The 2018 Albany Power 100: 100-51
The 2018 Albany Power 100: 100-51
Risa Sugarman takes her job seriously, digging into the activities of politicians of all stripes, from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to state Sen. Robert Ortt. While both of those cases fizzled, the state Board of Elections’ chief enforcement counsel has caught the attention of Albany. This year, state Senate Republicans reportedly proposed shutting down her office as part of a legislative deal and, in the end, the state Board of Elections imposed more control over her investigations.
New York is not on par with Silicon Valley, but the state is building a reputation as a tech hub – and as startups pick up speed, they’re looking to John Olsen to protect them. As head of the Internet Association’s New York office, which opened last year, he has weighed in on issues ranging from ride-hailing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, to a proposed tax on online companies like Amazon that the longtime lobbyist helped block earlier this year.
Geoff Berman runs the state Democratic Party, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in charge. The longtime progressive activist came on last fall and the timing was right: Facing Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial challenge, Cuomo is tacking left and taking the state party with him. If Cuomo goes on to mount a 2020 bid for president, Berman will be able to share some of the lessons he learned as a top campaign official for former President Barack Obama.
How popular is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and how are challengers like Cynthia Nixon faring against him? How are other election contests shaping up across the state, such as the battle for the state Senate? What do New Yorkers think about hot-button issues like gun control and race relations? Answering all these questions and much more is Don Levy, the director of the Siena College Research Institute, which is known for public policy and election polling that always makes news.
Jackson Lewis, which is known for its expertise in workplace law, has expanded its Albany office into lobbying, and its success will depend on Lisa Marrello. She spent years at Wilson Elser, working under the legendary Kenneth Shapiro, before that firm’s lobbying practice jumped to Jackson Lewis in 2016. Marrello is now part of a law firm that was named “Law Firm of the Year” in the Labor Law – Management category this year by U.S. News & World Report.
Albany is awash in slush, and not just during the winter. Few people outside of the state Legislature would know where the spigot runs if it weren’t for E.J. McMahon’s perspicacity. The Empire Center for Public Policy founder has uncovered the seedy State and Municipal Facilities Program, questioned the effectiveness of economic development grants amid a corruption probe and exposed budget wizardry that piles debt onto future New Yorkers. He’s one of the state’s most valuable assets.
The longtime crisis management executive, Clinton fundraiser and lobbyist has a new venue that could really use his skill set – the Democratic Party. Last year, Tonio Burgos landed an appointment to the Democratic National Committee, which has been slowly undergoing a makeover under its Chairman Tom Perez. Balancing the desires of the party’s activist wing, whose grass-roots donors have given millions of dollars to candidates, and its more centrist corporate members is Burgos’ challenge heading into the midterms.
Ed Cox is a survivor. The state Republican Party chairman finally found a likable candidate to run for governor this year. And he irritated the heck out of the Second Floor by filing an ethics complaint against the governor for allowing former senior aide Joseph Percoco to use state office space while working for the governor’s campaign. And with Percoco’s corruption conviction, Cox and his candidates have a campaign platform to run on in an otherwise difficult year for Republicans.
In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo famously stated that “the trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany.” To the degree that the governor’s statement was true, that level of influence has been achieved in large part thanks to Kenneth Riddett, a longtime Albany insider. The former chief counsel for state Senate Republicans under Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has been lobbying for the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, quietly fighting for and against major legislation.
The state’s most prominent religious leader and shepherd to a large flock of Catholics, Cardinal Timothy Dolan also seeks to keep the peace between warring political egos. The archbishop of New York gave House Speaker Paul Ryan a friendly platform to tease President Donald Trump, and for everyone else to needle the mayor and governor’s relationship. But Dolan has been criticized for opposing the Child Victims Act, which would allow survivors to sue sexual abusers decades after an assault.
Rich Bamberger may not be in the executive chamber anymore – has it really been six years? – but Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staffers can never really leave. He’s still in touch with the Cuomo administration over the best way to communicate the governor’s policies and campaign platform. The Kivvit managing director remains an asset for the governor’s team – especially when crises occur. He’s particularly good at staying out of the press, a rare quality among politically inclined communications professionals.
Although a trusted member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inner circle, Rossana Rosado doesn’t often make headlines like some other people in his orbit. She is content to get things done behind the scenes without recognition. With her expertise on parole board reform and the formerly incarcerated, she is a valuable ally as the governor puts more emphasis on criminal justice reform. Cuomo also reappointed Rosado to the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last year.
Like many top state lobbyists today, Rick Ostroff at one point worked under then-Gov. Mario Cuomo. Ostroff served as the senior Cuomo’s assistant for legislative affairs and his assistant for regional affairs. He founded his lobbying firm, Ostroff Associates, in 1995, and the firm has since grown into one of the top 10 lobbying firms in the state, representing clients like FedEx Corp. and Walmart Inc. in the state Capitol and earning Ostroff his new spot on this list.
There’s political power, and there’s literal power – and Gil Quiniones has both. Unlike some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees, Quiniones is a well-respected expert in his field, having spent much of his early career at Con Edison. Now at the helm of the New York Power Authority, he oversees three hydroelectric plants that generate a great deal of clean energy. Plus, he has applied his expertise to help Puerto Rico recover in the wake of Hurricane Maria, another Cuomo priority.
David Previte was promoted last fall to be the state Senate Republicans’ counsel, a key role in which he works closely with state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. He replaced the long-serving Beth Garvey, who had held the post for four years before resigning and taking a position at the State University of New York. It’s a big question as to whether his conference will maintain power after this year – but the GOP has successfully fended off serious threats before.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie kept many of former Speaker Sheldon Silver’s veteran staffers in the state Capitol, including Lou Ann Ciccone, when he ascended to the seat in 2015. That appears to be one of Heastie’s wiser decisions. Ciccone, the veteran program and policy secretary, often accompanied Heastie into budget meetings with the governor and conference sessions with lawmakers. She has also been in the middle of the most important legislative proposals, including crafting a uniform state sexual harassment policy.
There’s been a lot of pressure on judges to make sound decisions as the judiciary becomes a political target in the Trump era. But state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has maintained an even keel on cases while reducing a backlog in civil and criminal courts and standing up for vulnerable populations. The Bronxville resident has also cooled off hot-button subjects like pay raises and judiciary performance that have flustered the state’s two other branches of government.
After serving as Assembly majority leader since 2013, Joseph Morelle is looking to leap up the political pecking order by dropping his statehouse re-election bid in favor of the House seat made vacant by the death of Rep. Louise Slaughter. The upstate assemblyman served in the No. 2 job, balancing out power geographically with the New York City-based speaker. While Morelle will remain majority leader as long as he keeps his seat, it’s unclear how long he plans to stay.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Bronx is back – and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo is in the middle of its resurgence. The Bronx County Democratic Committee chairman helped anoint the City Council speaker and claimed the council’s powerful Land Use Committee chairmanship for a borough representative, which will have lasting implications on the future of the Bronx waterfront. He is also positioning his friend, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., for a citywide run.
Beth Finkel might be the only person in the state who is excited that you’re getting older. The AARP state director is looking out for your well-being, even if you haven’t retired yet. She led a successful campaign for a retirement savings plan for small businesses and freelancers to be included in the state budget – an important victory for her members. And she has advocated for closing the racial disparity in retirement savings to aid retired people of color.
Capalino+Company may be best known for its New York City lobbying, and the firm may not even have an Albany office like some of its competitors, but that hasn’t stopped James Capalino from asserting his influence on the state level as well. A newcomer to the top lobbyists list, Capalino’s firm ranked seventh in the state last year, with nearly $6 million in compensation according to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ annual lobbying report.
A newcomer to this year’s list, Sean Doolan chairs Hinman Straub’s government relations department and oversees the law firm’s Albany lobbying efforts. He has helped the firm slowly rise through the ranks of the capital’s top lobbyists, going from ninth place in 2013 to sixth based on compensation in JCOPE’s latest report. Doolan has also notably headed up legislative health care issues for clients like Excellus Health Plan, who paid the firm a whopping $404,700 last year.
If Ken Lovett is the dean of the Albany press corps, then Tom Precious must be the provost. With a reach far beyond Western New York, The Buffalo News’ Albany bureau chief delivers scoops and beat-defining narratives in equal measure. Precious is respected on both sides of the aisle in the state Legislature, has sources across agencies and commissions, and is well-liked among his colleagues. If you’re not reading his articles, can you even call yourself an informed New Yorker?
The lieutenant governor has recently become the subject of much conjecture as she gained a primary challenger this winter and had her name floated as a congressional candidate for her old Western New York seat. But while pundits and anonymous whisperers have busied themselves with speculation, Kathy Hochul has been clear: She enjoys her role as an economic development booster and No. 2 to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She isn’t going anywhere – that is, if she can help it.
The crisis communications expert sure has handled a lot of them lately. Michael McKeon’s firm Mercury Public Affairs has represented the downstate energy company at the center of Joseph Percoco’s corruption trial. But Mercury is rising under the leadership of McKeon, a Republican veteran who worked for then-Gov. George Pataki and then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. They’ve made some new hires and McKeon will be in the mix to help Gov. Andrew Cuomo stay in office this fall.
Former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato may have lost his seat to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer in the 1998 election, but that did not end D’Amato’s political influence. He started his lobbying firm Park Strategies in 1999, a powerhouse in Albany. It was ranked the state’s fifth top lobbying firm based on compensation in the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics' latest annual report – although the firm saw a drop in revenue from the previous year and moved down a spot on the list.
There really is no one ar-better than Susan. “The Capitol Pressroom” host has convened her late morning conversations from the comforts of a cramped alcove in the state Capitol for nearly a decade now. Arbetter’s interviews with scheming legislators and staid bureaucrats alike have a freewheeling quality and often make news, making the show a must listen for anyone in the business. Whenever we hear a spirited jazz combo wafting through the airwaves, we think of Susan.
Polling wizard Jefrey Pollock took an L in the 2016 presidential election with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but he is looking to bounce back with a new monthly polling project that will help Democrats craft their messages against Republicans in the 2018 midterms. The Global Strategy Group partner is also assisting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign, and his expertise will come in handy as the governor faces a more difficult task than expected thanks to Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy.
Though he’s left the helm of the influential Association for a Better New York, Bill Rudin has built up civic and political relationships over the decades, making him more than your average Manhattan real estate legacy kid. Proof? Now he’s chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, the political donor and lobbying arm for the rich and powerful. Past REBNY moves include reviving affordable housing tax breaks for developers and passing legislation that’s tough on Airbnb. Expect more to come.
The New York State Nurses Association has become increasingly political under Jill Furillo’s leadership. On her watch, NYSNA endorsed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and she has stood with other labor leaders on a number of issues, from demanding discounted MetroCards to raising the minimum wage. Furillo has also advocated for single-payer health care and fought against cuts to hospitals and Obamacare. Meanwhile, the profession has been steadily growing and diversifying, as more nurses are entering the workforce.
The splashiest change at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was Joseph Lhota’s return as chairman. But the more important hire may be Andy Byford, who came on to run New York City’s subways and will handle the nuts and bolts of getting the system back into good working order. He has a strong background, having spent years working on the London Underground before revamping Toronto’s public transit system. He’s hit the right notes so far, but riders will be demanding results.
Communication Workers of America District 1 has long been politically engaged, with Bob Master a mainstay in the halls of the state Capitol and a player in political campaigns as the state Working Families Party’s co-chairman. But amid a feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the WFP, Master and Dennis Trainor pledged allegiance to the governor, who has gone out of his way to curry favor with unions in recent years. If Cuomo wins re-election, he won’t forget their support.
Being Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s former college roommate looks good on a resume in Albany, and it hasn’t hurt Patrick Jenkins’ consulting career. Uber, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and casino giant Genting Malaysia Berhad all trust him to lobby on their behalf, working the deep ties he also has to Queens politicians – including his old boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The trial lawyers keep waiting on scaffold safety laws and Uber has a new surcharge, but Jenkins’ relationships do pay off.
You may not have heard of Jill DesRosiers, but she has held an important role: gatekeeper to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. With her strong grasp of political and policy matters, she is much more than a scheduler. Formerly the deputy secretary for executive operations and director of scheduling, she was promoted last year to the position of executive deputy secretary to the governor, joining an increasing number of high-level women in the top ranks of the governor’s office.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York traditionally gets the headlines, but the Eastern District also gets big cases – and that hasn’t changed with Richard Donoghue. He inherited the El Chapo case and the Eric Garner investigation, is taking on MS-13, indicted ex-Assemblywoman Pamela Harris for fraud and brought a case against actress Allison Mack and Nxivm founder Keith Raniere in an alleged sex trafficking conspiracy. Plus, he just dropped “interim” from his title.
Forgive Mike Elmendorf for being worried about the future. President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs may spur a trade war and raise the cost of building materials. Contractors in Elmendorf’s influential trade group are already seeing rising prices and trying to determine how to proceed. Meanwhile, he has called for investing in the state’s infrastructure, something that Washington has been slow to take up, while also challenging the state’s contracting targets for minority- and women-owned business enterprises.
Congressional Republicans are facing brutal headwinds, but Rep. Chris Collins will likely survive. Collins is one of the few politicians who have frustrated Gov. Andrew Cuomo without facing consequences. He won’t have to deal with a rematch against Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who the governor has not so subtly encouraged to run against him. An ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation into his investments in an Australian biotech company could present a problem, although Collins recently quit the company’s board.
Leave it to an engineer to steer the State University of New York system into the 21st century. Once an undersecretary of energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, Kristina Johnson became SUNY’s 13th chancellor in September. She’s moving to reduce the 64-campus system’s carbon footprint, has been managing the governor’s Excelsior Scholarship program and lobbies for more state funding. Now she gets to give some commencement addresses. Not a bad gig.
Teachers around the country have experienced a spring awakening, shutting down schools and staging demonstrations in state capitals for higher wages. That’s thrilling to New York State United Teachers President Andrew Pallotta, who was elected to his position a year ago. More encouraging news could be on the way for the veteran organizer: Both the state Senate and Assembly are considering a bill to separate teacher evaluations from student test scores – a year-end proposal teachers unions are championing.
The former federal prosecutor and longtime loyalist of Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejoined the executive chamber as the governor’s chief of staff in November. Known as Cuomo’s “minister of defense,” Linda Lacewell has kept his office humming even after having to testify earlier this year as a witness in the corruption trial of former top aide Joseph Percoco. Lacewell, who worked under Cuomo in the state attorney general’s office, is valued as one of the longtime members of his inner circle.
Former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito didn’t have this kind of clout. In his first few months as speaker, Corey Johnson has worked with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a way the governor has never seemed to with New York City Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio. The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Maybe so, but Johnson can point to some wins, such as expanding design-build authority for the city, new resources for NYCHA and more funding for the MTA.
Greenberg Traurig’s reach may be global, but that has not made its presence in Albany any less pronounced. Harold Iselin heads up the Albany office and co-chairs the firm’s Government Law and Policy Practice. He brings his expertise as a trial lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department and assistant counsel to then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, guiding Greenberg Traurig to the fourth spot on the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ annual lobbying report, with nearly $7.9 million in compensation last year.
A former Catskills probation officer, Blake Washington now wrangles numbers rather than people. He’s Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s guy on the all-powerful Ways and Means Committee, which bills flow through before being considered in the state budget. Washington has been working on the state budget for years in various positions, and with Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein recently taking over the committee as its chairwoman, Washington’s experience and expertise is an important asset for the Democratic conference.
Joanie Mahoney, the Onondaga County executive for the past decade, is getting Onondaga Lake cleaned up, benefiting from a sales tax agreement with Syracuse and diversifying the county’s workforce. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is also pumping money into the New York State Fair. She chairs the state Thruway Authority’s board of directors, which is set to complete the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge this year. One of the governor’s favorite Republicans, Mahoney will also be vouching for him this fall.
President Donald Trump hasn’t been quite as bad for New York as some Democrats feared, but if it really starts to hit the fan, Rep. Pete King is the one politician who can bridge the gap between the Queens-born commander in chief and true blue New York. As the dean of New York’s congressional delegation, he has earned the respect of his colleagues across the state. He’ll keep making his frequent cable news hits – assuming he survives November’s "blue wave."
These are challenging times for public sector workers. Just ask Wayne Spence, the New York State Public Employees Federation president, who is bracing for the U.S. Supreme Court to curb public unions’ powers to extract dues from members and nonmembers alike. If it’s any consolation for the workers Spence represents, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers are taking steps to soften the expected blow. But as if federal threats weren’t enough, Spence is confronting unrest among vice presidents within the union.
Though Bolton-St. Johns has its roots in New York City, the lobbying powerhouse brought some of the power to Albany when Giorgio DeRosa opened the firm’s Albany office in 1996. Since then, he and Emily Giske have been building its influence in the state Capitol. Bolton-St. Johns ranked third among the state’s top lobbying firms last year with $8.5 million in compensation, according to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ annual lobbying report.
Albany’s most trusted newswoman also happens to be a triple threat – running, cycling and swimming. This ironwoman’s day goes as follows. She wakes up at 4 a.m. and starts reading the state’s news outlets and blogging for State of Politics, one of the best outlets for a play-by-play of New York politics. Then she heads to the studio where she works on her nightly 8 p.m. show. In between, she trains. Did we mention “Capitol Tonight” remains a must watch for anyone remotely connected to state politics?
Evan Stavisky tends to operate behind the scenes where his ties to powerful friends keep him in top-level conversations. The Democratic consultant is close to Rep. Joseph Crowley, a rising star in Washington who has been part of pivotal moves in the New York City Council and the state Legislature. Stavisky, whose mother serves in the state Senate, is also an ally of state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who could succeed in taking back the state Senate this year.
Nobody puts Bill Lipton in a corner! Even though state Senate Democrats reunified, more unions left the Working Families Party following its endorsement of Cynthia Nixon and the governor made veiled threats against left-leaning organizations, Lipton has vowed to keep fighting for progressive values. And if that means supporting candidates in primaries against rogue centrist Democrats, and even the governor himself, then so be it. He’s waging a war for the soul of the Democratic Party and plenty of activists are all-in.