The 2018 New York City Power 100
The 2018 New York City Power 100
Everyone is talking politics these days, but what politics means depends on who’s doing the talking.
According to one definition, politics is simply the art or science of government. It’s also the way in which people influence governmental policies. Taking it a step further, it’s the accumulation of control over government – or, to sum it up, power.
With that final definition in mind, we take up our annual ranking of the most powerful people in New York City politics.
It’s not an easy task, so we’ve established a few criteria to guide us.
One is a political figure’s track record: What bills has a lawmaker passed? What policies have aides or advocates shaped? What programs have deputies run, and how effectively?
Another criterion is the importance of any group that someone serves. The mayor of New York City has faced challenges in Albany, but he still runs a government serving more than 8 million people. Elected officials, commissioners, business executives, lobbyists, labor leaders and journalists all represent constituents, clients or customers – and with that responsibility comes some degree of power.
Finally, we take into account proximity to power – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s evolving inner circle, top appointees to both the mayor and the governor as well as key outside advisers who have the ear of a small handful of influential elected officials.
As we applied these principles, we reached out to trusted sources, reviewed news developments and debated where each person ranks on this list.
We present the 2018 New York City Power 100.
When you’re happier to report to jury duty than attend a New York City Council hearing, you know you messed up. The New York City Housing Authority has become a morass of mismanagement. Its boilers keep breaking down, leaving tenants without heat. Lead paint went undetected and Olatoye gave false testimony about the matter, and her underlings keep leaving while she stays in charge. Council members are openly wondering what it will take for the mayor to Shola her the door.
Lt. Gov. Jumaane Williams? Why not? Crazier things have happened in Albany (that explains our nostalgia for “linked to a prostitution ring”). Now that his speaker bid didn’t work out, the restless Flatbush councilman and outspoken advocate is preparing to attend rubber-chicken dinners across the state to argue he’s better at serving in a largely ceremonial role than Kathy Hochul. At the end of this escapade, he may come to realize the best chicken dinner was in Flatbush all along.
If you find yourself thinking twice about renting that cute Airbnb studio in the West Village next weekend, it’s because Jason Ortiz has guilted you out of it. The hotel workers union’s political director, who cut his teeth working for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and at Metropolitan Public Strategies, is trying to pummel the short-term vacation rental website out of the city through regulation, organizing and a campaign tying Airbnb to gentrification and the city’s housing shortage.
The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services has become one of the city’s largest social services organizations after taking over $75 million in behavioral health programs from the state after the sudden closure of Federation Employment and Guidance Service. But David Rivel has had to address his group’s own problems lately. Sex trafficking victims kept leaving a Westchester County rehab center, prompting rebukes and forcing Rivel to announce its closure this year.
Happy 100th birthday, Brooklyn Chamber! Hoan recently commemorated the business group’s centennial with a festive fête at the Brooklyn Marriott that rivaled an Upper East Side prep schooler’s bar mitzvah. Everybody showed up. In the next 100 years, the chamber hopes to spur investment into Broadway Junction, revitalize Coney Island, lure tech companies to Fort Hamilton and advocate for a three-borough subway line from Bay Ridge to Yankee Stadium. That’s a lot to Hoan in on.
Sid Davidoff must be proud of his mentee so easily winning a second term in New York City Hall last fall. The persuasive power broker who hired Manhattan Democratic boss Keith Wright for his lobbying firm last year is quick to offer counsel and defend the mayor’s reasoning on almost any topic. Maybe Mayor Bill de Blasio can repay him by naming him the night mayor – an office he once occupied in John Lindsay’s City Hall 50 years ago.
The governor’s favorite crisis manager knows how to put out a lot of fires. Mike McKeon has been mopping up the mess of Competitive Power Ventures, whose payments to former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco landed its executive in federal court. And Mercury Public Affairs has managed to avoid business losses after being named as “Company A” in Paul Manafort’s indictment for its contract with a Ukrainian nonprofit. Despite that, Mercury said it had its best lobbying year ever last year.
Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn never tested the waters for another mayoral run to the disappointment of many Democrats (see Cuomo, Andrew) dissatisfied with City Hall’s current occupant. She is happy to step away from the political floodlights to run a shelter network serving women and families while nudging city leaders to provide permanent housing. She’ll take a larger role in helping candidates as vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. Besides, 2021 isn’t that far away.
Multiple individuals played a role in selecting Corey Johnson as speaker of the New York City Council, but one largely overlooked player who was always in the loop is Harry Giannoulis. Giannoulis operates behind the scenes, letting business partner Evan Stavisky serve as the public face of the firm. Parkside’s combination of lobbying and political consulting, its ties to the Queens Democratic Party and its connections in key sectors like real estate make Giannoulis an influential figure.
John McAvoy can’t be happy that the governor blamed Con Edison for 32,000 subway delays from “power-related issues” – especially since the Daily News found that MTA leaders pushed staff to come up with reasons for poor service and the power company was an easy target. On a more positive note, the state is now targeting energy service companies, including bad actors that impersonate Con Ed employees. Meanwhile, the utility’s latest quarterly earnings shot up 144 percent.
Patrick Lynch finally nailed down a new contract in January for rank-and-file cops and all it took was stalking the mayor at his favorite gym and coffee shop for months. The police union leader is known for his aggressive tactics – officers turned their backs to Mayor Bill de Blasio at police funerals in 2014 and 2017 – but his knee-jerk reactions to protect patrolmen no matter the offense (see Pantaleo, Daniel) has soured politicians and civic leaders.
This past year, Eva Moskowitz found it’s hard to cross a river when she’s burnt so many bridges. She flirted with a mayoral run that went nowhere. She cozied up to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the president, but bolted after Donald Trump wouldn’t denounce white supremacists. She had to clean up after Success Academy Chairman Dan Loeb made racially insensitive remarks toward a Democratic lawmaker. At least her students keep outscoring their peers in math and reading.
Tony Utano stepped into the job as president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 just as New Yorkers became fed up with the derelict subway system and looked for someone to blame. A New York Times investigative series pointed to decadeslong funding cuts, faulty signal systems, exorbitant capital projects and generous agreements with labor. It put Utano’s union on the defensive, but this year he is backing congestion pricing and trying to make MTA workers’ interactions with riders friendlier.
Government watchdogs and progressive advocates fumed when Keith Wright took a lobbying job and retained his chairmanship of the Manhattan Democratic Party. They seethed again when Wright essentially steered a vacant state Senate seat to Brian Kavanagh. And they boiled over when Wright engineered his re-election this fall by moving up the vote without written notice. Is it politics as usual or is Wright staying a step ahead of everyone? Probably a little of both.
You may not like it when “Law & Order: SVU” closes down your block for a day to shoot a crime scene – but that’s better than an actual crime scene, isn’t it? New York City’s film and television industry is thriving under Julie Menin, who came over from consumers affairs two years ago. She nabbed the Grammy Awards and has renewed state tax breaks to keep the cameras rolling. Plus, Menin has theater, advertising, publishing and nightlife in her portfolio.
Few firms are as plugged into the political developments of the day as Greenberg Traurig. Edward Wallace has mostly stuck to real estate and higher education – he’s repped Columbia, NYU and Fordham’s expansion plans. Also, his firm has been the go-to landing spot for politicos looking for a second career in consulting, including Rudy Giuliani, Melinda Katz and Mark Weprin. Sometimes they even jump back into public service, such as interim U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.
The state saw an increase in unionized workers last year, but the president of the New York City Central Labor Council isn’t resting on his laurels. Vincent Alvarez pledged solidarity with journalists and Broadway’s casting directors joining guilds, defeated the constitutional convention ballot initiative and backed construction workers hoping to get laws passed ensuring safer workplace conditions. You can bet he’s watching a Supreme Court case that could allow members to opt out of union dues.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s re-election bid may have been a slam dunk – or a base stolen with defensive indifference in baseball parlance – but Phil Walzak ran a well-oiled operation nonetheless. The campaign was one of the few things the mayor didn’t have to worry about last year, as he crushed his Republican opponent by margin of 2-to-1. Now Walzak and the mayor can cross a few more baseball stadiums off their list this summer.
The future of New York City is in Marisa Lago’s hands. Well, maybe not all of it, but Lago stepped into the pre-eminent role as head of city planning about a year ago as the mayor seeks to affirm his legacy of creating 300,000 units of affordable housing. Lago gets to figure out where an additional million new New Yorkers are going to live over the next 50 years and how they’re going to move around the city.
This perspicacious editor who is also a native New Yorker oversees the most important metro section in the country. It was Jamieson’s idea to assign a team of investigative reporters to find out what’s really behind the MTA’s service decline, which sparked outrage and hopefully much-needed changes from Albany. The New York Times has more recently dug into bureaucratic blunders at government agencies that showed the lives of New York’s most vulnerable residents.
New York City’s most unexpectedly entertaining radio host – catch him Sundays at 8:30 a.m. on AM 970 – remains a behind-the-scenes power broker in Republican politics. No need for the GOP to beware of Greeks bearing gifts. John Catsimatidis helped install his daughter Andrea as chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party and was an instrumental sounding board for Nicole Malliotakis’ long shot mayoral run. As a major donor, he could also mount another mayoral run in 2021.
New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres mounted a quixotic bid for the speakership but played his cards right and won perhaps the second-best outcome. Speaker Corey Johnson expanded the role of the Oversight and Investigation Committee just for him. Torres already reduced NYCHA officials to blubbering puddles at one of his first hearings where the council revealed 4 in 5 public housing residents lived without heat at some point since October. City Hall better start ordering Tylenol and Tums in bulk.
Stuart Appelbaum began 2017 fired up about taking on President Donald Trump, telling Deadspin he was optimistic that unions would meet the challenge. Indeed, union membership grew statewide last year and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union added members from Guitar Center to the Pleasure Chest. However, it’s hard to organize workers when jobs are disappearing – New York’s retail sector lost 14,100 jobs in 2017, according to the state Department of Labor.
If you’re looking for drama in the charter school sector, look elsewhere. The easygoing CEO of the New York City Charter School Center keeps a lower profile than other charter leaders, but he has been largely effective at the uphill battle of getting Democratic lawmakers to allow more city charters and boost per pupil spending. With Families for Excellent Schools shuttering after allegations of “inappropriate behavior” by its former leader, Merriman will likely take a larger role promoting school choice.
New York City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo was on the ropes this summer. She faced an experienced opponent girding for a rematch and flip-flopped on whether to support the city’s redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory, her district’s top issue. But with the help of Corey Johnson and her council colleagues, Cumbo won her primary decisively and became Johnson’s new majority leader. Lest we forget, she gave birth to her son in the middle of all of this. Champagne for everyone!
Brooklyn has come a long way from the days of Democratic bosses who kept baseball bats under their desks. Four years ago, Frank Seddio played a key role in installing Melissa Mark-Viverito as council speaker. But nobody fears Seddio now, not after he wasn’t able to anoint a new speaker or claim either of the City Council’s powerful committees. While Brooklyn’s Democrats have long been a fragmented bunch, Seddio can always name some judicial candidates eager to genuflect to him.
The taxi industry’s most influential advocate is needed more than ever these days. New York City medallion owners are drowning in debt as drivers from ride-hailing services saturate city streets. As spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade and a partner at Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz, he has the ear of the mayor and sympathetic City Council members. But that may not be enough now that the number of Uber rides surpassed taxi trips for the first time in July.
Can you hear me now? The Communications Workers of America District 1 political director helped torpedo the state’s constitutional convention. More importantly, he secured a four-year deal for wireless workers with AT&T after an 11-month contract dispute. Political leaders tripped over themselves to support these strikes on behalf of members of Master’s union, which will be key in the 2018 midterm elections. Master is also a leader in the Working Families Party, which could play a key role in some races.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan remains the most respected religious leader in the city. But life as a Catholic Church leader in the Trump era can be complicated. President Donald Trump’s embrace of anti-abortion activists has pleased Dolan, but the White House’s stance on undocumented immigrants and the president’s careless remarks about “s–tthole countries” has dismayed him. At least His Eminence isn’t getting attacked in Trump’s Twitter mentions like the Supreme Pontiff on the other side of the Atlantic.
The mayor’s favorite developer is reaping the benefits of an affordable housing boom. Ron Moelis’ L+M Development Partners is spanning the boroughs to build below-market units in concert with the city’s decadelong $41 billion housing plan and rezoning effort. His critics may call him the “Gentrification King,” but there are few other real estate magnates who will make as large a splash on the city’s landscape after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s two terms in office.
The mayor of Dumbo – and friend of the real mayor – has been expanding up the coast to Williamsburg, where his gleaming rental towers are replacing the former Domino Sugar Refinery. Is he finished? Of course not. Walentas’ Two Trees Management recently bought two commercial sites along the Gowanus Canal and New York City picked him to develop towers on public housing parking lots in Boerum Hill. Brooklyn is Jed’s world and we’re all just renting in it.
The governor’s counsel has emerged as a top surrogate, public relations representative and behind-the-scenes enforcer. And why not? With one of the most impressive personal stories in state politics – he’s openly gay and his family fled Liberia following a military coup in the 1980s – David is an asset to a sometimes adrift administration. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s allies are already talking up David as the state’s next attorney general – and they’re not wrong.
Gregg Bishop has been one of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s steadiest commissioners. Business loan approval rates have hit new heights and unemployment has remained near historic lows. MWBE figures are improving. Meanwhile the city will offer free legal services to small business owners and is instituting commercial rent tax reform. But the retail industry’s downturn, Amazon’s explosive growth and rising commercial rents could give the de Blasio administration some headaches in the coming months.
Nobody gets under the mayor’s skin like Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters. Not the governor. Not the Post. Not even Mike in the car from the Upper East Side. The mayor’s former campaign treasurer has been a chief antagonist, plumbing the depths of mismanagement at ACS and NYCHA and probing his seedy campaign fundraising practices. If Peters is ever axed in Trump-like fashion, as the mayor reportedly considered, you’d think Peters has enough motivation to run for office himself someday.
Brian Lehrer presides over the airwaves like an omniscient Mr. Rogers, moderating eloquent discourse on the president’s latest antics and needling New York City’s mayor every Friday morning. But the conscience of WNYC has unexpectedly had to turn his lens on his own station after a spate of sexual harassment allegations felled several other radio hosts. His on-the-record fricassee of New York Public Radio CEO Laura Walker should be required listening in journalism schools.
Meanwhile in Brooklyn, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez saw his influence grow after he staved off a slew of primary challengers and finally shed that “acting” title. Gonzalez is poised to continue the legacy of his predecessor, Ken Thompson, and become a leading voice in the state on discovery reform, cash bail reform, drug policy reform and immigration policy. And he’ll have a say in where the city relocates its inmates once it closes Rikers Island for good.
The state’s most prominent district attorney had a rocky year. Manhattan’s Cyrus Vance Jr. stumbled through bombshells that he halted an investigation into Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump’s SoHo condo project and failed to charge Harvey Weinstein with sex crimes in 2015. He’s tried to save face by banning contributions from defense lawyers and refusing to prosecute fare evasion. He’s also continued to rake in money from asset forfeitures, allowing him to fund favored projects.
Every week is infrastructure week for Carlo Scissura. With President Donald Trump hyping federal investment in public works, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushing for redevelopment at transit hubs and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio advancing an ambitious housing agenda, there’s no shortage of building opportunities in the region. Scissura, who took the helm at the New York Building Congress in 2016, also weighs in on issues like congestion pricing and authorizing design-build construction.
Old New York City mayoral hopefuls never die, they just take positions on state and city boards. The man who came a couple percentage points away from preventing Bloomberg’s third term is now serving as the CUNY board of trustees’ chairman. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ally must steer the university system, which is under intense scrutiny, to improve both its financial practices and educational outcomes. Thompson’s steady, involved leadership should help the higher education institution.
Michael Bloomberg flirted with a presidential run and made a splash at the Democratic National Convention arguing for a president who is “sane and competent.” The former mayor lost that round, but he clocked in at No. 10 last year on Forbes’ richest people in the world list with $47.5 billion and Bloomberg LP grew for a 36th consecutive year. Look for a larger role from Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety after another horrific school shooting in Florida.
The deputy mayor has a lot on her plate. She’s responsible for monitoring New York City’s exploding homeless population, taming the public hospital system’s rising deficits, overseeing the troubled foster care system and managing any unexpected health crisis that occurs. These challenges take time and Herminia Palacio has acknowledged she can’t solve every problem immediately. But Mayor Bill de Blasio is pretty lucky to have her around after clashing with her predecessor about homelessness.
The new U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York is not as well-known as his Manhattan counterpart, but his caseload is way cooler. We see you Joe Percoco and Russian Twitter trolls and raise you … El Chapo. That’s right, Donoghue’s prosecutors are responsible for trying the most notorious drug kingpin in the world. Plus, he got a jump on Geoffrey Berman, a fellow rookie leading the Southern District, by announcing a new case against Assemblywoman Pamela Harris.
Dr. Mitchell Katz might have the toughest job in New York, and that includes running the subways. The city’s public hospital system lost $776 million in the first half of fiscal year 2017 and will face a projected $1.8 billion deficit by 2020. Into this mess steps Katz, who turned around the Los Angeles County Health Agency. Katz promises to focus on primary care, expand electronic services and cut administrative costs. Keep the flu the hell away from us, please!
President Donald Trump’s victory has given New York City’s labor leaders a lot of work to do. And Héctor Figueroa has been more than up to the challenge. As president of 32BJ SEIU, his service employees have fought the Trump administration’s immigration policies and tussled with ride-hailing startups, property owners and airports. Whether the Democratic wave is strong enough to sweep Republicans out of Congress may depend on how effective the union is at getting their members to the polls.
New York’s senior Republican congressman had been skeptical of a Trump presidency, threatening to leave politics if Trump became the GOP nominee. A year into the Trump era, they’re now “getting along very well.” King might have lost the fight over state and local tax deductions, but Trump officials have made repeated visits to Nassau County to tame the MS-13 gang. Now can King stop Trump from slashing counterterrorism funding to pay for the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border?
It’s a little odd-o that one of the mayor’s favorite borough presidents is a Republican from Staten Island, but James Oddo’s just that charming. He has presided over the borough’s quiet renaissance, blocking a new jail and steering the North Shore’s ambitious redevelopment while Manhattan and Brooklyn get the press. A bigger challenge will be keeping Republicans on The Rock in line behind Rep. Dan Donovan, who will face former Rep. Michael Grimm and possibly a hungry Democrat in a key House race.
There’s so much buzz coming from Kew Gardens that Melinda Katz wants to run for mayor that she could probably market her own Queens-made honey. And why not? Katz enjoys support throughout her home borough, tourism is growing, she’s an expert on land use and is overseeing several pivotal projects – including both airport redevelopments and the redevelopent of Willets Point. Plus, she’s friendly with the business community. As rapper Nas would say, “Queens get the money.”
Henry Garrido, the head of New York City’s powerful municipal employees union, has made his mark in the de Blasio era. Garrido’s District Council 37 endorsed the mayor in January 2017 – early in his re-election campaign – and kept its membership steady while other unions around the country have lost workers. A key U.S. Supreme Court decision in a labor rights case in the coming months is worth watching, but the city’s unionized labor force isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
President Donald Trump finally has his guy in the Justice Department’s second-most prestigious post. Geoffrey Berman hasn’t received Senate confirmation to be the Manhattan U.S. attorney – and it’s no cakewalk since U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand vowed to block him – but he’s in his notoriously cramped and pest-infested Foley Square office fighting terrorists, retrying state lawmakers and tripping up the governor’s best friend. If it doesn’t work out, he can always try podcasting.
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo is not as well known as Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. or Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, but the third amigo of the Bronx Democrats has advanced his borough’s power in impressive ways. He helped ensure Corey Johnson’s ascension to New York City Council speaker in an alliance with Queens, his candidates largely won their council races and he secured the powerful Land Use Committee chairmanship for his friend Rafael Salamanca Jr. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is rising.
Last January, the Brooklyn congresswoman raced to JFK to protest President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban, earning her national attention. The year’s chaotic debate over the fate of DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status holders and immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations has come to Rep. Nydia Velázquez’s doorstep. She has become one of the most forceful voices in the country on immigration and the congressional point person on the ongoing hurricane response in her native Puerto Rico.
Having the mayor and governor engaged in a feud while simultaneously fighting a White House hellbent on punishing New York City politically can’t be great for the city’s business climate. But companies keep moving here and commerce keeps humming along, thanks to people like Kathryn Wylde. These days, the Partnership for New York City president and CEO is also sitting on the governor’s congestion pricing panel and helping the state try to offset any negative effects of the president’s tax overhaul.
Brooklyn’s top officeholder had a quiet year as he coasted to re-election. A vocal police reformer in the past, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has sided with the mayor on body cameras and backed off critiquing the NYPD as crime fell throughout New York City. The most dramatic change he experienced last year was personal: Adams lost 30 pounds and is looking trim. His next transition could be moving to City Hall – if he garners enough support in 2021.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is everywhere, appearing at countless public events in her home borough. She knows everyone, with legions of her former interns holding jobs across New York City. And she manages to lead on initiatives favored by big business, such as the East Midtown rezoning, while unabashedly supporting the little guys like street vendors and mom and pop shops. With her power over land use on the world’s most desirable island, everyone wants to bend Brewer’s ear.
After managing transit systems on three different continents – in Sydney, London and Toronto – Andy Byford came to New York City late last year to serve as the city’s transit president, a position he considers to be his career highlight. Byford, who is credited with reforming the Toronto Transit Commission, knows he has a tough job ahead to improve and bring back public confidence in one of the world’s most complicated subway and bus systems.
Gary LaBarbera is president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, a coalition of labor unions at the intersection of two influential groups in New York City: labor and real estate. LaBarbera has forged alliances with both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Over the past year, LaBarbera’s organization lobbied hard for construction worker safety, and he ultimately celebrated the signing of a bill that focuses of increasing safety training requirements for construction workers.
Suri Kasirer’s government relations firm ranked second on last year’s New York City lobbying list, after raking in more than $10 million. Her firm has a strong track record delivering for its clients, including in education, real estate and retail. Among her recent victories was helping a client win the bid for the Trans World Airlines terminal project and guiding major corporate telecommunications and media mergers. Kasirer also has ties to Corey Johnson, the new council speaker.
Real estate runs New York City, and in the City Council, Rafael Salamanca Jr. runs real estate. Land Use Committee chairman is a big promotion for the South Bronxite, and he’ll now have a big say in some of the city’s biggest issues, such as neighborhood rezonings, homeless shelters and new jails. Well-liked and tight with fellow Bronx power players, Salamanca was a natural choice. Time will tell if he can leverage his post into legislation and fundraising like former chairman David Greenfield.
Like many top developers, Rob Speyer comes from a real estate family with a long history in New York City. A few years ago, Speyer became the sole CEO of Tishman Speyer, taking the reins from his father. He recently stepped down as chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, where he left a positive legacy, including an increase in membership and legislative victories like the renewal of the 421-a tax break as the Affordable New York Housing Program.
Bill Rudin is continuing his family’s longtime role in New York City real estate as well as its history of civic engagement. He heads the Rudin Management Company as CEO and vice chairman, and was also recently named chairman of the influential Real Estate Board of New York. Rudin had been previously been chairman of the Association for a Better New York, where he still serves on the board. In his new position at REBNY, Rudin looks to increase diversity.
The television anchor has been a mainstay on this list, thanks to his popular “Inside City Hall” show on Spectrum News NY1. Errol Louis brings on the biggest names and the most influential figures in New York City politics to talk about the latest issues and elections. Plus, he is one of few journalists who frequently interviews Mayor Bill de Blasio. He moderates debates at the local and national level and pens a widely read column in the Daily News.
A loyal enforcer for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Jon Paul Lupo has been tasked with one of the toughest jobs in City Hall: intergovernmental affairs, which means dealing with Washington gridlock, a disdainful Albany and a reinvigorated City Council. But with stints for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Lupo has the Rolodex and the know-how to advocate for de Blasio.
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo gears up for another re-election bid, he has been building up a record with the help of Melissa DeRosa, who as secretary to the governor is now one of Cuomo’s most trusted aides. She’s also the first woman in the role and among the youngest to be appointed to the post. With many of Cuomo’s top priorities having to do with downstate issues, DeRosa is an important player in what gets done in the city.
Entering her second year as commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Maria Torres-Springer has continued to work closely with Mayor Bill de Blasio on his plan to create or preserve 200,000 affordable units – a target the city recently raised to 300,000. The initiative, which Torres-Springer called an “unprecedented investment,” doubles the number of units in the city’s housing lottery, with 24,536 affordable homes financed in 2017.
Polly Trottenberg recently flexed her muscle on the MTA board by stalling the governor’s Enhanced Station Initiative, even though it eventually went through. Trottenberg, who represents New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on the board, also serves as the city’s transportation commissioner. She has overseen the Vision Zero initiative, which has reduced the number of traffic deaths in the city, and seems more eager than her boss to embrace congestion pricing.
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James is known for her bold criticism of the city’s administration and agencies. In recent months, she has called for changes in leadership at the New York City Housing Authority after a series of scandals at the agency. She has also pushed for reforms in the criminal justice system, spoken in support of immigrant rights and passed legislation to implement equal pay. A rumored mayoral candidate, James recently filed a committee – “Letitia James 2021.”
Although he ultimately declined to run against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries still had a hand in city politics. He played a behind-the-scenes role in the council speaker race that elected Corey Johnson. Jeffries now wants to focus on winning back a Democratic majority in the House, where he serves on the party’s leadership team. But it is a long four years to 2021 and Jeffries hasn’t completely ruled out a run for mayor.
The quiet power behind the New York City Council, Ramón Martinez has become an institution in City Hall’s east wing, serving as organizer, adviser, attack dog and vote-wrangler for Speakers Christine Quinn, Melissa Mark-Viverito and now Corey Johnson. While he lacks his new boss’s public profile, he makes up for it in legislative clout, controlling the flow of bills and budgeting for all 51 members. Rep. Joe Crowley got him the job, but Martinez earned the respect needed to keep it.
Melanie Hartzog, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently promoted budget director, previously served as deputy director for health and social services at the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. She is also the first African-American to hold the position. Hartzog is responsible for the city’s massive budget, which rounded out at nearly $86 billion last year and has grown each year. However, threats to federal spending may pose an obstacle in this year’s budget negotiations.
Most New Yorkers haven’t heard of Neal Kwatra, but he has cultivated relationships with New York’s biggest power players. The Metropolitan Public Strategies founder has strong ties to the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, and helped the union in backing Corey Johnson’s successful bid for speaker. Also among his allies are Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, making his communications and strategic consulting firm a force to be reckoned with.
The Bronx is booming and its borough president isn’t shy about taking credit for the economic upswing. His record, along with his policy chops and charisma, have made him an obvious contender for higher office, with his sights set on Gracie Mansion in 2021. Expect Rubéncito to leverage his tight relationships with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he builds his profile, and don’t be surprised if Díaz starts to push more citywide issues at City Hall.
Dominic Williams got a four-year degree in how New York City ticks as chief of staff to then-First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris. With Shorris leaving, Williams got a promotion and will presumably be working even more closely with Mayor Bill de Blasio, his boss since the public advocate days. That kind of loyalty means a lot in politics, so expect Williams to play a big role in shaping the mayor’s second-term initiatives and working with the agencies that implement them.
As a former legal aid lawyer, Steven Banks has earned the respect of stakeholders confronting New York City’s homelessness crisis. But as time has passed and the number of homeless New Yorkers has kept rising, Banks has proven that he’s no miracle worker. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio is relying heavily on the smart, capable commissioner to create new shelters and close old ones as the city tries to turn the tide for its most vulnerable residents.
James Capalino, the leader of New York City’s highest earning lobbying firm, helped Bill de Blasio get elected mayor, and the close relationship has paid off. A former aide to Ed Koch, Capalino has been a player in the city for more than four decades. With de Blasio still running the city for another four years, Capalino will keep on delivering for his clients in real estate, media and other key sectors.
Being trusted outside advisers to Mayor Bill de Blasio is this public relations team’s best asset and greatest liability. Candidates hiring BerlinRosen for campaigns open themselves to criticism for the firm’s ties to investigations into de Blasio’s fundraising. But since no charges were brought, the co-founders can laugh straight to the bank. They’ve continued selling the mayor’s message to the city while helping guide de Blasio to re-election, and also consulted on Laura Curran’s successful Nassau County executive campaign.
A pragmatic political operator, the president of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council has a way of getting close to those who can help him. He’s one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees on the MTA board and is the rare labor leader who can secure meetings with President Donald Trump. And while Ward helped pressure New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to crack down on Airbnb, his power should only increase with Ward’s ally Corey Johnson becoming speaker.
Despite charter-friendly Betsy DeVos’ appointment as U.S. education secretary, Michael Mulgrew has not had to deal very much with the feds on charter schools. He has allies in Albany and New York City Hall, and he has one less charter school advocacy group to worry about with the shuttering of Families for Excellent Schools. However, Mulgrew, like other public union leaders, will have a tough time if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against labor unions in the Janus case.
Joe Lhota, the recently appointed MTA chairman, oversees the nation’s largest transit network and is responsible for solving its many problems, notably New York City’s crumbling subways. After Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed him to find solutions, Lhota launched a short-term plan to fix critical subway infrastructure. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city won’t pay for half of the plan, and the congestion pricing plan being considered in Albany leaves some funding questions unanswered.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler was recently named ranking member of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. If Democrats flip the House in 2018, he would lead the committee that could initiate impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, a political foe. Nadler also holds sway in local and state politics, recently siding with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a dispute with the Port Authority and has been a vocal advocate in Washington for the Gateway Program.
Thomas DiNapoli hit a big milestone last year, marking a decade as the state’s comptroller, and during that time he has generally been well-liked. Unmarred by scandal like so many other elected officials in the state, DiNapoli has effectively managed the state’s massive pension fund. While his primary responsibility is on the state level, his office conducts plenty of audits of New York City offices and also tracks the city’s rising spending and broader economic trends.
The real estate industry has long been one of the most powerful interests in New York, and John Banks’ Real Estate Board of New York remains one of its most influential voices. Banks has had some noteworthy victories over the past year, including the renewal of the 421-a real estate tax break, rebranded as the Affordable New York Housing Program, and many REBNY members will benefit from the federal tax overhaul, which slashes corporate rates for commercial developers.
For over a decade, George Gresham has headed 1199SEIU, the nation’s largest health care union, which has afforded him impressive political sway. His loyal bloc of voters has helped politicians on both sides of the aisle get elected and stay in office. He supported Bill de Blasio for New York City mayor early in 2013. He just endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a longtime ally. And Gresham also has helped Republicans remain in control of the state Senate.
New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm sided the Progressive Caucus in the 2014 speaker’s race, then left that caucus, and still end up chairing the sought-after Finance Committee, which speaks to his political acumen – or at least his ability to get along with everybody. The openly gay former public school teacher hasn’t been afraid to get in early on issues like closing the Rikers Island jail complex, and now he’ll be speaking from a bigger stage.
Ever since he took on his leadership role, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has faced threats from Democrats seeking to win enough seats to seize power. So far, Flanagan has fended them off, even amid renewed talk of a reunification between the mainline state Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference. The Long Islander will face another test in the fall elections, but at least until then, he’ll have a big say in city issues like congestion pricing.
For someone who insists that she doesn’t want to run for president, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been successful at raising her public profile over the past year. New York’s junior senator was drawing attention to sexual harassment well before the #MeToo movement took off. She has emerged as a foil to President Donald Trump, on that issue and others. But especially compared to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, she appears to have less of a presence in the five boroughs.
Chirlane McCray has, in many ways, redefined the role of New York City first lady. She has her husband’s ear, weighing in on the mayor’s policy and political decisions. She oversees city programs, including ThriveNYC, her signature mental health initiative. More recently, McCray turned her attention to rehabilitating female inmates, taking the lead on another new initiative. Additionally, she runs the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which raised more than $22 million in fiscal year 2017.
State Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, has been under increased scrutiny. First, there was the agreement for the IDC and the mainline state Senate Democrats to reunite. Then, an allegation of sexual misconduct against Klein was made public, which he denied. The Bronx lawmaker remains a key leader in Albany, but the ramifications of reunification – and the outcome of a state investigation into the harassment claim – could erode his influence.
The former intergovernmental affairs director has a new title, but Emma Wolfe is still New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most trusted aide. A number of news stories this year have detailed Wolfe’s communications with restaurateur Harendra Singh – who later pleaded guilty to corruption – but that was just evidence of how much the former Working Families Party organizer means to the mayor. And now that her boss cruised to re-election, Wolfe’s portfolio is only getting bigger.
Short of Corey Johnson himself, nobody played a bigger role in the 2017 New York City Council speaker’s race than Rep. Joe Crowley. Four years after being outplayed in the council speakership race, the Queens Democratic Party chairman proved he still has clout. His support is being pursued in the 2018 races, even outside of his district. Crowley’s stock is rising in Washington too, and as the fourth-ranked Democrat in the House, his dream of becoming speaker isn’t crazy.
No more stringing us along for 2017 – New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is comptrolling for another four years, building up his resume and relationships to make him a potential choice to be the next New York City mayor. Managing the city’s $200 billion in pension funds is power in itself, but Stringer also shows off his progressive credentials through audits, pointing out weaknesses at NYCHA, deficiencies in MWBE contracting and the real cost of bail bonds.
New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen directly oversees some of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top initiatives. The administration has already hailed her affordable housing efforts as a success, saying last fall it was on track to reach its 200,000-unit goal two years early while also raising its target to 300,000 units. Glen, who also oversees job development initiatives, might even run for mayor herself – although some council members and activists aren’t fans.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson beat a crowded field this year to win his leadership post, thanks to an early start campaigning as well as a natural charisma and collegiality that won over colleagues and other key players. After four years in which the council operated nearly in lockstep with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Johnson has pledged to be more independent and that in turn could make him more powerful as a counterweight to the mayor.
James O’Neill has come into his own as NYPD commissioner, combining an emphasis on neighborhood policing with a more understated approach than his predecessors. During his short tenure, crime has continued to drop in the city, even as the NYPD scaled back more heavy-handed tactics that have been criticized by advocates. Politically, O’Neill can already declare victory, having helped his boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, coast to re-election without any major crime scandals.
Last fall, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promoted Dean Fuleihan to first deputy mayor, a top post in the administration. Fuleihan, previously the mayor’s budget director, will have a more expansive role while still capitalizing on his vast fiscal knowledge. His previous work in the state Capitol, where he was the longtime budget director for the Assembly Democrats, could prove even more useful as the mayor continues to seek Albany’s blessing for funding and other legislation.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has once again become a darling of progressives, thanks to the many lawsuits his office has filed against President Donald Trump on immigration to climate change to net neutrality. That has made him a more prominent player on the national stage, although the relatively limited scope of his prosecutorial work in New York City falls short of the broader portfolios of the executive branch elected officials ahead of him on this list.
With three years of experience, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is settling in. He has a huge majority in the Democratic-dominated Assembly, and his many downstate members give him sway over what happens in New York City, from the subways to plastic bag fees.
His Bronx colleagues just helped elect the new City Council speaker. He’s an ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio. And with the governor tacking left, Heastie has delivered on issues like Raise the Age.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has a reputation as a deal-maker.
But with an unpredictable president on one side and an angry, energized progressive base on the other, the Senate minority leader has had a hard time delivering.
To be fair, there’s only so much Schumer, the most influential Democrat in Washington, can do, given that Republicans control both houses of Congress as well as the White House. The man that Schumer was expected to be making deals with – President Donald Trump, a fellow outer borough guy – also seems to have trouble negotiating effectively on the national stage, despite a carefully cultivated image as a deal-maker himself.
While Schumer and his fellow Democrats enjoyed some early victories, such as blocking the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, they’ve suffered major losses like the Republicans’ tax cut legislation that slashes corporate rates and lowers taxes for many other taxpayers while adding billions of dollars to the deficit.
Democratic Party leaders did reach a recent agreement on domestic spending, but they have failed to make a deal on immigration, leaving in limbo the young immigrants who had been allowed to stay under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Trump ended. While Trump has insisted on a border wall, immigration advocates wanted Schumer to continue a government shutdown until a deal was reached on DACA – even if it hurt the party in the long run.
Of course, Republicans hold only a narrow advantage in the U.S. Senate, giving Democrats reason to hope that they’ll be able to retake at least one chamber of Congress in the fall. Some prognosticators even think the party has a chance to win back both houses. Looking ahead, there is a chance that Schumer will be in a stronger position next year.
Perhaps New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio should top this list – he did just win another four years in the city’s highest office without breaking a sweat.
But home rule is more of a theoretical concept than a description of reality in New York. Add to that the fact that the mayor has strong adversaries in both Albany and Washington, and there’s little chance for de Blasio to land any higher than No. 3.
That’s not to say he has been ineffective. As de Blasio pointed out on the campaign trail, he has seen crime fall to historic lows, even as his police commissioners scaled back controversial stop-and-frisk tactics. He successfully expanded prekindergarten and got the state to pay for it. Despite a string of bad headlines and lingering concerns among some critics, probes into pay-to-play allegations didn’t turn up enough evidence to charge the mayor or any of his associates.
The only question is what the mayor will accomplish in his second term, apart from consolidating his first-term victories. Homelessness continues to plague the city. The mayor’s latest State of the City address was notable for its lack of any new grand initiatives. Other efforts, such as expanding prekindergarten to 3-year-olds, will depend on the state. And federal funding cuts are only exacerbating problems at the New York City Housing Authority and New York City Health + Hospitals.
New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson agrees with the mayor on some policies, but he’s less friendly than Melissa Mark-Viverito, the last council speaker who was practically hand-picked by the mayor. A reinvigorated investigative committee within the council is already positioning itself as an aggressive check on the mayor.
Then again, perhaps the mayor can position himself as the next Bernie Sanders.
For years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been the king of New York – and not just in Albany, but also, thanks to the state’s statutory power over local municipalities, in the governor’s native New York City.
However, shifting political winds in Washington have altered the calculus, forcing the governor to contend with a higher level of government in the same way New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is forced to contend with Cuomo.
The biggest state-federal fight in recent months has been over tax policy. Sweeping federal tax changes passed by Republicans in Washington late last year are poised to hit New York City harder than most of the rest of the country. Cuomo has promised to push back, even proposing a state payroll tax to try to blunt the impact, although it’s still unclear if the governor’s tactics will work.
The governor has been outspoken on other federal policies affecting New York, including climate change, health care and immigration. For a politician long considered to harbor presidential ambitions – and one who made a point of focusing on his home state during his first term – the actions of the president now provide a compelling rationale for a Cuomo bid in 2020.
Closer to home, Cuomo continues to display his power over de Blasio on issues like congestion pricing and closing the Rikers Island jail complex. What’s more, the governor finally seems to be acknowledging that he does control the New York City subway system, even if he blames de Blasio whenever he can.
As for last year’s No. 1 – U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, the most powerful Democrat in Washington and a Brooklynite to boot – his inadequate efforts to shield New York from the president’s policies have dropped him down a few spots on the list, leaving Cuomo at No. 2.
President Donald Trump is the most powerful politician in the country, if not the world. Since taking office, he has survived threats that might’ve toppled another leader – a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an endless string of scandals and widespread voter disapproval. In navigating the rocky start to his presidency, however, he has rallied his base by repeatedly lashing out against his enemies.
His supporters say he has jolted the Washington establishment, revitalized the economy and taken stronger stands in national and international affairs. Critics claim he has undermined crucial protections for the environment, immigrants and the poor, inflamed racial and ethnic divisions, and heightened global tensions while increasing the threat of nuclear war.
While his actions and policies reverberate across the country and beyond, his policies over the past year have a disproportionate impact in his home state.
Trump’s biggest domestic policy victory – a sweeping set of changes to the federal tax code – is expected to have the biggest impact on places like high-tax New York City, where state and local tax deduction changes are expected to erode tax revenues. And on Wall Street, where the president has laid claim to a “Trump bump,” the vast federal budget deficit accompanying the tax changes has made markets jittery.
While a push to repeal the Affordable Care Act fell short, a key component – the health insurance mandate – was eliminated in the federal tax law. The administration has made other health care cuts – and more could come – forcing New York officials to scramble for funds.
Despite pledging to invest historic sums into infrastructure, the Trump administration has halted progress on the Gateway Program, including a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River that is critical not only to New York City but the broader Northeast economy.
Trump’s administration has sought to restrict travel from certain countries, spurring protests in immigrant-friendly New York City. Trump’s ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could result in the deportation of thousands of young immigrants – many living in the five boroughs – to home countries they haven’t been to in years.
Other battle lines have been drawn between the federal government and the five boroughs, including in housing, education and criminal justice. Trump has paved the way for offshore drilling, drawing complaints from New York. His appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court could be the pivotal vote undermining protections for organized labor, an important constituency in the city.
There’s still more than two and half years left of Trump’s first term, and he could serve another four years on top of that – although a few other New Yorkers on this list hope to prevent that from happening.