The 2020 Albany Power 100
The 2020 Albany Power 100
The coronavirus pandemic has shaken up the power structure in Albany. For some New York politicians, their influence has grown dramatically – especially for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the commissioners, advisers and allies he has entrusted to shape the response to the deadly public health emergency and the alarming economic fallout. But other perennial power players’ abilities have been diminished – perhaps most notably among members of the state Legislature, who have ceded significant powers to the governor.
The 2020 Albany Power 100 details these ebbs and flows in political influence, with a newly reordered ranking that reflects the ways the crisis has reshaped responsibility in the state capital. And with so many Albany operatives and insiders retiring or resigning from their posts, fully one-quarter of the list is new this year. Read on to see where the new faces and the mainstays are ranked – and why they made the cut.
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1. Andrew Cuomo
The governor has won plenty of political victories during his three terms, but it has hurt his popularity at times. Then the coronavirus pandemic began, and his approval numbers soared into the stratosphere. His daily briefings have mobilized public support behind him to an extent that was unimaginable a few months ago. It’s the rare type of political weapon that can counter such threats as a presidential tweet.
2. Donald Trump
The one person who can stymie Gov. Andrew Cuomo is President Donald Trump. Whether it’s blocking federal bailout funds, stalling the Gateway Tunnel or capping state and local tax deductions, the president often gets the best of the governor. Yet in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Cuomo has found ways to pressure or persuade Trump to provide assistance – or to push the president out of his way.
3. Melissa DeRosa
Secretary to the Governor
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide, it’s no surprise that Melissa DeRosa is a regular fixture at his daily coronavirus press briefings. She’s fielded questions about the state’s strained unemployment benefit system and is leading a maternity task force to help pregnant women during the pandemic. “As much as you try to anticipate, there’s really no way to predict what will arise,” she told Elle in an April profile.
4. Robert Mujica
Director, State Division of the Budget
The state’s fiscal czar now manages the money for the Second Floor, but he learned his fiscal wizardry during nearly 20 years with the state Senate Finance Committee. This includes playing a role in the formation of an alliance between the Republican majority and a renegade band of Democrats. Nowadays, he has to balance the state’s books – and decide what to cut as the economy crashes.
5. Charles Schumer
U.S. Senate Minority Leader
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has had a rough time of it during President Donald Trump’s first term in office, and not even the coronavirus pandemic has improved relations between the White House and New York’s senior senator. While there’s bipartisan support in New York for billions of dollars in aid to bail out states and cities, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are opposed.
6. Howard Zucker
Commissioner, State Department of Health
Howard Zucker is by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s side during must-see briefings on the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, making him “the most important person in New York who most New Yorkers never heard of,” as Newsday put it. With a background in global public health and infectious disease, he has the credentials for the job – which includes dealing with hospital staffing policies, reopening the economy and ongoing medical developments.
7. Letitia James
State Attorney General
In 2018, Letitia James became the first woman and first African American to be elected attorney general in New York. In the year that followed, she made headlines for filing 20 lawsuits against the Trump administration. More recently, the former New York City public advocate has taken on debt collectors, banning private companies from attempting to seize New Yorkers’ $1,200 stimulus checks to pay off debt.
8. Thomas DiNapoli
It is surely a stressful time to serve as New York’s chief fiscal officer. The state has already spent at least $2.8 billion fighting the COVID-19 crisis, and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has warned that, especially without federal aid, the state may experience a significant cash crunch soon. For the time being, DiNapoli has one piece of good news: The state’s pension fund has enough money to keep writing checks.
9. Andrea Stewart-Cousins
State Senate Majority Leader
The Westchester County Democrat has faced plenty of challenges since her party took over the state Senate after the 2018 elections, and she has kept the peace between New York City liberals and moderates in suburban swing districts. While the state Legislature has taken a back seat to the governor during the pandemic, state Senate Democrats will be further empowered if they can win a supermajority in the elections this fall.
10. Carl Heastie
The Bronx power broker must balance the demands of the New York City liberals who dominate his chamber while making compromises with the governor and state Senate. Lefties might chafe at some of the deals the speaker has struck with the other two people in “the room,” but on issues like taxes and criminal justice reforms, the speaker is the foundation of liberal influence in the state’s halls of power.