The 2021 Upstate Power 100: 51-100

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

The South Grand Island Bridge spanning the Niagara River.

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

51. Frederick Kowal

President, United University Professions

Frederick Kowal
UUP

When public universities closed last March at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Frederick Kowal sought to ensure professors stayed healthy. He suggested mandatory COVID-19 testing and contact-tracing guidelines for campus reopenings to protect faculty and staff. But his union has battled with SUNY too, following a no-confidence vote in the appointment of a Cuomo insider as SUNY chancellor and a demand for a free SUNY education for public essential workers.

52. Thomas Caulfield

CEO, GlobalFoundries

A Biden administration executive order to strengthen semiconductor supply chains following calls for more U.S.-made wafers is good news for GlobalFoundries. CEO Thomas Caulfield announced that the California-based semiconductor manufacturer – with a plant in the upstate New York town of Malta – is investing $1.4 billion this year to boost output at its factories. Caulfield expects revenue to jump 9% from $5.7 billion last year, and an IPO could occur later in the year.

53. Peter Baynes

Executive Director, New York State Conference of Mayors

Peter Baynes is a warrior fighting for New York’s mayors – and their budgets. Last summer, the state temporarily withheld 20% of aid payments to cities and towns, forcing mayors to consider furloughs. After the governor’s January budget proposal, Baynes’s message to municipalities was “prepare for pain.” Fortunately, localities received a $10.8 billion stimulus from Congress, although Baynes warned state leaders not to use the windfall to slash budgets for local communities. 

54. Tom King

President, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association

New York has been the National Rifle Association’s home for 150 years and has one of its largest chapters, the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. But state Attorney General Letitia James is seeking the NRA’s dissolution. Tom King has blamed Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and more recently the NRA declared bankruptcy and tried to relocate, but the case continues. King also sought to overturn a New York City law restricting the transport of guns, but the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case last year. 

55. Paul DerOhannesian II

Member, DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian

Paul DerOhannesian II has represented many high-profile defendants, but few clients can match Keith Raniere, the leader of NXIVM who received worldwide attention and spurred two major docuseries about the Colonie-based sex cult. The Albany attorney also recently helped Rep. Claudia Tenney win back her seat with a margin of just 109 votes. DerOhannesian is a go-to expert on legal matters like enforcing the state’s mandatory COVID-19 shutdowns and the parameters of the state’s investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s alleged workplace misconduct. 

56. Hamdi Ulukaya

Founder and CEO, Chobani

Last spring, New York’s dairy industry was in freefall, leaving farmers to dump milk because of shutdowns. But Chobani and other yogurt companies bought excess milk at the state’s request. For its philanthropic work, Hamdi Ulukaya’s company was named Dairy Foods’ 2020 Processor of the Year. But 2021 could be Chobani’s year. A documentary exploring its hiring of refugees came out in February and Ulukaya is considering an IPO worth $7 billion.

57. Michael Powers 

President, New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association

Corrections officers across the state were hit hard by COVID-19 – and their union leader was no exception. Michael Powers’ temperature reached 105 degrees and he spent four days in a hospital last April. By November, there were 1,737 cases among the NYSCOPBA ranks, prompting Powers to call for limited visitations and social distancing among prisoners. Currently, he’s suing for paid quarantine leave for guards while opposing a bill passed by the state Legislature banning long-term solitary confinement.

58. Garry Douglas

President and CEO, North Country Chamber of Commerce

Garry Douglas
North Country Chamber of Commerce

The North Country Chamber of Commerce head, who recently unveiled a rebrand and website, has his eye on reopening the Canadian border to help restaurants and tourism-related businesses that suffered in the pandemic. Garry Douglas prefers a phased reopening as the Canadian vaccination effort speeds up. Douglas can at least celebrate the expansion of HVAC, toilet paper and medical supply manufacturers in the area that have had success in the past year.

59. Scott Wexler

Managing Director, Ostroff Associates

Scott Wexler
Moment Catcher Photography

For years Ostroff Associates has been one of the top lobbying firms in the state, and Scott Wexler is one the reasons why. The Delmar resident joined the firm in 2006, and during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic he has helped professional sports teams, entertainment venues and other clients work with government to find ways to reopen. Wexler is also the longtime executive director of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association, a trade association representing small businesses in the industry.

60. Troy Waffner 

Director, New York State Fair

After welcoming a record 1.33 million people through its Geddes fairgrounds in 2019, the New York State Fair expanded to 18 days – but the coronavirus pandemic forced the governor to cancel the event in July. The grounds have since hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic this winter, and State Fair director Troy Waffner shared his cell number with anyone having trouble with appointments. So far the fair is planning to reopen in August.

61. Darryl Williams 

Superintendent, United States Military Academy

When former President Donald Trump wanted to speak at the U.S. Military Academy’s commencement, it fell upon Superintendent Darryl Williams to bring cadets back to campus safely for the event in June. A fraction of graduates tested positive and Williams unwittingly became part of Trump’s viral struggle to descend a ramp, which overshadowed the former president’s speech. Williams has more recently taken a prominent role in examining extremism within the armed forces by pausing the West Point’s activities for a one-day stand-down.

62. Carl Taylor

President and CEO, New York State Electric and Gas

Carl Taylor
NYSEG/RG&E

The upstate utility took a step toward limiting gas emissions by making buildings more efficient and utilizing alternatives to pipelines in a settlement with environmental groups. NYSEG CEO Carl Taylor acknowledged that customers are looking for alternative energy sources, though some new natural gas connections are needed as more people stay home during the pandemic. Taylor has also spurred donations to Finger Lakes food banks during the crisis.

63. Chris Gibson

President, Siena College 

Christopher Gibson
Siena College

You don’t need a Siena College poll to know that former Rep. Chris Gibson might be the Republican Party’s best shot to win the governorship if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s scandals force him from office. Of course, Gibson has been busy lately navigating Siena College through the coronavirus pandemic. Siena’s 12th president spent his first year getting the Loudonville campus back to normal after COVID-19 forced its temporary closure. Returning students had to follow safety protocols or be temporarily dismissed.

64. Ivette Alfonso 

President, Citizen Action of New York 

Ivette Alfonso
Carol Bell

Ivette Alfonso, who has spent her career advocating for issues like a progressive tax system, single-payer health care and racial justice, has seen the coronavirus pandemic further exacerbate income inequality as billionaires saw their wealth skyrocket. The fallout from the past year led Citizen Action of New York to successfully seek rent relief and a moratorium on evictions. Now Alfonso is demanding higher inheritance taxes, bringing back the stock transfer tax and boosting capital gains taxes to make the wealthiest New Yorkers contribute proportionally more to the state’s future.

65. Robert Simpson

President and CEO, CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity

When central and northern New York businesses struggled at the start of the pandemic, Robert Simpson stepped up to help. The CenterState president reached out to his 2,000 member businesses to assess the damage, publicized concerns about reaching customers and resolving supply chain disruptions, prepared a “toolkit” to help stores reopen and secured grants for minority-owned companies. Simpson also helped lure Amazon to Central New York, creating about 1,000 jobs.

66. Mark Eagan

President and CEO, Capital Region Chamber of Commerce 

Mark Eagan
Joan Heffler Photography

Mark Eagan hoped to expand the Capital Region Chamber’s reach last year, facilitating a merger with the Center for Economic Growth in October. But the coronavirus pandemic stressed the group’s businesses to the point that 40% said in December they needed federal assistance to survive. Eagan pushed U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and others for relief and celebrated its passage, optimistic about businesses’ ability to reopen.

67. Catherine Loubier

Delegate General of Québec in New York

The U.S.-Canada border still isn’t open for non-essential travel after closing last year to curb the spread of coronavirus. That’s hurt commerce in Quebec and the North Country – and Catherine Loubier has tried to smooth international relations by lobbying to undo aluminum tariffs and cautioning against “Buy American” measures. The diplomat also supports a hydroelectric pipeline in Washington County and is readying the border’s eventual opening. 

68. Melanie Littlejohn

Regional Executive Director, Upstate New York, National Grid

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo put together his advisory board for reopening the state economy last spring, adding Melanie Littlejohn was a no-brainer. The Syracuse-based energy executive, who’s a National Grid vice president and upstate point person as well as CenterState CEO board chair, has made her mark as a promoter of small businesses and a mentor for up-and-coming leaders. National Grid launched a residential energy savings pilot program in Central New York in November under her watch.

69. Susan Arbetter

Host, “Capital Tonight”

Susan Arbetter
Spectrum News

If you’re looking for a television journalist who encapsulates the intersection between state government and upstate goings-on, there’s no one (ar)better. “Capital Tonight” host Susan Arbetter has kept New Yorkers attuned to the state’s charitable hospitals suing patients during the coronavirus pandemic, the struggles out-of-work tenants and small landlords endured, the Cuomo administration’s underreporting of nursing home deaths and the broader implications of the governor’s burgeoning sexual harassment scandal.

70. Jimmy Vielkind

Reporter, The Wall Street Journal

Jimmy Vielkind is one of the veterans of the Capitol press corps, with a preternatural ability to explain complicated budgetary and legislative maneuvering while dishing out good gossip. The self-proclaimed “Upstate American” thoroughly covered the state’s coronavirus pandemic response, including the governor’s power grabs and the state’s turbulent vaccine rollout. Vielkind’s work is hitting the front page, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home debacle and sexual harassment complaints becoming national news.

71. Tom Nardacci & Andrew Mangini

CEO and Founder; Partner, Gramercy Communications

Tom Nardacci
Gramercy
Andrew Mangini
Andrew Mangini

The upstate marketing communications firm shifted into high gear to help their clients navigate a risky environment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Andrew Mangini had to be patient while the commercial real estate market slowed last spring, while Tom Nardacci paused his coworking spaces, which could ultimately offer an attractive option to companies hesitant about returning to the office. Their firm was acquired by The Martin Group, a Buffalo-based communications firm, in February.

72. Deborah Milone

President, Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce

Deb Milone
Howard Copeland

Deborah Milone has spent the past decade grappling with the prolonged closure of Indian Point and its effects on the local economy. But the Hudson Valley business leader hopes that the speedy remediation of the former nuclear plant site can lead to a future business campus or manufacturing hub. In the meantime, Milone is focused on helping Hudson Valley retailers and restaurants, once sustained by tourism, to survive coronavirus slowdowns.

73. Charles Freni

President and CEO, Central Hudson Gas and Electric

Charlie Freni, President & CEO, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp.
On Location Studios

Central Hudson didn’t have to look far to choose its leader when it elevated Charles Freni in 2018. Freni, who started at the utility as a junior engineer in 1982, provided steady leadership by maintaining gas service and suspending collection activities during the pandemic, warning customers against scams and restoring electricity quickly after tropical storms. The Rhinebeck resident proposed a slight rate hike to improve infrastructure and expand customer assistance and energy efficiency programs.

74. Colette Matthews-Carter

President, Syracuse/Onondaga NAACP

Three months before George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis last year, Syracuse/Onondaga NAACP leaders unequivocally warned of a rising tide of hate in the United States. Since then, Colette Matthews-Carter, the chapter’s president – and a Baptist pastor – has sought to spread love as a leader in the city’s interfaith community. This year, she’s working to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in communities of color and calling for cultural competency training for the Syracuse police force. 

75. Michael Printup

President, Watkins Glen International

The Northeast’s premier stock car racing event regularly draws 100,000 fans per year, but Watkins Glen couldn’t host its annual NASCAR race last year due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, so it was moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. Though Michael Printup was disappointed in the decision, some events were able to return to the Southern Tier venue by the end of the summer, and racing driver Jimmie Johnson said he’s coming to Watkins Glen in 2021.

76. Morgan Hook

Senior Vice President, SKDKnickerbocker

The communications guru and former Gov. David Paterson administration alum is one of the few progressive spokespeople who remember what it’s like to work in an executive chamber before the Cuomo era. Morgan Hook and his firm advised dozens of Democratic candidates for Congress and state Legislature in last year’s election. There will be plenty of opportunities next year, particularly in North Country and Central New York, where four Republican seats will draw contentious reelection campaigns.

77. Lisa Marrello

Managing Director, Park Strategies

Lisa Marrello
Joseph Sebastian

Lisa Marrello thought she might grow up to work for her family’s Latham-based business, Marrello Restaurants and Catering. Instead, Marrello became an attorney and eventually one of the state’s top legal experts concerning health care, education and gambling regulations. Her quarter century of experience at Wilson Elser and Jackson Lewis brought her to Park Strategies in October 2019, and she’s fully prepared to navigate yet another unpredictable legislative session.

78. Leslie Paul Luke

President and CEO, St. Joseph’s Health 

The Syracuse hospital leader’s mantra has been to focus on improving quality first and let everything else follow. When the pandemic struck, Leslie Paul Luke took a 25% pay cut, furloughed 500 employees until surgeries resumed and closed two urgent care centers as a result of a projected $40 million in losses. He urged U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer to secure federal aid as his health care network weathered the intensity of the virus’s wrath.

79. James Reed

President and CEO, St. Peter’s Health Partners

In his nine-year stint as head of St. Peter’s Health Partners, James Reed had never faced a health crisis like the coronavirus. St. Peter’s received $36 million in federal aid last spring to withstand the onslaught of COVID-19 patients, and Reed kept pressing Sen. Chuck Schumer to unleash more relief. The hospital announced a proposed partnership with Ellis Hospital in October and finally loosened visitor restrictions as COVID-19 cases declined.

80. Christopher Del Vecchio

President and CEO, MVP Health Care

Christopher Del Vechhio
MVP Health Care

The Schenectady-based nonprofit health plan made substantial changes in how it delivered benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. MVP covered COVID-19 treatments at no cost-share to members through March 31 in New York and utilized telemedicine to check in on 70,000 members last spring. Chris Del Vecchio, who took the helm at MVP in September 2019, plans to continue utilizing innovations like telemedicine after the pandemic ends.

81. Jennifer Pyle

Executive Director, Conference of Big 5 School Districts

Jennifer Pyle
D. Pyle

After last year’s coronavirus pandemic-influenced budget threatened to slash school funding by 20%, Jennifer Pyle is breathing easier this time around. The Big 5 director, who represents districts including Albany and Syracuse, saw schools cut costs through attrition last year while managing sporadic closures. Pyle, who had pushed for a multibillion-dollar increase in school aid, saw the governor agree to a $3 billion increase in the new state budget. 

82. Stevie Vargas

Upstate Campaign Coordinator, Alliance for Quality Education

Stevie Vargas
Rynn Reed

The Alliance for Quality Education primarily deals with longstanding inequities in public education, but Stevie Vargas has brought the advocacy group into campaign actions surrounding systemic racism in policing and economic disparities in urban and rural areas. Vargas pressured Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state leaders not to slash education funding during the pandemic while urging U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and federal lawmakers to include a “people’s bailout” in congressional relief packages.

83. Christopher Duryea 

Managing Partner, Statewide Public Affairs

Christopher J. Duryea
Lucy Schultz

With all the uncertainty in Albany, it helps to have a steady hand like Christopher Duryea of Statewide Public Affairs navigating choppy political waters. Duryea began his career as an Onondaga County Democratic Party office manager and became equally adept at managing campaigns and crafting legislative strategies for clients doing business with the state. Duryea is also an expert at telecommunications policy, having served as a vice president of the Cable Telecommunications Association of New York.

84. Liz Benjamin

Managing Director, Albany, Marathon Strategies

The former “Capital Tonight” host, who left her perch at Spectrum almost two years ago for the plunge into consulting, remains one of the most admired and plugged-in media figures in the state. Liz Benjamin has offered advice for how businesses and advocacy groups can navigate the news cycle that increasingly revolves around COVID-19 and police reform, and still appears on public television to give her take on Albany in 2021.

85. Maureen Halahan

President and CEO, Orange County Partnership

Maureen Halahan
Orange County Partnership

The Orange County business leader is looking to claim any edge she can get to help lower Hudson Valley companies endure pandemic-related shutdowns. Maureen Halahan pushed to widen Route 17, sought investment in freight rail, wooed warehouse developers and Amazon to the region, and held job fairs to spur a sluggish suburban labor market. She also advocated for tax breaks for Tri-State Logistics and supported the Danskammer power plant despite opposition.

86. Ryan Silva

Executive Director, New York State Economic Development Council

Ryan Silva
Dania Bagyi Photography

Last spring, Ryan Silva, executive director of the New York State Economic Development Council, was focused on striking a state measure that would require developers that receive state incentives to pay workers prevailing wages on their projects. He believed the rule would threaten downtown redevelopment projects. But Silva, who has led the NYSEDC since 2017, soon directed efforts to help industrial development partners share best practices and start making personal protective equipment, as well as connecting struggling businesses with loans and grants.

87. Joe Bonilla

Managing Partner and Senior Media Director, Relentless Awareness

Joe Bonilla
Konrad Odhiambo

The maven of Dove Street helped bring rideshare to upstate New York, promote the craft beer industry, and bolster other brands with business before the state. But the pandemic forced Joe Bonilla to change tack to ensure the survival of several small businesses during state-imposed shutdowns. He sought aid for Albany’s struggling restaurants, forced to close temporarily last spring, and the region’s movie theaters, which have not welcomed patrons for months.

88. Peter Gannon

President and CEO, United Way of the Greater Capital Region

Peter Gannon
Ashley Brown Photography

When Peter Gannon took the helm of the Albany area United Way in 2018, he didn’t realize he would later need to muster every available resource to fend off a deadly contagion. Gannon called on volunteers for assistance last March, disseminated grants to area health centers and community groups and publicly honored donors – including philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who gave a record-setting $5 million. This year the charity has helped seniors by offering assistance with vaccination appointments.

89. J. David Brown

President and CEO, Capital District YMCA

J. David Brown
Gary Gold

When the state shut down indoor gyms and restaurants at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, community centers like the Capital District YMCA were not exempted. David Brown, the organization’s president and CEO, said in June the nonprofit needed $500,000 per month in funding if it couldn’t open its 11 gyms and two camps during the Phase 4 reopening. A lifeline for the organization appeared in December in the form of a historically generous $10 million donation from MacKenzie Scott.

90. Justin Wilcox

Executive Director, Upstate United

When the upstate business advocacy organization needed a new executive director, they turned to a longtime Albany hand with experience navigating state agencies and legislative cubbyholes. Justin Wilcox, currently a Monroe County legislator, joined the pro-growth group in December with the mission of ensuring state officials expedite their regulatory work, reforming unemployment insurance, imposing a moratorium on the Scaffold Law and expanding infrastructure projects in the region.

91. Dorcey Applyrs

Chief City Auditor of Albany

Dorcey Applyrs
Jill Malouf

Dorcey Applyrs has broken barriers since she was first elected to Albany Common Council in 2013 – an ascent that continued in January 2020, when she was tapped by Mayor Kathy Sheehan to be the city’s chief auditor. Her highest-profile audit to date, which examined racial bias in the Albany Police Department, was ordered after George Floyd’s death. Applyrs has also focused on Albany’s response to fighting COVID-19, the pandemic’s disproportionate effects on communities of color, and grossly unequal vaccination rates in different communities.

92. Oliver Kardos

Regional Business Banking Executive, East Region, KeyBank

Oliver Kardos
Key Bank

Oliver Kardos and his colleagues have signed a lot of paperwork this past year. KeyBank disbursed some $8.1 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses nationwide, including about 650 loans in Albany. The bank has given out more traditional loans too, helping refinance a 322-bed student housing property near University at Albany, and partnered with the state Department of Labor on paying out unemployment benefits.

93. Diana Saguilán & Andrea Callan

Interim Co-Executive Directors, Worker Justice Center of New York

In recent years the Worker Justice Center of New York has secured several policy victories in Albany, including legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, new farmworker protections and a ban on the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos. But the organization has plenty more to do as it provides legal services, training and COVID-19 resources for immigrant workers in upstate New York. Diana Saguilán and Andrea Callan have stepped up as the center’s leaders since Lauren Deutsch departed last fall. 

94. Stacey Hengsterman

President and CEO, Special Olympics New York

Special Olympics New York, which hosts 68,000 athletes of all ages and relies on 36,000 volunteers yearly, was forced to cancel its annual summer games in what would have been its 50th anniversary. But CEO Stacey Hengsterman turned the competition into a virtual event complete with inclusive workout sessions. Athletes resumed phased-in training for the fall sports season, and the Special Olympics raised funds for 2021 with a new cookbook.

95. Roger Ramsammy

President, Hudson Valley Community College

For Roger Ramsammy, there’s a lot more to his job than teaching the next generation of students. Besides carrying out the mission of his Troy-based Hudson Valley Community College since 2018, Ramsammy also is an appointee on two influential groups set up by Gov. Andrew Cuomo – the Capital Region Regional Economic Development Council and the Reimagine Education Advisory Council, which was tasked with planning how school districts could reopen safely during the coronavirus pandemic. 

96. Gary Dake

President, Stewart’s Shops

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The popular convenience store chain Stewart’s Shops, an embodiment of upstate life, isn’t just known for its delicious ice cream. Gary Dake instituted a “no mask, no service” policy to protect workers and customers from COVID-19 and held a fundraising drive for area children’s charities that exceeded $1.44 million last year. More Stewart’s stores are on the way after Dake invested $45 million in store expansion and bought its regional competitor Red-Kap.

97. Luis Jiménez

Co-President, Alianza Agrícola

Luis Jiménez
Luis Jiménez

In 2019, Alianza Agrícola’s push for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in New York came to fruition, thanks in part to a Democratic takeover of the state Senate. The group, made up of immigrant workers on dairy farms in Central and Western New York, has spent the past year advocating for adequate protections in response to the coronavirus pandemic. One of its leaders is Luis Jiménez, a Mexican immigrant who helped found Alianza Agrícola in 2016.

98. Tod Laursen & Steve Schneider

Acting President; Interim Provost, SUNY Polytechnic Institute

Tod Laursen
SUNY Polytechnic Institute

Steve Schneider
SUNY Polytechnic Institute

SUNY Polytechnic Institute named Tod Laursen, a State University of New York senior vice chancellor and provost who previously led Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, as the research institution’s acting president in December. Steve Schneider, the interim provost, will also continue to help SUNY Poly find its footing nearly three years since he came on following its former leader’s bid-rigging conviction. Schneider, who studies the political impact of the internet, supported faculty and researchers who developed a rapid COVID-19 antibody test. 

99. Alice Green 

Executive Director, Center for Law and Justice

Longtime activist Alice Green saw the unrest that occurred in Albany last May after George Floyd’s killing as both an uprising and a call to stamp out structural racism. Green, who has long been frustrated with the Albany Police Department’s reluctance to change, believes a recent audit did not examine systemic racism within the department and has been critical of the city’s move to control an arrest diversion program without informing partners. 

100. Zephyr Teachout

Associate Professor, Fordham University

Attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout
Provided by Zephyr Teachout for Attorney General

Imagine how different life would have been if Zephyr Teachout had beat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014. While she lost that race as well as subsequent bids for Congress and attorney general, the Fordham Law professor hasn’t faded into obscurity. She castigated Cuomo over his response to the coronavirus pandemic and the myriad harassment allegations against him. Teachout, who has big ideas about reforming the state constitution to prevent corruption, has applauded state Attorney General Letitia James for holding the governor accountable.

Correction: The name of the organization Upstate United has been updated to reflect a recent change in branding.

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