Jumaane Williams has come full circle since his days as a Brooklyn College activist; he’s now first in line to succeed the mayor. The Flatbush politician took a risk running an insurgent campaign for lieutenant governor and nearly toppled incumbent Kathy Hochul last year. Then he piled into a 17-candidate public advocate field and won the February special election with one-third of the vote. Another race is looming, but Williams is focused on pressuring the mayor on social justice issues.
The 2019 Brooklyn Power 100; 6 - 50
The 2019 Brooklyn Power 100; 6 - 50
Firmly entrenched as the top law enforcement official in the borough, Eric Gonzalez has upheld the late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s legacy of tackling inequality and injustice. Gonzalez has declined to prosecute so-called quality-of-life crimes, refuses to request bail in misdemeanor cases, supports closing Rikers Island, supports parole requests for incarcerated individuals who have served their minimum sentence and has been vacating low-level convictions for marijuana offenses. Overturning other convictions has been trickier, and critics say those efforts have stalled.
The federal prosecutor oversaw what might have been the nation’s most dramatic case this year – even eclipsing cases connected to Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s trial brought telenovela-style revelations before ending in his 10-count conviction and life imprisonment. Richard Donoghue also brought charges against Nxivm sex cult leaders, resulting in several guilty verdicts, and oversaw an inquiry that ended with no indictment for NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.
The Sheepshead Bay icon became one of the highest-ranking women in the Assembly when she ascended to the top post on the Ways and Means Committee two years ago. Helene Weinstein has helped the people’s chamber claw back some control over the budget and agenda from the governor this year. Weinstein also made her voice heard on a proposal to combat deepfake videos, and she opposed the legalization of gestational surrogacy.
While the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s power isn’t what it once was under Meade Esposito, Clarence Norman or Vito Lopez, never count out Frank Seddio. The county leader still controls enough proxy votes to determine the borough’s slate of state committee members and judicial candidates. He also supported Margarita Lopez Torres for the key Surrogate’s Court judge post – she won her primary easily – and defended rogue state Sen. Simcha Felder who rejoined the Democratic conference in July.
He may not be New York City Council speaker, but Robert Cornegy Jr. is a head above the rest in city government. Literally. In March, Guinness World Records named the 6-foot-10 councilman representing Bedford-Stuyvesant as the world’s tallest politician. The Housing Committee chairman is raising money for a prospective run for borough president in 2021 – hosting getting to know you events like his sharing economy weekend to benefit new tech companies and local brick-and-mortar businesses.
The Brooklyn congresswoman nearly suffered the same fate as Joseph Crowley did last year, but she edged out challenger Adem Bunkeddeko by 1,100 votes. Now that Democrats control the House, Yvette Clarke has been busy passing legislation to prevent the Department of Defense from assisting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with its border security efforts. She has spoken out against ICE raids in Brooklyn and is working to combat deepfake videos designed to spread misinformation.
The progressive city councilman is running for city comptroller in 2021, and though he may represent tony neighborhoods like Park Slope, he often advocates for the city’s vulnerable populations. In February, Brad Lander demonstrated at a Brooklyn federal jail where inmates didn’t have heat for a week, and in July he visited the Brooklyn Detention Complex, where inmates didn’t have air conditioning. His toughest challenge will be selling a Gowanus rezoning with more mixed-income housing.
The third-term councilman is likely thinking about his next move after City Hall. Stephen Levin’s legacy will be his work on several rezoning projects, including the redevelopment of the former Domino Sugar factory and new waterfront park as well as the Gowanus neighborhood plan. He also recently secured funds to reopen the Gowanus Houses’ community center, and he’ll have a role in determining whether the city will expand the Brooklyn Detention Complex.
Another of the young guns from North Brooklyn, Antonio Reynoso has carved out a niche as the head of the Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Committee, where he has pushed to mandate more recycling and composting as well as overhaul the private carting industry. In June, Reynoso announced his bid for Brooklyn borough president, promising to bring his “experience and progressive ideals” to the job if elected in 2021.
The councilman has had his eye on Borough President Eric Adams’ job for some time. A former New Utrecht High School history teacher, Mark Treyger runs the City Council’s Education Committee and has tackled kitchen table issues in his district like fighting to make Bath Beach streets safer after a 3-year-old boy was struck and killed by a car, easing fines for parking violations and demanding accountability from Con Edison after a blackout in July.
During his time on the New York City Council, Rafael Espinal Jr. has helped create the city’s Office of Nightlife and repealed the cabaret law. He proposed a bill to make it illegal for businesses to contact employees after hours – which Mayor Bill de Blasio opposed. However, Espinal lacked the name recognition to stand out in the public advocate special election in February, and now faces a similarly crowded field in his rumored bid for borough president.
The longtime Codes Committee chairman has been in the Assembly since first being elected in 1972 – and it took almost as long for criminal justice bills Joseph Lentol’s supported (like overhauling the discovery process, eliminating cash bail and expunging the records of low-level marijuana offenders) to pass the state Legislature. But even that record may not stop progressive groups from challenging him in next year’s primary. He recently advocated for funding to make streets safer for cyclists in Brooklyn.
The Bensonhurst politician and Governmental Employees Committee chairman has represented southern Brooklyn since first being elected in 1986. Peter Abbate Jr. has sought to keep the controversial specialized high school entrance exam, sponsored a bill to create more specialized high schools and expand the gifted and talented program, boost pensions for new government workers and free up parking spaces around the Dyker Heights post office.
The Flatbush assemblywoman has recently backed Democrats in several successful primaries, including Jumaane Williams for public advocate and Farah Louis for a local New York City Council seat, as well as building an alliance with Orthodox Jewish leaders in southern Brooklyn. Her support of Bill de Blasio’s presidential bid will test her magic, but she’s got some legislative victories to celebrate – like the expansion of the minority- and women-owned business enterprises program.
Polarizing Assemblyman Charles Barron is not afraid to fight for his constituents. He has opposed raising CUNY and SUNY tuition, wanted to eliminate the admission exam for New York City’s specialized high schools and had an East New York park renamed after an African burial ground on the site. He’s also half of a political power couple with his wife, New York City Councilwoman Inez Barron, who swapped seats with him several years ago.
The Walentas family had the foresight and financial means to recognize the potential of Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods. After transforming Dumbo into the borough’s most expensive neighborhood, Jed Walentas took over the troubled redevelopment of the Domino Sugar factory and transformed the Williamsburg waterfront with a new park that opened a year ago. Now the developer is moving north from the Domino site to potentially develop sites owned by Con Edison, and dipping into Gowanus too.
Frank Seddio may be the face of the Brooklyn Democratic Party but the party’s counsel, Frank Carone, certainly has a hand in running things. The executive partner at Abrams Fensterman was recently named Brooklyn Bar Association president and is a board member of RiseBoro Community Partnership, the politically connected Bushwick housing nonprofit. Carone is reportedly a top donor to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign, giving the maximum amount of $2,800.
Steven Cymbrowitz was appointed as the chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee in 2017 but it wasn’t until two years later that the state Legislature permanently codified new rent reform laws, which stopped landlords from raising the rent if they renovated an apartment or if a tenant moved out of a rent-stabilized unit. The assemblyman also fought for quality-of-life issues, including restricting party boat passenger pick-ups in Sheepshead Bay and adding speed cameras in Manhattan Beach.
Zellnor Myrie upended Central Brooklyn politics last fall when he elbowed out incumbent Jesse Hamilton as part of the progressive “blue wave” that sank the former members of the Independent Democratic Conference. Myrie has since been part of a dynamic Democratic caucus that passed legislation on women’s health, marijuana decriminalization and funding for foreclosure prevention. He has also railed against NYCHA and Con Edison for failing to keep residents cool during a recent heat wave.
Few thought the then-27-year-old Democratic Socialists of America member had what it took to topple incumbent Martin Malavé Dilan last year. Though Julia Salazar’s campaign was full of drama, she won handily, and so far her state Senate career has been drama-free. Her Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act won widespread praise in Albany, and her rent reform legislation, including her good cause eviction bill, was a major milestone in state housing policy.
Who would have thought Downtown Brooklyn would become a busy mecca of new office and residential high-rises? Regina Myer had a vision to remake the corridors between Navy Street and Cadman Plaza West into a tech hub, a destination for startups and a desirable place to live – with new parks, medical offices and enticing dining options (we love DeKalb Market Hall!) – all while integrating data to improve safety and make transportation more efficient.
Linda Johnson is plowing ahead with one of the more dramatic reconstructions in the library’s history. In addition to the $135 million two-year renovation of its iconic central branch, Brooklyn Public Library is reopening its Greenpoint branch this fall, building its first new branch in 35 years in Dumbo and opening a more than 26,000-square-foot library by 2020. The deal for the new library generated an additional $40 million for repairs to other branches.
One of many rumored candidates for Brooklyn borough president, Laurie Cumbo is the first woman of color to become New York City Council majority leader. With an arts administration background, she has ensured institutions like the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum and the Pratt Institute get funding, while also fighting to preserve a building believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. She also helped revitalize the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
New York City has caught up with the second-term Sunset Park councilman’s politics since he came into office as a progressive five years ago. Menchaca is mostly having a ball. He has all the leverage on the de Blasio administration’s plan to redevelop Industry City – perhaps the most significant rezoning in Brooklyn. And he’s sought to protect cyclists from crashes by giving them a head start at intersections, as well as protect immigrant families.
The Bay Ridge politician’s third career is going pretty well. After years as a punk rock guitarist with hardcore bands Indecision and Most Precious Blood, and a stint at Bear Stearns Asset Management, Justin Brannan has proven to be strong advocate for southern Brooklyn. He’s railed against Con Edison for cutting power during a recent heat wave, chaired a new committee on resiliency and sponsored legislation that bans telecommunications firms from selling location data.
The former New York City councilman probably misses the day-to-day drama of City Hall a little bit (check out his lively Twitter feed), but he’s using his powers of political persuasion to give a voice to the poor. David Greenfield lobbied state legislators to adjust income levels for families eligible to receive benefits after the minimum wage increase to $15, launched a digital food pantry and is ensuring families in need have enough to eat.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard leader succeeded in making the 225-acre site an intriguing destination for tech companies, manufacturers, and film and television production. Now he’s revamped Admiral’s Row into a foodie destination, luring beloved Rochester-area grocer Wegmans to open this fall, putting the word out for a food manufacturing tenant to fill 20,000 square feet of space in Building 50 and welcoming a new ferry stop at Dock 72 to help people get there.
Andrew Kimball spends a lot of time thinking about how to ensure that Brooklyn, and specifically Sunset Park, remains a welcoming place for startup companies to roost. So it’s no surprise he’s strongly in favor of expediting the Industry City rezoning proposal, which the organization believes could lead to 15,000 new jobs. Rumor has it Amazon is looking to expand its presence at the site and could lease up to 1 million square feet for a logistics facility.
Steve Hindy embodies the Brooklyn Renaissance man. The former journalist (he served as a Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press) launched a successful craft brewery and has sought to make New York City easier to navigate without a car as the board chairman of Transportation Alternatives. He also serves on the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance’s board of directors. As of this year, beers from Brooklyn Brewery are finally available in California.
To the delight of many Brooklyn Democrats last year, the former counsel to Borough President Eric Adams toppled Bay Ridge stalwart Martin Golden, who had occupied the traditionally Republican seat since 2003. Andrew Gounardes, who won by about 1,000 votes, has had to walk a narrow line to keep Democrats in his camp by backing progressive legislation while taking care of constituent issues that affect everyone – like holding Con Edison accountable for recent power outages.
Straddling the line between Williamsburg’s observant Jewish population and the secular world of New York City politics demands diplomacy. David Niederman has had to use every bit of his spiritual statecraft to defuse tensions within the Orthodox Jewish community during a rampant measles outbreak, which subsequently led to a spate of anti-Semitic incidents. Niederman has encouraged families to get their children vaccinated, siding with the city – which temporarily closed yeshivas that continued to admit unvaccinated students.
The evangelical leader doesn’t just run the city’s largest megachurch, with its 40,000 members; he also builds affordable housing on its campus, makes political endorsements and isn’t afraid to back technocrats like then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But his partial embrace of President Donald Trump has raised eyebrows. He joined the president’s evangelical advisory board, only to resign in 2017. Since then, he said he would work with the White House on urban issues.
The Roman Catholic Church has had better years in Albany. The state’s adoption of the Reproductive Health Act had some bishops grumbling that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be excommunicated. The Child Victims Act could have enormous financial implications for the church. Meanwhile, Nicholas DiMarzio has focused on growing his flock among the younger generation at the Steubenville Youth Conferences, celebrating the installation of a new pastor in Bushwick and campaigning for a former Bedford-Stuyvesant priest’s sainthood.
The Brooklyn Nets management team must have been thrilled with the development of their young players, which led to a surprise playoff appearance this past season. But the addition of superstar free agents Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this summer shifts the center of the basketball universe to the Barclays Center. Thanks to Maureen Hanlon and the outgoing Brett Yormark, the Nets could boost their revenues by $40 million next year.
The New York Building Congress president and CEO has one of Brooklyn’s most highly scrutinized jobs for someone who isn’t a politician. Carlo Scissura was tapped by Mayor Bill de Blasio in April to lead a panel to determine how to rebuild the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. He’s already easing tensions with community groups by saying there’s little chance the city will close the Brooklyn Heights Promenade during construction, and they’ll begin drafting recommendations this summer.
Immigration advocates are facing a crisis unlike any they have ever dealt with before, thanks to the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies. For 22 years, Make the Road New York has provided Brooklyn’s Latino immigrants with legal services and a platform to organize. Now Deborah Axt and Javier Valdés are fighting to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the U.S. Supreme Court and opposed the addition of a citizenship question to the census.
The engineering professor made history a year ago when she became the first female leader of NYU Tandon. Jelena Kovačević has brought more women into the school’s student body and faculty – so far the freshman class has more than double the national average of women in engineering – and she has fostered the community’s creative energy with a variety of symposiums. In her free time, she enjoys running in Central Park.
Perhaps no one is more closely associated with New York’s revival as a film and television hub than Doug Steiner. The developer’s vision to build soundstages and production facilities in the Brooklyn Navy Yard has made it the largest production lot east of Hollywood. He’s now occupying 760,000 square feet, brought in Wegmans plus another 85,000 square feet of retail and is spearheading a $2.5 billion expansion.
Anne Pasternak has transformed the Brooklyn Museum into an institution that embodies the borough’s cultural zeitgeist, with buzzworthy shows on the iconoclastic art of David Bowie (its most successful exhibit ever) and a survey of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (which saw a lot of media coverage). The museum’s current exhibit is a retrospective of designer Pierre Cardin. A survey of the career of renowned street artist known as KAWS opens in 2021.
There’s something for everyone at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and its eclectic programming may be the key to its success. As president of Brooklyn’s preeminent cultural institution, Katy Clark ensures that BAM continues to expand its cultural offerings – the organization is opening a new gallery space on Fulton Street – and remains accessible to visitors. She also knows how to throw great parties, like its most recent gala.
Never afraid to speak his mind (especially on Twitter), the state senator made it through the legislative session relatively unscathed, save for getting in a shouting match with state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi in April – when he reportedly said he was “unbeatable” during a meeting. Parker nevertheless enjoyed life in the majority, vowing to hold Con Edison accountable for recent power outages, hosting monthly rent freeze outreach events and endorsing U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris for president.
After winning a closely watched race, Alicka Ampry-Samuel is working to improve the quality of life in one of the city’s poorest districts. She helped reopen a NYCHA community center, pressured the state Legislature to expand the city’s speed camera program and criticized the mayor’s NYCHA deal with HUD because it lacked federal money. After a mass shooting in Brownsville, Ampry-Samuel demanded stricter gun laws and youth intervention programs while calling for peace.
One half of Brooklyn’s most powerful political couple, Iris Weinshall (who is married to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer) divides her time between the New York Public Library and Prospect Park Alliance, where she’s served as board chairwoman since 2014. When she isn’t fighting against the city’s proposed $11 million budget cut for libraries, the city’s former transportation commissioner enjoys walking around the park she calls “one of New York’s gems.”
Many Brooklynites perhaps like to imagine that Prospect Park is their backyard – but for Susan Donoghue, the administrator of Brooklyn’s largest park (who happens to live a block away), it practically is. Donoghue is reportedly on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s short list to be the city’s next parks commissioner. Meanwhile, she’s been working to combat flooding in the park and recently unveiled the design for a new monument to Shirley Chisholm.