow numerical majority – but it didn’t matter, as breakaway Democrats ultimately kept Young and her fellow GOP colleagues in power. As the Senate Republicans tout their female members, Young is perhaps the party's best example, as she has risen through the ranks to lead the influential Senate Finance Committee, in addition to her election year responsibilities.
U.S. Rep. Chris Collins owns the distinction of being President Donald Trump’s favorite New York member of Congress. The Western New York lawmaker was an active surrogate for Trump during the 2016 election, defending his gaffes and controversial statements with fervor. In return, Collins appears to have considerably more clout in the House. Collins was an architect of a key amendment to the Obamacare repeal effort – shifting Medicaid costs from New York counties to the state.
New York City is the driver of the state’s economy, making the city’s biggest employers a key constituency in Albany. And the leading organization representing them is Kathryn Wylde’s Partnership for New York City, which gives her plenty of clout in the state Capitol. A number of executives of companies who are members of Wylde’s organization even won an audience recently with President Donald Trump, making the case for policies that would benefit the city’s thriving business community.
While Drew Zambelli tends to stay behind the scenes, his polling insights make him invaluable to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The veteran pollster certainly knows his way around Albany, with a tenure dating back to the Mario Cuomo administration, and he makes use of his expertise in assessing how potential policy proposals will play with the electorate. Yet his number crunching may be even more important next year, when the governor’s re-election bid gears up.
Kenneth Langone’s power is in his pocketbook, but with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election bid still a year away, the businessman has dropped on this year’s Albany Power 100 list. But the rich Republican’s support has always meant extra to the governor, since it crosses party lines. Langone gave Cuomo at least another $25,000 in 2016, and expect the governor to keep taking the contributions, even if they come from a man who’s also supported Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Scott Walker.
As president and CEO of the Business Council of New York State, Heather Briccetti represents around 2,400 companies across the state and is a powerful voice on business policy in Albany. Her organization has often aligned with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including on efforts to keep state spending in check and supporting the successful effort to expand ride-hailing services outside of New York City, while also weighing in on matters such as the recent changes to the workers’ compensation system.
Bill Thompson's impressive record of public service would have been reason enough for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to select him as chairman of the City University of New York board of trustees. A former city comptroller, mayoral candidate and past president of the New York City Board of Education, he is a trusted political ally and knows how to navigate government bureaucracy. He understands that CUNY has to be restructured – and most importantly, has the autonomy to do so.
The Civil Service Employees Association, which represents public sector workers across the state, is still in contract negotiations with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, but it looks like the CSEA President Danny Donohue will be able to extract a better deal than the one the union reached in 2011, when it settled for a three-year wage freeze in lieu of layoffs. He has also been one of the harshest critics of Cuomo’s proposal for local governments to consolidate some services.
As president of an umbrella organization representing 100,000 construction workers, Gary LaBarbera had a lot at stake during negotiations to extend construction tax credits, which expired in 2015. He got most of what he wanted in the deal formalized in April’s state budget, including provisions to pay workers on some Manhattan projects more than $60 an hour. LaBarbera has also been effective in rallying his members to push for programs that would shore up the safety of construction workers.
As the state's top energy official, Richard Kauffman's portfolio is only gaining importance. With the state moving to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant while subsidizing upstate nuclear facilities, it’ll take a skilled bureaucrat to balance the competing business, environmental and safety interests. But Kauffman’s the man for the job, with stints in the federal government and the private sector under his belt. If the state’s ambitious Reforming the Energy Vision plan keeps moving forward, he'll get the credit.
Because of his alliance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, Mario Cilento, the president of the 2.5 million member New York State AFL-CIO, has achieved some notable victories. The inclusion of a perk making union dues tax deductible in the state budget and an IDC-backed bill that would make it easier for public sector workers to join a union might be a morale boost as unions face right-to-work laws and declining influence nationally.
Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney may be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s favorite Republican. Whenever Cuomo wants to demonstrate bipartisan support, he can always bring her to a press conference or quote her in a press release. She crossed party lines to endorse him for governor and he has done the same for her. He also installed her as the chairwoman of the New York state Thruway Authority, which is building a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, a top Cuomo priority.
Who gets the call when Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to announce a major project, like his overhaul of New York Penn Station, or when legislative leaders want to roll out their agenda? William Rudin’s Association for a Better New York, whose events are a can’t-miss for the city’s elite. On some issues Rudin seems to be letting his fellow real estate moguls do the talking, though he’s still a big-time donor to Democrats and Republicans alike.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is focused on Long Island, and Kevin Law’s his main man there. But Law doesn’t just wait for the governor’s call – the former Long Island Power Authority leader is constantly involved on issues across the island while promoting the local economy with the Long Island Association. His resume reads like a list of influential Long Island groups, and his latest priority has been building a third track on part of the Long Island Rail Road.
As Congress debates the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, the changes could have a massive impact on the state health care system. Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth Raske will undoubtedly be a key voice on how the state would adapt if the U.S. Senate advances legislation that already passed the House. The influential trade association represents more than 160 member hospitals and health systems in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Brown & Weinraub is on the rise, garnering more revenues and moving up into the No. 3 slot on the latest list of the state’s top lobbyists by revenue. Driving the firm’s success are David Weinraub and Patrick Brown, two Albany veterans who served as top staffers in former Gov. Mario Cuomo's administration. The firm has had high-profile clients, like Ultimate Fighting Championship and Airbnb, but it doesn’t make a lot of headlines, working quietly behind the scenes to produce results.
Jennifer Cunningham has worked for two of the most powerful officials in the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and she maintains ties to both men. As New York City managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, the well-known progressive public relations firm, she has worked for many other top Democrats as well. Additionally, the former labor operative continues to advocate on behalf of major labor unions, such as her old employer, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
While key members of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's inner circle have stayed on, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie brought on some his own people shortly after taking over in 2015. One of the first – and most important – new additions was Blake Washington. As secretary to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, he helps run the legislative body that is responsible for all proposed legislation dealing with state revenues and disbursements and with state and local finances.
Elizabeth Garvey served as counsel to state Senate Republicans under former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Despite having to testify against Skelos during his corruption trial, she weathered the storm and now continues in the same position with state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. The conference has put that scandal behind it, and ongoing alliances with breakaway Senate Democrats have kept the Republicans in power – which gives Garvey more responsibility in the state Capitol’s upper house.
Liz Benjamin has more than 20 years of experience covering New York politics, both for print and, since 2011, on television. In recent years, her colleague Nick Reisman has been the main contributor to the indispensable State of Politics blog, but as the host of "Capital Tonight," Benjamin grills many of New York’s most influential politicians and players. At one point, her hard-hitting reporting even prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration to compile a secret dossier about her.
As one of the most well-sourced reporters at the state Capitol, Daily News Albany Bureau Chief Kenneth Lovett has a knack for getting the inside story about what’s really going on in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration and among lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly. His weekly column is a must-read for Albany observers, and Cuomo is known to monitor it carefully to see if any of the scoops are embarrassing to him or his administration.
Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.’s alliance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo is paying dividends. A year after Cuomo funded new Metro-North Railroad stations in the borough, he announced a $1.8 billion investment to reconstruct the Sheridan Expressway as a pedestrian- and bike-friendly boulevard. Cuomo also set aside $108 million to convert the Kingsbridge Armory into an ice rink center, another Díaz priority. If Díaz ever runs for mayor, he can thank Cuomo for boosting his profile.
Despite having a constituency larger than any state legislator, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gets about as much respect in Albany as a freshman GOP Assembly member. He is anathema to state Senate Republicans for his failed 2014 effort to oust them, and lacks allies in the Democratic-controlled Assembly. While the governor sometimes steals his ideas, de Blasio’s agenda is often dead on arrival and even his control over New York City schools is subject to annual debate.
The recently promoted Jill DesRosiers is so under the radar that even people in the administration don’t know how important she is to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Yet she is the one person who knows when, where, why and with whom the governor is meeting or appearing. She's not just the gatekeeper handling his scheduling, she's always in the room and knows what is and isn't a priority for the governor. And she understands the state's political and policy issues.
State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa has shifted sharply from her predecessor. While former state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was a strong advocate of the Common Core standards and the state exams tied to them, Rosa has been openly critical. Rosa, who has the support of the state teachers union, has called for reduced emphasis on testing and making permanent the four-year moratorium on including test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations.
As president of the muscular New York City teachers union, United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew leads an organization that is arguably more influential than its statewide counterpart. And in spite of Mulgrew declaring war against Gov. Andrew Cuomo a couple of years ago over teacher evaluations and expanding charter schools, the two have edged closer, even if it’s come at the partial expense of Mulgrew’s cozy alliance with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
MaryEllen Elia was widely praised when she replaced John B. King Jr. as state education commissioner in 2015, though her record has been mixed. Lawmakers increased education funding this year, but by less than her agency requested. While opt-outs on state Common Core tests remain high in some areas, the movement has slowed as the state makes concessions to teachers and parents. Elia is also walking into a minefield with an upcoming hearing on potentially removing Carl Paladino from the Buffalo Board of Education.
While Gov. Andrew Cuomo took some criticism for his first late state budget, some Albany insiders credited the delay to trouble brewing within the state Senate Republican conference. State Sen. John DeFrancisco has the support of many of the party's more conservative upstate members who are upset with state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s concessions to the governor. It remains to be seen whether DeFrancisco will challenge the leadership structure – or just run for governor in 2018.
When Kirsten Gillibrand was selected from near obscurity as an upstate congresswoman to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate, some rivals dismissed her as a lightweight. But she has solidified her standing, winning re-election easily and establishing herself as a potential presidential candidate, although she publicly rejects the idea. She has a few notable accomplishments, including helping secure funding for 9/11 first responders, but she has far less clout than Charles Schumer, the state’s senior senator and the top Democrat in Washington.
At this rate, Suri Kasirer and her lobbying firm could be vying for the top spot on the list of highest-paid lobbying firms in the state. Kasirer Consulting rose to No. 2 in 2015, with $9.2 million in revenue, which is even more remarkable considering that her office is based in New York City. Her clients come from a cross section of the state’s biggest industries and sectors, including real estate, health care and entertainment.
In 2015, Cynthia Shenker and two colleagues left Wilson Elser, the state’s top lobbying firm by revenue, to launch their own operation. In 2016, Wilson Elser’s entire lobbying practice, headed by Kenneth Shapiro, jumped ship and joined Jackson Lewis, a national workplace law firm. Albany observers will be watching to see how the rankings shake out in the months and years ahead – and whether Shapiro, a former counsel to three Assembly speakers, will retain the top spot.
Neal Kwatra continues to be one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo favorite political operatives, as he is seemingly involved in every major agenda item that the governor puts forth, from a ballot referendum authorizing casinos across the state to the $15 minimum wage hike. Kwatra’s big victory this year was the passage of an anti-Airbnb bill that prohibited advertising illegal apartment units on online vacation rental websites, a boon for the Hotel and Motel Trades Council, where Kwatra was previously the political director.
Many developers across the state were relieved in April when the state budget deal included a plan to revive the expired 421-a tax break, renamed Affordable New York, which is meant to spur the construction of affordable housing. That was partially due to negotiations by John Banks, who has been president of the Real Estate Board of New York since 2014. Banks is now leading the charge to expand the organization into the booming outer boroughs.
Don’t let his title fool you – Joseph Rabito is all politics all the time. A Joe Percoco-type of guy (minus the scandal), he knows the Cuomo family and is one of the few in the inner circle who stands up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo when a point needs to be explicitly made. Rabito, who served under Cuomo at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also is his eyes and ears in the Schenectady area.
As the state’s Medicaid director, Jason Helgerson already had a difficult job – but it could quickly get a lot more complicated. An amendment in Congress to shift New York's Medicaid costs from the counties to the state would have serious financial implications for the state budget. Since taking the helm in 2011, Helgerson has coordinated the overhaul of the state’s then-troubled Medicaid program and instituted a global cap on spending, garnering praise from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Bill Mulrow, the former secretary to the governor, is returning to investment banking with the Blackstone Group, but he still owns prime real estate in Cuomoland as chairman of the governor’s 2018 re-election campaign. The amicable Mulrow had always kept his distance from the inner circle, but now he has the chance to leverage decades of contacts in finance and government to set up Cuomo for victory in 2018 – while keeping an eye on the White House in 2020.
Real estate runs New York, and Rob Speyer runs New York real estate. We predicted on last year’s Power 100 list that the Real Estate Board of New York chairman would find a way to bring back 421-a after the tax abatement program expired, and the shrewd deal-maker came through, ushering in the Affordable New York housing program. The former Daily News reporter boasts a close relationship with the governor, and packs a serious fundraising punch.
New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council President Peter Ward is a powerful ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio – and he even has ties to President Donald Trump, whom he met with earlier this year. The local political ties have been a boon to his members’ goal of cracking down on vacation rental website Airbnb and boosting legislation that would require new hotels to get permits to develop in certain neighborhoods.
As president of 1199SEIU, the nation’s largest health care union, George Gresham leads a powerhouse that works closely with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and even the state Senate GOP. The union has successfully pushed forward progressive issues, such as raising the state's minimum wage to $15 and fighting the repeal of Obamacare. His next challenge will be to sustain Medicaid funding in light of looming federal budget cuts.
Although new to the administration, Director of State Operations Jamie Rubin is poised to become an influential voice and close adviser to the governor. While it’s unlikely he will have the same amount of clout as his Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first operations director, Howard Glaser, Rubin is expected to go places in the administration. It also helps that Rubin’s father, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, served with Cuomo in former President Bill Clinton's administration.
Howard Zemsky’s private sector experience as a Buffalo developer and his deep-rooted connections in Western New York have made him an almost perfect fit at Empire State Development, given Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emphasis on revitalizing that part of the state with the Buffalo Billion and this year’s Buffalo Billion II. Zemsky’s sense of the politics of governing have also gained him the trust of Cuomo, which was evidenced by the transfer of two scandal-ridden SUNY development entities to his portfolio.
Robert Mujica has excelled as budget director, and he’s doing more than what the title covers. He has remarkable access to the governor on spending issues, but less on political matters. He’s eminently qualified, and after nearly two decades as a top budget wonk for the state Senate GOP, he understands the process as much as anyone. Some observers say that Mujica is to Cuomo what Dean Fuleihan was to former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Without a doubt, Alphonso David is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top policy adviser, lobbying lawmakers on key issues, such as the Raise the Age legislation. He runs the governor's 30-person legal team like an efficient private sector law firm. He’s also a workaholic, which Cuomo loves. While nobody has quite replaced former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, many say that what David brings is at whole different level. The place just doesn't run the same without him.
Long before she was the first woman selected to serve as secretary to the governor, Melissa DeRosa was already among Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top advisers. As with any high-achieving up-and-comer, she does have her detractors within the Cuomo fiefdom. But there are others who recognize that she is sharp, tactical and a hard worker who does her homework and knows her stuff. She has a bigger portfolio than some of her predecessors, and is more engaged than Bill Mulrow, whom she replaced.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has always been seen as the “nice guy” that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not. However, despite repeatedly denying he’s interested in running against the governor, his push to provide more oversight at SUNY and the state’s economic development projects has gained momentum in the wake of recent scandals. While the governor has recently been letting out his aggression on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, DiNapoli remains an important check on the governor and his administration.
One year ago, state Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein nearly cracked the top 10 of the Albany Power 100 list. Thanks to the addition of three members to his breakaway conference, the mainline state Senate Democrats’ continuing inability to seize control of the upper house, and a few high-profile legislative victories, Klein is on the rise this year.
Marisol Alcántara announced plans to join the IDC after a pivotal primary win in the race to replace state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. State Sen. Jesse Hamilton said before the November election that he would jump to Klein’s conference. And early this year, state Sen. Jose Peralta became the latest to get on the IDC bandwagon.
Klein has also navigated the narrow balance of power in the state Senate effectively. While Democrats won a majority of seats in 2016, state Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, again tipped the balance by deciding to continue caucusing with the GOP. For the Republicans, Klein’s IDC is an insurance policy.
Apart from politics, Klein has demonstrated his deftness for promoting the right policies at the right time. This year, he touted the passage of legislation raising the state's age of criminal responsibility to 18 and a $10 million allocation for legal services for immigrants, who have felt threatened by President Donald Trump's administration.
However, Klein took a political hit in the wake of recent disclosures that IDC members were getting larger stipends for leading key committees – and that submissions to the state comptroller incorrectly listed which senators actually run certain committees. Alcantara, Hamilton and Peralta were already targets, and this scandal will only ratchet up the pressure on them.
Of course, past primary challenges to other IDC members fizzled. Klein, a prodigious fundraiser, will be expected to defend his growing conference, a key test in 2018.
Throughout much of his tenure as state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman’s political relevance was buoyed by his office. There have been rumors of Schneiderman taking on Gov. Andrew Cuomo from the left in a Democratic primary, but he has been content to generate headlines from the perch of a statewide office that has its own considerable resources (more than 650 attorneys at his disposal) and influence.
Rather than shamelessly use the attorney general’s office as a stepping stone, Schneiderman has kept his head down and let his work do the talking. You won’t find many corrupt legislative heads on Schneiderman’s wall – though his office did recently indict state Sen. Robert Ortt and former state Sen. George Maziarz on corruption charges – but the state can thank him for tens of millions dollars in settlement money from tenant harassment and Medicaid fraud cases.
Of course, Schneiderman’s most newsworthy money grab was the $25 million then-President-elect Donald Trump had to pay to settle fraud claims related to Trump University. Therein lies Schneiderman’s crucial role for the next four years (assuming he cruises to re-election in 2018): litigator in chief, defending New York from the whims of an unpredictable president.
Already, Schneiderman joined other attorneys general in pushing back against the controversial travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries. He has introduced a bill in the state Legislature to give New Yorkers access to free contraceptives if Obamacare is dismantled and he threatened a lawsuit after Trump froze U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding of clean air and water programs.
So while Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio can use Trump as a foil in their re-election campaigns, only Schneiderman is vested with the power to fight Trump’s actions through the legal system. If that won’t boost Schneiderman’s political fortunes, nothing will.
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan is Albany’s most powerful Republican, but it has taken a herculean effort – and some luck – to maintain that status.
Last year’s general election was a major test for the Long Island lawmaker, who held a narrow majority thanks to state Sen. Simcha Felder, a renegade Brooklyn Democrat. State Senate Democrats hoped the greater turnout of a presidential election year would help them take control, especially with Hillary Clinton atop the ticket. But Flanagan’s campaign team fended off enough challenges to maintain the status quo, with Felder staying on board and a renewed partnership with state Sen. Jeff Klein’s eight-member Independent Democratic Conference bolstering his position.
Yet the challenges continue. On the right, state Sen. John DeFrancisco, the conservative upstate deputy majority leader, reportedly sought to undermine Flanagan during this year’s budget process. On the left, Klein has pushed for progressive policies that have prompted grumbling among the GOP rank and file. Just this month, Flanagan faced a scandal over stipends for GOP and IDC senators.
Additionally, while Flanagan insisted he would stand up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year, the governor pushed through most of his top spending and policy priorities in the budget, even though the final package was finalized over a week late. Meanwhile, the unpredictable presidency of Donald Trump has forced Flanagan to choose his words carefully when talking about his fellow Republican. If he follows through on a rumored run for governor in 2018, it might be just the escape hatch he needs.
Of course, the Senate GOP had a number of policy victories to tout in the state budget, including workers' compensation reform, $2.5 billion for clean water infrastructure and legalizing upstate ride-hailing services. Flanagan, who has a deep knowledge of education policy, also won new funding for schools.
When a pair of corruption scandals toppled Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos in 2015, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan rose within weeks of each other to the top positions in their respective houses. Since then, their paths have diverged, with Heastie enjoying a smoother ride than his state Senate counterpart.
Much of that was to be expected. The Assembly speaker boasts an insurmountable majority, with more than two-thirds of the chamber's 150 seats held by fellow Democrats. While some Assembly Democrats hail from upstate, the conference is dominated by downstate members, and as a whole they coalesce around progressive legislation. The conference’s size gives Heastie sway elsewhere, such as in making appointments to the state Board of Regents.
And while Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a reputation as a centrist, he has shifted left, aligning with Heastie and other Democrats on issues like raising the minimum wage and paid family leave. This year, for example, Heastie touted the passage of legislation that raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18, which puts New York in line with 48 other states. Additionally, Heastie touted the long-awaited allocation of $2.5 billion for supportive and affordable housing as well as bipartisan agreements to increase funding for public schools and to provide $2.5 billion for clean water infrastructure. He fell short on a bid to raise the millionaire’s tax, but Cuomo ensured it was extended.
Heastie has also won kudos from his members, who praise his more collaborative and inclusive style. Yet one area where the speaker fell short was in raising the salaries of state lawmakers. Heastie, the former leader of the Bronx Democratic Party, also keeps an eye on the county committee’s decisions, and is considered the top Albany ally of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Before Donald Trump became an unlikely presidential candidate, there were persistent rumors that he would mount a challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo at some point. Trump’s fascination with Empire State politics is no secret, so much so that he was supposedly encouraging his progeny, Donald Jr., to run against Cuomo in 2018.
But horse race intrigue aside, the president’s effect on New York’s political landscape will likely be felt far more acutely on the budgetary and legislative side of the equation. Already, Trump has signaled that he does not intend to do any favors for his home state. Since his inauguration in January, Trump has taken several concrete steps that could have a pronounced impact on New York – including executive orders instituting a ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations, withholding federal funding for sanctuary cities (New York City is one such city) and more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.
Trump’s proposed budget and his tax reform plan could also be particularly punishing for New York. Cuomo went so far as to call it “reckless” – particularly the sweeping proposed cuts for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The state relies on these crucial pots of money for housing and renewable energy investments.
On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure, a major need in New York. But it’s since taking office, Trump instead proposed to limit federal capital investment funding, which could hamper the construction of the critical Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River, a project that would alleviate a major mass transit choke point for New York City commuters and the entire Northeast.
The Trump tax reform plan would eliminate the itemizing of local tax deductions, which provide key relief for taxpayers in high-tax states like New York. The potential repeal of Obamacare will also cost the state somewhere in the ballpark of $7 billion, thanks in part to an amendment squeezed into the repeal bill to win support from the Republican New York congressional delegation that would shift Medicaid costs from New York counties to the state.
So while the powers of the presidency don’t directly extend to New York state politics, Trump can throw a major wrench in Cuomo’s ability to govern the state effectively, and, as an added bonus, possibly kneecap the governor’s 2020 presidential ambitions.
He's not exactly "Charles in Charge," but U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is the most powerful Democrat in Washington, D.C., which makes New York’s senior senator one of the most influential players in his home state as well.
While Republicans control both houses of Congress and occupy the White House, the U.S. Senate minority leader has notched a number of early victories. Known as a pragmatist with a history of working with colleagues across the aisle, he has shifted his tactics in the Donald Trump era, capitalizing on the backlash against the president’s actions, such as the controversial executive order that originally banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
While much of the Republicans’ struggles in Washington are arguably due to the president’s own missteps, Schumer and his conference are on message and unified in fighting back. Just this month, Schumer’s public calls for an independent investigation into ties between Russia and Trump associates were answered when the U.S. deputy attorney general appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel.
While many of the issues Schumer is confronting are national and international in scope, they could have a major impact in New York. The effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would saddle the state with massive new costs and force Gov. Andrew Cuomo to scramble to balance the budget. The administration’s policies on infrastructure, immigration, the environment, financial regulation, housing and criminal justice would have a major impact here. One loss already suffered by Schumer was the elimination of the filibuster for U.S. Supreme Court nominees and the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the country’s highest court, shifting its direction in ways that could be felt acutely in this majority-Democratic state. Looking ahead, one of the biggest challenges for Schumer will be trying to win back a Democratic Senate majority in the midterm elections.
Unlike the president, Schumer also makes a point of returning home frequently, and is known for visiting every county in the state each year. He has a reputation for finding and championing local issues and projects, and he’s recognized for his skill in garnering positive media attention.
Schumer’s longevity and many New York ties also bolster his standing. He served three terms in the state Assembly in the 1970s and early 1980s, represented parts of Brooklyn and Queens in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly two decades, and has been in the U.S. Senate since knocking out Alfonse D’Amato in 1998. Along the way, he’s made many allies and mentored other influential politicians, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Michael Cusick, and an array of consultants and strategists, including Howard Wolfson, Stu Loeser and Josh Isay.
Top aides have come and gone. Legislative leaders have been forced out. Other Albany politicians have seen their power ebb and flow.
One thing has remained constant: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the most influential political figure in the state.
Some wondered if this might be the year that Cuomo’s power would erode. State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan promised to be more aggressive in resisting the governor, while both he and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie complained openly about the lack of salary increases for lawmakers. Cuomo cut ties to Joe Percoco, his longtime right-hand man, in the wake of corruption allegations that entangled other associates and called into question his administration’s oversight of economic development programs. Another former associate, Western New York political operative G. Steven Pigeon, was linked to the governor in a new set of legal charges.
But much like the investigation into the governor’s handling of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, none of these developments have ultimately risen beyond the level of a minor distraction for the governor. Even though Cuomo broke his streak of delivering on-time budgets this year, in the end he packed in so many of his policy and spending priorities that there’s little left of his agenda to push during the second half of the session. The governor also continued to capitalize on the narrow balance of power in the state Senate, siding with Republicans on some issues, like workers’ compensation reform, while joining Democrats on other measures. Among the governor’s biggest victories were an extension of the millionaire’s tax, continued control over the state’s economic development programs and the authorization of ride-hailing services in upstate New York.
It’s no surprise then that much of the discussion surrounding the governor is whether he’s already pivoting to a run for president. There are already signs that he’s laying the groundwork to challenge President Donald Trump. The governor has used his bully pulpit to criticize many of the president’s policies while implementing measures in the state that pick up where the federal government is dropping off. He’s built up a record that should play well with Democratic primary voters, including the legalization of same-sex marriage early in his first term and more recent laws increasing the minimum wage and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18. He’s also hired alums of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and even brought on a former Republican operative with experience on presidential bids. While the official word is that he’s focused on his re-election bid next year, New York could be in for another intrastate presidential battle between two hometown guys from Queens in 2020.