The kings and queens of Queens
The kings and queens of Queens
In case anyone had forgotten, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's surprising victory over Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York's Democratic congressional primary election last month was a reminder of the remarkable diversity of Queens.
As a young Latina of Puerto Rican heritage running for the first time against a white, middle-aged man who has held office for decades, her candidacy represented a break from the past for many voters in Queens.
While some observers have since opined that Ocasio-Cortez is the candidate of the future, others insist that she is simply the candidate of today.
Indeed, in compiling a list of the borough's leaders, we discovered that many local movers and shakers already reflect the many races and nationalities that make up Queens.
In this special section, we recognize the 50 people in the borough who are key players in the world of New York politics and government. Since we cover politicians on a day-to-day basis, we limited this list to those who are not strictly in government but instead influence it from the outside.
We reached out to insiders and experts to compile this list, ranking each person based on their accomplishments, sway in political and policy matters, economic clout, philanthropic efforts, ties to powerful politicians and the constituencies they represent.
Without further ado, we're pleased to present the Queens Power 50.
Founder, Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates
Patrick B. Jenkins has been an important Democratic power broker for decades. But he has gained a lot more influence ever since Carl Heastie, his longtime personal friend and former college roommate at Stony Brook University, was elected speaker of the Assembly in 2015. Having Heastie’s ear has turned Jenkins into one of the most sought-after lobbyists for those seeking action in Albany. Among his major clients are Uber and the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. The lobbyist, who founded Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates a decade ago, started his career in his native Southeast Queens. He first worked for seven years as district director at Rep. Gregory Meeks’ office, then worked on the gubernatorial campaigns of Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo. Jenkins is still involved in local affairs and one of his goals is to help shape the next generation of successful professionals. He serves on the board of leadership training program Coro New York and is a member of the United Black Men of Queens, a local advocacy and mentoring group.
President and CEO, Greater Jamaica Development Corp.
With dozens of hotels and new housing developments popping up throughout downtown Jamaica, the once overlooked area has now become the next Queens neighborhood to keep an eye on. No organization has worked harder to attract new investors to the area than the Greater Jamaica Development Corp., a nonprofit with an annual operating budget of more than $10 million. Its efforts, spanning more than four decades and led by Hope Knight since 2015, are finally paying off as a number of massive projects are about to change the Jamaica skyline forever. Knight has used her experience as former chief operating officer for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, a nonprofit working on revitalizing neighborhoods like Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, to bring further improvement to downtown Jamaica. Her goal is to turn the neighborhood into a “hospitality hub,” attracting tourists with its proximity to Kennedy Airport, access to major highways and express trains to Manhattan, as well as retail and dining options. At the same time, Knight, who also serves on the city Planning Commission, wants to ensure that Jamaica remains affordable for its longtime residents.
President and CEO, Queens Library
The Queens Library plays a unique role in the borough’s diverse neighborhoods. Its 62 branches serve as community and resource centers, providing more than 80,000 free programs, from English language classes and story time for toddlers to assistance for job seekers and summer meals for children. More than two years after taking over as president and CEO, Dennis Walcott has turned around the bad publicity surrounding the institution under his predecessor and revived a positive image associated with its services. The former New York City schools chancellor and former deputy mayor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also built a reputation as honest and approachable. He is known for sitting in a bullpen cubicle in the main room at the central branch in Jamaica, where he chats with staff and patrons on a daily basis. Under his leadership, the library also took a stand against the current anti-immigrant rhetoric by launching a campaign last year called “Queens Library is for Everyone.” Walcott, a native of Queens, now focuses his efforts on expanding access to digital technology.
President, 32BJ SEIU
With more than 163,000 members – including airport staff, doormen, maintenance workers and porters living and working in Queens – 32BJ SEIU is one of New York City’s most powerful unions. Héctor Figueroa, a native Puerto Rican turned Jackson Heights resident, has been its president since 2012, after rising through the union’s ranks. A political powerhouse, Figueroa has fought for everything from immigrant rights to better wages. Under his leadership, the union played an important role in raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, securing paid family leave and access to state universities for low-income students. Following 32BJ’s lobbying efforts, more than 40,000 airport workers in the area could see their hourly wages going up to $19 by 2023. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda has kept Figueroa busy as well, prompting him to continue his fight to shield immigrants from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now, Figueroa has a role to play in this year’s elections, backing Gov. Andrew Cuomo against actress Cynthia Nixon and endorsing the challenger to state Sen. Jeff Klein, the former leader of the Independent Democratic Conference.
President and CEO, Queens Chamber of Commerce
The vibrant Queens business community has a great resource in the Queens Chamber of Commerce, which has promoted local entrepreneurs for more than 100 years. Having experience in sustainable energy solutions, Thomas Grech spent his first years at the chamber focusing on energy issues. He was named president and CEO in 2017, instantly proving to be a dynamic leader. The chamber recently launched a new website highlighting businesses and important networking events throughout the borough. The group also offers training to its 1,200 members, connects them through seminars and discussion panels, and creates opportunities for them to work toward shared goals. Grech’s vision for the chamber includes boosting its membership to more than 2,000 in the next two years and expanding its impact beyond the borough. Not shy about voicing his opinions, Grech has published several op-eds in Crain’s New York Business on topics ranging from his support to use the Long Island Rail Road’s Lower Montauk Branch for commuter service, to criticizing legislation seeking to increase the number of street vendor permits.
General Manager, LaGuardia Airport
As LaGuardia Airport undergoes a massive $8 billion revamp, the entire facility is facing a slew of challenges, from airlines changing terminals to heavy traffic around the airport due to construction. Lysa Scully, LaGuardia’s general manager overseeing day-to-day operations since 2013, keeps things running as smoothly as possible. She has been able to make the busy airport – once mocked by then-Vice President Joe Biden as a “Third World country” – navigable thanks to more than three decades of experience she has had working at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. LaGuardia, which handles about 30 million travelers a year, is also one of the major employers in the borough, providing jobs to about 12,000 people and contributing nearly $19 billion in economic activity to the metropolitan area. As part of the transformation, the airport is slated to get a new central terminal building, parking facilities and more mass transit connections, including the LaGuardia AirTrain, linking the airport with the No. 7 train and the Long Island Rail Road at Willets Point.
Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, JetBlue Airways Corp.
For years, JetBlue has been leading the way when it comes to companies giving back to the community, with the focus mostly on youth, education and the environment. Icema Gibbs has worked for the Long Island City-based airline since 1999, before it even took to the skies, and is behind most of its philanthropic initiatives. Most recently, the airline offered free flights to families of the victims of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, and it did the same for those who lost relatives in the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, JetBlue sent tons of relief supplies to Puerto Rico and transported emergency personnel to the island. As JetBlue’s director of corporate social responsibility, Gibbs also collaborated with DoSomething.org, which worked to inspire young people to volunteer and seek social change. A native of Queens, Gibbs started her career at People Express Airlines, and later worked at Continental Airlines as its director of customer service. She was also a founding board member of the CUNY Aviation Institute at York College.
Senior Pastor, Co-Pastor, Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral of New York
Rev. Floyd Flake finished his final term in Congress more than two decades ago, but he continues to be a prominent political figure in Queens, where over the years he has forged many political alliances and built deep ties to the local community. Many elected officials have long cultivated relationships with Flake, who still has the ability to flex his political muscle. But his influence goes well beyond politics. Along with his wife and co-pastor Elaine, Floyd Flake has also become an influential spiritual leader. The couple run the Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, one of the nation’s largest churches, with more than 20,000 members. The church provides various social services, operates a number of senior and affordable housing developments, several retail facilities and a soup kitchen that distributes more than 100,000 meals and pantry bags a week. The cathedral also serves as a community center, hosting numerous events and forums.
Vice President of External Affairs and Community Engagement, New York Mets
Since the New York Mets brought on Haeda Mihaltses to handle external affairs in 2014, she has become one of the most prominent corporate faces of the team, dealing with New York City, state and federal officials while also overseeing community relations. Nowadays, as team owner Fred Wilpon pursues various projects in the borough, including plans to develop Willets Point, Mihaltses’ experience is more valuable than ever. The Bayside resident has gained an in-depth knowledge of government institutions and built a vast network of connections while serving for 12 years as the director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. She previously worked as finance director under then-New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. Taking pride in her Hellenic roots, Mihaltses also finds time in her busy schedule to work on behalf of the Greek community. She has served as an advisory board member for Queens College’s Center of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies and has been appointed to the national board of the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, the philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.