The New York 50 Over 50 (continued)
The New York 50 Over 50 (continued)
Profiles by Kay Dervishi.
“I chose the law because I wanted a profession that would allow me to engage as an activist in the world,” Jonathan Abady said. The civil rights attorney represented the family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot by Cleveland police in 2014, and is one of the lead lawyers in class-action lawsuits that led to reform on Rikers Island. Named one of the Best Lawyers in America, Abady has represented high-profile clients, including Harry Belafonte and Carl Bernstein.
Prior to joining lobbying firm Kasirer in 2008, Omar Alvarellos worked in Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration – acting as a City Hall liaison and helping formulate policy on community relations and development issues. As director of New York City government affairs for Keyspan Energy, one of the nation’s largest distributors of natural gas, he led the company’s government relations strategy on environmental issues, such as brownfield remediation and the cleanup of manufactured gas plant sites.
Under Sarah Bartlett’s leadership, CUNY’s journalism school secured a $20 million endowment from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark. The funding will help the school further its mission of educating the next generation of journalists. An accomplished journalist who has worked at Fortune and The New York Times, Bartlett said young journalists “have to be prepared for long hours and low pay, and they have to be self-directed learners, as the tools of the trade are changing constantly.”
Hector Batista is just beginning his tenure as head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, but his history in Brooklyn economic development goes back several decades. In the 1980s, he worked with former Borough President Howard Golden to help develop the borough’s MetroTech Center office complex. His advice to people entering the profession? “Don’t put so much focus on the job description. Be open and take on any challenge at your company,” he said.
“I am proud that I can say my career includes working for both the Democratic and Republican leaders of the state Assembly,” Howard Becker said of his 25-year career working in the state Legislature. “Not too many people can say that.” Currently in charge of member recruitment for The Business Council of New York State, Becker previously worked as finance director for the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee and as a fundraiser for U.S. House and Senate campaigns.
Dubbed the “Power Pastor” by The New York Times, A.R. Bernard served as an adviser to then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and recently joined Mayor Bill de Blasio on a tour of NYCHA buildings in need of repair. “Over the years I’ve learned that it is not what you do in life that makes you great,” said the founder of New York City’s largest church. “It’s what you inspire others to do.”
Looking back on his career in public policy, media and communications, Andrew Breslau said the best advice he received as a young person was twofold: “One, mercilessly edit oneself, and two, if you find a sympathetic editor, don’t be defensive and learn all you can from them.” Decades later, the advice seems to have served him well. Breslau has held leadership positions at The Nation Institute, City Futures, CNN and the Democratic National Committee.
Seasoned political strategist Eduardo Castell made a name for himself running three historic New York City campaigns: Bill Thompson’s campaign for comptroller in 2001, Eric Gonzalez’s campaign for Brooklyn district attorney in 2017 and Letitia James’ campaign for public advocate in 2013. But Castell’s expertise doesn’t stop with politics. He chairs the board of directors of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance and serves on the board of education organization Math4Science.
A native of Guyana, Carmen Charles started her career with New York City Health + Hospitals as a nurse’s aide at Coler-Goldwater Hospital. As president of the 10,000-member Municipal Hospital Employees Union Local 420, Charles has earned a reputation as an advocate for education. “My proudest achievement is being elected president and serving the members of Local 420,” she said. “I am most proud that we have not lost a single member to layoffs in 17 years.”
Since the 1970s, Tony Constantinople has worked in both the private and public sectors, advising one of the world’s largest banks as well as serving as treasurer to various New York City Council, mayoral and New York gubernatorial campaigns. “My proudest professional achievement has been launching (Constantinople & Vallone Consulting LLC) in 1997,” said the finance professional. “We have helped dozens of clients achieve their goals in contributing to the greater good of our city.”
Since establishing Cordo & Co. LLC in 2007, John Cordo has successfully advocated for projects as varied as casino resort development and health care mergers. The seasoned lobbyist was previously a partner at Featherstonhaugh, Wiley, Clyne & Cordo, and has also served as special counsel in the state Senate. “By far the most profound change I have witnessed over the last three decades is the amount of public interest and concomitant press attention paid to what happens in Albany,” Cordo said.
Since becoming president of one of New York’s leading labor unions about 25 years ago, Danny Donohue has led the Civil Service Employees Association’s fight for workplace safety, helping secure historic legislation like the 2006 Worksite Security Act. “Be ready to work and work hard, and don’t expect anything to be handed to you,” is Donohue’s advice to young people entering his profession. “Don’t back down if you know you’re right and you believe in what you’re doing.”
“With the growth of a diverse population, New York City leads the way in doing things bigger, better, more diverse and affording opportunities to those who have been historically shut out,” Michael Garner said. It is in that spirit that Garner serves as chief diversity officer at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where his responsibilities include developing programs for minority- and women-owned businesses. He previously worked at the New York City Housing Authority and the New York City School Construction Authority.
A former journalist, television producer, attorney in whistleblower lawsuits and pro bono counsel to Dialysis Advocates – Carl Ginsburg is now communications director for the 42,000-member New York State Nurses Association. His advice to young people entering his field? “Read the news from many sources and get comfortable with a writing style … you will stay a step ahead. Most important of all: listen.” Ginsburg received a 2000-2001 Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism.
Thomas Grech worked in the publishing industry, taught business at Farmingdale State College and handled business development for an energy company before taking the reins at the Queens Chamber of Commerce several years ago. “For purposes of the chamber, we’ve been able to greatly increase membership over the last few years, and just came off 2018 where we hosted 320 events, which is a record for us,” he said. He is a trustee of the Malverne Public Library.
As president and CEO of the country’s fifth-largest library system, serving more than 1 million patrons each year, Linda Johnson has overseen significant technological upgrades as well as the renovation and expansion of several library branches throughout the borough. “It’s important that libraries are centers for learning, for job-seekers, for new Americans, for people who are learning to speak English,” she said in a talk at The Aspen Institute. She was previously president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.
For the past three decades, Harriet Karr-McDonald has overseen fundraising and strategic planning at The Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization co-founded with her husband, George McDonald, to serve people with histories of homelessness, incarceration or substance abuse. “There are so many opportunities to make a positive impact in your community,” said Karr-McDonald, who met her husband at the funeral of a homeless teenager they both knew. “Pursue an issue that sparks your passion … dedicate your life to it.”
In the mid-1990s, Rich Kassel said he would ride his bicycle to work at the Natural Resources Defense Council, often breathing in diesel bus fumes. The experience inspired him to create the Dump Dirty Diesels campaign, convincing the MTA to clean up its buses and inspiring future regulation of diesel emissions. “If you look at a ranking of the 500 cities with the highest pollution levels, New York isn’t even on the list,” he said. “That’s incredible progress.”
Seth Kaye said his work coordinating the introduction of the MetroCard during his time as director of the New York City mayor’s transportation office in the 1990s is one of the highlights of his career. He also worked on Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 1993 election campaign, and at the New York City Economic Development Corp. “The way that New York has changed most in the last three decades is that New York City has become a true five-borough city,” he said.
Charlie King spent more than 25 years in New York’s political sphere – as executive director of the state Democratic Party, adviser to the Rev. Al Sharpton and adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign – before joining the lobbying and public relations firm Mercury Public Affairs. He advises young people entering his field to take the initiative. “The difference between being ordinary or extraordinary is the degree to which you rely on legitimate excuses for inaction,” he said.
Before he founded the political communications firm that bears his name, Andrew Kirtzman, winner of multiple Emmy awards, was one of New York’s best-known political journalists. He covered more than a dozen national political campaigns and authored books on Bernie Madoff and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “I’ve loved every job I’ve ever had,” Kirtzman said. “If you’re lucky, a career should be an adventure, and thus far that’s what it’s been for me.”
Mike Klein has spent nearly 30 years in leadership positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, including working for then-Gov. Mario Cuomo and then-Rep. Charles Rangel. The former deputy county executive of Nassau County has been recognized for his efforts to improve parks and the community as a whole. “In the noble effort to clean up New York, we have lost some of our soul,” he said. “We have never been stronger, but we can still be better.”
In 2014, Alan Klinger served as lead counsel for the New York City Municipal Labor Committee, negotiating a health care agreement, which saved about $3.4 billion in health care costs. The deal remains his proudest accomplishment. Now co-managing partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, Klinger leads the firm’s representation of public sector unions and employee benefit funds. “There remain plenty of opportunities to ‘do good,’ whether you opt for public or private sector work,” he said.
Recently installed as dean of NYU’s engineering school – the first woman ever to hold the position – Jelena Kovačević brings decades of scholarship, technological know-how – she has 20 patents to her name – and a forward-thinking vision to the post. “Having been a New Yorker for more than three decades, I feel excited to give back to the city where I met my husband, got my Ph.D., and raised my daughter,” she said.
One of the best-known reporters in New York, Brian Lehrer has been called a “master interviewer” by The New York Times. The host of WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” regularly interviews powerful figures like Mayor Bill de Blasio and is often tasked with asking questions in New York City mayoral debates. “Part of what I’m proud of,” he said, “is helping to create an environment on the show where people may actually listen to each other as well as talk.”
Patrick Lynch heads the largest municipal police union in the nation, advocating on behalf of about 24,000 New York City police officers in contract negotiations and in politics. The Bayside, Queens, native briefly worked as a subway conductor before joining the police force. Since becoming a union leader, he has clashed with city officials, including being a thorn in the side of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The organization recently changed its name, replacing “Patrolmen’s” with “Police.”
Elsie McCabe Thompson came to the New York City Mission Society in 2014 with a varied resume, including posts as chief of staff to then-New York City Mayor David Dinkins and president of the Museum for African Art. “Public service is in my DNA,” she said on “Reaching Out,” a public affairs show created by Teamsters Local 237. “If you really want to do it well and do it right, you have to live and breathe it. And I do.”
Twenty-five years ago, Mike McGuire helped eliminate the influence of organized crime within the Mason Tenders’ District Council, turning the 15,000-member labor organization into what he calls “a model union.” The union’s political action committee is among the top 10 PACs in the state. McGuire’s advice to young people entering his profession is this: “Surround yourself with extraordinary people; and this business is all about relationships. Build them. Respect them. And when it’s appropriate, end them.”
Rick Ostroff founded Ostroff Associates in 1995 after 12 years working for then-Gov. Mario Cuomo’s administration, first as assistant for regional affairs and later as assistant for legislative affairs. “For those working in government, the ability to get news online is a monumental change,” he said. “I remember Mario Cuomo would call senior staff at 6 a.m. looking to talk about what was in the day’s news.” Ostroff represents clients in various areas, including economic development and financial services.
Andrew Pallotta was elected president of New York’s 600,000-member teachers union in 2017, and he has been a labor leader and activist throughout his career. A former elementary school teacher, Pallotta created the Pipeline Project to train union members to run for public office and bolstered efforts to recruit and engage more members. “Our members are sticking with our union, and we are having more impact on their behalf than ever before,” he said.
A cultural anthropologist and higher education leader who is dedicated to improving educational opportunities for adult students, Joanne Passaro will soon wrap up her first year as president of Metropolitan College of New York. Previously, the New York native spent more than a decade at Carroll University in Wisconsin, serving as provost and vice president for academic affairs. “There is nothing I would rather be doing than serving this mission,” she said of her current role.
When Jeffrey Plaut and colleagues Jon Silvan and Jefrey Pollock founded the public affairs consulting firm Global Strategy Group in the apartment of Silvan’s late grandmother 24 years ago, they had to run down to the lobby every time a package was delivered. Now Plaut’s clients include members of Congress, national labor unions and major corporations. “On our best days, (we) are doing something to make our country and our democracy just a little bit better,” he said.
As head of the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, Patrick Purcell oversees the organization’s advocacy efforts. In 2017, Purcell pushed for new construction safety regulations in the New York City Council. Previously, he worked at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500. “Politics is a nasty business and it feeds off young people who spend too much time watching ‘House of Cards’ for advice,” he said. “The survivors are the ones who stay true to themselves.”
When Mark Schienberg first started at the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association in 1985, he was one of only three staff members. Now he leads the nation’s largest regional automobile dealer network. “Young people entering the industry today should know that supply and demand is in their favor,” he said. “There are so many well-paying, high-tech jobs in the automotive field that need filling, especially as vehicles get more and more technologically complex.”
Phyllis Shafran’s career serving New Yorkers spans four decades – from teaching high school to working for two mayors, two borough presidents and in the New York City Council and Assembly. Shafran currently manages communications for Teamsters Local 237. “I take great pride in knowing that whether I was working in government or in labor, I could help change people’s lives in a positive way on things that matter to them both big and small,” she said.
“I have had the very good fortune of being able to build my career pursuing interests that really matter to me,” James Sterngold said, reflecting on his work in communications and journalism. Sterngold oversees communications, marketing, media relations, special events and government relations at Pace University. Previously, he spent 18 years as a reporter at The New York Times and has written for publications like Fortune and Mother Jones. He has also written two books.
Tony Utano was 19 and attending one of his first union meetings with Transport Workers Union Local 100 when a union organizer who would become his mentor gave him a piece of advice he remembers to this day: “How about you stop complaining and get involved instead.” Now head of the transit union that represents 41,000 New York City transportation workers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to avoid the L train shutdown could mean more work for Utano’s members.
David Weinraub met Patrick Brown while working as then-Gov. Mario Cuomo’s director of legislative and intergovernmental affairs. The two founded Brown & Weinraub PLLC in 2000, representing clients across many industries, including health care, economic development, education and technology. Weinraub said he remembers working in government before desktop computers, cellphones and the internet. “Today, you cannot be effective without a strategy that includes utilization of the latest technologies and a savvy understanding of social media,” he said.
Iris Weinshall is the New York Public Library’s point person in charge of budgets, construction projects and a $1 billion endowment serving libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. “We do have the premier research libraries here in the city of New York,” she said on CUNY TV’s “CityWide.” “But really it’s about the 88 branches throughout these three boroughs, which if you ask me, are a crucial part of what the NYPL is all about.”
A former New York City councilman, assemblyman and deputy secretary of legislative affairs for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mark Weprin now works for Greenberg Traurig, where he reportedly represents Amazon, among other clients. Reflecting on how New York has changed in the past three decades, he said: “Social media has affected just about everything we do. With regard to New York politics, it truly has become a game-changer for both government officials and the people they serve.”