The 2021 Upstate Power 100

The South Grand Island Bridge spanning the Niagara River.
The South Grand Island Bridge spanning the Niagara River.
Mihai_Andritoiu/Shutterstock
The South Grand Island Bridge spanning the Niagara River.
Power 100

The 2021 Upstate Power 100

The movers and shakers who have upstate New York on the upswing.

What exactly is upstate New York? Some say it’s anywhere outside of New York City, starting just north of the Bronx. Others say it’s beyond Westchester. Still others point to Poughkeepsie, excluding much of the Hudson Valley. To further complicate matters, is Western New York part of upstate – or its own distinct region? 

When City & State decided to create an Upstate Power 100 list, we had to draw the lines somewhere. We left out New York City and Long Island, of course, and ultimately omitted Westchester, in part because we already publish a power list for that county. We also excluded Western New York – and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester – since we’re planning a first-ever Western New York Power 100 later this year. 

While you may disagree with these boundaries, it’s indisputable that upstate is the home to many influential power players in New York’s political arena. Our inaugural Upstate Power 100 features an impressive array of elected officials, business executives, educators, advocates and many others who have upstate New York on the upswing. 

1. Chuck Schumer

U.S. Senate Majority Leader

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U.S. Senate

Every year the Brooklyn-born senator visits the state’s 62 counties, a streak that didn’t change last year during the coronavirus pandemic. Even though the new majority leader is busy pushing President Joe Biden’s agenda through a 50-50 Senate, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer still visited a bistro in Camillus to hawk federal COVID-19 relief for restaurants, and secured $37 million for the state’s regional airports. Speculation about a primary challenge from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continues.

2. Andrew Cuomo & Kathy Hochul

Governor; Lieutenant Governor

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Governor Andrew Cuomo
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Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

For much of his decadelong reign, the downstate-bred governor showered attention on upstate New York by pumping millions of state dollars into economic development efforts, bolstering its dairy farms and craft breweries and promoting areas like the Erie Canal as tourism destinations. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s multitude of sexual harassment allegations and handling of nursing home COVID-19 cases has prompted Congress members, state legislators and New York’s senators to demand his resignation while prompting several Republican Congress members to mull challenging him in 2022.

New Yorkers dreaming of life after a decade of Cuomonian rule may soon get their wish, but the erstwhile congresswoman from Buffalo is walking a tightrope preparing for a possible transition without angering her volatile partner in governance. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is certainly familiar with the state’s needs, having crisscrossed upstate counties promoting the governor’s agenda for years, but wrangling with the state Legislature over the budget and advancing her own priorities would be new territory.

3. Kirsten Gillibrand

U.S. Senator

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U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand brought national attention to the Capital Region when she opened her presidential campaign office in downtown Troy in 2019. The junior senator from New York never gained traction on the campaign trail, but she landed a position on the Senate Intelligence Committee. She’ll look to overhaul the military justice system and secure more funding for opioid addiction treatment now that she’s in the majority. She also started hunting for a new home in the Lake Placid area last summer.

4. Crystal Peoples-Stokes

Assembly Majority Leader

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Office of Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who as majority leader unofficially represents the Assembly Democrats’ upstate contingent, just secured a landmark deal to legalize recreational marijuana. She also pushed successfully to limit Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers granted a year ago during the coronavirus pandemic’s peak. The Buffalo lawmaker won’t jettison Cuomo just yet, having drafted a letter calling for her peers to let the state attorney general’s workplace harassment investigation play out. 

5. Jim Malatras

Chancellor, The State University of New York

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SUNY Empire State College

Jim Malatras joined the governor’s COVID-19 task force last spring and was named SUNY chancellor in August. Applications are down 20% across the system, but the longtime Gov. Andrew Cuomo loyalist hopes to attract a diverse cohort by eliminating application fees for low-income students, signing up eligible students for food assistance programs and expanding academic and social programs that support students of color. In late March, Malatras said SUNY campuses could fully resume in-person courses this fall if vaccination rates are high enough.

6. Sean Patrick Maloney

Member of Congress

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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leader is already running TV ads to preserve the Democrats’ House majority in 2022 by branding Republicans as the party of QAnon and fringe conspiracy theories. But Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is keeping his eye on ensuring businesses in his Hudson Valley district can tap into federal PPP loans to survive the pandemic while also protecting firefighters from chemicals in flame-retardant foam.

7. Andrew Pallotta

President, New York State United Teachers

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State educators reelected Andrew Pallotta last May as schools shifted to remote learning amid pandemic closures. His first task was proposing extensive safety protocols for reopening schools in the fall – and what to do if positive coronavirus tests abound. Pallotta has since called for tax increases to fund the state’s recovery, demanded more COVID-19 testing in schools this spring and fought with the Biden administration over requiring standardized testing this year.

8. Mario Cilento

President, New York State AFL-CIO

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Mario Cilento’s top priorities last year of strengthening health care benefits and improving COVID-related safety protections for workers have continued through 2021. But the state AFL-CIO has existential challenges too. Union membership in New York shrank for the third year in a row in 2020 and unemployment remains high. Labor’s biggest threat comes from the rise of the gig economy, and a fight over employment benefits for gig workers looms. 

9. Ray Halbritter

Oneida Nation Representative and Oneida Nation Enterprises CEO

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Oneida Indian Nation

Ray Halbritter has used his perch as head of an Iroquois Confederacy nation to promote positive portrayals of Native Americans in media and culture. The Oneida Nation leader convinced professional sports teams in Washington, D.C., and Cleveland to remove derogatory mascots last year. He also launched a film and TV production company to champion Native and Indigenous peoples’ stories and led efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

10. Marc Molinaro, Daniel McCoy, Ryan McMahon, Stephen Neuhaus, Patrick Ryan, MaryEllen Odell & Ed Day

County Executives, Dutchess, Albany, Onondaga, Orange, Ulster, Putnam and Rockland Counties

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MaryEllen Odell getting her vaccine
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Putnam County Department of Health

County executives in New York often bemoan the mandates imposed on them by the state, with Medicaid costs taking up a huge share of their budgets and the state’s property tax cap limiting their fiscal flexibility. But as the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated, these local elected leaders play a critical role in the lives of their constituents – and their posts can also be a springboard to run for higher office.

One of the most recognizable county executives in the state is Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who fell short as the Republican standard-bearer challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018. He is contemplating a rematch and called for the state Legislature to impeach the governor over the nursing home scandal. In the meantime, Molinaro convened a reapportionment meeting, pushed his county legislature to upgrade Dutchess Stadium and promoted stabilization centers for people experiencing mental health crises. He’s urging everyone to get vaccinated amid the discovery of the U.K. COVID-19 variant in Dutchess County.

Another outspoken county executive is Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, a local Democratic power broker who used to lead the New York State County Executives Association. McCoyhas been consumed by an exhausting parade of pandemic-related shutdowns, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which were the subject of scores of public briefings. But sunnier times are ahead. Now McCoy’s announcements include vaccination clinic locations. And his annual State of the County address focused on Albany’s economic recovery by studying countywide broadband service, supporting offshore wind towers and creating a pharmacy focused on mental health.

Daily briefings on COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths took a toll on Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, who experienced double vision after shoveling snow on a Sunday in February. As McMahon got back to work, he praised the county’s declining COVID-19 positivity rate and pressed the state to loosen vaccination eligibility. McMahon, whose county includes Syracuse, now has to grapple with the $26 million tenants owe landlords in unpaid rent.

In the Hudson Valley, Orange County Executive Stephen Neuhaus, Ulster County Executive Patrick Ryan, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Rockland County Executive Ed Day have been doing all they can to help their constituents survive COVID-19, from advocating for federal aid to providing vaccinations to pursuing economic development strategies to recover from the pandemic.

11. Matthew Driscoll 

Executive Director, New York State Thruway Authority

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Drivers don’t have to stop and chuck loose change into a toll booth anymore now that the Thruway Authority is eliminating cash tolls on state highways. Thruway Authority head Matt Driscoll led the $355 million effort to convert tollbooths to gantries, which began in 2018. But Driscoll’s attention has recently turned to questions over the structural integrity of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge after several bolts broke and a whistleblower complained about safety. 

12. Kathy Sheehan

Mayor of Albany

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Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s ambitious plans for the state capital were put on hold last year as the city sought to ensure frontline workers had enough PPE and residents were fed during the coronavirus pandemic. Now the mayor plans to break ground on the Albany Skyway this year and revitalize parks while speeding up vaccinations. A spike in gun violence during the pandemic and a new framework for police reforms also demanded her attention.

13. Ben Walsh

Mayor of Syracuse

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Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, who was elected as an independent, is in good shape for his reelection, having amassed 10 times as much money as his opponents. But Walsh has had to strike a balance in supporting but not committing to a wealth tax while courting the progressive Working Families Party. He has angered activists for vowing to remove a Christopher Columbus statue from downtown Syracuse, and his police reform plan could rile up others.

14. Martha Pollack

President, Cornell University 

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The state’s second largest private employer faced losing $210 million in the 2020-2021 school year due to pandemic-related costs. Cornell President Martha Pollack shifted classes to remote learning last March and spent $5 million to ensure in-person classes could resume in the fall. Last month, the school’s COVID-19 alert level was low to moderate. Pollack announced that the university balanced its budget by temporarily cutting faculty salaries.

15. Paul Tonko

Member of Congress

One of Congress’ few engineers, Rep. Paul Tonko was tapped to lead a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee focused on climate change, putting the Capital district veteran in a position to pass the CLEAN Future Act and transform the manufacturing and transportation sectors to create new green jobs. Tonko also announced that the COVID-19 Relief Bill would provide $440 million for the Capital region and $50 million for Saratoga County.

16. Antonio Delgado

Member of Congress

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The Catskills Democrat won reelection in November by nearly 20,000 votes after flipping the Republican-held seat in 2018. Since then, Rep. Antonio Delgado has visited front-line health care workers in five counties, introduced legislation to keep rural hospitals afloat and called for a probe into the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing home COVID-19 deaths. He’ll also handle a lot of farm-related issues as chair of a House Agriculture subcommittee on commodities. 

17. Mondaire Jones

Member of Congress

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NY-17 candidate Mondaire Jones.
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The Rockland County Congress member is a newly minted member of The Squad, was selected to represent freshmen members to the House leadership and has an open line of communication with the president’s chief of staff. So far, Mondaire Jones is working to advance policies benefiting the city’s increasingly far-flung suburbs, like removing the cap on SALT deductions and canceling tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.

18. Neil Breslin, Michelle Hinchey, John Mannion, Rachel May & James Skoufis

State Senators

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As the balance of power tilts further to the left in Albany, Democrats have been making gains upstate – a shift that’s apparent in the state Senate. Democrats for decades have dominated downstate, but they only took control of the state Senate in 2019. The rise of state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who represents Yonkers, reflected the party’s improving fortunes in the suburbs. Last fall, when the conference secured a veto-proof supermajority, it was thanks in large part to flipping – and retaining – upstate seats.

In one of the biggest races, state Sen. Michelle Hinchey won the seat of retiring Republican businessman George Amedore. The Saugerties Democrat and daughter of former Rep. Maurice Hinchey now serves as the Agriculture Committee chair, seeking relief for Hudson Valley farms and restaurants.

In another 2020 pickup, Democrat John Mannion eked out a victory in a suburban Syracuse district that had been held by Republicans for more than half a century. The former high school teacher was given a new committee to lead that would craft laws for people with developmental disabilities. He has already restored some prior funding cuts for service providers and called to end the governor’s emergency powers that were passed at the beginning of the pandemic.

State Sen. James Skoufis flipped his Hudson Valley seat in 2018, moving up from the Assembly to take over the district left vacant by Republican Bill Larkin. As the Investigations Committee chair, Skoufis has his hands full this session with spiraling crises over the state’s reporting of the deaths of nursing home residents in hospitals and sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Skoufis pressed Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to be more transparent and threatened to subpoena records.

When state Sen. Rachel May won her seat in 2018, she beat a fellow Democrat – but that Democrat was David Valesky, a member of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference that was blamed for maintaining GOP control of the state Senate. The Syracuse senator easily won reelection last fall on the heels of advancing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Now May is tackling another calamity by passing 10 bills to improve the oversight and quality of care at nursing homes. She has vowed to be “tougher” on Cuomo and also pushed to limit the governor’s emergency powers.

State aid cuts and COVID-19 lockdowns in the Capital Region were the focus of state Sen. Neil Breslin’s reelection campaign. Since his November victory, the chamber’s vice president pro tempore and Insurance Committee chair has walked a fine line between chiding Cuomo for not being transparent with nursing home records and praising him for rehabilitating Troy’s Collar City Bridge and opening a FEMA-run vaccination site in Albany. Breslin is also leading a national legislative group looking at racism in the insurance industry.

19. John Katko

Member of Congress

Rep. John Katko was among the moderate cluster of Republicans who impeached Trump, but he has not paid a price for it back home. A censure effort from Cayuga County Republicans failed while another Republican group purchased a billboard outside Syracuse thanking him for his vote. Katko moved on, chiding President Joe Biden for halting deportations and border-wall construction and calling for the president to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics over China’s religious oppression.

20. Elise Stefanik

Member of Congress

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The once moderate North Country Congress member became one of President Trump’s staunchest supporters, objecting to the results of the presidential election and calling Trump’s second impeachment trial “unconstitutional.” Rep. Elise Stefanik nearly nabbed a seat in the House leadership. Now she’s being floated as a Republican gubernatorial candidate after calling Gov. Andrew Cuomo the “worst governor in America,” and demanding he resign after his administration’s nursing home data cover-up and repeated harassment incidents.

21. Heather Briccetti

President and CEO, The Business Council of New York State

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New York state’s pre-eminent business advocate, who lives on a horse farm in Rensselaer, worries that COVID-19 pandemic closures have unduly strained working mothers and small businesses. Heather Briccetti warned about the economic dangers of prolonged shutdowns and called for more funding for childcare services to help stressed out parents.She was quick to criticize the tax hikes on the wealthiest New Yorkers in the new state budget.

22. Svante Myrick

Mayor of Ithaca

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Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick made history as his city’s youngest mayor and the first person of color in the office. He’s still making headlines, including a GQ feature on his plan to replace the city’s 63-person police department with a civilian public safety agency. Last year he warned of the impact that remote learning at Cornell University and Ithaca College would have on the local economy, but both schools ultimately resumed some in-person learning. 

23. Gavin Donohue

President and CEO, Independent Power Producers of New York

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Gavin Donohue is one of the few energy industry leaders shaping the state’s climate policy with a seat on the state’s Climate Action Council. Donohue supports a price on carbon to pay for the state’s carbon emissions goals but argued there’s still a place for natural gas facilities. And he welcomed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s idea for an “energy superhighway,” saying it would allow private-sector investment in New York's renewable resources to flourish.

24. Kit Kennedy

Senior Director, Climate and Clean Energy Program, Natural Resources Defense Council

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The standout environmental advocate has been helping wean upstaters off nuclear power for so many years that when Indian Point started closing its reactors last spring, people were prepared. Kit Kennedy has led the charge for climate action in the state for years. As a member of the state’s Climate Action Council panel on power generation, she’s pressing for grid flexibility and demand response to help New York reach its renewable energy goals. 

25. Casey Seiler

Editor, Albany Times Union 

Casey Seiler has led coverage of the governor’s nursing home and workplace misconduct scandals. The state capital’s hometown paper broke the story that a current Gov. Andrew Cuomo aide claimed the governor groped her at the executive mansion, and the paper wrote two editorials urging him to resign. The TU’s perspicacious editor pens a column that has been a must-read through the latest Albany saga, and if your attention span is shorter there’s always his witty Twitter feed.

26. Kevin Cahill, Didi Barrett, Patricia Fahy, Pamela Hunter, Donna Lupardo, William Magnarelli, John McDonald III, Phil Steck & Al Stirpe

Assembly Members

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Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is known for building up his power base in the Bronx, while Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, one of the most influential upstate legislators, hails from Buffalo – but in between those two population centers there are plenty more power players who are part of the Assembly Democrats’ supermajority.

As chair of the Transportation Committee, Assembly Member William Magnarelli can celebrate new state infrastructure investments secured in the latest state budget. The Syracuse lawmaker has been in office since his first election in 1998.

In the Albany area, Assembly Member John McDonald III is tapped into local politics as a former mayor of Cohoes and understands the concerns of small businesses as the owner of his own pharmacy. An Assembly member since 2013, he currently chairs the Oversight, Analysis, and Investigations Committee.

A neighboring district encompassing Albany and several nearby towns is represented by Assembly Member Patricia Fahy, who also took office in 2013. Fahy was one of 21 Democratic women in the Assembly who signed a letter in early March saying that calls for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation were premature – and that state Attorney General Letitia James’ independent investigation should be allowed to run its course.

Also among the Assembly Democrats to sign that letter were the upstate legislators Donna Lupardo,Didi Barrett and Pamela Hunter. Lupardo has represented her Binghamton district since her election in 2004, making her one of the more senior members of the conference. The Southern Tier lawmaker also chairs the Agriculture Committee, giving her oversight over an important part of the upstate economy. Barrett, who chairs the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Legislative Women’s Caucus, was first elected in her Hudson Valley district in 2012. And Hunter, who has represented her Syracuse-area district since 2015, is a military veteran and chairs the Subcommittee on Women Veterans.

Three other senior Assembly Democrats assigned to lead key committees are Kevin Cahill, who chairs the Insurance Committee; Phil Steck, who heads the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee; and Al Stirpe, who runs the Small Business Committee.

27. Richard David

Mayor of Binghamton

Binghamton Mayor Richard David contracted COVID-19 in October, and it was far from the only crisis he has faced in the past year. David’s Southern Tier city, which is the urban center in a region that has long been economically depressed, also faced periodic coronavirus outbreaks, flooding on Christmas after a record-breaking snowstorm and the threat of budget cuts from the state budget. This year David is more optimistic and has set ambitious goals of fixing city roads and infrastructure.

28. Claudia Tenney

Member of Congress

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Rep. Claudia Tenney
House of Representatives

After a laborious three-month recount, Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney won back her old seat by 109 votes when a judge certified the results of the last undecided congressional race on Feb. 5. The Trump acolyte previously held the seat for a single term before losing it to Democratic rival Anthony Brindisi. This time around, Brindisi ultimately conceded defeat but has already filed for a rematch in 2022. Then again, the seat may not exist after redistricting.

29. Robert Ortt & WIlliam Barclay

Minority Leaders, State Senate; State Assembly

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New York State Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay
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Albany’s top Republican is in a superminority in the state Senate, but that hasn’t stopped him from keeping the heat on the governor. State Sen. Rob Ortt called for the state health commissioner to resign and for the state attorney general to expand an investigation into the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing home deaths. He also tried to remove the governor’s COVID-19 emergency powers, an effort that came to fruition in March. 

In the Assembly, Republicans haven’t had a majority since 1974. That won’t be changing anytime soon, but Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay’s caucus is making the most of the scandals facing Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Barclay wanted to impeach Cuomo over his handling of COVID-19 nursing home deaths, and the Pulaski lawmaker has found bipartisan support in introducing an impeachment resolution following sexual harassment allegations against the governor. 

30. Nick Langworthy

Chair, State Republican Committee

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The state GOP leader had an auspicious November, with several Republicans holding onto House seats and another flipping a Democratic-controlled one (though he was less successful in Albany). Now Nick Langworthy is searching for a worthy challenger to the embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo and putting pressure on lawmakers to probe the governor’s handling of nursing home records. He’s even calling for New York to create a recall mechanism through a constitutional amendment to remove statewide officials.

31. Joy Calloway & Robin Chappelle Golston

Interim CEO; President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York; Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts

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Planned Parenthood has provided crucial HIV and reproductive services during the pandemic throughout New York, but the organization was rife with abusive behavior and mismanagement according to multiple complaints. The group ousted its president in June and brought in Joy Calloway in October. Calloway and top lobbyist Robin Chappelle Golston have been identifying and addressing structural inequities in order to make PPGNY’s health centers more welcoming and inclusive places. 

32. Kevin Bruen

Acting Superintendent, New York State Police

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The Glen Falls resident and former prosecutor had spent most of his career in state law enforcement before he took over the State Police in November when Superintendent Keith Corlett retired. With more New Yorkers heading outside this winter, Kevin Bruen’s officers cracked down on drunk driving ahead of the Super Bowl and speedy snowmobilers, while preparing for more pot smoking behind the wheel if the state Legislature legalizes marijuana.

33. Richard Ball

State Commissioner of Agriculture

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it sent the dairy industry into a tailspin, and farmers dumped 35 million pounds of milk as prices collapsed. State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball responded by overseeing the $35 million Nourish New York program to buy up dairy and produce from farmers to feed needy families. Ball, who has led the state Department of Agriculture and Markets since 2014, supported another $4 million to help 80 farms prepare for climate change-related extreme weather in February.

34. Erik Kulleseid

Commissioner, State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

With museums, theaters and amusement parks intermittently closed last year, New Yorkers took refuge in the great outdoors. Attendance at state parks and historic sites reached a new record with 78 million visits, and new trails are on the way. Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid celebrated the completion of the 750-mile Empire State Trail in December and a 10-mile Ocean Parkway greenway extension on Long Island in March.

35. Havidán Rodríguez

President, University at Albany, SUNY

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The pandemic significantly disrupted life last year at University at Albany, which suspended classes last March and refunded $22 million in prorated room and board fees. Then in November, the University at Albany switched to remote learning after a spike in COVID-19 cases. Havidán Rodríguez, who the governor tapped to study COVID-19’s effects on communities of color, believes the health crisis can refocus efforts to make society more equitable for everyone.

36. Colleen Wegman 

President and CEO, Wegmans

The popular Rochester-based grocery chain, one of the top-ranked companies to work for in any industry, was deemed an essential business when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Colleen Wegman made sure her workers had enough masks, loaded up on staples and closed food bars and free sample stations to protect shoppers. Wegmans, which has 48 stores in New York, never turned off the lights and managed to keep its customers and employees safe throughout the year. 

37. Wendell Weeks

Chair and CEO, Corning

The ancestral home of oven-safe ceramic casserole dishes and unshatterable measuring cups has adapted to the pandemic by developing a microscopic powder containing copper that kills COVID-19. Corning Inc. CEO Wendell Weeks continues to roll out glass technology for high-tech products like mobile phones and automobiles, relying on its signature Gorilla Glass. Corning’s stock has jumped 32% since September 2019 as a result.

38. Dennis McKenna

President and CEO, Albany Medical Center

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Dennis McKenna, Albany Medical Center
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Dennis McKenna, Albany Medical Center
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Dennis McKenna, Albany Medical Center
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Dennis McKenna
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Albany Medical Center

The head of the Albany Medical Center kept the region’s front-line defenses against the spread of COVID-19 humming without having to furlough its 10,000 employees. This year he’s focused on ensuring adequate supply and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, stabilizing the medical system’s finances and raising $630,000 to fight pediatric cancer. But the coronavirus is a stubborn opponent – the hospital temporarily closed its oncology unit after repeated outbreaks. 

39. Beth Finkel

State Director, AARP New York

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Beth Finkel
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Beth Finkel
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Beth Finkel
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AARP New York

Beth Finkel’s New York branch of AARP mourned thousands of seniors who died from COVID-19 and spotlighted the virus’s disproportionate effects on older New Yorkers and people of color. But the state’s deliberate undercount of nursing home deaths while granting immunity to nursing care facilities roiled Finkel. She called for a repeal of immunity for nursing homes imposed during the pandemic as well as an improved vaccine distribution plan, and more state aid for in-home services for seniors.

40. Mike Elmendorf

President, Associated General Contractors of New York State

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Michael Elmendorf
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Michael Elmendorf
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Michael Elmendorf
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Michael Elmendorf
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Michael Elmendorf
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JP Elario

State contractors and business leaders launched their “Rebuild New York” campaign in 2019, but their message to spill $35 billion into infrastructure and creating jobs still resonates. Mike Elmendorf celebrated the state plowing $438 million into road and bridge improvements last summer and in February created a new campaign urging the state to fund large-scale infrastructure projects. Now he’s looking for the feds to help pay for a new Wadsworth Center building.

41. Mantosh Dewan

President, SUNY Upstate Medical University

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Dr. Mantosh Dewan
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Dr. Mantosh Dewan
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Dr. Mantosh Dewan
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Dr. Mantosh Dewan
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Dr. Mantosh Dewan
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Upstate Medical University

Few leaders have played as critical a role in helping the state pinpoint the spread of the coronavirus as Mantosh Dewan. The medical school president led efforts to develop one of the most accurate COVID-19 tests on the market, and the FDA called the saliva test the best of its kind. SUNY Upstate recently opened a COVID-19 testing lab at the University at Buffalo as well as its own lab to study infectious diseases. 

42. Stephen Acquario

Executive Director and General Counsel, New York State Association of Counties

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Stephen Acquario
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Stephen Acquario
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Stephen Acquario
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Stephen Acquario
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Stephen Acquario has advocated for the state’s 62 counties at the New York State Association of Counties since 1989 (he’s led the association since 2004). That’s gone beyond advising county executives and legislators to demanding direct COVID-19 relief, organizing counties to recoup losses related to the opioid crisis and seeking to reduce Medicaid costs. He also oversees the association’s affiliated New York State County Executives Association, a bipartisan statewide group of county leaders. 

43. David Weinraub

Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Brown & Weinraub

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David Weinraub
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David Weinraub
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David Weinraub
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Timothy Raab & Northern Photo

The Albany-based Brown & Weinraub is a mainstay on Pearl Street, racking up $13.4 million in lobbying in 2019 – exceeding all but one competitor in the state. David Weinraub prepared for an unpredictable legislative session due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment and nursing home COVID-19 deaths scandals have further upset the traditional political calculus in the state Capitol. Brown & Weinraub made several new hires too, including adding former Senate Democratic fundraiser Evan Rantzaklis in January. 

44. Giorgio DeRosa

Partner, Bolton-St. Johns

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Giorgio DeRosa
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Giorgio DeRosa
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Giorgio DeRosa

Bolton-St. Johns’ upstate presence is largely thanks to Giorgio DeRosa. Raised in Rochester and now residing in the Albany area, the veteran partner set up the top lobbying firm’s Albany office a quarter century ago and spearheaded its expansion into Western New York as well. After switching from organized labor to lobbying, DeRosa has delved into an array of issues, including the state’s medical marijuana program and the expansion of upstate casinos. 

45. Milford Beagle Jr.

Commanding General, 10th Mountain Division, U.S. Army Fort Drum

Milford Beagle served as Fort Drum’s deputy commanding general for support before departing three years ago to lead the U.S. Army Training Center in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Now the brigadier general is back home replacing Major General Brian Mennes, who left for a Washington state assignment. Beagle will have to contend with limiting the spread of COVID-19 and vaccinating the population while cracking down on unsafe behavior among soldiers.

46. David O’Rourke

CEO and President, New York Racing Association

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA

The coronavirus pandemic upended the country’s horse-racing calendar last year, keeping fans from visiting the Saratoga Race Course in person. Saratoga’s Tiz the Law won the Travers Stakes and wagering was only down 14% last year, but David O’Rourke is focused on the future. Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed arenas to reopen with 10% capacity, and live racing will return in July, although it’s unclear whether spectators will be allowed back in the stands.

47. Greg Biryla

New York State Director, National Federation of Independent Business

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Greg Biryla
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Greg Biryla
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Greg Biryla

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Greg Biryla set about ensuring small businesses could defer sales taxes, shaking free federal aid stalled in Congress and enabling upstate stores and restaurants to compete with chains upon reopening. Now that the state is rolling back pandemic-related restrictions, challenges remain. Some 40% of small businesses are struggling to find workers, an NFIB report found, yet Biryla worries unemployment costs could soar.

48. Melissa Autilio Fleischut

President and CEO, New York State Restaurant Association

More than 8,333 New York restaurants have shuttered since the pandemic began, sales are down 44% and 27% of restaurants could close within three months without more relief. Melissa Fleischut, whose surveys have informed the public of the industry’s dire needs, pushed the state to extend its curfew beyond 10 p.m. and expand indoor dining capacity while working with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer to include restaurant aid in the COVID-19 relief bill.

49. Elizabeth Dribusch

CEO, New York Farm Bureau

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Elizabeth Dribusch
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Elizabeth Dribusch
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Elizabeth Dribusch
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New York’s dairy industry was already in crisis when the pandemic disrupted the supply chain last spring forcing farmers to spill millions of gallons of milk. Elizabeth Dribusch and the Farm Bureau sought solutions and celebrated the state’s plan to purchase excess milk and distribute it to food banks. Now the Bureau wants to vaccinate farmworkers quickly, restore state funds to agricultural programs and reform federal guest-worker programs.

50. Shirley Ann Jackson

President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 

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Shirley Ann Jackson
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Widely admired as one of the nation’s top physicists and the first Black woman to receive a doctorate from MIT, Shirley Ann Jackson has calmly steered RPI through the COVID-19 crisis. One of the nation’s highest-paid college presidents, she took a 5% pay cut to address the school’s financial losses while managing periodic closings throughout the year. Last month, the school suspended in-person instruction after an outbreak of more than 30 coronavirus cases.

 

Correction: A previous version of this list incorrectly described IPPNY President and CEO Gavin Donohue's position on the governor's "energy superhighway."

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20210507