The 2021 Albany Power 100
The 2021 Albany Power 100
In March, as he faced calls to resign, the scandal-plagued Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to paint himself as an outsider, claiming that he’s “not part of the political club.” The assertion didn’t make much sense. Since taking office in 2011, Cuomo has dominated state politics by combining an unmatched understanding of how to exert power in Albany, a no-holds-barred approach to governing and an obsession with conquering any potential rival. Since City & State launched its annual Albany Power 100 list 2013, Cuomo has ranked No. 1 every single year. (In 2019, we even depicted Cuomo as the all-powerful supervillain Thanos.)
However, for the first time in over a decade, Cuomo is not only under threat but at risk of being deposed. While he has held on, he has not been his usual formidable self following a series of sexual harassment and abuse allegations and the opening of multiple investigations into those and other credible claims of misconduct. Cuomo’s vulnerability has reverberated through Albany, with progressives smelling blood and Cuomo loyalists in retreat.
This year’s Albany Power 100 reflects these disruptions to the state Capitol’s power structure. After much internal debate, we opted to omit from this list the women who have accused the governor of sexual assault and harassment – because while they have undoubtedly altered the status quo in Albany, they made the choice to come forward with their stories in pursuit of justice, not influence. The Albany Power 100 does highlight many prolific lawmakers, key commissioners, leaders of major businesses, nonprofits and labor unions, outspoken advocates and activists – and a new No. 1.
1. Letitia James
State Attorney General
Letitia James upended the status quo in Albany when she released a report in January that showed the Cuomo administration undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths. Then, two months later, she ordered an independent probe into sexual harassment allegations against the governor. James, who has sought to ensure the attorneys she appointed to review the complaints will do so without bias, is also investigating former President Donald Trump, taking on the National Rifle Association and pressing for more police reforms.
2. Andrew Cuomo
As coronavirus cases skyrocketed last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemed steady and statesmanlike – especially as other leaders bumbled their way through the crisis. But after gaining a national audience for his daily COVID-19 briefings, Cuomo’s fortunes have turned. Investigations into sexual abuse claims, obfuscation of COVID-19 nursing home deaths and other alleged misconduct have weakened the governor, who ceded to legislators on matters ranging from recreational marijuana legalization to tax hikes on the wealthy. So far, he has rebuffed calls to resign.
3. Andrea Stewart-Cousins
State Senate Majority Leader
State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ call for the governor to resign in response to multiple sexual harassment allegations could mark the beginning of the end of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decade-long reign. With a veto-proof majority, she has also re-established herself as a progressive leader as she boosted aid for education and undocumented immigrants, legalized recreational marijuana and hiked taxes on the wealthy. She raised eyebrows for appearing with the governor in her Yonkers district in April – and promptly called again for him to resign.
4. Carl Heastie
Carl Heastie has been more cautious than his state Senate counterpart in pressuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo to step down. The Bronx politician urged the governor to “seriously consider” his ability to lead the state, while launching impeachment proceedings whose scope has gone beyond harassment claims. The inquiry could take months, but Heastie may have the votes to impeach with support from both parties. Meanwhile, his conference notched several major budget victories such as; an excluded workers fund to aid undocumented immigrants, increased school aid and funding for COVID-19 recovery and relief.
5. Chuck Schumer
U.S. Senate Majority Leader
It’s Charles in charge. The senior senator from New York ascended to leadership in the U.S. Senate in January, thanks to two long-shot runoff victories in Georgia that gave Democrats 50 seats, and a tie-breaking vote by the vice president. The Brooklyn lawmaker has since teamed up with President Joe Biden to force through a $1.9 trillion relief measure, and is strategizing on a similarly sized infrastructure bill that would pour even more money into New York.
6. Joe Biden
President Joe Biden advised his old friend Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign if sexual harassment and abuse allegations are confirmed true through an investigation. Biden’s administration has emphasized that the women who accused Cuomo of misconduct should be heard and respected. If that’s a mixed bag for the governor, the White House has been helping New York as a whole with the $1.9 trillion relief package delivering billions of dollars to the state, and a pending infrastructure plan that could fund badly needed upgrades and investments.
7. Melissa DeRosa
Secretary to the Governor
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa has stood by the governor’s side as the state navigated the earliest stages of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the severe economic slowdown it brought to New York. While cases are plummeting and the state is reopening, DeRosa has turned to defending her boss as he faces the toughest stretch of his decade-long tenure. Despite the rough period, DeRosa continues to be the governor's top point person in pushing his agenda in Albany and throughout the state.
8. Thomas DiNapoli
The coronavirus pandemic ballooned the state’s budget gap to $15 billion in January,thanks to state tax receipts that were $2.8 billion below 2019 levels. But the economy slowly rebounded, and Thomas DiNapoli revealed that receipts were $1.7 billion higher than estimated earlier this year while the government kicked in $23 billion in aid for the state. Regardless, DiNapoli is still concerned about sales tax revenue, which fell 3.9% in the first quarter this year as the state reopens.
9. Michael Gianaris
State Senate Deputy Majority Leader
When all the ballots were counted for last year’s election, it soon became clear that a blue wave had created a Democratic supermajority in the state Senate. Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, who also heads up the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, helps run a conference that now can threaten to override any veto while demanding tax hikes on the wealthy, unemployment benefits for undocumented immigrants and more school aid in the state budget. The Queens senator was also an early voice calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign following sexual harassment allegations.
10. Crystal Peoples-Stokes
Assembly Majority Leader
Crystal Peoples-Stokes reached a career milestone in March when the state legalized recreational marijuana after her almost decade-long campaign to decriminalize it. The Buffalo lawmaker struck the deal that steers 40% of pot revenue to communities impacted by the drug war, and added a provision to the budget requiring nursing homes to increase staffing. She’s a key voice in the governor’s impeachment inquiry, having co-written a letter against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s immediate resignation.