The 2019 Power of Diversity: Black 100: 6 - 50

Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, is #5 on the Power 100.
Erica Sherman/ Brooklyn Borough President's Office
Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, is #5 on the Power 100.

The 2019 Power of Diversity: Black 100: 6 - 50

Recognizing the most powerful black men and women in New York State.
December 8, 2019
6. Jumaane Williams
New York City Public Advocate

Extremely vocal about what he likes and dislikes about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agenda, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has a reputation as a champion of the people. Williams has ridden the wave of the #Resistance to President Donald Trump’s agenda and anti-police brutality protests to a bigger profile. He recently questioned former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s reversal on stop and frisk.

7. George Gresham
1199 SEIU

As the leader of the largest health care union in the country, George Gresham continues to assert his power in New York City. Having the ear of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other political figures, his proximity to power allows him to advocate for universal health care and minimum wage increases. The union also has a track record of allying with hospitals to push successfully for more health care funding in Albany.

8. Gregory Meeks

Whether it was showing his support for Melinda Katz during the Queens district attorney Democratic primary or vocalizing his disapproval of the current presidential administration, Rep. Gregory Meeks left his stamp on the 2019 political landscape. As the first black man to head the Queens Democratic Party, Meeks has a lot of work to do to bring “the machine” back to prominence.

9. Chirlane McCray
New York City first lady

Will she or won’t she? Rumors about a possible campaign run, local or statewide, surround Chirlane McCray. While the pundits keep talking, she keeps working. The board chairwoman of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and the mastermind behind the city’s ThriveNYC mental health initiative, McCray continues her unprecedented run for a local first lady. One could compare her to another (national) first lady with political ambitions of her own: Hillary Clinton.

10. Crystal Peoples-Stokes
Assembly Majority Leader

Buffalo’s own Crystal Peoples-Stokes took full advantage of her first year as Assembly majority leader. Perhaps the biggest impact Peoples-Stokes made in Albany involves marijuana legalization. Pointing to the many people of color incarcerated for marijuana-related infractions, Peoples-Stokes pushed for these communities to benefit from the revenue that would be generated by legalizing recreational marijuana. On a smaller scale, she helped pass a tax break for long-term senior homeowners of limited income.

11. Keith Wright
Manhattan Democratic Party

You can call him a mover and shaker if you want, but Keith Wright is simply a man who’s trying to direct the Democratic ship the best way he knows how. While consulting for Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, Wright also keeps his hand in party politics. Whether it’s putting aspiring Democratic politicians in positions to succeed or aiding the movement to close Rikers Island, Wright can work with many different groups across the city.

12. Al Sharpton
Founder and President
National Action Network

The Rev. Al Sharpton is a staple in New York City politics and activism, and 2019 wasn’t any different. He testified before the House Judiciary Committee on police misconduct, criticized Facebook’s new policy on political ads and helped highlight civil rights violations in New York and around the country. His National Action Network has a presence in black communities nationwide, and Sharpton can be found wherever incidents of racial injustice make headlines.

13. Laurie Cumbo
New York City Council Majority Leader

The term “voice of the voiceless” could easily describe Laurie Cumbo. Pushing for better bus service for her constituents in Brooklyn, combating gun violence, bridging the gap between different communities in Crown Heights, protecting women’s rights in the workplace and promoting grants for artistic endeavors, Cumbo has made sure her constituents were taken care of in 2019. She’s an ally of New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and serves as his official No. 2.

14. Errol Louis
Anchor and Host of "Inside City Hall"

If you’re an elected official in New York City, appearing on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” is a must. Errol Louis asks the questions New Yorkers want answered on a daily basis, keeping the five boroughs up to date on the never-ending news cycle, connecting the dots to make sense of it all. He values the perspectives of others as well, making sure to highlight local reporters with his weekly media roundtable segments.

15. Ritchie Torres
New York City Councilman

Ritchie Torres has emerged as a power player in local politics – and he has his eye on the next prize. He has outraised his opponents for a Bronx congressional seat, getting an edge on the likes of Assemblyman Michael Blake and fellow New York City Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr. As an openly gay legislator, Torres’ battle with Díaz (who is known for his anti-gay comments) should make 2020 interesting.

16. Michael Blake

An unsuccessful run for New York City public advocate didn’t stop the Michael Blake train in February. His name has remained in the news, as he recently voiced his support for Housing Works employees trying to unionize and called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to back off his proposal to put more police officers in subway stations. The assemblyman also proposed a bill to establish a living wage for tipped workers in the restaurant industry.

17. Rubén Díaz Sr.
New York City Councilman

The outspoken New York City councilman has been a staple in the Bronx and beyond. However, his popularity with his base doesn’t guarantee he’ll win the congressional seat he’s seeking in 2020, especially against heavyweights like Assemblyman Michael Blake and New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres. His history of criticizing homosexuality could throw a wrench into the national Democratic agenda, if he were to win retiring Rep. José E. Serrano’s seat.

18. Bill Thompson
CUNY Board of Trustees

Given the vast reach of the City University of New York, there are always issues to resolve: the union contracts to negotiate; the uproar over CUNY’s support for Amazon HQ2; the perennial hunt for new leaders. Bill Thompson has navigated CUNY through it all, using the political skills he built as New York City’s comptroller to keep the system focused on its core mission: educating young New Yorkers and paving the way for upward mobility.

19. Yvette Clarke

A former member of the New York City Council, Rep. Yvette Clarke has been active in Congress, fighting to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, opposing the use of facial recognition technology in public housing, calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump and advocating for the voting rights for ex-felons. Clarke, who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls, will face several primary challengers next year.

20. Antonio Delgado

Representing the 19th District, Rep. Antonio Delgado will be in the news in the coming months as he gears up for a competitive reelection campaign. So far the congressman has raised over $2 million, vastly more than any other candidate. Delgado spent much of this year highlighting issues with broadband service in rural areas, pointing out that residents, schools and health care providers are suffering as a result.

21. Byron Brown
Buffalo Mayor

Working through his fourth term as mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown has had his share of successes and setbacks. On one hand, he has replaced more than 100 water lines to combat lead exposure and is working to improve the city’s infrastructure. But he has also had to address a recent FBI raid on a City Hall office, in which investigators searched the offices of the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.

22. Kyle Bragg

Kyle Bragg had some big shoes to fill when he became president of 32BJ SEIU after the unexpected death of Héctor Figueroa in July, but he’s hit the ground running and kept the union moving. Bragg has advocated for fast-food workers to organize and be paid a higher minimum wage, pushed back against President Donald Trump’s nomination for labor secretary and voiced his support for immigrants and those given temporary protected status.

23. David R. Jones
President and CEO
Community Service Society of New York

Keeping his ear to the political streets, David R. Jones remains a staunch advocate for low-income New Yorkers. In his columns for the New York Amsterdam News, Jones addresses the student loan debt crisis and the increasing costs of health care. As a member of the MTA board, he took Gov. Andrew Cuomo to task over the proposed L train plan and questioned the need for hiring 500 additional police officers to patrol the subways.

24. Patrick B. Jenkins
Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates

Political consulting, community relations and fundraising have pushed Patrick B. Jenkins and his firm into the top tier of New York politics. He once served as an adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and has established the firm’s lobbying power in Albany. Jenkins has been able to effect change away from the cameras and reporters. True power operates quietly and Jenkins – who started his career in government at the New York City comptroller’s office – demonstrates that well.

25. Elias Husamudeen
New York City Correction Officer's Benevolent Association

Elias Husamudeen had his hands full this year, between fighting the tide against the movement to close Rikers Island and putting out fires created by his officers. He’s also spoken out against changes to solitary confinement rules and reminded New Yorkers about the dangers that correction officers face on the job. A seasoned officer with decades of experience, Husamudeen seems poised to play an even bigger role in the development of law enforcement policies.

26. Gregory Floyd
Teamsters Local 237

Gregory Floyd leads the largest local union of Teamsters in New York City, representing more than 24,000 city government employees. Representing a public union sometimes means clashing with City Hall – and Floyd has done plenty of that. He’s spoken out against the elimination of metal detectors in some schools and criticized Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s “Medicare for All” plan, saying “one size doesn’t fit all.”

27. Hazel Dukes
NAACP New York Conference

Supporting equal pay for first responders. Fighting for employees at private day care companies. Meeting with the NYPD to discuss laws banning flavored nicotine products. Hazel Dukes has been busy making sure New York does right by its African American community. This summer, Dukes had a plaque unveiled in her honor at Ruby’s Vintage, a restaurant in Harlem, to celebrate “her dedication to human rights and equality.”

28. Wayne Spence
New York State Public Employees Federation

Earlier this year, Wayne Spence’s union filed a lawsuit accusing the State University of New York of pay inequities and staffing issues. As he pushes back against subpar working conditions faced by nurses in New York hospitals, Spence is also among the many voices working to overhaul the state's parole system. Reelected in 2018 for a second term as president of the union, Spence serves as a voice for 54,000 public employees.

29. Gwen Carr
Activist and Mother of Eric Garner

Gwen Carr’s presence has become commonplace in New York City. Following the death of her son, Eric Garner, at the hands of New York City police, Carr has become one of the highest-profile anti-police brutality voices. Linking up with parents of other police brutality victims and partnering with the Rev. Al Sharpton, Carr put pressure on the NYPD, which recently fired Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in Garner’s death.

30. Rowan Wilson
Associate Judge
State Court of Appeals

Nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017, Rowan Wilson has become an important figure on New York’s highest court. This year alone, the court called for the retrial of a man convicted of murder due to a juror potentially tainting the verdict, and Wilson has battled his colleagues in several rulings. In February, he was one of two dissenters in a ruling that allows nonprivileged recorded prison phone calls to be used against inmates.

31. Jamaal T. Bailey
State Senator

Jamaal T. Bailey’s star has quickly risen. In his second term as a state senator, the Bronx native leads the state Senate Codes Committee. In this role, Bailey has helped pass bills that ended cash bail for most crimes, among other important criminal justice reforms. He recently introduced a bill that would limit the public display of tobacco ads. He also wants the public to be able to access NYPD disciplinary records.

32. Dennis Walcott
President and CEO
Queens Public Library

Former New York City schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has made a quiet impact leading the Queens Public Library. He’s been busy replacing the roof of a branch in South Ozone Park, partnering with the city on improving census outreach and opening a branch at Hunters Point. After the Hunters Point branch received some criticism, according to The New York Times, for accessibility issues in a section of the library, Walcott said the library will address “the needs of the public.”

33. Charles & Inez Barron
Assemblyman; New York City Councilwoman

This power couple continues to poke the bear in both New York City Hall and Albany by speaking truth to power. If a policy doesn’t benefit communities of color in any way, Charles and Inez Barron will let you know. Assemblyman Charles Barron has even interrupted speeches by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to demand more funding for public schools. Both Barrons recently expressed their desire to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test.

34. Rodneyse Bichotte

Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte has been working to bridge gaps in the communities she serves for a while now. Whether it’s building alliances with the Orthodox Jewish community or advocating for minority- and women-owned businesses, the Brooklyn assemblywoman has her hand in much of the borough’s politics. She’s pushed for more state funding for the SUNY and CUNY systems, supported legislation to help enforce child support obligations and hosted immigration education events for her constituents.

35. Robert Cornegy Jr.
New York City Councilman

Robert Cornegy Jr. stands above the rest – and that’s not just because he’s 6-foot-10. He’s helping the New York City Council move forward on shrinking the size of the city’s jail system and is currently eyeing a 2021 run for Brooklyn borough president. Recently, the Housing and Buildings Committee chairman introduced a bill that would prevent the city from foreclosing on residential properties that don’t meet the criteria for physical or financial distress.

36. Donovan Richards
New York City Councilman

Like many of his colleagues, New York City Councilman Donovan Richards is term-limited in 2021 – although he may leave the legislative body early if he can prevail in the upcoming special election for Queens borough president. In the meantime, the likable chairman of the Public Safety Committee is continuing to weigh in on criminal justice issues, including criticizing the recent hiring of another white man as the next NYPD commissioner.

37. Calvin O. Butts III
Abyssinian Baptist Church

A longtime pillar of the black community and outspoken political pundit, Calvin O. Butts III is a figure frequently sought after by aspiring politicians. He added his voice to the successful calls to fire NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. Butts is set to retire next year as president of SUNY Old Westbury, leaving behind a legacy of increased enrollment, an improvement in grades and the creation of the school’s first graduate school program.

38. Brian Benjamin
State Senator

The state senator is a testament to proving oneself when given the opportunity. He might not make the front page of the tabloids or be the focal point of salacious gossip, but the former real estate developer has made a name for himself in Albany. Benjamin, who is exploring a run for New York City comptroller in 2021, has been at the forefront of successful efforts in the state Legislature to reform the criminal justice system.

39. Zellnor Myrie
State Senator

The Brooklyn state senator has had a lot on his plate this year – including his push for election reform. Zellnor Myrie sponsored five election reform bills that were signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and launched the state Complete Count Committee to motivate residents to participate in the 2020 census. Despite being a first-term lawmaker, he also played a key role in shepherding through sweeping new tenant protections in Albany in 2019.

40. I. Daneek Miller
New York City Councilman

New York City Councilman I. Daneek Miller’s importance to city politics and the local labor movement can’t be challenged. The former president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056 has continued on the pro-labor path as an elected official. He chairs the Civil Service and Labor Committee and co-chaired the MTA Labor Coalition. He recently helped introduce legislation that would allow every private sector worker in New York City to save pre-tax for retirement.

41. Deborah Rose
New York City Councilwoman

New York City Councilwoman Deborah Rose, who is Staten Island’s first black elected official, has benefited from the support of the Working Families Party. Recently embroiled in a tussle over rezoning the Bay Street corridor and a possible homeless shelter on Victory Boulevard, Rose has also called for a microtransit pilot program to increase transit options in the borough. Meanwhile, there are rumors that she’s eyeing a possible public administration post.

42. Charlie King & Rachel Noerdlinger
Partner, Managing Director

Charlie King joined Mercury Public Affairs as co-chair in 2015 before eventually becoming partner. His relationship to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (he was a senior campaign adviser for his 2014 reelection bid) only furthers his reach. Rachel Noerdlinger has served as a communications adviser to the National Action Network and as an aide to first lady Chirlane McCray. She’s also helped Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, become a major figure in anti-police brutality activism.

43. James Sanders Jr.
State Senator

State Sen. James Sanders Jr. is a champion of small business and entrepreneurship. Among his recent successes, the chairman of the state Senate Banks Committee has pushed to direct more capital to businesses previously overlooked by banking institutions, and supported renewing and expanding the law giving minority- and women-owned businesses better access to state contracts. Sanders was among the lawmakers who supported Tiffany Cabán in this year’s Democratic primary for Queens district attorney.

44. Kevin Parker
State Senator

Throwing his support behind U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ now-suspended presidential campaign and New York City first lady Chirlane McCray’s ThriveNYC campaign, assisting in the passage of a ban on 3D-printed guns and grilling Con Edison for power outages this summer, state Sen. Kevin Parker has used his platform for purpose – and for a little trash talk. Go to Twitter if you want to see him at his most unvarnished.

45. Leroy Comrie
State Senator

Leroy Comrie has been in elected office for nearly two decades, serving in the New York City Council for three terms and, after his failed Queens borough president bid, representing constituents in the state Senate since 2015. He speaks softly and keeps a low profile – after state Sen. Michael Gianaris’ pending appointment to an obscure board that would have weighed in on Amazon’s HQ2 fell through, it was Comrie who got the post.

46. Lovely Warren
Rochester Mayor

Named to Essence magazine’s 2018 Woke 100 Women list, Lovely Warren is gaining recognition on a national scale. Her efforts to form a police accountability board (which would investigate misconduct and make recommendations to the Rochester police chief) have been met with some resistance. She’s also doubled down on calling for a state takeover of the Rochester City School District. The city’s first female mayor, Warren previously served on the Rochester City Council.

47. Jennifer Jones Austin
CEO and Executive Director
Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies

In an era when the gap between the haves and the have-nots is wider than it has been in decades, Jennifer Jones Austin has been pushing City Hall and Albany to do right by New Yorkers in need. Austin and several other civil rights figures recently met with incoming NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea. In October, she was named the first female co-host of the “Open Line” radio show on WBLS.

48. Nikole Hannah-Jones
Domestic Correspondent
The New York Times Magazine

Focusing on racial injustice, Nikole Hannah-Jones made waves this year shepherding The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 project, which drew the praise of many and the ire of conservatives. She’s publicly expressed her concerns with the Specialized High School Admissions Test, joining the growing chorus of voices pushing to change the admission process. Hannah-Jones, who was previously an investigative reporter at ProPublica, is the co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting.

49. Kiara St. James
Co-founder and Executive Director
New York Transgender Advocacy Group

Pushing Albany to do what Washington won’t, Kiara St. James maintains her perch as a staunch advocate for LGBTQ rights across New York state. She helped enshrine the protection of gender-nonconforming and transgender individuals with the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act in the state Legislature. St. James recently attended the National Trans Visibility March in Washington, D.C. You can find her at countless other events related to the LGBTQ community.

50. Sheena Wright
President and CEO
United Way of New York City

When Sheena Wright joined the United Way of New York City in 2012, her goal was, as she puts it, to “play more of an activist role.” One notable initiative is ReadNYC, which is aimed at doubling the number of third graders in poor neighborhoods who can read on grade level. Other key goals include eradicating poverty in the city, making life more affordable and increasing the response rate for the 2020 census.

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