The 2019 Albany Power 100
The 2019 Albany Power 100
The political landscape in Albany has changed dramatically in the past year – Republicans lost the state Senate, historic figures like state Attorney General Letitia James and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have ascended, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is collaborating with – and, at times, competing with – Democrats in both houses to churn out progressive legislation.
In this environment, it’s not always easy to discern the new pecking order. Fortunately, City & State is out with its latest Albany Power 100, which documents the rise and fall of dozens of political figures. Read on to see who’s No. 1 this year, where the rest of the state’s power brokers landed – and who made the list for the first time.
A lot has changed in Albany over the past year. The Independent Democratic Conference disbanded. Republicans lost the state Senate. Progressive Democrats are more emboldened than ever. But one thing is unchanged: Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He is the master of Albany and shows no sign of letting up in his third term.
Incoming Democratic legislators had big plans to shake up the Capitol, but they need Cuomo to get anything done – just look at the state budget. Criminal justice reforms? Done. Congestion pricing? Done. Voting reforms? Done. Publicly financed political campaigns? Only on Cuomo’s terms. Single-payer health care? Good luck trying to get Cuomo to go along with that!
Despite rumors of a presidential run, there is reason to take Cuomo at his word that he has no plans to leave the governor’s mansion. While other prospective candidates are hitting the road, Cuomo remains obsessed with home state issues, especially taxes and the failed Amazon deal. When you’ve had as much success at your job as he has, why look for another one?
No one in Albany has risen in stature more in the past year than the state Senate majority leader, who is the first woman in the position. She once had to beg Republican colleagues to bring bills to the floor. Now, she calls the shots as the leader of 38 other state senators who seldom say anything without first praising their leader.
New York City liberals love her for hitting the ground running with a litany of progressive legislation. Suburban legislators love her for making sure that they got a piece of congestion pricing revenues and a permanent cap on property tax increases. Stewart-Cousins somehow made it look easy to bridge the ideological and geographic differences in her conference that lesser leaders could never control.
But behind the smile lies a shrewd political tactician. A lifetime political insider like Gov. Andrew Cuomo might be able to get under the skin of some legislators, but he has found his match in Stewart-Cousins, who did not even enter politics until she reached middle age.
This is the year when Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie can really show what he can do with a supermajority in the lower chamber. While Assembly Democrats had passed bills on a range of progressive issues for years, they would go nowhere in the GOP-controlled state Senate. That changed with the 2018 elections, and Heastie has wasted little time in taking advantage. The first few weeks of the legislative sessions included passage of the state DREAM Act, the Child Victims Act and voting reforms. Criminal justice reforms were passed in the budget.
Now, Heastie has set his sights on making big changes to the state’s rent regulation laws, a matter with big implications for many members in the New York City-dominated Assembly. While striking a deal that pleases his conference, state senators and the governor will be a challenge for the longtime Bronx party leader, he is not about to back down – especially in a year that could determine whether his conference stays united or becomes divided by progressive primary challenges next year.
Being New York City’s public advocate comes with a paltry budget and limited influence except a perch from which to call out the mayor. But it was designed in part to help diverse candidates climb the political ladder – and that’s what it did for Letitia James, who was elected last year to one of the state’s most powerful positions.
A longtime progressive, James aligned herself with Gov. Andrew Cuomo as she fended off three other Democrats in the primary last year, then coasted to a historic victory as the first woman and first African American elected attorney general in New York. Since then, she has been outspoken and proactive in her efforts to hold President Donald Trump accountable. The office also handles a wide range of legal and enforcement matters that don’t make national headlines, from real estate fraud to drug trafficking to consumer protection. Should she serve ably in the next few years, she could find herself – like Eliot Spitzer and Cuomo before her – in a strong position to seek the state’s top office.
President Donald Trump breathed a sigh of relief when special counsel Robert Mueller’s report did not recommend bringing charges against him or announce any new indictments of anyone in his administration – and the backlash against Democrats who want to keep probing the president could prove beneficial as it rallies his base. But with more than a dozen cases handed off to other prosecutors – and Manhattan Rep. Jerrold Nadler, state Attorney General Letitia James and other New Yorkers still investigating him – the president won’t be resting easy in his home state.
Other Trump policies and proposals continue to prove controversial in New York, from immigration to abortion to LGBT rights. Despite pledging to increase investment in infrastructure, the White House has instead gone in the opposite direction, actively opposing the Hudson River Gateway rail tunnel, perhaps the most critical project on the East Coast. And the sweeping GOP tax overhaul that the president championed has been angrily attacked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo while providing less of a political boost than expected.
New York’s senior senator visited each of New York’s 62 counties last year – as he has done for years. He fell short in opposing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but came out ahead on the border wall while brushing aside President Donald Trump’s Twitter missives. While his party failed to retake the U.S. Senate last fall, he now has allies in power in the House – and across all-blue New York.
If only the state’s financial outlook were as stable as the state comptroller’s political career. After he was reelected in a landslide last year, Thomas DiNapoli reported a troubling $2.8 billion income tax revenue shortfall. When the governor and the Legislature were $500 million apart in their revenue estimates, he stepped in and ruled the state has $190 million more in revenue. Earlier this year, DiNapoli also reached a deal with Cuomo on contracting oversight.
The 36-year-old political wunderkind has taken a public role defending the governor’s agenda. The top adviser has become an enforcer on State Street, saying the Democratic Senate’s free-spending budget proposal must move from “fantasyland to reality,” while working with business leaders in an attempt to woo Jeff Bezos and Amazon back to New York. To find a historic parallel for Melissa DeRosa’s position, check out the women’s history exhibit in the Capitol – which she curated.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chief counsel has some of the heaviest lifts of his career this year. Alphonso David already helped pass congestion pricing and criminal justice reforms. Now he must craft a bill legalizing recreational marijuana, which law enforcement opposes and some lawmakers threaten to block over their reservations about who would profit, and push a proposal allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses – which tripped up then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Along with Melissa DeRosa and Alphonso David, the governor’s budget director is part of an administrative triumvirate that keeps the budget in line and on time. Robert Mujica was the point person on reining in legislator spending proposals to align with his $175 billion plan, navigating a budget gap and dicey issues like state Medicaid payments. Mujica bemoaned the loss of Amazon in February but passing congestion pricing made for a successful spring.
All hail the new MTA chief. Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped Patrick Foye, his former Port Authority executive director and MTA president, as MTA chairman and CEO. The new budget should cover $25 billion in transit upgrades, thanks in part to its new congestion pricing program, but the MTA likely needs $60 billion to repair and maintain the transit system. Now we’ll have to wait and see how Foye’s sprawling bureaucracy gets restructured.
The head of the state’s largest union spent the early part of 2019 on defense. He was roped by the Cuomo administration into signing a letter begging Amazon to reconsider leaving New York, pushed lawmakers to boost health care spending and came to the defense of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie following left-wing primary threats. But on perhaps his biggest issue – Medicaid spending – Gresham successfully pressured the governor to restore $550 million in the state budget.
With health care taking up about half of the state’s expenditures, the Greater New York Hospital Association president is always an important voice in the budget – and this year he ultimately got the governor to add $550 million in state Medicaid spending. Kenneth Raske also succeeded in keeping single-payer health care on the back burner, although he lost a battle with nurses at Mount Sinai, Montefiore and NewYork-Presbyterian who had threatened to strike.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has struggled to win over state politicians, but the “blue wave” that swept Democrats into power in the state Senate changed his fortunes. Mayoral control was extended easily this year, and the mayor even got on the same page with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Amazon’s HQ2 and congestion pricing. If his White House dreams don’t get in the way, he might make some headway in Democratic-controlled Albany.
The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council president has inserted himself into key policy debates this year. Peter Ward’s union ran TV ads calling for an end to cash bail, and he demanded that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement release an Upper East Side porter facing deportation. He is tracking proposals regulating global online hotel startup Airbnb, the industry’s biggest foe, and on expanding gambling after the union reached an agreement to organize workers at any Sands casino built in New York.
The Democratic state senator from Queens finally tasted power in Albany. As chairman of the state Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Michael Gianaris surfed a blue “wavelet” that wiped out former Independent Democratic Conference members and then washed out Republicans. But running the Senate with a majority has its own challenges – the Senate Democrats’ No. 1 bore the brunt of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tirades accusing Democrats of “corruption” for opposing Amazon’s HQ2 plan.
The former state Senate GOP communications chief is one of several Republicans embracing a new role in the Cuomo administration. Kelly Cummings was deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to the governor for nearly three years before Cuomo split the state operations post into thirds and named her head of state operations and infrastructure. She’ll continue to oversee airport and rail modernizations, which are critical for a governor who wants to be remembered as a builder.
The state education commissioner is tackling some of New York’s most intransigent problems. MaryEllen Elia is enforcing a law requiring religious and private schools to have a curriculum that is academically equivalent to public schools, leading to an outcry. She’s trying to better serve students with disabilities after the state failed to meet federal standards. And the $1 billion education funding increase in the state budget is well short of the $1.6 billion she requested.
Since the state Board of Regents reelected Betty Rosa as chancellor in March, the Bronx educator has focused on expanding the state’s high school diploma requirements beyond Regents exams to include capstone projects – an in-depth study of one topic. Rosa will also have to contend with persistently high rates of students opting out of standardized tests, troubling glitches with the state’s testing company and the widespread challenges of the state’s special education programs.
Donna Frescatore returned to her old role as state Medicaid director last year after leading the New York State of Health insurance exchange. She is defending the $69.4 billion program that is under siege, even as enrollment rose 46 percent over the past decade. This year Gov. Andrew Cuomo reversed a proposed $550 million increase in state Medicaid spending, but restored it following President Donald Trump’s proposal to slash Medicaid funds.
Amazon’s decision to cancel its Long Island City, Queens, headquarters was one of the most significant economic development failures of the Cuomo era, but you can’t blame Howard Zemsky. The Empire State Development chief did everything to lure the global online retailer short of paving and painting an East River helipad himself. Zemsky has also endured scrutiny of the Buffalo Billion, with corruption convictions for key players and uncertainty over whether Tesla will hit job creation targets.
With education funding increasing by $1 billion in the new state budget, the state Legislature finally decoupling student test scores from teacher evaluations, and New York City running up against the cap for new charter schools, the teachers union head is in a strong position in Albany. Michael Mulgrew can focus on lobbying to keep the cap and, as suspensions plummet, calling for resources to enforce discipline in unruly schools.
Suri Kasirer’s eponymous lobbying firm has ballooned into one of the largest in New York and – for the second year in a row – its most lucrative. Kasirer brought in $12.8 million in 2018 from a range of clients, including NewYork-Presbyterian and Madison Square Garden. Beyond building relationships, Kasirer credits her success to providing strategic plans that help New York. If only she could use her influence to revitalize the moribund Knicks.
New York’s favorite daughter wants to follow in Hillary Clinton’s footsteps, but her campaign, which formally launched on March 17, has had a turbulent start. She apologized for her past positions on immigration as “not kind” and defended her office’s handling of a former aide’s harassment complaints. Reaching out to Wall Street bigwigs for donations isn’t endearing her to progressives, and her move to shove Al Franken out of the Senate enraged many donors.
In December, the Buffalo assemblywoman became the chamber’s majority leader, and the first African American woman in the post. Crystal Peoples-Stokes has made her mark on the Assembly’s priorities, snuffing out Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s marijuana legalization push by insisting that any economic windfall help marginalized communities. The proposal didn’t pass the budget, and Peoples-Stokes will likely continue to shape this issue, as well as rent regulations and driver’s licenses for immigrants.
The state Senate Finance Committee chairwoman waited years to reclaim the majority, and darned if she wasn’t going to exert her authority. Liz Krueger was instrumental in shifting pots of money typically directed by Senate Republicans to areas valued by Democrats, and she saved a $420 million film tax credit that the governor had targeted for elimination. However, Krueger was disappointed that campaign finance reform wasn’t spelled out in the budget and that legislators punted on marijuana legalization.
The Manhattan lawmaker has a knack for picking issues. He championed the Child Victims Act, which passed this year, and shepherded a ban on conversion therapy for minors. Hoylman also introduced a bill allowing the state to release a presidential tax return to Congress, and nearly succeeded in an effort to tax pied-à-terres that sit empty most of the year. Now he’s seeking to eliminate the religious exemption for vaccinations amid a measles outbreak.
The de facto leader of the newly inaugurated “Long Island Six” bloc of state Senate Democrats has become a force to be reckoned with in the Legislature. Recent legislative wins include a plastic bag ban and a permanent property tax cap. Cuomo might have attacked him over supposedly not supporting the Amazon deal enough – but in state politics it is better to get hit with a little heat than be left out in the cold
When most labor leaders demonstrated against Amazon, the 32BJ SEIU president welcomed the online retailer after Amazon agreed that security and maintenance workers could unionize. Then Amazon skipped town, but not before Héctor Figueroa wrote a Daily News op-ed defending tax incentives and chastising opponents for chasing away thousands of service jobs. But 32BJ SEIU also secured a $19 wage for airport workers and reached a pact with the city guaranteeing union jobs on affordable housing projects.
Kevin Law has his hands full. With Long Island legislators emerging as a key bloc, he successfully pushed state officials to make the property tax cap permanent, helped delay a bill requiring prevailing wages for state-funded projects and got lawmakers to allocate funds collected from congestion pricing for suburban transit. Now we’ll see what Law – who was just appointed to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board – has planned for the rest of the session.
Even if you haven’t heard of Neal Kwatra, you likely know the heavyweights he works for, from the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council to the New York Immigration Coalition, which wants to legalize driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Kwatra’s firm is expanding into Florida and recently hired Ken Lovett, a veteran Albany journalist known for his must-read scoops. Look for Kwatra to make his mark – behind the scenes – in the 2020 and 2021 election cycles.
It has been a time of transition for the City University of New York, but the huge higher education system is expecting some stability with the well-liked Queens College President Félix Matos Rodríguez set to take over take over as chancellor next month. Since former Chancellor James Milliken stepped down last year, Chairman Bill Thompson – a political veteran and reliable Gov. Andrew Cuomo ally – had kept CUNY going.
The Real Estate Board of New York president wants to ensure that landlords don’t suffer if the state Legislature repeals preferential rent and ends vacancy decontrol this year. The real estate trade association is already launching a TV and digital ad campaign featuring landlords of rent-regulated buildings who want to keep the housing loopholes intact. John Banks showed he still has clout, though, backing a congestion pricing plan, which passed this year, and opposing a pied-à-terre tax, which failed.
The Port Authority head has been making improvements to the region’s airports and bus terminals while keeping multibillion-dollar upgrades on schedule. Rick Cotton announced new nursing stations at the airports, promoted a real-time mobile app for PATH riders, and is shepherding improvements at the Port Authority’s midtown bus terminal. After two high-profile crashes linked to a software glitch on new Boeing 737 Max 8s, Cotton took the lead on calling for the Federal Aviation Administration to ground the planes.
Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has wrapped up his two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Geoffrey Berman and his whip-smart federal prosecutors have inherited any potentially criminal schemes Mueller uncovered. The office already secured a guilty plea from Trump attorney Michael Cohen – despite the recusal of Berman, a Trump appointee. Now the Southern District is pursuing probes into the president’s campaign finance practices, businesses and inauguration committee.
Jennifer Cunningham was hired by Amazon in December to bring her formidable strategic talents to its campaign to set up shop in Long Island City, Queens. Amazon didn’t have the stomach for a political fight, but had it stayed it would have realized what an asset it is to be on Team Cunningham. SKDKnickerbocker had more success assisting efforts to convince lawmakers to end cash bail for minor crimes and expediting the discovery process for defendants.
The lobbyist duo’s government relations firm has done pretty well in the Cuomo era. Brown & Weinraub had the most clients in the state – 180 from January to June of last year – and was the state’s second highest compensated firm with $6 million in fees and expenses. David Weinraub and Patrick Brown are back at it this year, representing Las Vegas Sands in its effort to open a gambling facility in New York City.
The last of the Bloomberg-era megadevelopments opened to the public on March 15 to throngs of curious crowds. Hudson Yards, the $25 billion mixed-use development complete with an upscale shopping mall was the brainchild of Related Cos. Chairman Stephen Ross. Some criticize the development’s design and claim the mall is aimed at luxury consumers, but Ross shrugs off such talk. He insists it isn’t just for the wealthy because it has a Shake Shack and an H&M.
Kathryn Wylde has waited a long time for congestion pricing. As chairwoman of a working group tasked with finding new funding sources for the crumbling transit system, she argued the measure will alleviate only part of the MTA’s budget woes. Wylde crossed a few other items off her Albany to-do list: blocking the pied-à-terre tax, extending mayoral control of New York City’s public schools and – for now – halting an expansion of prevailing wages.
The state AFL-CIO president stands with his allies – supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to persuade Amazon to return to Queens, coming to the defense of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and helping trade unions and Related Cos. reach an accord at Hudson Yards after a monthslong fight. Mario Cilento was pleased with new collective bargaining protections in the state budget, and has Cuomo’s backing on expanding prevailing wages to workers on publicly funded construction projects.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. enjoys strong relationships with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, although another ally, former Albany power broker and ex-state Sen. Jeff Klein, is out of the picture. Those ties undoubtedly helped advance a plan for four new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, which recently took another step forward. They may also bolster a run for mayor in 2021 – although the controversial behavior of his father likely won’t help.
It may be difficult to keep your professionalism when straphangers are frustrated with service changes and train delays, but subway workers do that every day and Tony Utano has their backs. That’s why the Transport Workers Union Local 100 reelected him as president in December. Utano has also built on the strong relationship his predecessor, John Samuelsen, cultivated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, defending the governor’s record on fixing the subways while backing his reelection bid last year.
The “Capital Tonight” host is so plugged in that she should have the utility contract to maintain Empire State Plaza. Benjamin is a fearless journalist and formidable interviewer who is never afraid to push back against the most powerful people in the state – case in point, when she chastised a top Cuomo aide for swearing at three female lawmakers. Her State of Politics blog is also a must-read for any Albany insider.
After months of bitter boycotts, the Building and Construction Trades Council head reached a deal with Related Cos. days before the developer’s $25 billion Hudson Yards site opened. As part of the pact, Gary LaBarbera agreed to end on-site demonstrations over the use of nonunion labor, while Related withdrew a lawsuit. Now LaBarbera has time to advocate on other issues, including backing the MTA’s five-year capital plan and recruiting more women into the industry.
Who would have thought Gov. Andrew Cuomo would side with unions eight years after freezing state workers’ wages and curbing pensions? That’s what happened, leading Daniel Donohue’s Civil Service Employees Association to endorse Cuomo last year. Donohue also backed Cuomo in his tussles with President Donald Trump, calling the commander in chief a “lunatic in the White House” after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled some union fees were unconstitutional. So far the decision has had a minimal impact on membership.
Owners of rent-stabilized and rent-controlled buildings may be in for a shock by June as legislators tinker with rent regulation laws. As head of the Rent Stabilization Association, Joseph Strasburg is asking lawmakers to ensure reforms would allow owners to continue to update aging buildings and possibly use means testing to ensure rent-stabilized tenants are actually middle class. With rent regulation laws expiring on June 15, the issue is a top priority on State Street.
The omnipresent political strategist may have been blindsided by ex-Rep. Joseph Crowley’s loss last June, but he scored a stunning win when his Democratic clients finally wrestled control of the state Senate from the Republicans. Stavisky’s Parkside Group is now in position to lobby the new majority on hot-button issues like preserving New York City’s specialized high school admission exam. The firm has strong connections in New York City and nationally, working on campaigns for officials like Rep. Thomas Suozzi.
The longtime Nassau County Democratic leader replaced Byron Brown as state Democratic Party chairman in January and welcomed a slew of new faces to Albany’s Long Island delegation. Jay Jacobs thanked his new cohort of Democrats for “standing up for the suburbs” and not rolling over for New York City during budget negotiations. They got more funding for the Long Island Rail Road with stricter on-time performance metrics, plus a permanent property tax cap.
Rich Azzopardi has been called a lot of things – an “Ewok-like spokesman,” the governor’s “bulldog spokesman,” or even Cuomo’s “notoriously nasty messenger boy.” In turn, he has aggressively called out the governor’s critics, going on the attack online or in person – including recently calling three young female state lawmakers “fucking idiots.” Officially, he’s now a senior adviser, one of Cuomo’s longest-serving aides as the governor’s third term gets underway.
After backing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reelection bid in a “challenging decision” last year, the Business Council leader helped the governor prod lawmakers into making the state property tax cap permanent. Briccetti undoubtedly hopes that Cuomo remains “focused on upstate New York like a laser” and shares his skepticism of single-payer health care in the state. Now if she could only persuade him to back away from expanding prevailing wages this session.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former chief of staff is one of his most loyal legal eagles, having worked with him since 2007, and she was high on his shortlist for the recently vacated top post at the Department of Financial Services. Two months into the job, Linda Lacewell has used her office to subpoena the Trump Organization’s insurance broker in order to investigate claims involving the president’s business and to approve a Peter Thiel-backed cryptocurrency.
The Bolton-St. Johns lobbyist duo have among the tightest ties to the Cuomo administration (which were forged long before DeRosa’s daughter became secretary to the governor). This year their firm has bulked up on clients with legislative needs, including the Protecting Modern Families Coalition, which hopes to advance a significant parental rights bill allowing paid surrogacy in New York, and Bronx High School of Science alumni, who want specialized high schools to keep their admissions test.
Kristina Johnson has a robust agenda: improve SUNY’s online offerings, promote diversity in recruiting and hiring faculty, fill at least one vacancy (for president of SUNY Plattsburgh) and lobby for $74.6 million in state support and a funding floor for community colleges. Johnson won an expansion of the state’s Excelsior Scholarship program and appears to have warded off a budget proposal giving the state comptroller pre-audit powers over construction and SUNY Research Foundation contracts.
With the mayor scratching his presidential itch on jaunts to early primary states, the New York City Council has gleefully stepped into the leadership vacuum to challenge Albany on revising city-related policies. Johnson proposed the state break up the MTA with the mayor controlling city trains and buses and joined tenant groups to push for strengthening rent-regulation laws. Expect to see more of Johnson’s face in Albany in the coming months.
The New York State Public Employees Federation reelected Wayne Spence for a second three-year term in June after he steered its membership through lingering resentment over a public sector pay freeze that Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented in 2011 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Janus decision last year, which imperiled dues collection from certain members. But with a contract from the state in hand since last April, the union appears to be in good shape in the near term.
With all due respect to the governor, Andy Byford might have the hardest job in the state. New York City’s subways are so habitually late they’re making people early, so dilapidated that they’re hitting vehicles and so broke that the MTA is unleashing cops onto city buses to catch fare evaders. Yet there are signs that the system has turned a corner under Byford – and he’ll get some much-needed funding thanks to congestion pricing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t have to search far to find his next chief of staff after nominating Linda Lacewell to replace Maria Vullo as superintendent of the state Department of Financial Services. Enter Jill DesRosiers, the governor’s former executive deputy secretary. The University of Pennsylvania alum also spent 12 years working in the New York City Council speaker’s office, where she created CouncilStat – the first computerized system for tracking constituent services.
The second-term Democratic state senator is making a name for himself after rising through the Bronx political machine as a top aide to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. As the chairman of the powerful state Senate Codes Committee, Bailey has played a key role this year in passing landmark changes to the criminal justice system, including eliminating cash bail for most crimes. Other young lawmakers dream of possessing such progressive bona fides and political connections.
The health care law expert and Albany managing shareholder of one of the highest-paid firms to lobby the state last year is omnipresent on State Street. With a new Democratic majority in the state Senate and an attorney general seeking to make waves on health care policy, Harold Iselin is in demand. Iselin expects state Attorney General Letitia James to “largely stay the course,” but the Legislature will seek significant changes if Obamacare is eliminated.
The state’s chief judge enjoyed plenty of successes this year. There’s been a steep reduction in case backlogs – old misdemeanors are down 84 percent in the Bronx alone – and the establishment of 11 opioid intervention courts with another 10 on the way to help save lives. Janet DiFiore, who also pushed successfully for ending cash bail for nonviolent offenders, is now pushing an effort to simplify the state’s court structure.
If you’ve ever had to visit a hospital, you know how important nurses are to helping you recover. That’s the feeling Jill Furillo wanted hospital executives to absorb as her fellow nurses threatened to strike over a long-standing staffing dispute. Efforts to pass legislation to raise minimum staffing levels for nurses had not advanced, but the latest tactic led to a breakthrough, as several major hospital systems agreed to take steps to address nursing shortages.
Two years into leading one of New York’s largest unions, Andrew Pallotta has had mixed success. After declining to endorse in the gubernatorial race last year, Andrew Pallotta asked the state for a $2.2 billion increase in education funding – he got about $1 billion – and he couldn’t keep lawmakers from making the state’s property tax cap permanent. Pallotta did win a major victory in securing long-sought changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system.
Bea Grause and other advocates saw health care spending go up another 3.6% this year to nearly $20 billion, while state lawmakers codified the federal Affordable Care Act and the state’s health insurance exchange in state law, providing certainty for the health care industry. Grause, whose organization is perennially a top lobbying spender in Albany, also spoke out in favor of Cuomo’s plan for a commission on universal access to health care.
The only legal drama that comes close to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was under the jurisdiction of U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, who convicted Mexican crime lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán on drug conspiracy charges. Donoghue has his hand in another TV series in the making – the case against leaders of an upstate “sex cult” known as Nxivm on racketeering and federal sex trafficking charges – as well as the bribery conviction of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.
The leader of the Associated General Contractors of New York State has praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious $125 billion infrastructure plan as “welcome news.” But Mike Elmendorf’s leading contracting group differs with the governor on how to reform the state’s minority- and women-owned business program. Elmendorf, who also is opposed to an expansion of prevailing wages on state projects, recently partnered with the Building Contractors Association to boost their respective voices in Albany.
Sarfraz Maredia is the new face of Uber in New York, but as the company tries to improve its reputation, it still needs experienced insiders – like Josh Gold. The ride-hailing company spent nearly $6 million on lobbying in New York last year, more than any other entity. Gold, a New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council and 1199SEIU alum, knows his way around, and helped push for policies the company wants, including congestion pricing.
The lieutenant governor begged off entreaties to challenge Rep. Chris Collins and stuck by her running mate, edging out Jumaane Williams in the Democratic primary race for lieutenant governor. Kathy Hochul has a lot to do – whether it’s defending economic development efforts, pushing for women’s empowerment, selling the permanent property tax cap all across the state, or reminding New Yorkers that legalizing marijuana remains a priority. That was enough to secure a pay raise.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s longtime ally and adviser has done well for himself in Albany’s post-Sheldon Silver era. Patrick Jenkins has helped advise a number of big-name politicos over the years, including Eliot Spitzer, Andrew Cuomo and Eric Schneiderman, while shunning the spotlight. He was one of a handful of lobbyists a real estate developer hired to shoot down the pied-à-terre tax on luxury second homes in favor of a transfer tax in the state budget.
The Communications Workers of America has thrived since Dennis Trainor took over District 1 in 2015. CWA last year reached an agreement with Verizon that builds on a post-strike 2016 contract and that Trainor called “a home run.” Trainor has cultivated close ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including serving as a New York Power Authority trustee and pulling his union out of the Working Families Party when it was about to back Cynthia Nixon.
The “three men in a room” description of Albany budget talks is not only outdated – it’s overblown. Lou Ann Ciccone has long accompanied Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in budget talks with the governor and state Senate majority leader. She’s the first woman to hold the post, and this year her work crafting state policy and the budget was recognized with other female trailblazers in a display in the Governor’s Reception Room at the state Capitol.
Blake Washington might not be the most high-profile staffer in the state Capitol, but he plays a big role in getting things done. As the secretary of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, the former Catskills probation officer puts his years of fiscal experience to work figuring out how the lower chamber approaches the state budget process each year. An unexpected revenue shortfall made that type of expertise more important than ever this year.
There is no staffer more powerful in the state Senate Democratic conference than chief of staff and counsel Shontell Smith. She controls hiring and manages the staff. She oversees the movement of legislation from the drawing board to the Senate floor. And, most importantly, she is the gatekeeper to state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The bottom line is that if you want to get anything done in the state Senate, you’ve got to go through Smith first.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Shontell Smith's title.
The Democratic pollster has a deep understanding of the electorate and an ability to explain it to politicians seeking higher office. Perhaps that’s why everyone from Gov. Andrew Cuomo – Pollock ran polls for his 2018 campaign – to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to Reps. Gregory Meeks, Nita Lowey and Sean Patrick Maloney seek his services. Getting Gillibrand into the White House might be a stretch but if anyone can do it, it’s Jefrey.
Any Albany insider knows exactly what to do at 11 a.m.: tune into WCNY’s “The Capitol Pressroom.” Host Susan Arbetter has been doing incisive interviews with state officials for a decade, and her state Capitol alcove is a must-stop venue for anyone launching an issue advocacy campaign. Cuomo has even returned to her program this year to push his agenda or criticize enemies he says were misinformed – or both at once.
Matthew Driscoll was born under a bad sign – so he removed them. The Thruway Authority executive director resolved a bizarre standoff with the federal government over its “I Love NY” highway tourism signs by relocating some of them to parks, historic sites and rest areas without forfeiting $14 million in federal transportation funding. Crisis averted, Driscoll has been revamping rest stops and expanding cashless tolling in places like Westchester County and Rochester.
The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York president is no fan of new laws scaling back cash bail and requiring prosecutors to share evidence with defense attorneys earlier, arguing they will “slow down the wheels of justice.” Soares is even less happy about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new 11-member commission to investigate prosecutorial misconduct, calling it a “political stunt.” The Albany County district attorney is attempting to block the commission on constitutional grounds.
After losing control of Albany’s upper chamber in November, the state Senate minority leader went on the attack against New York’s high cost of living, the cap on charter schools and “runaway spending” in the state budget. But Flanagan’s conference remains in tatters. He removed Catharine Young from her leadership post as the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. The two stopped speaking to each other and Young resigned soon after.
Rookie reporters in Albany should remember three things: Food trucks have the best lunch deals, a source close to the governor is extremely close to the governor, and follow Tom Precious whenever possible. The Buffalo News veteran puts out more scoops than Ben & Jerry’s while delivering longer stories relevant to Western New York, from the rise of state Sen. Tim Kennedy to the impact of the state budget to the ups and downs of casinos.
One of the top health care lobbyists in the state, Sean Doolan continues to shape the debate over improving the quality and accessibility of insurance without costing half the state’s budget. The Hinman Straub principal and general counsel to the New York State Conference of Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans has advocated on behalf of private insurers as state officials consider single-payer care and other options. Doolan said early this year that it would be the “biggest tax hike in history.”
James Capalino saw his firm earn $6.4 million in Albany last year, keeping Capalino+Company firmly among the top 10 lobbying firms at the state level by revenue. Among his big-name clients are Related Cos., Airbnb and Uber, which was easily the top spender in Albany lobbying last year. His firm also remained the second-highest paid lobbying firm in the city, with clients including the Guggenheim and Friends of the High Line.
Getting older has its benefits. Just ask Beth Finkel, the state director for AARP New York, who persuaded lawmakers to add $15 million for programs that help seniors stay in their own homes instead of moving to nursing homes. The state budget also included an innovative marketplace aimed at making it easier for older adults to maintain their independence. With the over-65 crowd up 26% in the past decade, expect to hear more from Finkel.
With her no-nonsense manner and mastery of policy, the Brooklyn Democrat has steadily risen to become the first woman to lead the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Weinstein put her stamp on the budget, managing the debate over spending bills in a way that Republicans respected. She also advanced legislation that would help homeowners who were victims of deed theft reclaim their homes and attended the groundbreaking of a medical tower at Coney Island Hospital.
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 campaign manager, Maggie Moran was thrilled that he won. She has more experience in New Jersey, while her colleague Rich Bamberger also has strong Cuomo ties as his former communications director. Their public relations firm, Kivvit, registered as a lobbyist to stay on the right side of JCOPE’s new ethics regulations as they represent companies like Tesla and the Williams Cos., which wants to build a natural gas pipeline in New York.
Since founding Ostroff Associates in 1995, Rick Ostroff has capitalized on his deep knowledge of Albany, including legislative affairs work for Gov. Mario Cuomo. His top lobbying firm handles everything from economic development and technology to education and health care. He represents Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the Buffalo-based company that owns the Sabres and the Bills and wants its fans to be able to wager on games inside its arenas, a key post-budget issue.
A well-connected lobbyist since he founded Park Strategies in 1999, the former U.S. senator has maintained relationships on both sides of the aisle. Alfonse D’Amato reportedly supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reelection last year but also expressed support for Republican candidate John DeFrancisco, all while serving as a cheerleader for President Donald Trump. And even as Democrats have overtaken Albany, the Republican ex-lawmaker’s lobbying firm continues to thrive.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said that D'Amato's firm was running the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Marcus Molinaro. The campaign was run by David Catalfamo, who left Park Strategies.
Mercury Public Affairs boasts 21 offices all across the country and overseas, but it got its start in New York – and still plays a major role in the state. Michael McKeon’s crisis communications firm remains a top 10 lobbying firm in Albany, and while he cut his teeth working for Republicans like then-Gov. George Pataki and then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, his highly experienced staff is decidedly bipartisan.
Gil Quiniones runs the largest state-owned electric utility in the nation – and that’s not all. He drives state energy policy – including efforts to digitize the grid and generate wind and hydroelectric power upstate – and spurs economic development by providing low-cost power. With state energy czar Richard Kauffman scaling back his own portfolio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo may rely even more on Quiniones, who has been in the administration since 2011.
A state-level single-payer health care system would eliminate private insurance plans in New York – but that won’t happen if the New York Health Plan Association can help it. As the leader of the organization, Eric Linzer has been fighting an effort by some Democratic lawmakers to pass single-payer health care. While he helped keep it out of the budget, Linzer has a long-term fight ahead – which could continue into 2020 and beyond.
As Rossana Rosado nears three years on the job, she has been preparing for the 2020 census, pushing for improved prisoner reentry and promoting consumer protections. Rosado, who oversees the state Division of Consumer Protection, is implementing a law making smoke detectors safer and another preventing debt collectors from extracting money from family members of a deceased debtor. The former CEO and publisher of El Diario has also raised the visibility of the State Department.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers and former staffers shared deeply personal accounts of sexual harassment – or worse – during Albany’s first hearing on the matter in over a quarter century. While the #MeToo movement and the “blue wave” that swept Democrats to power in the state Senate set the stage for the hearing, it might not have happened without the behind-the-scenes work of political consultant Alexis Grenell, who has drawn attention to misbehavior in Albany.
This year is shaping up to be a landmark year for women’s rights in New York, thanks in part to Sonia Ossorio and the National Organization for Women New York City. Early in the state legislative session, the governor signed into law the Reproductive Health Act and the Child Victims Act, both of which Ossorio campaigned for. Plus, being an ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo helped her gain her current role, according to her predecessor.
The New York State Trial Lawyers Association has an outsized influence in state politics: Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself said that “the trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany.” And while group has several public leaders – Okun, Oddo & Babat’s David Oddo is currently serving as its president, while Lawrence Park is its executive director – it’s Albany veteran Kenneth Riddett who flexes the organization’s muscle while lobbying behind the scenes.
The former Mario Cuomo aide and donor to the campaigns of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton is at the helm of one of the most respected strategic communications and crisis management firms in the state. He has lobbied for heavyweights like Verizon, Pfizer and American Airlines, as well as energy giants including NRG Energy, National Grid and the Williams Cos. He’s known in Washington, D.C., as well, with a spot on the Democratic National Committee.
When lawmakers and advocates call for spending increases and new taxes, the Empire Center for Public Policy research director is one of the few in Albany raising red flags. The budgetary Cassandra has warned about the dangers of removing the property tax cap, expanding the prevailing wage law, the new real estate transfer tax and splitting the state in half without cutting costs. A former government official, he brings an encyclopedic knowledge to his analyses that increases their impact.
The Working Families Party’s New York director celebrated the ascension of political protege Letitia James to state attorney general, and her successor, Jumaane Williams, to New York City public advocate. And he’s hoping for a third victory in the Queens district attorney race by backing Tiffany Cabán. But now Bill Lipton is fighting against a Democratic Party resolution and a state measure that could eliminate fusion voting, which has allowed third parties to thrive.
John Olsen’s job at the Internet Association is increasingly important as Albany catches up to the rapidly evolving internet and technology sector and attempts to regulate it. One of New York’s latest achievements on this front was outlawing “revenge porn.” Thanks to Olsen’s lobbying, the bill that passed this year included amendments that limit the liability of social media platforms – some of which are Internet Association members – when a user posts illicit content.
Like many labor leaders, Patrick Purcell has multiple titles. He serves as executive director for the 17,000-member Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York and Long Island, the 40,000-member New York State Laborers’ Union and the New York State Laborers’-Employers’ Cooperation and Education Trust, a top lobbying spender in Albany last year with $2.19 million. Purcell has Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his side in the push to expand prevailing wages.
Jackson Lewis doesn’t just do workplace law – in recent years its Albany office has delved into the lobbying business, with Lisa Marrello at the helm. The lobbying practice at Wilson Elser, where Marrello previously worked under Kenneth Shapiro, jumped to Jackson Lewis in 2016.
New York’s “energy czar,” who coordinated state energy agencies since 2013, stepped down in January. But Richard Kauffman will stay on as head of NYSERDA, pushing New York to be a leader in clean energy as Gov. Andrew Cuomo advances his own plan to make the utility sector carbon-free by 2040. In a sign of the unique role he played, the former banker and federal official is not expected to be replaced.
It’s been a trying year for the state ethics czar. Some criticized JCOPE for clearing former Empire State Development official Sam Hoyt of sexual harassment. Republicans filed a complaint compelling the commission to investigate the activities of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former aide Joseph Percoco and lawmakers debated how to fix the commission – or eliminate it. At a sexual harassment hearing in February, Agata revealed JCOPE received 43 complaints over seven years but issued fines in only three cases.