The 2019 New York City Power 100
The 2019 New York City Power 100
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may run the nation’s largest city, but that doesn’t automatically land him at No. 1 on the New York City Power 100. Since the city is a creature of the state, there’s only so much de Blasio can do before he has to head to Albany – or to Washington – to get permission or funding to carry out his proposals. The Democratic takeover of the state Senate means that Albany’s power structure is friendlier to the mayor, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have their own goals – and in many cases, they have a greater ability to carry them out. In our latest New York City Power 100, we assess the relative power of each of these political players, and where they fit in the city’s ever-shifting political power structure.
It’s a new political era in New York, but the one constant is Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
From his perch in Albany, where Democrats now wield all the power, the governor remains the state’s pre-eminent political operator and policymaker. And that means he controls much of what happens – or doesn’t happen – in New York City.
If the state implements congestion pricing in Manhattan, it will be credited to the governor’s efforts. The push to legalize recreational marijuana would go nowhere without Cuomo on board. He controls the state’s purse strings, determining education and health care spending. All of these policy decisions – and more – will reverberate across the five boroughs.
Politically, Cuomo gained momentum this past year. He fended off a primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon, while his running mate, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, survived a threat from New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams. Another ally, former New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, was elected state attorney general. The Democratic-controlled state Legislature should make it easier to pass some – but not all – of his priorities. He flexed his muscle in reversing the L train shutdown, and may gain even greater control over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Yet not all has gone according to plan. The federal cap on state and local tax deductions has slowed the flow of revenue, and Cuomo’s efforts to persuade President Donald Trump to eliminate the cap have not worked yet. And what was initially a major victory for the governor – Amazon’s decision to build a new headquarters in Queens – evaporated when a small but influential group of lawmakers, unions and advocates prompted the tech giant to back out. The political loss may be a sign of things to come as the governor ventures further into his third term, which has proven to be a minefield for past politicians in New York.
In Albany, where many of the most important policy decisions affecting New York City are made, it’s no longer “three men in the room”: it’s now Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The shift means Democrats now control all the levers of power, but what hasn’t changed is that Heastie remains the most important proponent of New York City’s interests.
The Bronx lawmaker no longer has to contend with Senate Republicans, who blocked countless measures passed by Assembly Democrats. Now, with a newly empowered ally in Stewart-Cousins, Heastie and his conference have been passing long-stalled legislation at an impressive clip. He is also poised to play a pivotal role on pending policies like the legalization of recreational marijuana, the implementation of congestion pricing and a package of criminal justice reforms.
Heastie, the former leader of the Bronx Democratic Party, retains a great deal of power in his home borough, where the party machine remains stronger and more united than anywhere else in the city.
A year ago, state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins wasn’t on this list. Now, she’s near the top.
Last fall, Democrats not only won the state Senate but gained a sizeable advantage. Stewart-Cousins, who helped the Senate Democrats close the chapter on a chaotic era, was crowned majority leader – the first black woman to serve in the role.
And while she’s not a New York City resident, she now has great influence over the city’s affairs. Already, Stewart-Cousins has made it clear that she won’t raise taxes. Members of her conference from the outer boroughs and the suburbs could hold up congestion pricing, or perhaps ensure the city pays more for subway upgrades. She has great sway over other critical issues in the city, from charter schools to criminal justice reform.
She may have overplayed her hand – and made herself an enemy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo – by nominating her top deputy, state Sen. Michael Gianaris, to a board with veto power over Amazon’s HQ2 deal, resulting in its abrupt demise.
Bill de Blasio is the Rodney Dangerfield of New York City politics: He don’t get no respect.
The mayor easily won a second term in 2017 while overseeing continuing reductions in crime, a decline in traffic deaths, the creation or preservation of thousands of new affordable housing units and the successful rollout of universal prekindergarten, which he now hopes to extend to all 3-year-olds in the city.
But he just can’t seem to break through. He has an adversarial relationship with the local press, which has documented his administration’s failures to fix up the city’s public housing system and resolve the homelessness crisis. He has struggled to persuade politicians in Albany to sign on to his agenda, and even with Democrats now controlling both houses of the state Legislature, there’s no guarantee that they’ll support his policies. On the national stage, he has been unable to position himself as a leading progressive voice – his support for Amazon certainly didn’t help – and his flirtation with a 2020 presidential run isn’t doing him any favors at home.
President Donald Trump was No. 1 on last year’s New York City Power 100, due in part to his sweeping tax code changes that are now buffeting the city and his efforts to block the Gateway Program, an infrastructure project that is critical to the city and the region. But a “blue wave” hammered congressional Republicans, Trump failed to capitalize on a federal government shutdown to fund his border wall and the courts have blocked him left and right.
The U.S. Senate minority leader has little to show for his negotiations with President Donald Trump, although both New Yorkers have reputations as deal-makers. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, Schumer’s party now has leverage – but he’s been eclipsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who won the shutdown showdown. And it’s unclear whether Schumer can capitalize on his party's new power by securing funds for the Gateway rail tunnel or by reversing Trump’s cap on state and local tax deductions.
City Hall’s modern-day happy warrior has breathed life into the speakership during his first year, winning the loyalty of his fellow council members. Amid legislative wins and a nonstop, five-borough publicity tour, Johnson has become a contender in the 2021 mayoral race. His second year could prove a challenge if the new speaker smell wears off, but Johnson has proven himself a strong foil to Mayor Bill de Blasio, coming from the left on issues like Fair Fares.
In his sixth year in the office, Scott Stringer keeps on using his unique perch to put cold, hard numbers behind criticism of city government’s shortcomings. In the past year alone he’s put out reports on misleading MTA delays, poor safety at NYCHA developments and continued violence on Rikers Island. The work is a service to the city, but it also benefits Stringer, since he’s made it clear that he wants to be the city’s next mayor.
Nobody has risen as fast in state politics as Letitia James – the state’s first female and African-American elected attorney general. But the distinction is only part of what the former New York City public advocate brings to the position. James promises to be a thorn in the side of President Donald Trump, and while she has yet to file a lawsuit of her own against his administration, she has hit the ground running on issues close to home.
All commissioners are equal, but some commissioners make more news than others. Take the NYPD’s James O’Neill, who has maintained the trend of falling crime rates and helped make New York City safer than it has been since the Dodgers were in Brooklyn. O’Neill is a quieter contrast to some of his publicity-hungry predecessors, but he generally says the right thing in responding to the NYPD’s inevitable controversies, never embarrassing Mayor Bill de Blasio while keeping his 36,000 officers content.
The state’s junior senator is following in her predecessor’s footsteps, announcing in January that she will run for president. Kirsten Gillibrand has constructed a solid platform as one of the country’s leading voices against sexual harassment in the #MeToo era, and has been a periodic target of our twitterer-in-chief. However, she may not be the only New Yorker in the enormous Democratic field, possibly setting up a Subway Series slugfest with Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Cuomo and/or Bill de Blasio.
The former budget guru knows a few things about balancing competing interests, and he brings this expertise to his job succeeding Anthony Shorris as first deputy mayor. Dean Fuleihan’s first year as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s No. 2 saw fewer scandals, and he has helped the mayor focus on the city’s future, including expanding public health care and ferry service. One challenge he faces will be replacing an exodus of talent from the administration in the coming months.
It was probably inevitable that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s closest aide – with him since his 2009 public advocate campaign – would become his chief of staff. She keeps the mayor connected to the pulse of the city, earning accolades as “one of the smartest people out there” from the mayor’s political rivals and fellow civil servants alike. When asked how important Wolfe was to his agenda, de Blasio said it would take him all day to explain his affection.
Health care was the top issue for voters last year, which means the venerable labor leader may play an even larger role in local efforts to expand and improve health care. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “universal health care” plan is good news for health care workers, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo may not increase Medicaid spending. George Gresham was also instrumental in reaching a contract agreement with NYU Langone, giving 3 percent annual raises to about 90,000 workers.
Political observers trying to determine whether Mayor Bill de Blasio might run for president would be wise to ponder what Chirlane McCray wants when her husband’s term is over. McCray has said she wants to run for office in Albany, Brooklyn or citywide, and made several hires to bolster her office’s policy work. She’s also “resetting” her $850 million mental health initiative, ThriveNYC. More focus on the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City could keep the critics at bay.
After five election cycles, the “blue wave” finally crashed through the state Senate, giving Michael Gianaris the power to pass progressive legislation that has stalled since 2011. The Democratic-controlled Senate already passed bills establishing early voting and prohibiting gender discrimination. Yet Gianaris faces tougher challenges in his Queens district, where he has lobbied for accessible subway stations and was one of the main catalysts for getting Amazon to pull out of New York City.
Winning re-election was the easy part for New York’s longest-serving statewide official, who coasted to victory in November. As a member of the state legislative pay raise panel, he dealt with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s fury for linking a salary hike to a ban on legislators’ outside income. At least he got a nice present from Gov. Andrew Cuomo: the power to preaudit CUNY and SUNY contracts that exceed $250,000.
One of the nicest people in city government, New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm presided over drama-free budget negotiations between the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office last year. He even managed to extract a few goodies from the de Blasio administration in the city’s $89 billion budget, such as subsidized MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. The former education committee chairman also had a hand in providing $600,000 for an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in public schools.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler has been one of the president’s antagonists since he pulled the plug on Donald Trump’s plans to build a skyscraper on Manhattan’s far West Side in the 1990s. Twenty years later, the stakes are considerably higher. The Manhattan congressman helms the House Judiciary Committee, which would become the first stop on the president’s potential impeachment tour. Nadler isn’t willing to rush to judgment on anything – unless Trump was in the loop on Michael Cohen’s hush payments.
Joseph Crowley’s shocking loss last summer was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ gain this winter. The Brooklyn congressman consolidated support among colleagues to take Crowley’s slot as House Democratic Caucus chairman. The only problem is Jeffries alienated another Democratic leading voice, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who reportedly sought to find a challenger to primary him in 2020. But if he stays in office – which seems likely – he could be the next House speaker.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be the most powerful woman in the country, but Rep. Nita Lowey is close behind. The Westchester County Democrat is the first woman to head the House Appropriations Committee, putting her in the middle of funding battles over Planned Parenthood, safety net programs and border security. After helping avoid a second federal government shutdown, she is now on the front lines fighting the president’s emergency declaration to fund a border wall.
A year ago, the former Bronx bartender was readying her long shot campaign against the fourth-ranking Democrat in Congress. Today she is infuriating the GOP with her dance moves while pushing her fellow Democrats to embrace policies like the “Green New Deal,” “Medicare-for-all" and a 70 percent tax rate on decamillionaires. Too bad she is only 29 – this queen of socialism (and Twitter) just might win the Democratic presidential primary if she were old enough.
Michael Mulgrew sure doesn’t miss former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. After years of salary freezes under Bloomberg, the magnanimous teachers union head rammed through another contract with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration in October that will give teachers 2 to 3 percent annual raises. Mulgrew even inserted an $8,000 bonus for teachers willing to work at tough schools and six weeks of paid parental leave after calling out de Blasio publicly.
The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council president is one of labor's closest allies of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. He has worked with city officials to bolster the hotel industry, with the New York City Council passing a measure in December requiring special permits for new hotel construction in industrial neighborhoods. The City Council passed another bill in June requiring Airbnb to disclose host addresses and identities to the city, and after a judge blocked it, the city issued a subpoena for the same records.
Suri Kasirer’s top-notch staff and professional, results-oriented approach is paying off. Her eponymous firm raked in more than $11.4 million in earnings in 2017 – earning the top spot among lobbyists in the city. Kasirer repped a range of clients whom City Hall sought to help, including New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets and bus company Reliant Transportation. She’s got ties to the mayor and to Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who hired one of her vice presidents.
The measure of great public relations professionals is how little you hear about them. It should come as no surprise that it took a court-enforced public records request to reveal the full extent of “agent of the city” Jonathan Rosen’s strategic contributions to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s team. Credit goes to the PR pair of Rosen and Valerie Berlin for acting as a sounding board while giving the mayor “space where he could focus properly and elevate.”
This super lobbyist hauled in more than $11.2 million in 2017 – a drop from more than $13 million the previous year, but still good for second highest in New York City. James Capalino, who first made his mark as a commissioner in New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s administration, is a veteran of city politics, helping guide major projects like The High Line to completion and assisting clients like Nike, the Rudin family and the Times Square Alliance.
The Real Estate Board of New York continued to defend state Senate Republicans last fall, even as individual real estate developers got behind Democrats. Now that the GOP has been toppled, REBNY and its leader, John Banks, are grappling with lawmakers looking to revamp rent laws to be more favorable to tenants – and some legislators are pushing even further for measures like universal rent control. Banks also backs congestion pricing, which lawmakers are battling over this year.
One of the few 2021 mayoral hopefuls not running for public advocate, Ruben Diaz Jr. is focused on making life better in the Bronx and beyond. The Bronx beep demanded NYCHA remove trash at Sotomayor Houses and urged the state Legislature to protect the preferential rent discount for tenants, while also promoting the borough’s tasty restaurants. He’s been pushing for City Hall to take over the subways and buses, but four new Metro-North stations are coming to the east Bronx.
New York City could be getting a bicycle-friendly mayor if the Brooklyn borough president succeeds in 2021. Eric Adams has been riding high, getting healthier and biking around to highlight alternative transit options. He has taken the lead on demanding transparency from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed alternative for the L train shutdown and keeps the pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio to repair public housing. Somehow, Adams still finds time for unorthodox activities like the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge.
Few consultants have as much sway in New York as Neal Kwatra. He helped Corey Johnson secure the New York City Council speakership, delivered for his hotel allies with the recent Airbnb crackdown and helped raise the minimum wage to $15 in much of the state. He recently brought on Daily News alum Ken Lovett and is now working on the New York Immigration Coalition’s campaign for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
The New York City budget director has had no shortage of challenges since replacing her former boss Dean Fuleihan a year ago. Melanie Hartzog dealt with council members who wanted subsidized MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers and faster spending on capital projects, while demanding to know how much the city spent on hotel rooms for homeless people. Hartzog has helped stabilize the city’s hospital system, saying it’s in a “very cash-strong position.”
It might have taken the near-closure of the L train, but suddenly the region’s dire transportation needs are at the top of City Hall’s agenda. Enter Polly Trottenberg, who will play a key role in navigating New York City’s transit bureaucracy to reinvest in the subway system, speeding up slow bus service, ensuring L train commuters can get around Brooklyn, and rebuilding the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Not to mention defending bike lanes from Whoopi Goldberg’s wrath.
Jon Paul Lupo had the unenviable position of replacing Emma Wolfe as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top intergovernmental aide last year, but he has brought the same combination of toughness and finesse to the office. The mayor’s “enforcer” helped de Blasio go toe-to-toe with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over withholding funds for NYCHA and absorbing cuts from Albany. The mayor’s dynamic with the state Legislature may be changing now that Democrats run both chambers, letting Lupo operate from a position of strength.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez was a leading voice on immigration and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico even before Democrats took back the House. The Brooklyn congresswoman called for the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and demanded a commission to investigate deaths from Hurricane Maria. With majority rule, Velázquez can advocate for people with temporary protected status and block the president’s proposal to tap disaster relief funds for his border wall, which she vowed to fight.
Rafael Salamanca Jr. is keeping the South Bronx and other areas booming by embracing mixed-income development as the New York City Council’s Land Use Committee chairman. He will have a lot more on his plate: three neighborhood rezonings, siting several community-based jails and a lawsuit over a proposed development at Two Bridges. And he’s trying to ensure developers build units for the homeless while keeping close tabs on the city’s Southern Boulevard rezoning, which is in his district.
With senior officials leaving City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mr. Fixit of social services has his work cut out for him. Banks will administer de Blasio’s “universal health care” plan for uninsured New Yorkers. That’s another high-profile initiative that could face scrutiny after the mayor acknowledged failing to make headway on reducing homelessness in 2018. Other challenges abound, including mitigating the economic fallout from the longest federal government shutdown in history.
Since becoming the first female secretary to the governor – and one of the youngest – Melissa DeRosa has spearheaded Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legislative agenda, particularly codifying Roe v. Wade in state law and defending her boss against critics. A Times Square billboard promoted her tenacity, which will be tested as the Cuomo administration tries to avoid the pratfalls of a third term. “He’s not capable of slowing down,” DeRosa says, which applies to her as well.
The man who leads the Rent Stabilization Association – which represents 25,000 landlords – could face a trying year in Democratic-run Albany. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told Joseph Strasburg vacancy decontrol and preferential rent are out and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins could close other loopholes and tweak the law in favor of tenants. Strasburg hopes he has built enough goodwill to be heard, and curtailing evictions of federally subsidized tenants during the government shutdown is a good start.
There’s a reason why Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has an antagonistic relationship with the press, keeps a weekly engagement with Errol Louis on NY1. The “Inside City Hall” host is a fair arbiter of the day’s news cycle and gives de Blasio space to make his case on issues like regulating Uber and firing the city investigation commissioner. His show is a pit stop for public advocate and mayoral hopefuls too.
In Bill Rudin’s first year as Real Estate Board of New York chairman, he has had to confront a cooling housing market – transactions dipped from 13,295 in 2017 to 10,354 last year, and sales fell from $25.7 billion to $21.3 billion. This year could bring uncertainty now that Amazon has pulled out of New York City: The Rudin family’s Dock 72 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard was set to benefit from increased economic activity along the river.
After a five-year stint as chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, the Tishman Speyer president and CEO dove into the tech market. Rob Speyer launched a coworking service called Studio Private while fully leasing the office space at his 1.2-million-square-foot Long Island City project, The Jacx, months before its opening. And while the influential developer was thrilled about Amazon coming to Long Island City, he had identified the area’s advantages years ago.
Gary LaBarbera has waged a bitter battle against Related Cos. for hiring nonunion workers at Hudson Yards after decades of peace. He has led pickets at the far West Side site and on Park Avenue, demanding a prevailing wage while both sides fight lawsuits claiming fraud and corrupt practices. In his corner is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who, in his state budget address, proposed requiring developers taking public subsidies to pay a higher union wage.
The billionaire chairman of Related Cos. has gone to war against New York City’s building and construction unions over his $25 billion Hudson Yards project. After $100 million of cost overruns, Stephen Ross cut the unions out of the project’s next phase and opened bidding to nonunion firms. Ross charged Gary LaBarbera and union workers with inflating costs in a lawsuit filed in March, which sparked months of picketing. The conflict could transform development in the city for years.
The Port Authority’s executive director is nothing if not forthright. Rick Cotton told business leaders a year ago that the Port Authority must renovate its airport restrooms, fix broken escalators and stalled AirTrains, and overhaul Wi-Fi. That’s part of the authority’s $32.2 billion capital plan to improve its airports, bridges and rail systems through 2026. He’s excited about energy-saving projects like electric buses and solar panels at JFK, and that fancy new concourse at LaGuardia.
The cheerful transit chief has made incremental subway improvements while handling criticism from the City Council over a planned fare hike for the cash-strapped system. But in January, Andy Byford got railroaded by realpolitik when Gov. Andrew Cuomo reversed the MTA’s plan to shutter the L train tunnel for 15 months. Byford is standing his ground, saying he “will not be steamrolled’ by Cuomo over safety concerns. If the plan fails, “I own the risk,” he acknowledged.
One of the most well-liked politicians in the city, the Manhattan borough president has a large portfolio. When she isn’t demanding transparency over the MTA’s sudden change of heart on the L train shutdown, Gale Brewer is preserving garment industry manufacturing in midtown Manhattan, successfully opposing Extell’s plan to build an Upper West Side tower and shaping plans to rezone SoHo and NoHo. She also has developed quite the farm team of former interns and staffers.
These two lobbyists helped build Pitta, Bishop & Del Giorno into the No. 3 firm in the city. Jon Del Giorno, who has strong ties with the New York City Council, is known for leading Christine Quinn’s and Melissa Mark-Viverito’s campaigns for council speaker. Vincent Pitta, who has a number of labor clients, recently lobbied on behalf of the Teamsters union. The firm is also known for its expertise in nonprofits.
Kathryn Wylde recently pointed out that nostalgia for the past is no reason to discredit the business community’s commitment to improving New York City’s transit system. To make the city more attractive to businesses looking to expand, she called for opening new Metro-North stations in the Bronx and passing congestion pricing. She had been welcoming of Amazon’s arrival and said the city’s image was “a bit tarnished” by the company’s departure.
The former Kasirer lobbyist joined Corey Johnson’s team a year ago and quickly ascended to become his chief of staff, giving the speaker’s office added experience navigating city power structures. Goldman won’t be the enforcer that Ramon Martinez was, but his institutional knowledge of city governance, labor and the real estate industry (former clients include Brookfield Properties, Forest City Realty Trust and the Hotel Association of New York City), will likely be an asset during budget negotiations and rezoning hearings.
Emily Giske’s empathy and her “organic love for the city” have helped her become a top city lobbyist. With ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, former Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other power brokers, Giske has worked with business partner Mike Keogh to secure several multimillion-dollar projects, including hospital renovations and energy deals. A vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, she has also expanded into tech with clients like Google, Airbnb and Waymo.
The Manhattan federal prosecutor has kept a lower public profile than his famous predecessor, Preet Bharara, yet he has managed to secure corruption convictions in bribery schemes involving college basketball recruiting, high-ranking cops and de Blasio donors, and the organizers of the pernicious Fyre Festival. And even though Geoffrey Berman has recused himself from the Michael Cohen investigation, his colleagues are hard at work sifting through records for hot leads into wrongdoing.
The public employees union chief has had some highs and lows lately. A major low – the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated agency fees, which are collected from nonmembers, in its Janus ruling last year – was contrasted with the high of Henry Garrido’s District Council 37 reaching a contract with the city that included several pay raises. Other contracts followed, including one giving CUNY employees a substantial raise. Now Garrido is worried about a proposed single-payer health care plan.
Queens had a mixed year in transit and economic development, and its borough president is hoping constituents focus on the positives. Melinda Katz contributed to plans to renovate LaGuardia Airport and add an AirTrain link, but Amazon’s decision to abandon its planned headquarters in Long Island City wasn’t what she was hoping for. Katz’s leadership and recent advocacy against the 2020 census asking a citizenship question could boost her candidacy in the Queens district attorney’s race.
The week this list is published, one of these front-runners will likely wake up as New York City public advocate – although the 17-candidate field could lead to a surprising outcome. The position is what you make of it, but Councilman Jumaane Williams, former council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Assemblyman Michael Blake have highlighted their independence and eagerness to boost the office’s profile. Each could shake up the 2021 mayoral race, but may be more content as city ombudsman.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favorite Republican had a mixed bag this past year. The Staten Island borough president celebrated a new “fast ferry” route from St. George and vigilantly watched the MTA’s new express bus network, which should improve Staten Islanders’ commutes. But developer Melohn Properties canceled its waterfront shopping center plan after developers for the New York Wheel also scrapped their proposal. Now James Oddo faces a critical decision on the Bay Street rezoning plan.
It took years of advocacy, but a $15 minimum wage became a reality thanks to Héctor Figueroa’s work. He also pressured public officials to boost airport workers’ wages to $19 an hour, advocated for Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts and called attention to the plight of federally contracted workers, who may not receive back pay from the federal government shutdown. His biggest loss is the exit of Amazon, which would have partnered with his union workers.
Mitchell Katz joined New York City Health + Hospitals with a focus on primary care, not hospitalizations. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new “universal health care” plan lets Mitchell Katz pursue that goal. The city hospital chief calls de Blasio’s plan “customer service” that matches patients with doctors and medical services, instead of overburdening emergency rooms. The plan, set to start this summer, will provide care at public hospitals and clinics for 600,000 uninsured residents, half of whom are undocumented.
The Southern District often gets the ripped-from-the-headlines cases, but Richard Donoghue’s Eastern District won the lottery when it landed the trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman – and convicted the Mexican drug lord on all 10 counts. The case was a riveting psychodrama and police had to close the Brooklyn Bridge to transport him from Lower Manhattan. The criminal charges against Donoghue’s other high-profile defendant – the CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei – are escalating tensions between the two countries.
Curbing homelessness and expanding health care coverage are among New York City’s most pressing challenges, and they both fall within Herminia Palacio’s purview. In the past year, the deputy mayor has led a multiagency children’s health initiative and launched a youth homelessness task force. More recently, she began overseeing an effort to enroll thousands of uninsured New Yorkers into the city's health insurance plan. Thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio, she will have help from city workers.
Will he? Won’t he? The former New York City mayor is expected to announce soon whether or not he will seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. But even if he decides once again to stay out of the fray, he’ll undoubtedly influence the presidential policy debate from the sidelines. And back in his hometown, many of his policies are still reverberating, from tech investments to major land use decisions to initiatives on public health and sustainability.
Leading a complex public university system isn’t easy. CUNY board of trustees Chairman Bill Thompson, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, established a new school for labor studies and expanded a tuition-free scholarship program. But students demonstrated after a $200 tuition hike and protested CUNY’s support for the Amazon headquarters in Queens that was scuttled. The good news is that CUNY will soon have a new chancellor – Félix Matos Rodríguez, a well-regarded veteran of the university system.
The New York Building Congress president and CEO has had plenty on his plate, including being selected to help run a commission to revise the city charter, which had its three proposals approved by voters. His day job is no less stressful, as construction permits declining for the first time in 10 years could signal a plateau in the real estate market. Carlo Scissura dismisses those concerns, estimating construction spending reached a record $61.5 billion in 2018.
It is an unfriendly environment for Democratic machines these days, but Marcos Crespo has retained his grip on the Bronx. He saw his Queens compatriot Joseph Crowley and Albany ally Jeff Klein taken out by insurgents in last year’s Democratic primaries. But Crespo has plenty of allies across the borough, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. He’s handing off management of Somos el Futuro to focus on helping Bronx candidates in 2021 – perhaps including his own bid for borough president.
A year ago, the Brooklyn district attorney convened a coalition of criminal justice experts to forge a progressive vision for the office. Gonzalez started by ending cash bail for most misdemeanors, promised to dismiss low-level marijuana convictions and offered counseling programs instead of jail time for low-level drug possession suspects. Gonzalez also announced Brooklyn recorded the fewest homicides in nearly 50 years. Expect him to take a role in bail reform and work on the borough-based jail to accommodate the closing of Rikers Island.
Is it Brian Lehrer’s dulcet tones or rapier-sharp inquisitions that stir New Yorkers in the morning? WNYC’s voice of conscience kept listeners engaged as the station cleaned house and fired hosts amid myriad sexual harassment scandals. His weekly #AskTheMayor chat with Mayor Bill de Blasio is an illuminating glimpse into the mayor’s mind, and Lehrer never lets him off the hook. And his exhaustive pre-election coverage, no matter how local the race, is a must-listen for civic-minded New Yorkers.
The Upper East Side congresswoman won a competitive primary race over Suraj Patel in June. Rep. Carolyn Maloney sits on the important House Oversight and Reform Committee and chairs a subcommittee overseeing the financial markets. She wants to force LLCs to disclose their owners, which could help law enforcement (and reporters) track criminal activity. But the congresswoman isn’t happy about the exit of Amazon’s HQ2, which was planned for the Queens part of her district.
James Patchett tried to land Amazon’s second headquarters – not doing so would have been a fireable offense, he said. And while Patchett tried to keep the New York City Council out of the process, he couldn’t stifle the criticism that spurred the tech giant to back out of its plans for a second headquarters in Queens. One of his organization’s successes is the citywide ferry system’s expansion, though the cost subsidized by taxpayers is considerably more than initially estimated.
At the center of the legislative churn emanating from Albany is the governor’s counsel, who may work on policies for months at a time. Alphonso David has become the governor’s enforcer in difficult intergovernmental relationships, such as defending the Child Victims Act from the Roman Catholic Church and reminding Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. who actually has jurisdiction over abuse investigations. His next job is determining how to handle criminal records for marijuana offenders if the drug becomes legal.
The Walentas family is reshaping entire swaths of Brooklyn. They drove the revitalization of the Dumbo neighborhood, and now they’re building another expansive project around the old Domino Sugar complex in Williamsburg. Jed Walentas, who now runs the Two Trees Management Co. that his father founded, is also a strong proponent of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar project, which would run near Two Trees’ properties. An environmental review of the project recently began.
A key combatant in the Amazon battle was the head of the retail and wholesale workers union, who led a coalition of activists and politicians staunchly opposed to the deal and started to organize Amazon’s warehouse workers in Staten Island. After a meeting in which it seemed that the tech giant and its union foes might reach a compromise, Jeff Bezos pulled out. In the process, Stuart Appelbaum gained fame – or infamy – for conquering the capitalist titan.
The billionaire grocery magnate expanded his influence with “The Cats Roundtable,” his vital radio program for people on this list. So far this year, John Catsimatidis hosted Newt Gingrich, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Rep. Pete King. Catsimatidis hasn’t diminished as a player in local real estate and politics. His Red Apple Group is building luxury rental towers in Coney Island, he’s backing Nicole Malliotakis for Congress in Staten Island – and he may yet make another run for mayor.
The Communications Workers of America’s vice president has spent months since the 2016 strike in a pitched battle with Verizon Wireless. In July, Dennis Trainor’s union got its contract with the telecom giant extended for another four years, which includes an 11 percent wage increase for 34,000 workers over the life of the contract. But CWA will no doubt remain vigilant against anti-union rhetoric after Verizon disparaged the union and discouraged workers from organizing, according to The Guardian.
Michael Woloz is the chief lobbyist for the taxicab industry, which is facing a number of challenges but won a key victory when the city imposed a cap on new for-hire vehicles. Woloz pushed the Taxi and Limousine Commission to let cabbies pick other cars beyond the Nissan “Taxi of Tomorrow.” But that’s just scratching the surface for Woloz and his firm, which also represents bankers, truckers, supermarkets, criminal justice reform advocates and major cultural institutions.
The pressure is on the Manhattan district attorney to convict Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. A judge dropped one of six criminal charges against the producer when prosecutors admitted a detective made an error. Vance didn’t win any fans when he said he didn’t realize how widespread workplace sexual violence was until the #MeToo movement. A guilty verdict and bail reform may bolster Vance’s reputation, but his crackdown on the poor and other controversies have rivals angling to replace him.
Laurie Cumbo pushed a number of proposals to help families and the less fortunate through the City Council this past year, most notably requiring the city to provide reports on wage disparities, prohibiting employers from terminating employees based on reproductive choices and helping launch a community center to end gun violence. Cumbo also got a Crown Heights developer to double the affordable units in two towers as part of an upzoning deal. Her Brooklyn beep rumors aren’t going away.
Mark Peters’ loss is Margaret Garnett’s gain. After firing his investigation commissioner for “mistakes and abuse of power,” Mayor Bill de Blasio chose the former federal prosecutor to run the city’s Department of Investigation. After her nomination hearing in November, Garnett said she would “hang up the phone” if someone asked her to halt a probe. She also promised to conduct a review of staff conduct. No word on whether she’s keeping all the guns and tactical gear Peters bought.
If a decade of economic growth has poured Miracle-Gro all over New York City, then Marisa Lago is the master gardener, making the city presentable – and not choked by overgrown weeds. The role invites controversy – most recently, politicians sued her over planned skyscrapers near the Manhattan Bridge. But the longtime civil servant rarely seems to bow to opposition, and is looking ahead to rezoning Gowanus, SoHo, Staten Island’s North Shore and whatever’s next.
The Bronx councilman received additional powers and a staff of investigators when Speaker Corey Johnson anointed him head of the council’s oversight committee in 2018. Ritchie Torres has since opened an inquiry into the agency that regulates the private carting industry, urged investigators to track down Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deleted emails and served as a one-man wrecking ball against NYCHA rot – demanding a hearing over alleged NYCHA sex parties at Throggs Neck Houses.
Stanley Brezenoff has been the go-to guy to stabilize troubled agencies, from New York City Health + Hospitals to the New York City Housing Authority. But there’s a new fixer in town: Kathryn Garcia, who just replaced Brezenoff as NYCHA’s interim leader. Garcia is expected to return to her post as commissioner of the city Sanitation Department, where she has driven efforts to overhaul the private carting industry while also tackling the problem of lead exposure.
After luring the Grammy Awards back to New York City and selecting a nightlife mayor, the indefatigable media and entertainment commissioner was named the city’s census czar. Julie Menin’s first task is to fight the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census, which a federal judge said must be removed, and now the Trump administration wants the U.S. Supreme Court to review it. Regardless, she’ll have to convince city residents to participate in the decennial survey.
Edward Wallace has a wealth of experience, from serving on the New York City Council to his work in real estate. While his office ranks among the city’s top lobbyists, it does much more, from legal representation to land use to whatever else a client needs. Wallace’s team represented Amazon, which ultimately dropped its HQ2 plan, but the tech giant might have fared better had it hired Greenberg Traurig before – not after – it announced its move to New York City.
Vincent Alvarez’s New York City Central Labor Council, which represents 1.3 million workers, has been a strong ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he’s needed them. Now Alvarez is reaping some of those rewards. Cuomo has backed Alvarez and other union leaders on the picket lines in their strike against Charter Communications over benefits. Alvarez has also stood with the SAG-AFTRA allies who picketed at an ad agency in November.
The Parkside Group earned a reputation as a “political consulting powerhouse” representing New York City Council members and Fortune 500 companies, and it owes much of this success to Harry Giannoulis. He stays out of the spotlight but he casts a long shadow behind the scenes – such as in last year’s race for council speaker. His firm has also been a longtime campaign consultant for the state Senate Democrats, which won an impressive majority last year.
The Brooklyn Democratic boss got outmaneuvered by then-Rep. Joseph Crowley and lost out on picking the New York City Council speaker and securing top committees for Brooklyn council members, but it wasn’t all bad for Frank Seddio. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, an ally, replaced the ousted Crowley in the House leadership, and another friend, Councilman Jumaane Williams, nearly toppled the lieutenant governor. If Williams becomes public advocate, Seddio could pick his replacement. But Democratic insurgents want to reduce his power.
Constantinople & Vallone Consulting boasts the name of one of New York City’s most respected public servants: Peter Vallone Sr., the former speaker of the City Council. The elder Vallone and business leader Tony Constantinople built the company into a player in government relations, public affairs and business development, landing at No. 5 on last year’s city lobbying list. The younger generation – Anthony Constantinople and Perry Vallone – are now driving the company’s growth.
The public face of New York’s charter schools has his work cut out for him after Republicans lost the state Senate and several charter-unfriendly Democrats joined the legislative body. James Merriman will continue to advocate for raising the cap on new charters in New York City, especially as the final spots run out. Merriman has also pushed for more money for school safety. Increasing funding for programs and facilities at existing charter schools will also remain a challenge.
Fixing New York City’s dilapidated subways would be a boon for riders – and for Tony Utano’s transit workers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s congestion pricing plan and his alternative to the L train shutdown could mean more work for the Transport Workers Union Local 100. The MTA last year announced plans to hire another 640 workers to maintain the system. Utano won a full term in December, so he’ll be in the middle of the MTA’s budget discussion this year.
Long regarded as the nation’s newspaper of record, The New York Times is beefing up coverage of its hometown with the appointment of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Clifford Levy as metro editor. The former Albany bureau chief is considered a top contender for the paper’s top newsroom position. Mara Gay, named to the editorial board last year, is a seasoned journalist who is bringing a sharp lens to the city’s most pressing issues while assessing candidates seeking the Times’ endorsement.
Since Jon Silvan founded Global Strategy Group as a polling firm in 1995, it has built itself into a powerhouse public relations firm, working with clients like Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson, Kirsten Gillibrand and Andrew Cuomo over the years. The firm – which is also led by founding partners Jefrey Pollock and Jeffrey Plaut – landed at No. 9 on the Observer’s latest PR Power 50 list, while Silvan also serves on the board of the national PR Council.
The former assemblyman made a name for himself fighting on behalf of public housing residents, domestic workers and senior citizens. Since leaving public office, Keith Wright – who was recently named Person of the Year by Schneps Media and received City & State’s 50 Over 50 Lifetime Achievement Award – has been consulting for Davidoff Hutcher & Citron and assisting advocates working to close Rikers Island. He also keeps a hand in local politics as chairman of the Manhattan Democratic Party.
Camille Joseph has tackled policy and public affairs for New York elected officials like Kirsten Gillibrand, Anthony Weiner and Scott Stringer. But since 2016, Joseph has been in the private sector at Charter Communications. Arriving after Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable, Joseph is now on the front lines of the company’s efforts to stay in New York after the Public Service Commission moved to kick them out in July.
Louis Coletti is an institution in New York City’s construction industry, having run the Building Trades Employers’ Association, a trade group that represents contractors and construction managers, since 1997. A former construction executive himself, Coletti is an influential voice on issues like construction worker safety, the use of nonunion labor, awarding more government contracts to businesses owned by women and minorities, modernizing the city Buildings Department and finding new funding streams to fix the subway system.
Mike McKeon is filling out his New York public affairs office with top insiders. When Jeff Klein needed a landing pad after getting bounced in the Democratic primary last year, he called McKeon, who made him the firm’s New York co-chair. The team also includes Rachel Noerdlinger, whose top client, the Rev. Al Sharpton, is poised to play kingmaker in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. But McKeon’s firm has come under the special counsel’s scrutiny over lobbying in Ukraine.
One of the top lobbyists in New York City is not slowing down. With Manhattan Democratic Party Chairman Keith Wright coming off the two-year waiting period on lobbying before the state, Sid Davidoff’s firm will command a larger presence in City Hall and Albany – especially with Democrats running both chambers of the state Legislature. In 2017, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron was the city’s No. 7 lobbying firm, with clients like NBCUniversal, HBO and LaGuardia Gateway Partners.
The New York City Police Benevolent Association president deserves some credit for the city's record-low crime. Patrick Lynch’s influential union is also battling efforts to make the NYPD’s disciplinary process more transparent and is pushing Mayor Bill de Blasio – at the Park Slope YMCA, outside a town hall in Queens, and even in Iowa – for a new contract. And the organization, formerly known as the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, recently removed the gendered term from its name.
When New York City imposed a one-year cap on new for-hire vehicles in August, it ended Uber’s streak of outmaneuvering City Hall. Now Josh Gold and Sarfraz Maredia are working to return Uber to full speed, as the company recently filed a lawsuit to overturn the cap. They’re also promoting congestion pricing while trying to improve driver and passenger safety. A $120 billion IPO would stabilize the company and keep it in New York for a while.
A former Bloomberg administration staffer who later worked for and remains an adviser to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Chris Coffey leads the New York practice for political strategy and communications firm Tusk Strategies. He has been pushing New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets’ bill to move horse carriage pickups inside Central Park. And recently, Coffey was also an informal adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s successful 2018 re-election campaign.
David Greenfield didn’t run for re-election in 2017, leaving his powerful post as chairman of the New York City Council Land Use Committee. He now runs the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, an influential nonprofit that serves over 200,000 needy New Yorkers of all creeds and colors. With Councilman Kalman Yeger, an ally, taking his old seat, and regular appearances on NY1, he retains clout in his Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish community – and across the city.
Steven Choi is launching what could be the New York Immigration Coalition’s biggest campaign yet: a million-dollar push to make driver’s licenses a reality for undocumented immigrants. Since joining the organization in 2013, Choi has doubled its staff and tripled its budget – and it appears his advocacy efforts have paid off. In January, a judge ruled in favor of the organization, blocking the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.