Manhattan Power 50
Manhattan Power 50
Usually the humming epicenter of New York City, Manhattan looks and feels very different this year. The pandemic has emptied out midtown’s office buildings and thrown its housing market into chaos. But hope is not lost.
From the heads of financial firms to health care centers, from the directors of nonprofits to business improvement districts, from educators to activists, here are the private-sector leaders who are already planning how to bring Manhattan back – and better than ever.
1. Kathryn Wylde
President and CEO, Partnership for New York City
Kathryn Wylde, the voice of the city’s business community, has no shortage of ideas for luring New Yorkers back to work and helping companies survive the pandemic recession. She helped develop a plan to spark the city’s recovery and corralled 163 business leaders to write a letter calling on the city to improve public safety and cleanliness. She’s also cautioned against mass closures if COVID-19 cases tick upward this fall.
2. Michael Bloomberg
Former New York City Mayor
It feels far longer than 11 months ago that Michael Bloomberg announced he would jump into the crowded Democratic presidential primary race. The media mogul spent more than $1 billion on a four-month campaign effort that netted 55 delegates before he endorsed Vice President Joe Biden in March. Now, the Bloomberg LP founder has promised to spend $100 million to help Biden win Florida, including an effort to enfranchise people who were formerly incarcerated.
3. Al Sharpton
Founder and President, National Action Network
The founder of the Manhattan-based National Action Network has been a force to be reckoned with for decades. Presidential candidates pay homage by eating soul food with him at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo made sure to have the Baptist minister by his side when he signed new police reforms this summer. While a younger generation of activists is now emerging, Sharpton continues to be one of the most influential civil rights leaders and elder statesmen around.
4. Jessica Walker
President and CEO, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce
Manhattan’s businesses were struggling before the pandemic thanks to burdensome regulations and high commercial rents. But the city’s closure orders amid the spread of coronavirus could amount to an extinction-level event for fully one-third of restaurants and retail stores. Jessica Walker is charting Manhattan’s comeback by launching a resource network for affected small businesses and getting borough president candidates to vocalize their plans to reboot the economy and save beloved stores.
5. Keith Wright
Director of Strategic Planning, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron
Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright only has one race to worry about this fall: whether Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright can keep her seat after getting bumped from the ballot in the primary. Next year will bring scores of candidates for City Council and wide-open races for borough president and mayor, giving Wright the chance to play kingmaker.
6. Michael Dowling
President and CEO, Northwell Health
Northwell Health’s 23 medical facilities have had the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, but Michael Dowling and his staff have stayed calm on the front lines. Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped him in March to lead a council on expanding hospital capacity. By July, his hospitals had treated 50,000 patients. Dowling wrote a book about leading during the pandemic and has since drawn attention by declaring racism a public health crisis.
7. Steven Roth
Chair and CEO, Vornado Realty Trust
The Vornado chair and close ally of President Donald Trump joined the president’s economic recovery advisory group earlier this year. Roth took a 50% pay cut in April and signed on to a letter urging the city to improve safety and security. But his own business hasn’t exactly struggled, with condos at 220 Central Park South selling briskly and Facebook signing a lease at the Farley Post Office.
8. Stephen Ross
Chair and Founder, Related Companies
Billionaire tycoon Stephen Ross’ vision gave Manhattan its largest development project in a decade, yet the pandemic has emptied Hudson Yards’ million-square-foot mall of its customers and some tenants. Ross believes New York will bounce back; to that end, he’s floated spending $100 million to support a business-friendly mayor. But Ross’s lavish Hamptons soiree for President Donald Trump last summer led New Yorkers to cancel memberships to fitness companies he owns.
9. Ray McGuire
He’s a Wall Street lifer, a major Democratic political donor, and sits on practically every nonprofit board in the city, from NewYork-Presbyterian to Lincoln Center. Now the Upper West Sider is trying to take the Bloomberg path to City Hall, stepping down from Citigroup to fundraise and get ready for a mayoral run. And as one of the country’s top Black bankers, he’s getting a lot of buzz, especially from Manhattan moneymakers.
10. Derrick Ingram
Co-Founder, Warriors in the Garden
The millennial Black Lives Matter activist received an outpouring of support from the city’s progressive power players after the NYPD laid siege to his Hell’s Kitchen apartment this summer. The charge? Allegedly yelling in a cop’s ear with a megaphone. Ingram, a founder of protest group Warriors in the Garden, is just one activist in the movement against racism that resulted in an occupation of City Hall, reforms aimed at stopping police brutality and NYPD budget changes. But as the police retreated after several hours, Ingram was an avatar for young people of color across the city – and evidence of the extraordinary power of the movement.
11. Luis Miranda Jr.
Founding Partner, MirRam Group
Luis Miranda is perfectly comfortable ceding the stage to his world-famous son Lin-Manuel, whose groundbreaking Broadway musical “Hamilton” premiered on the Disney+ streaming service in July. The political consultant has a movie of his own to crow about: “Siempre, Luis,” a documentary exploring Miranda’s rise as a political player since he moved to New York in 1971, which screened at Sundance and was acquired by HBO.
12. Douglas Durst & Jim Whelan
Chair & President, Real Estate Board of New York
The pandemic has been tough on a real estate industry already battered from last year’s rent laws, and James Whelan has been working more as a crisis manager. Douglas Durst, chair of the Durst Organization and newly selected to be REBNY’s next chair, has meanwhile been urging Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to bring city workers back to their offices. The pair have their work cut out for them, but these men still know how to pull the levers of power.
13. William Floyd
Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy, Google
When business leaders were deliberating how long to let workers stay home during the pandemic, Google helped set the standard by allowing remote work until next summer. Today, about 2,000 workers are returning to Google’s Manhattan offices, and Google could be pioneering a hybrid work-from-home model. Google, which has had political veteran William Floyd on board since 2012, worked to launch COVID-19 contact tracing technology used in a New York state app.
14. Sheena Wright
President and CEO, United Way of New York City
Sheena Wright has made it her mission to lead a coalition of groups organizing New Yorkers to fill out the 2020 Census. That campaign launched in March, just days before the pandemic swept across the region, effectively shutting down canvassing efforts and causing Wright to rethink her strategy. The United Way launched a COVID-19 community fund for its network of community-based organizations and recently resumed hosting “Get Out the Count” events.
15. Suri Kasirer
Founder and President, Kasirer
Suri Kasirer leads New York City’s top lobbying firm and has cultivated relationships with leading politicians, including New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Last year, her firm took in $14.3 million with a stable of clients including PETA, NY1, Tobacco Free Kids and Uber. That’s more than any other lobbyist in the city or state – a record she’s held for several years.
16. James Capalino
Founder and CEO, Capalino
Veteran lobbyist James Capalino is the first call for real estate titans, university presidents and shopping mall execs enmeshed in complicated zoning and regulatory matters. As the city’s second-highest compensated lobbying firm, Capalino pulled in $11.2 million last year with clients including New York University, UPS and Macy’s. A City Hall veteran himself, Capalino has also cultivated a longstanding alliance with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
17. Christine Quinn
President and CEO, Win
The onetime (and future?) mayoral candidate has embarked on a second career as a top advocate for the city’s most vulnerable. Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has kept the public’s attention on homelessness during the pandemic when those in shelters faced a higher mortality rate. That includes helping working moms send their kids back to school, removing cops from shelters and extending the evictions moratorium to help impoverished families.
18. Steven Rubenstein
President, Rubenstein Communications
Communications guru and Association for Better New York chair Steven Rubenstein was in the middle of the city’s pandemic recovery and 2020 Census participation initiatives. He and other business leaders signed letters urging the mayor and governor to map out a course of recovery for the region. He’s also leading a public relations effort to encourage New Yorkers to fill out their census forms and welcomed a new CEO at ABNY in August.
19. Darren Walker
President, Ford Foundation
Darren Walker has the stature to call out corporate America for failing Black Americans after the death of George Floyd and social justice demonstrations. He also has the checkbook to make a difference. Walker announced in June that the Ford Foundation would borrow $1 billion to increase the amount of money it distributed to beneficiaries. That includes $150 million Ford committed to minority arts groups and $10 million to Puerto Rico’s storm rebuilding efforts.
20. Bradley Tusk
Founder and CEO, Tusk Strategies
Reprising his role in then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign, Bradley Tusk joined the team helping Bloomberg launch his presidential campaign last fall. Once Bloomberg’s bid fizzled, Tusk focused his energy into his venture capital investments, including a promising mobile voting initiative that allows military and disabled voters to fill out absentee ballots on their smartphones.
21. Ed Wallace
Co-Chair, New York City, Greenberg Traurig
The leader of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office has helped the powerhouse law firm pivot to navigate the coronavirus crisis. Ed Wallace and his attorneys assisted the governor’s office in drafting an executive order allowing health care workers exposed to the coronavirus to designate standby guardians for their children and have led webinars about how COVID-19 affects New York companies and nonprofits. The firm also moved to One Vanderbilt, which opened in September, signing a 15-year lease.
22. Patrick Gaspard
President, Open Society Foundations
Former diplomat Patrick Gaspard has spent his philanthropic career working to dismantle authoritarian regimes and strongman tactics abroad. Open Society Foundations invested $200 million to curb COVID-19 in developing countries. But Gaspard has paid close attention to affairs at home too, criticizing the NYPD for giving 81% of social distancing summonses to Blacks and Latinos and assisting old friend Maya Wiley with her nascent mayoral run.
23. Jennifer Raab
President, Hunter College
As president of Hunter College, Jennifer Raab has adeptly handled enormous crises this year. Raab oversaw the school’s shift to remote learning when the pandemic began while defending Dreamers before the Supreme Court upheld DACA. She has dealt with the challenges of reopening the college and K-12 campus, maintaining a diverse student body and avoiding a strike over holding in-person classes by granting a safety investigation of the school buildings.
24. Wellington Chen
Executive Director, Chinatown Partnership
When news of a new virus circulated through Chinatown in January, some businesses canceled Chinese New Year celebrations, and restaurant revenue dropped 70% in February. Countless shops and restaurants worried they wouldn't survive the economic fallout. To help them, Wellington Chen has marshaled resources for minority-owned businesses and provided tents, umbrellas, sandbags and chairs free of charge for restaurants operating outdoor dining.
25. Leecia Eve
Vice President of Public Policy, Verizon
Leecia Eve, a former aide to Hillary Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former attorney general candidate, has been helping Verizon navigate through the coronavirus pandemic as its tri-state government affairs director. The company has added 59,000 broadband connections. Eve is also a steward of the city’s fiscal health, serving as a Port Authority commissioner and Citizens Budget Commission trustee.
26. David R. Jones
President and CEO, Community Service Society of New York
As an advocate for low-income New Yorkers for a quarter-century, it was no surprise that David Jones used his New York Amsterdam News column to criticize the city’s cuts to summer youth employment, lack of health care options in communities of color and urgent need for rent relief to prevent homelessness. Jones, who serves on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has also sought to protect low-wage workers from police harassment while riding the subway.
27. John & Andrea Catsimatidis
President, Chair and CEO, Red Apple Group; Chair, Manhattan Republican Party
The grocery magnate John Catsimatidis reassured the city at the beginning of the pandemic that his supermarket supply chain was in good shape despite a run on toilet paper and canned goods. Disgusted with the city’s rising crime rate, John Catsimatidis is now mulling another mayoral run and could spend $100 million to make it happen. His daughter Andrea Catsimatidis’ role as Manhattan’s Republican leader could help pave the way.
28. Robert Grossman
Dean and CEO, NYU Langone Health
When Dr. Robert Grossman became dean of NYU Langone Health in 2007, he spearheaded a massive expansion of NYU’s medical school and offered free tuition to medical students. Last November, NYU renamed its medical school in Grossman’s honor. Thanks to his efforts, NYU Langone fared better than most medical centers handling the onslaught of patients during the peak of the pandemic, although there’s been pushback from residents demanding COVID-19 hazard pay.
29. Steven Corwin
President and CEO, NewYork-Presbyterian
NewYork-Presbyterian was in a better position to handle a pandemic than most, but few could have predicted the all-consuming stress the hospital’s staffers would endure throughout the spring. Steve Corwin believes the worst is over but remains concerned about the mental health of his staff after an emergency department doctor died by suicide in April, whether there will be enough protective equipment through the winter and whether young people are taking social distancing measures seriously.
30. Jessica Lappin
President, Alliance for Downtown New York
In 2018, private sector employment topped a quarter of a million jobs downtown for the first time since 2001. Now the area is struggling as the city reached 16.3% unemployment in September. But Jessica Lappin has worked to make lower Manhattan more livable by helping City Hall expand outdoor dining, lobbying to extend tax subsidies, distributing face masks to neighborhood schools and studying how to redesign local streets to be more bicycle friendly.
31. Anthony Marx
President and CEO, New York Public Library
Anthony Marx decided in mid-March to temporarily shutter the library’s 92 branches, acknowledging the need to protect staff and its patrons, many of whom include seniors and high-risk individuals. Because branches couldn’t serve as a public respite – some did begin offering limited service in July – Marx argued the system needed to bolster its virtual offerings. Its ability to provide remote resources to the public is among the most successful of any institution in the country.
32. Alfred C. Cerullo III
President and CEO, Grand Central Partnership
The pandemic turned Grand Central Station and its surrounding neighborhood into a ghost town after more than 90% of commuters stayed out of the city. It stayed that way for months, forcing Midtown retail chains and restaurants to close up shop. Alfred Cerullo’s task is daunting, but his past work rezoning East Midtown, turning Pershing Square into a pedestrian plaza and shepherding One Vanderbilt through its May opening should pay dividends.
33. Stacey Cunningham
President, New York Stock Exchange
The stock market’s decadelong bull market ended in February when the coronavirus spread across a cruise ship and plunged through April into the worst crash since 1929. Cunningham’s role in this year of extreme volatility has been to guide a number of private companies through IPOs this fall, thanks to months of pent-up demand. That includes new innovations such as direct listings for Palantir and Asana, which each spiked on their first day of trading.
34. Fred Wilson
Partner, Union Square Ventures
Venture capitalist Fred Wilson tends to get ahead of a trend, whether it’s social media or e-commerce. Wilson poured $5 million into a mobile video media company and strongly advocated for a high carbon tax to curb climate change. But even though New York City is in a recession, Wilson says he is not pessimistic about a post-COVID turnaround because the pandemic will make housing more affordable as people who fear change leave.
35. Kenneth Davis
President and CEO, Mount Sinai Health System
Kenneth Davis and his fellow Mount Sinai executives received positive pandemic press when they agreed to a 50% pay cut in April even as some nurses wore trash bags because of a PPE shortage. Mount Sinai has since launched a post-COVID care center for ongoing study and treatment of the disease while placing among the top hospitals in the country in US News & World Report’s rankings.
36. Dan Biederman
President, Bryant Park Corp. and 34th Street Partnership
When the coronavirus ravaged New York City, forcing offices, libraries, and beloved civic institutions to close, Dan Biederman went into overdrive to make Midtown inviting for those who strolled through. A heart was mowed into the lawn at Bryant Park to honor essential workers, and the park’s piano program returned in July. Biederman worries that converting hotels for the homeless is having a deleterious effect on public safety.
37. Peg Breen
President, New York Landmarks Conservancy
Peg Breen is a landmark superhero, sprinting across the city to convince policymakers to preserve underappreciated structures of historic significance and disburse grants to neglected buildings. This past year, Breen sought to keep Harlem’s Lenox Terrace from a rezoning that would alter the site, paid $60,000 for renovations at the Weeksville Heritage Center, gave a $10,000 grant to the oldest surviving synagogue in Queens and presided over a contest to redesign the paths on the Brooklyn Bridge.
38. Robert Abrams
Robert Abrams has led a powerhouse legal team at Stroock, including the addition of an internal unit to ferret out workplace misconduct, the expansion of its national real estate practice and a new task force to help journalists and local pols sort through legal questions during a chaotic election period. Abrams has a reputation for probing government corruption (for example, serving on the Moreland Commission), so his services seem to be in demand for the foreseeable future.
39. Rob Byrnes
President, East Midtown Partnership
Rob Byrnes played a crucial role ensuring that the city’s rezoning plan for East Midtown included plenty of subway investments and street-level improvements. But new construction could take longer than anticipated after the pandemic forced midtown businesses to close office towers to employees, decimated area hotels, and shuttered chain stores and restaurants. The partnership has other concerns, including struggling street vendors and vandalized stores from recent protests.
40. Rajiv Shah
President, The Rockefeller Foundation
The physician and former USAID administrator Rajiv Shah is one of the few civic leaders with the stature to tell people to ignore the CDC for politicizing public health with misleading guidelines on testing and the spread of COVID-19. But Shah isn’t just advocating for good health habits. The Rockefeller Foundation is also focused on increasing electricity access so everyone can connect to the internet, not to mention relying less on fossil fuels.
41. William Hicks
CEO, Bellevue Hospital
The pandemic sorely tested Bellevue, but the hospital’s prior experience with pandemics and the efforts of William Hicks helped ensure staff were as prepared as possible for COVID-19. Hicks made emergency medicine staff check on the safety of those discharged from the hospital, moved surgeons to treat ICU patients and had social workers run video communication for isolated COVID-19 patients to speak with their families.
42. Elizabeth Velez
President, Velez Organization
As a member of the mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises advisory board and the National Hispanic Group, and as the head of a family-owned construction management firm, Elizabeth Velez helps ensure MWBEs get a fair share of government construction contracts. So it was no surprise the New York Building Congress named her its chair in January, which allows her to advise the governor on New York’s pandemic reopening plan.
43. Barbara Askins
President and CEO, 125th Street BID
Barbara Askins has done remarkable work making one of the busiest corridors in the city a bustling, charming place to walk around and shop. The spread of COVID-19 temporarily closed stores on 125th Street, but Askins helped businesses reopen in the summer and organized an event for Harlemites to paint messages on plywood in solidarity with civil rights protesters.
44. Elizabeth Smith
President and CEO, Central Park Conservancy
Elizabeth Smith and her husband, Port Authority director Rick Cotton, were among the first public figures to be afflicted with coronavirus in early March, jolting New Yorkers into taking the disease seriously. Central Park soon hosted a field hospital for treating COVID-19 patients for a month. The park has since sprung back to life, although SummerStage went virtual this year and the park’s boathouse restaurant temporarily closed.
45. Eva Moskowitz
Founder and CEO, Success Academy Charter Schools
Last year, Eva Moskowitz fought with City Hall for additional teaching space for her charter schools. But the pandemic forced Moskowitz to close all Success Academy schools and pivot to fully remote learning without abandoning its educational standards. This could be her most challenging year yet: Moskowitz is still clashing with the city over school buildings that weren’t ready to reopen in August, and some parents are concerned about the strict demands in its remote learning program.
46. Elinor Tatum
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, New York Amsterdam News
At a time when local newspapers have been hemorrhaging advertising revenue, laying off reporters and closing offices to save money, Elinor Tatum and the New York Amsterdam News have continued to publish through the pandemic. The paper’s insightful columns have amplified underserved voices while advancing narratives not taken by mainstream publications.
47. Violet Moss
Managing Director, Bolton-St. Johns
The impressive University at Albany alumna sharpened her expertise in health policy as a legislative analyst for the Assembly Health Committee before stops as a lobbyist and public affairs specialist at Children’s Health Fund, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Mercury Public Affairs and The Parkside Group. Violet Moss has been at Bolton-St. Johns for almost five years and just completed a master’s degree at Hunter College’s Department of Urban Policy and Planning.
48. Debralee Santos
Editor-in-Chief, Manhattan Times and The Bronx Free Press
Debralee Santos has her finger on the pulse of Upper Manhattan’s diverse communities. Throughout the pandemic, she catalogued stories of incalculable grief for the Manhattan Times, including the heart-wrenching death of a 43-year-old MTA cleaner and mom, and the people who made Coogan’s the most beloved pub in Manhattan. Santos is also a welcome presence on public radio, where she shares her opinions and knowledge about the city’s leaders.
49. Lisa Linden
Media Strategist, The LAKPR Group
Since the coronavirus pandemic began decimating hotel occupancy rates, public relations pro Lisa Linden has done some heavy lifting to help the Hotel Association of New York City survive the devastating downturn while accommodating overflow COVID-19 patients from public hospitals. She’s also co-vice chair of the New York League of Conservation Voters, which has been pushing the state to reach ambitious climate goals and for New York City to make its school buses electric.
50. George Fontas
Founder and CEO, Fontas Advisors
Former Capalino+Company executive George Fontas struck out on his own three years ago to advise corporate, real estate and nonprofit clients as well as a handful of political campaigns. He should have an exceptionally busy year in 2021, with hundreds of New York City Council candidates running for office. Recently, he has been helping moderate Democrats run in state legislative elections and Boerum Hill condo residents oppose the expansion of a nearby jail.