The 2020 Women’s Power 100
The 2020 Women’s Power 100
Women are on the rise in New York politics. New York women have been elected to top posts in the state Legislature and in Congress, serve as the state’s top attorney and oversee the state’s court system. While the governor and New York City’s mayor are men, both are surrounded by influential female advisers who are shaping the direction of the state. What’s more, women are increasingly represented in leading positions in business, health care, education, media, nonprofits and advocacy. In fact, there are so many qualified female leaders that we had a difficult time capping this power list at 100 – which explains the many entries featuring two, three or even four people doing similar work or in similar fields. And as you read through the 2020 Women’s Power 100, you’ll find that every single individual on this list is truly exceptional.
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1. Andrea Stewart-Cousins
State Senate Majority Leader
The first woman to lead the state Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins has a long track record of breaking through glass ceilings. As the leader of the state Legislature’s upper house since January 2019, Stewart-Cousins has spearheaded sweeping policy changes, including a climate change law, bail reforms and a statewide ban on police chokeholds. Plus, her conference may have a veto-proof supermajority next year.
2. Letitia James
State Attorney General
As the New York attorney general, Letitia “Tish” James has kept an eye on President Donald Trump, including last year’s agreement to shut down the Trump Foundation and an ongoing investigation into the financial dealings of the Trump Organization. She now has the National Rifle Association on the defensive, with a legal effort to dismantle the organization’s stranglehold on America’s gun rights ecosystem by saying it is too corrupt to be reformed.
3. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Member of Congress
The youngest woman ever elected to Congress, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become a lightning rod for both conservatives and moderate Democrats, at times drawing ire from both parties and, notably, President Donald Trump. AOC harnesses her position to advocate for the working class, universal health care and climate issues. She recently went viral for an impassioned speech on the House floor calling out Rep. Ted Yoho for a sexist confrontation on the steps of the Capitol.
4. Melissa DeRosa
Secretary to the Governor
As the coronavirus wrought devastation upon New York, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa became a fixture in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings, which lasted 111 straight days and drew record viewership. As Cuomo’s right-hand woman, DeRosa has acted as a key driver on state policy and a trusted deputy in carrying out the governor’s political agenda – not least on women’s rights.
5. Betty Rosa
Interim Commissioner of Education
Betty Rosa has played an important role as classrooms closed in March and struggled to reopen in September – and in August, she stepped aside as Regents chancellor to run the state Education Department. She led virtual Regional School Reopening Task Force meetings in response to feedback from parents, teachers, school and district leaders, and health experts, and has joined the governor in rejecting federal requests that all schools be open for in-person instruction.
6. Kirsten Gillibrand
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been fighting an uphill battle to secure federal funding for New York in the face of relentless hostility from the nation’s highest office that culminated in its designation of New York City as an “anarchist jurisdiction.” Nevertheless, the former presidential candidate has continued to show up for the state, fighting to keep student loan forgiveness in the next stimulus package and extending eviction protection for renters until the end of this year.
7. Grace Meng
Member of Congress
Serving her fourth term representing New York’s 6th Congressional District, Rep. Grace Meng is the first and only Asian American person elected to Congress from the state. The Queens lawmaker passed a resolution condemning anti-Asian bigotry and discrimination during the pandemic, and recently secured several benefits in key spending bills that ensure accountability of the Federal Aviation Administration, increase the safety of religious and community facilities, and expand access to small business resources.
8. Nydia Velázquez
Member of Congress
The first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress, Rep. Nydia Velázquez is currently serving as chair of the House Small Business Committee, a senior member of the Financial Services Committee and a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. She recently made headlines when she alleged that there was fraud, abuse and mismanagement in the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs.
9. Janet DiFiore
Chief Judge, State Court of Appeals
Judge Janet DiFiore took office at the Court of Appeals after a decade serving as Westchester County district attorney. DiFiore recently announced that the state court system has established a 35-member council of business leaders that will focus on enhancing low-income residents’ access to civil legal services. After the death of George Floyd, DiFiore commissioned an independent review of the state court system’s response to issues of institutional racism.
10. Darcel Clark & Melinda Katz
Bronx District Attorney; Queens District Attorney
As the Black Lives Matter movement puts renewed focus on criminal justice reform, these two local prosecutors are making significant changes. Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark made history as the first woman to serve as Bronx district attorney – and first Black woman to serve as a DA anywhere in the state – when she got the reins of the office in 2016. Her breakthrough marked the beginning of a number of Bronx women winning powerful posts – and she has sought to build on that, recently hiring dozens of women and people of color as assistant district attorneys.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz made her mark in the Assembly, the New York City Council and the private sector before serving as Queens borough president and now Queens district attorney. After her narrow 2019 victory over Tiffany Cabán, Katz was quick to reform and expand the office, opening a Conviction Integrity Unit, a Human Trafficking Bureau, and the Housing and Worker Protection Bureau.
11. Kathryn Wylde & Heather Briccetti
President and CEO, Partnership for New York City; President and CEO, The Business Council of New York State
As New York business owners contend with coronavirus restrictions and the severe recession it wrought, these two leading advocates have a tough task. The Partnership for New York City’s Kathryn Wylde is a critical voice for businesses large and small grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout. She coordinated a letter from business leaders to the de Blasio administration complaining about rising crime and dirty neighborhoods, and she criticized foes of the scuttled Industry City rezoning. Her organization also issued a recent report highlighting racial disparities in the city’s health care system.
Heather Briccetti’s leadership of the Business Council of New York State has helped businesses navigate the difficult process of reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. She is currently focused on addressing the state’s broken child care system, which she says is a “key issue to businesses across the state,” as well as offering businesses more liability protections should another economic shutdown occur.
12. Crystal Peoples-Stokes
Assembly Majority Leader
As Assembly majority leader, Buffalo’s Crystal Peoples-Stokes oversees the chamber’s operations, presides over debates and is the unofficial leader for upstate members of the Democratic conference. She has been outspoken on COVID-19 and the economic fallout, social justice, and the need for Congress to provide fiscal relief for New York. She supports recreational marijuana and police reform.
13. Emma Wolfe
Chief of Staff to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
Calling the coronavirus “an unprecedented threat,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a special pandemic response team to help coordinate relief efforts, making Emma Wolfe the deputy mayor for administration – and the second in line to succeed him if he becomes unable to conduct the city’s business. As a lead adviser and trusted confidant, Wolfe is a key behind-the-scenes player in achieving de Blasio’s political goals.
14. Rodneyse Bichotte
Chair, Kings County Democratic Party
The first Haitian American woman to hold elected office in New York City, Bichotte is also the first woman to lead the Kings County Democrats and the first Black woman to lead the party in any of the five boroughs. She also currently chairs the Assembly Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises, where her leadership and advocacy are devoted to revitalizing the business community in her district.
15. Kathy Hochul
In addition to being the nation’s longest-serving female lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul serves as president of the state Senate and chair of the Regional Economic Development Councils. While she logged more than 80 virtual political events and over 400 interviews in recent months, she seems to have largely turned her attention back to the issues of health care and child care for New York families.
16. Maya Wiley, Dianne Morales, Kathryn Garcia & Loree Sutton
New York City Mayoral Candidates
Not long ago, the New York City mayoral race was shaping up to be a male-dominated contest. But these four female candidates aren’t sitting on the sidelines. Three of them – former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and former veterans commissioner Loree Sutton – held key posts in the de Blasio administration and will have to differentiate themselves from their old boss. Wiley has spoken out on civil rights issues and is familiar to progressives who have seen her on MSNBC or follow her on Twitter, while Garcia enjoyed a reputation as a can-do commissioner and Sutton helped reduce homelessness among military veterans in the city. But all of them – including Dianne Morales, the former leader of the nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods – will have to boost their name recognition to have a serious shot at City Hall.
17. Liz Krueger & Helene Weinstein
Chairs, State Senate Finance Committee; Assembly Ways and Means Committee
When it comes to the state budget, these two lawmakers manage the process on the legislative side. In addition to chairing the state Senate Finance Committee, Liz Krueger also serves on the committees for Housing, Construction and Community Development, for Budget and Revenue, and for Rules. A vital figure in the state’s budget discussions and a longtime tenant rights advocate, she co-sponsored the “Tenant Safe Harbor Act,” which protects renters from eviction due to financial hardship during the COVID-19 state of emergency and for six months after that period ends.
Helene Weinstein has been serving as an Assembly member for 40 years. The chair of the Ways and Means Committee, she was also the first woman in New York history to be appointed as chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. A recent bill she sponsored and helped to pass protects people and entities from being sued for exercising free-speech. Weinstein recently recovered from COVID-19.
18. Melanie Hartzog
New York City Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services
As New York City grapples with a severe fiscal crisis, Melanie Hartzog was at the center of making painful cuts while being starved of bailout funding from the federal government. After helping reach a deal on an $88.1 billion budget this summer – with major cuts to the police department – she will now be dealing directly with the coronavirus pandemic in her new role as a deputy mayor.
19. Suri Kasirer
Founder and President, Kasirer
Suri Kasirer built and continues to lead the highest-earning lobbying firm in New York City. The native New Yorker is known for her unmatched connections at the city and state level, which will come in handy as the 2021 New York City government elections approach. The former educator and onetime aide to then-Gov. Mario Cuomo is respected for her policy knowledge in real estate, land use and nonprofits.
20. Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers
As president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten represents 1.7 million educators and public employees, and has long advocated on their behalf in Albany, Washington D.C., and around the country. She is the voice for teachers whose classrooms have become flashpoints during the pandemic, facing unforeseen challenges that seem to mount daily with everything from school closures to rapidly changing remote-learning options.
21. Jessica Ramos, Alessandra Biaggi & Yuh-Line Niou
State Senator; State Senator; Assembly Member
Call them Albany’s Squad. This trio of of progressive lawmakers from New York City are among the most prominent state legislative candidates who didn’t wait their turn to run for elected office, with Jessica Ramos and Alessandra Biaggi knocking out former members of the controversial Independent Democratic Conference and Yuh-Line Niou ultimately replacing the corrupt former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. And the three lawmakers – who even roomed together – capitalized on an increasingly Democratic Albany with landmark laws on labor rights, sexual harassment and more.
22. Sheena Wright
President and CEO, United Way of New York City
As president and CEO of United Way New York City, Sheena Wright has been at the center of the newly launched COVID-19 Community Fund, which will fund 600 direct service community-based organizations to address the needs of residents and communities disproportionately impacted by the virus. Wright recently worked to ensure every New Yorker was counted for the 2020 census.
23. Carolyn Maloney
Member of Congress
Carolyn Maloney represents New York’s 12th Congressional District, covering Manhattan, Queens and parts of Brooklyn, and is the first woman to serve as chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, where she has taken on a pivotal role in the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Her narrow primary victory this year made headlines for the extensive delay in tallying the votes and underscored concerns about mail-in voting.
24. Linda Lacewell
Superintendent, State Department of Financial Services
As superintendent of the state Department of Financial Services, Linda Lacewell and her team oversee nearly 1,800 insurance companies and 1,500 financial institutions with assets of about $7.3 trillion. Over the last 18 months, she implemented new plans to mitigate climate-related financial risks, worked to require insurers to cover mental health and substance-use disorders, and fought to protect New York students from predatory lending practices.
25. Polly Trottenberg
Commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation
Commissioner Polly Trottenberg’s leadership of the city’s Department of Transportation has been integral as the agency became one of the hardest-hit by COVID-19. Trottenberg has worked to address social distancing measures by taking a key role in the Open Restaurants and Open Streets programs, the largest of their kind in the country. Among the challenges facing her and the DOT: making $125 million in cuts to the department.
26. Yvette Clarke
Member of Congress
Representing Brooklyn’s 9th District in Congress, Yvette Clarke is the daughter of former New York City Council Member Una Clarke. A member of the Congressional Black Caucus, she is a voice for Black and Caribbean residents and recently came out against the Industry City development, which she said would exacerbate existing local issues and displace residents. She also bounced back from a close 2018 primary race by trouncing challenger Adem Bunkeddeko in June.
27. Laura Curran
Nassau County Executive
As Nassau County’s first female county executive, Laura Curran can say she presides over one of the safest communities in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. While the county was one of the hardest-hit by COVID-19, it may yet benefit from a massive housing boom, as well as a reversal of the decadeslong brain drain that has plagued the local economy. Curran is an advocate for walkable downtowns, mental health care and community-based policing.
28. Gale Brewer & Sharon Lee
Manhattan Borough President; Acting Queens Borough President
A borough president is only as powerful as the occupant makes the office, and these two have been standouts in different ways. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer managed the impact of the coronavirus on the ground, in real time, as New York City became the epicenter of the global pandemic. Brewer has championed the cause of small businesses, the theater district and ethnic neighborhoods like Chinatown as essential to retaining Manhattan’s character. With her second and final term ending in 2021, she’s running for her old council seat – and could have an outside shot at being the next council speaker. Meanwhile, acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee, who was elevated when Melinda Katz resigned to become the borough’s district attorney, will soon be replaced by New York City Council Member Donovan Richards, who won the pivotal primary race this year. But Lee hasn’t been acting like a placeholder, instead acting aggressively to combat the coronavirus, spur job growth and boost census turnout.
29. Chirlane McCray
New York City First Lady
Chirlane McCray has long been one of the most trusted advisers to her husband, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. She is a champion for mental health reform, chairing the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which works to address mental health, youth employment and immigration. She recently decided against running for Brooklyn borough president.
30. Kelly Cummings, Beth Garvey & Kumiki Gibson
Director of State Operations and Infrastructure; Special Counsel and Senior Adviser; Counsel, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made a point of elevating women – from both parties – within his inner circle in recent years. One of them is Kelly Cummings, who has 73 state agencies, authorities and commissions in her purview. This spring, she was named chair of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates as a de facto marketing and tourism agency for the many upstate sports facilities used to host the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
Another top Cuomo aide is Beth Garvey, the adviser responsible for the governor’s budget, legislative and policy priorities, who is also part of the interagency task force that was directing coordination between local governments and health care partners to monitor and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The policies identified and implemented by that team played a major role in flattening the curve and restoring business in phases throughout the state.
When Garvey took on her current role last year, the counsel to the governor duties that had been the responsibility of former chief counsel Alphonso David were split between her and Kumiki Gibson. While Cummings and Garvey crossed the aisle after working for the state Senate Republicans, Gibson’s claim to fame was serving as counsel to Vice President Al Gore.
31. Donna Lieberman
Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union
Donna Lieberman has served as the executive director of the 185,000-member-strong New York Civil Liberties Union – and its eight offices around the state – since December 2001, while also serving as the founder of NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. In a victory for advocates against police brutality, the NYCLU released an online searchable database of more than 320,000 misconduct complaints against police officers dating back 35 years.
32. Marisa Lago
Director, Department of City Planning, Chair, New York City Planning Commission
Prior to becoming chair of the City Planning Commission, Marisa Lago served in the Obama administration’s Department of the Treasury as assistant secretary for international markets and development. In her city planning leadership role, she has helped to facilitate the closure of Rikers Island. Her strategic goals include the reconsideration of the city’s zoning laws with respect to the affordable housing crisis.
33. Audrey Strauss
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
As United States attorney for New York’s Southern District, Audrey Strauss is overseeing legal battles engulfing some of President Donald Trump’s top advisers. She has worked on cases against former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, former Rep. Chris Collins and several Rudy Giuliani associates. The New York Times called her a “behind-the-scenes force.” Strauss is the second woman to lead the office.
34. Emily Giske & Juanita Scarlett
Partners, Bolton-St. Johns
Emily Giske is a member of the Democratic National Committee, vice chair of the state Democratic Party and a partner at Bolton-St. Johns. Giske was an early supporter of Kamala Harris and has advocated for the Democratic Party’s growing tent. Bolton-St. Johns has also been expanding, including landing lobbying, communications and political consulting pro Juanita Scarlett last year. Scarlett has worked for Mario Cuomo, Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo and in other key roles in the public and private sector.
35. Cristyne Nicholas
Co-Founder and CEO, Nicholas & Lence Communications
For an advocate for the travel and tourism industries, this year has been particularly difficult. New York successfully flattened the curve, but convincing the public that New York is a viable tourist destination may yet be an uphill climb. Luckily, Cristyne Nicholas’ Daily News opinion pieces have served as beacons of common sense and positivity, and are emblematic of the grit that has made New York so, well, New York.
36. Christine Quinn
President and CEO, Win
Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn runs Win (formerly Women in Need), which has 12 shelters and 335 supportive housing facilities in New York City. Recently she has been working to protect families impacted by the pandemic and advocating for more protections for unemployed renters facing ever-mounting back rent. An ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Quinn has also stayed politically active – fueling rumors she may run for mayor again.
37. Laura Forese
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, NewYork-Presbyterian
As executive vice president of NewYork-Presbyterian, Dr. Laura Forese oversees a staff of 47,000 workers who became front-line warriors in 2020. Each day during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Forese provided a video briefing to the hospital system’s staff, including one featuring a cameo from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Forese worked to secure needed personal protective equipment for workers and saw the system through the apex of the health crisis.
38. Valerie Berlin
Principal and Co-Founder, BerlinRosen
Valerie Berlin, together with Jonathan Rosen, created and built the public relations firm BerlinRosen by combining their accumulated political acumen. Now, as the firm approaches a milestone 15th anniversary, their team consists of more than 200 professionals serving leading corporate, labor, nonprofit, political and crisis clients throughout the country. Last year, they began expanding their digital advertising capabilities, and recently they recommitted BerlinRosen to achieving significant diversity, equality and inclusion goals.
39. Julie Menin
Census Director and Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Strategic Advocacy, New York City
As New York City’s census director, Julie Menin’s task came with enormous stakes – the city’s census response will help determine how much federal support and funding New York should receive for key budgetary issues, as well as electoral representation in Congress – and she exceeded expectations despite significant challenges. Menin also serves as the executive assistant corporation counsel for strategic advocacy for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
40. Karen Ignagni
President and CEO, EmblemHealth
Karen Ignagni is president and CEO of EmblemHealth, one of the largest not-for-profit health insurers in the country, which serves more than 3 million people in New York City and the surrounding area. As COVID-19 surged in the New York region, EmblemHealth offered no-fee COVID-19 testing and launched a partnership to provide free prescription delivery for its members in an effort to keep vulnerable and elderly patients safe.
41. Leecia Eve
Vice President of Public Policy, Verizon
Leecia Eve oversees lobbying and government relations in the tri-state area for the communications giant Verizon. Her previous service included stints as counsel to then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, adviser to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and deputy secretary of economic development for New York under Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She is currently a member of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and was recently appointed to the governor’s advisory board on reopening the economy.
42. Camille Joseph-Goldman
Group Vice President, Charter Communications
Camille Joseph-Goldman served as New York City’s youngest appointed deputy comptroller, as well as director of intergovernmental affairs and as special adviser to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand before she came to Charter where she helps the company navigate the complex governmental regulatory environment, helping to promote the company as a community-focused organization that gives back in times of need.
43. Maggie Moran
Managing Partner, Kivvit
Longtime Democratic strategist Maggie Moran boasts an impressive political resume that spans New York, New Jersey and the United States as a whole. As managing partner of Kivvit, she has parlayed her strategic acumen into a thriving consultancy, running campaigns for notable clients while putting in the work for New Jersey Women for Biden. She recently made news when her team added former Gov. David Paterson to its list of consultants.
44. Mara Gay
Editorial Board Member, The New York Times
As a journalist during times of unrest, Mara Gay has continued to rise to the occasion, holding New York’s political leaders accountable even as the city has all but ground to a halt. Before joining the New York Times, she wrote for The Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News and The Atlantic. Over the past several months, much of her work has been focused on the New York City Police Department. She also chronicled her own battle with COVID-19.
45. Kathleen Rice
Member of Congress
Rep. Kathleen Rice is running for her fourth term after serving as Nassau District Attorney from 2006-14. Her focus is currently on securing more COVID-19 relief funding for her constituents in Nassau County, as well as establishing protections for small businesses and families who have been impacted by layoffs through expanded unemployment insurance benefits. She has also been an advocate for more infrastructure investments.
46. Shontell Smith
Chief of Staff and Counsel, State Senate Democratic Conference
Since Democrats seized control of the state Senate two years ago and proceeded to pass a number of progressive measures, the governor and individual lawmakers have taken much of the credit. But one key player behind the flood of legislation is Shontell Smith, a long-serving staffer with over a decade of experience in the state Senate Democratic conference and an invaluable adviser to state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
47. Sochie Nnaemeka
State Director, Working Families Party
Since taking the reins as the state director for the Working Families Party from veteran party official Bill Lipton, Sochie Nnaemeka has shown that she’s up to the task. She has already helped congressional candidates Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones win pivotal Democratic primary contests. Now she is focused on ensuring the third party gets enough votes to meet a stricter threshold to keep its ballot line.
48. LaRay Brown
CEO, One Brooklyn Health System
As the coronavirus surge hit New York, approximately 90% of the patients at Interfaith Medical Center were suffering from COVID-19. As CEO of One Brooklyn Health System, which includes Interfaith Medical Center, LaRay Brown has been on the front lines against COVID-19 since the beginning. In July, the governor announced a plan to construct affordable housing on land owned by One Brooklyn Health System, along with a new dialysis center for the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center.
49. Roberta Kaplan
Founding Partner, Kaplan Hecker & Fink
As co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, Roberta Kaplan has emerged as a powerful voice against oppression throughout the #MeToo movement. She’s representing President Donald Trump’s niece Mary Trump in her allegations that she was swindled out of her inheritance, and author E. Jean Carroll in her defamation suit against Trump regarding an alleged sexual assault. Kaplan also paved the way for the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriage.
50. Lorraine Grillo
President, New York City School Construction Authority; Commissioner, New York City Department of Design and Construction
As head of the School Construction Authority, Lorraine Grillo has overseen more than $25 billion of construction and the creation of more than 75,000 new school seats. She’s also working with teachers unions to conduct inspections of school ventilation systems during the pandemic. And since 2018 she has served double duty, with a second high-level position running the city’s Department of Design and Construction.
Correction: An earlier version of this list incorrectly stated the total amount of assets overseen by the state Department of Financial Services.
Clarification: Darcel Clark was the first Black woman to serve as a district attorney anywhere in New York, not just in the Bronx.