Asian Americans are gaining political power in New York. In 2018, John Liu and Kevin Thomas became the first Asian Americans elected to the state Senate. This year, they were joined by state Sen. Jeremy Cooney, the first upstate Asian American elected to state office. Jenifer Rajkumar and Zohran Mamdani also made history in last year’s elections as the first South Asians elected to the Assembly, where they joined fellow Asian American trailblazers Ron Kim and Yuh-Line Niou. Although Andrew Yang’s mayoral bid fizzled, as many as half a dozen Asian Americans are on track to secure seats in the New York City Council, up from two currently in office.
Of course, Asian Americans are not a monolithic group – a reality reflected on City & State’s latest Power of Diversity: Asian 100. The largest subgroups are Chinese and Indian Americans, and some of the most influential individuals – including Yang, Liu, Niou and Rep. Grace Meng – are Taiwanese Americans. Koreans also make up a sizable share of the list – which was researched and written in partnership with journalist Natasha Ishak – while Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam are all represented as well.
This year has been a roller-coaster ride for Rep. Grace Meng: She survived the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, then in May her COVID-19 hate crimes legislation, which directs the Department of Justice to expedite review of hate crimes against Asian Americans, was passed by Congress. “Everybody in our country deserves to feel safe, and that includes the Asian American community,” Meng said when the bill was passed. In Congress, she is also a founder of the Kids’ Safety Caucus, and a member of the Quiet Skies Caucus.
It’s been a dramatic year for Assembly Member Ron Kim, who made national news as the main whistleblower to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rumored bullying tactics in the alleged cover-up of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes. Kim also graced the cover of this magazine in May. He also passed legislation to repeal a provision shielding nursing homes from lawsuits during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is among the most high-profile progressives in Albany.
State Sen. John Liu is best known for two things: his political grit – having built a trailblazing career as one of New York’s most successful Asian politicians – and his “Ironman” stamina, once completing a “bike ride” from Queens to Albany. But Liu isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He played an active role in this year’s elections, and introduced legislation which would require all New York public schools to teach Asian American history.
Following her 2016 election, the Taiwanese American Yuh-Line Niou has served as an Assembly member representing a Lower East Side district. She has supported COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts for constituents in her district and spoken out publicly against anti-Asian violence. The fierce critic of Gov. Andrew Cuomo took on another powerful politician recently, rescinding a mayoral endorsement of City Comptroller Scott Stringer following sexual harassment allegations against him. She has helped secure $450 million for NYCHA capital repairs and teamed up with Assembly Member Ron Kim to create the state's first Asian Pacific American Task Force.
New Yorkers may recognize Dr. Dave Chokshi from his appearances clad in a white coat in the health department’s COVID-19 vaccination awareness ads. Before becoming New York City’s top health official – and the agency’s foremost public figure as part of its $120 million COVID-19 media campaign – Chokshi served as NYC Health + Hospitals’ chief population health officer, leading the transition to telemedicine in the early stages of the pandemic. He has also taught at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad suffered a 97% drop in ridership at the coronavirus pandemic’s peak, with numbers still down by as much as 70% on weekdays. But Phillip Eng, a Long Island native who has served as the LIRR’s leader since 2018, seems confident in the system’s adaptability to New York’s changing commuter ecosystem. To help boost ridership, the LIRR expanded summer services, and in July, will offer special discount beach packages for passengers.
State Sen. Kevin Thomas is New York’s first South Asian American state senator, and one of the only three Asians in the chamber. He vocally supported extending aid for India as the COVID-19 crisis there worsened, and worked with lawmakers and advocates on public campaigns against anti-Asian racism. The Long Island lawmaker also sponsored a bill that was signed into law by the governor that protects payments made to individuals under prescribed emergency relief statutes, like COVID-19 stimulus aid, from money judgment collection.
The office of state Attorney General Letitia James is busy juggling many cases. This includes its effort to shut down the National Rifle Association, probes into former President Donald Trump’s business, an antitrust battle with Facebook and an investigation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s alleged sexual misconduct. Also, it was the office’s discovery of discrepancies in the COVID-19 death toll for nursing home residents that catalyzed a federal investigation of the governor. One of the highest ranking Asian Americans in state government, Ibrahim Khan, has a full plate shaping strategy and managing a 1,800-person agency.
Margaret Chin is one of only two Asians on the New York City Council. In 2009, she made history as the first Asian woman elected to the City Council, and will end her 12-year tenure at the end of this year due to term limits. She’s been busy fielding inquiries from her Chinatown constituents about the city’s rash of anti-Asian hate crimes, and in May she co-sponsored a resolution urging Congress to pass legislation expediting review of such crimes.
As the City Council member representing Flushing’s Council District 20, Peter Koo has been vocal about New York’s public safety issues in part due to the rise in anti-Asian violence. The Queens District Attorney’s Office recently honored him as one of their influential Asian American leaders during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Though he’ll be term-limited out at the end of the year, his strong ties in the borough ensure that he will still hold influence after he leaves the council.
Few political consultants are as well-connected as Neal Kwatra. With his impressive experience in government and political organizing, Kwatra has built Metropolitan Public Strategies into an effective advocacy arm for various clients and causes, from census outreach efforts to unionized hotel workers’ rights to the state’s first offshore wind project. His insights were frequently sought in the lead-up to the pivotal New York City primaries this year.
Andrew Yang first made waves as an underdog in the 2020 presidential race as a champion of universal basic income. This year, Yang, who was born and raised in Schenectady, parlayed his newfound fame into early front-runner status in his bid for New York City mayor – which was bolstered by endorsements from the likes of Rep. Grace Meng and state Sen. John Liu. The nonprofit leader and entrepreneur’s campaign ultimately fell short, as he conceded when initial Democratic primary returns showed him in fourth place.
Longtime New York Power Authority chief Gil Quiniones recently unveiled a new STEM hub in upstate New York and affirmed NYPA’s plans to distribute $500 million in community investments and to double its spending for minority- and women-owned businesses over the next five years. Prior to his current role, Quiniones was an executive at Con Edison and also served as senior vice president of energy and telecommunications for the New York City Economic Development Corporation under Mayor Bloomberg, and led the administration’s Energy Policy Task Force.
A former housing activist, Zohran Mamdani won the seat for New York’s 36th Assembly District in Queens last year as a card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America. His DSA-backed victory made him the first South Asian man elected to the Assembly, and one of the few Muslim legislators to be elected to the chamber. An avid environmentalist, he has pushed to prohibit the development of new major fossil fuel-generated electric facilities in the state.
In a true rags to riches story, Jeremy Cooney went from being an orphan in India to serving in the state Senate in one of the biggest and most influential states in the United States. Last fall, Cooney became the first Asian American from upstate New York elected to state office. The Rochester native, who was adopted and raised by a single mother, worked for Rep. Louise Slaughter, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren before mounting his trailblazing state Senate bid. He now chairs one of the state Senate’s two committees on cities.
Jenifer Rajkumar became the first South Asian woman elected to the Assembly after securing the seat for New York’s 38th Assembly District in Queens last year. Before then, she was an Assembly candidate and district leader in lower Manhattan, lectured on law at CUNY, and, as a lawyer, served as New York’s director of immigration affairs and special counsel. Among her most recent legislative proposals is a bill seeking to establish Diwali as an official school holiday.
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As head of the country’s largest Asian American social services organization, Wayne Ho is a leader in Chinatown and beyond. Ho recently broke ground on a new headquarters and community center to be housed in a 330,000-square-foot building in lower Manhattan. While Ho applauded $10 million in state aid for Asian American community-based organizations to address anti-Asian hate and respond to COVID-19, he criticized the failure to act on the New York Health Act – an end to a 24-hour home care work rule and the parole reform.
Joon H. Kim has been a key legal player in New York for years. He is now one of two lead attorneys hand-picked by Attorney General Letitia James to head an independent sexual harassment investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He led the prosecution against Cuomo loyalist Joe Percoco as acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, having taken on the prominent role when then-President Donald Trump unceremoniously fired Preet Bharara. Kim is a practicing partner with New York law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.
The Asian American Federation supports over 70 nonprofits under its umbrella organization with Jo-Ann Yoo at the helm. Under Yoo’s leadership, the federation provided cash assistance and secured funding for Asian-owned small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The group also received funding from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $3 million anti-prejudice initiative called Partners Against The Hate to support their work advocating on behalf of Asian American New Yorkers.
Over the years, Peter Tu has been a mainstay among Asian American business leaders, especially in Queens. Under his leadership, the Flushing Chinese Business Association signed an affiliation agreement with the Queens Chamber of Commerce, enabling both institutions to share resources and information to support their member businesses. Tu also co-organized a joint press conference with the local New York City Police Department 109th Precinct and influential lawmakers to condemn anti-Asian hate crimes.
Bhairavi Desai was a strong advocate for the state’s taxi drivers even before she took up the mantle as head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Desai has pushed government officials to resolve the taxi medallion crisis that has spurred a spate of suicide deaths among drivers grappling with unexpected debt. She also fought for financial aid for taxi workers during the pandemic. In March, Desai criticized New York City’s relief plan for owner-drivers as a "giveaway for lenders."
S. David Wu made history as the first Asian American president of Baruch College last year, elected as the college’s eighth serving president. Wu’s first order of business was forming the “Task Force for the Future” to address the college’s long-term goals in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. In May, he launched Baruch’s new Financial Engineering Hub, an interdisciplinary collaboration to provide students with real-world financial trading experience by industry experts.
As Queens College president, Frank Wu has guided faculty and students through complex changes caused by COVID-19 while providing extra support to Asian students who make up a quarter of the student population. “At a moment when we're all suffering from the pandemic, they're suffering from another pandemic – the pandemic of racism,” Wu told NY1 in May. The college received a financial boost from the Queens Borough President’s Office as part of a $4.5 million CUNY investment.
Jim Dao has held multiple titles since joining The New York Times in 1992, serving as the paper’s Pentagon correspondent and its Albany bureau chief, among other roles. He was reassigned from his role as op-ed editor after the posting of a controversial essay by Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, who argued for military intervention amid last year’s protests. Dao was deputy editor at the national desk before replacing Cliff Levy as metro editor.
Ai-jen Poo has been a driving force behind laws protecting domestic workers in recent years. Her organization for home care, house cleaners and nannies set up a COVID-19 relief fund for workers, and continues to advocate for labor-related interests like universal child care. “This idea that we should, as a country, be investing in our caregiving programs and policies – and our workers – as essential infrastructure, I think, came about because of that (pandemic) awakening,” she said in a May profile by Vogue.
Since 2014, Bill Chong has led the Department of Youth & Community Development in partnering with nonprofits to provide after-school programs and other services for the city’s youth. To support families after a tough year of remote learning, the department launched Summer Rising, a free summer program open to children in grades K-12. “DYCD and our network of community providers are excited to join DOE in keeping classrooms open this summer for safe learning, child care, connection and fun,” Chong said in April.
Jainey Bavishi, who led the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency for four years, has continued her work heading the Mayor's Office of Climate Resiliency following New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s restructuring of the administration’s climate change-related offices. Bavishi spearheads the city’s climate adaptation efforts, which entails overseeing a budget of more than $20 billion in new resiliency projects. This is so that the city can build proper infrastructure to ensure the protection of residents amid the climate crisis.
A lawyer by training, Carmelyn Malalis has battled forms of discrimination all of her life. “I am not the picture of power that people envision in their heads,” she said of her background as a second-generation lesbian Filipina in a Bustle interview last year. Her office battles discriminatory practices on matters including housing, employment and health care. Last year, she launched a COVID-19 Response Team and allocated $100,000 for a multilanguage informational campaign.
Anne del Castillo is a Filipino American, and heads the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. She oversees one of New York City’s largest economic sectors encompassing film, TV and Broadway. Her leadership will be crucial as the city reopens its arts and entertainment venues. Several recovery initiatives are already underway, like the $25 million City Artist Corps to bring creative programming – and, by extension, new jobs and tourism – back to the city.
Satish Tripathi has raised the University at Buffalo’s profile in his 10-year tenure, moving the SUNY school up in rankings with the aim of becoming a top-25 public research university. As a native of India and the university’s first president born abroad, Tripathi has guided the institution through the coronavirus pandemic and is preparing for a more normal campus experience this fall. For the past four years, Tripathi also served as chair of the Council of Presidents for the Mid-American Conference.
Pat Wang is committed to ensuring that low-income New Yorkers are able to access health insurance. She leads the largest nonprofit health insurer in New York, Healthfirst, which provides 1.6 million residents with health insurance. Last year, Wang served on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team II and was appointed co-chair of New York’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force. She was recognized as one of the top women leaders in health care by Modern Healthcare magazine.
IBM, one of the oldest computing firms in the world, has ongoing government contracts with several state agencies, providing the company with strong connections in New York. The Armonk-based company has made big moves since Arvind Krishna’s appointment as company chair and CEO last year. IBM capitalized on acquisitions like its $34 billion buy-out of Red Hat, a multinational software company, and launched its first quantum computer outside of the U.S. in Germany.
As the mayor’s counsel, Kapil Longani encountered new challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, and crafted creative solutions in expediting the city’s COVID-19 response. Longani credits his family and mentors, like his former boss, Rep. Elijah Cummings, for instilling public service values in him. “We’ve been working on COVID from March of last year … and the goal every single minute has been to protect the public health of all New Yorkers,” Longani told City & State this spring.
Faiza Saeed, a first-generation Pakistani American, is behind some of the country’s major dealings. As leader to one of New York’s most prestigious firms, Saeed brokered lucrative business agreements for powerful clients like Disney’s $85 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, and Occidental Petroleum’s $57 billion Anadarko purchase. She was named Corporate Lawyer of the Year by The American Lawyer, and was dubbed as one of Hollywood’s “top dealmakers” by The Hollywood Reporter.
Under John Park’s leadership, the MinKwon Center for Community Action offers resources and guidance to the Korean American communities in Flushing. The center actively provides coronavirus pandemic aid, promotes vaccination resources and conducts voter outreach in partnership with New York City officials. The group also advocates for immigration reform policies like President Joe Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act, and expanded its legal challenge to target the City Council after its vote to approve the Flushing waterfront development last year.
Kim Pegula’s dual roles as president of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres – teams she co-owns with her husband, Terry Pegula – make her one of the most powerful women in professional American sports. Her leadership was tested under the weight of the pandemic following her company’s mass lay-offs of Sabres staffers. The powerhouse is now navigating the reopening of Highmark Stadium after receiving government approval to open to full capacity.
Joseph Tsai is a Taiwan-born billionaire who made his fortune co-founding Alibaba Group, the Amazon-like e-commerce platform in China, and became one of the world’s richest sports team owners after purchasing the Brooklyn Nets. Tsai joined the board of the recently created Asian American Foundation, which aims to raise and redirect more corporate, philanthropic and private funding toward organizations serving AAPIs. The foundation has already secured $1 billion in commitments.
Margaret Fung is a lawyer and longtime advocate for New York City’s Asian American communities. Her legal work has led to monumental cases like Chinese Staff v. City of New York, in which the state’s highest court mandated that new developments in Chinatown be reviewed under environmental laws. Under Fung, AALDEF received $205,000 from corporate donations to provide communities with legal assistance amid the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes.
F&T Group is one of Flushing’s most active developers, with Richard Siu playing a lead role. As part of the FWRA developer consortium, the company won approval from the New York City Council for the controversial Special Flushing Waterfront District development. Its construction plan includes a 13-tower mixed-use complex of housing, hotels, offices and shops across 29 acres of land in Queens. In a 2016 interview, the company’s leadership spoke of their ambitions to turn the area into an “Asian Times Square.”
Labor leader Maf Misbah Uddin wears many hats. For more than two decades, he has led Local 1407 Accountants, Statisticians and Actuaries, and has been the treasurer of District Council 37 since 2004, New York City’s largest public employee union. He founded the Alliance of South Asian American Labor, which has backed successful South Asian candidates for elected office in Albany and New York City in recent months. Uddin also pushed for New York City to make Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr public school holidays.
Jean Kim made headlines this year when she came forward with sexual harassment allegations against New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, which stalled his mayoral bid and prompted a number of his supporters to rescind their endorsements. Yet political insiders have long known Kim as an effective lobbyist and campaign organizer. Kim – who’s also a standup comedian – has worked for the likes of John Liu, Diane Savino and Doris Ling-Cohan, who’s New York’s first Asian woman to serve as a state Supreme Court judge.
Penny Abeywardena was at the forefront of New York’s global collaborations to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis, leading New York City's diplomatic corps – the largest of its kind in the world. At the height of the pandemic, her office secured 250,000 surgical masks from the United Nations and sent medical supplies to help India's COVID-19 response. Abeywardena also sits on the board of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization.
Chung Seto is a seasoned political operative who holds deep ties locally and nationally thanks to her decadeslong career. She worked as a spokesperson under then-President Bill Clinton’s U.S. Department of Labor before shifting to New York politics, working on campaigns for local politicians like state Sen. John Liu. Seto is an active campaigner for local candidates running in lower Manhattan, and worked with city and state officials to promote Chinatown businesses during the worst of the pandemic.
Amid debates over New York City’s specialized school entry exam, Anita Gundanna and Vanessa Leung have become vocal advocates for educational reforms. The pair have taken on other causes, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reverse his opposition against legislation to require state agencies to disaggregate health data on Asian Americans by ethnicity. They also urged state lawmakers to dedicate funding for social services and initiatives supporting New York’s Asian communities.
Satjeet Kaur has led the Sikh Coalition, the country’s largest Sikh civil rights group, since 2018 after serving in multiple positions within the organization. She is one of New York’s most visible Sikh leaders advocating for the community’s rights in and outside of the state. In April, Kaur spoke to the press on anti-Asian violence against the Sikh community following the Indianapolis FedEx warehouse mass shooting, where half of the victims were Sikh.
A native New Yorker, Dr. Anthony Shih started his career serving immigrant and refugee families at a mental health clinic in California. He moved back to New York City and took on leadership roles at the New York Academy of Medicine and The Commonwealth Fund before joining United Hospital Fund. In addition to advocating for equitable health care, the nonprofit also identified the leading New York City mayoral candidates’ views on a range of health care policy issues – and not just COVID-19.
Carl Hum’s past posts include stints at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Small Business Services, making him a knowledgeable figure on New York’s inner workings. But Hum and his colleagues are contending with a rising progressive movement opposed to real estate developers. As counsel to the Real Estate Board of New York, the leading developer trade group in the city, he’ll now have to grapple with the anti-developer progressives elected onto next year’s City Council.
An award-winning political reporter for one of New York’s largest news channels, Emily Ngo kept New Yorkers up to speed on the citywide primary elections through her campaign reporting. In addition to covering City Hall, Ngo has been a frequent guest on the network’s “Inside City Hall” segment with veteran host Errol Louis, offering New Yorkers insight on today’s politics. She previously reported for local outlets including Newsday and the New York Post.
Sherry Chan oversaw two of the largest pension funds in Ohio before becoming New York City’s chief actuary officer in 2015. In her role, Chan oversees the city’s multibillion-dollar pension system – one of the largest in the U.S. – for 800,000 employees and public pension recipients. As the first Asian American in her role, Chan hopes to mentor and open doors for others like herself in the government ranks.
With more than a decade of organizing under her belt, Hae-Lin Choi has helped shape the Communications Workers of America into one of the most politically active workers unions in New York. Last year, Choi’s chapter joined nine other labor groups calling on state lawmakers to raise taxes on its wealthiest residents, a measure that was included in the state’s 2022 fiscal year budget and is expected to generate $4.3 billion in new annual revenue.
CeFaan Kim started his journalism career as a videographer and field producer for NY1 before eventually moving through local newsrooms as a reporter covering important community stories and politics. He joined ABC7 New York in 2015 and, more recently, reported extensively on the spike of anti-Asian hate crimes in the city. He was recruited as a correspondent for ABC News this year and now works out of both newsrooms.
With his hit podcast “Stay Tuned with Preet,” a residency at New York University, and appearances on TV, Preet Bharara has certainly kept busy since his 2017 ousting as Manhattan U.S. attorney by then-President Donald Trump. He remains a respected figurehead in New York’s political circles. Also, it turns out, he’s slowly building a media empire: Cafe Studios, the podcast company which he co-founded, was just acquired by Vox Media.
As partner at the law firm Kramer Levin, Terrence Shen represents New York’s top corporate interest clients like MVC Capital in its merger with Barings BDC, which represents more than $1.5 billion of assets. Shen is also the president of the Asian American Bar Association of New York. Under his leadership, the association released Know-Your-Rights literature, hosted public forums on rising anti-Asian hate crimes and organized candidate forums for New York’s district attorney races.
My Chi To is an accomplished attorney and is a top executive at New York’s Department of Financial Services overseeing its insurance division, which regulates over 1,400 insurance companies in the state. To supported the department’s new guidance issuance to insurers amid the coronavirus pandemic while protecting New Yorkers through a multitude of policies. She required providers to defer premiums for clients facing financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and partnered with companies to provide assistance to policyholders.
Linda Chen has a strong track record in public education, holding leadership roles in Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia before becoming chief academic officer in New York City. The former Manhattan school principal manages separate divisions in the department as the city transitions between remote and in-person learning, providing instructional guidance to educators. Ahead of the next school year, Chen is focusing efforts on students who were already struggling academically before the switch to remote learning.
Angela Sung Pinsky’s years of experience in and around New York City government no doubt come in handy in her role as a top government affairs executive for Google in New York. She was formerly the head of the nonprofit civic group the Association for a Better New York and a former senior vice president with the influential Real Estate Board of New York. Sung also served as a mayoral appointment on the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the oversight body for the New York City Police Department.
Wellington Chen made history as the first Asian American commissioner on the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals before assuming his leadership post at Chinatown Partnership. He was working with the city to revitalize Chinatown’s economy when he became an unfortunate witness to a neighborhood stabbing in February, before protests against anti-Asian violence gripped the country. “We have a second virus,” he said of the hate crimes on a Zoom panel of Asian American leaders.
Jeremy Kohomban is a lifelong advocate for child welfare reform. He primarily serves as president and CEO of the award-winning nonprofit The Children’s Village, providing residential and community programs to thousands of children in New York. He testified to the governor’s Juvenile Justice Task Force to produce a blueprint for juvenile justice reform in the state. He also sits as co-chair of the state Strategic Plan Action Committee Local Continuum and Coordination Structure on Juvenile Justice. In addition, Kohomban leads another nonprofit, Harlem Dowling.
John Albert served as counsel at Bolton-St. Johns, a top New York lobbying firm working with clients in the business and nonprofit sectors, before his promotion this year to partner. The South Asian American lawyer advises a diverse clientele on government relations and policy, and successfully pushed legislation such as New York’s anti-stalking law and anti-hate crimes law. Albert was chair of the New York City Bar Association’s State Affairs Committee.
Marian Guerra last fall joined the team at Kasirer, New York City’s top lobbying firm. Guerra, who is of Filipino descent, previously worked with New American Leaders, which supports progressive candidates of color. She also worked as deputy chief of staff and director of legislation and budget for New York City Council Member Margaret Chin, one of just two Asian Americans currently serving in the legislative body. Guerra is on Kasirer’s team dealing with nonprofit organizations, a major area of focus for the firm.
Jeffrey Lee’s areas of expertise are economic development and tax incentives. He led the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s strategic investments group for six years before joining Capalino, a top lobbying firm in the city. At Capalino, Lee leads a team of experts to guide clients in identifying and developing new ways for innovative growth. Lee, who is of Chinese and Colombian descent, serves on an advisory council for CUNY startups.
Joo-Hyun Kang is a queer Korean American organizer and police reform advocate. She leads Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition encompassing more than 60 community organizations across the city. The group pushes for meaningful budget cuts to the New York City Police Department and supports legislation like the Safer NY Act, which led to the repeal of 50-a last year. The coalition also advocates on behalf of families of victims of police violence like Eric Garner.
Nayan Parikh is a businessman and construction industry leader, holding multiple contracts with state and federal agencies since he founded his construction management firm in 1998. In addition to running a successful business, Parikh has been a strong advocate for New York’s minority business owners, serving as president of the New York Tri-State Chapter under the National Association of Minority Contractors, and as a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Council for MWBEs.
Asian Americans for Equality is a nonprofit organization which has operated in New York for 46 years, providing access to social services and other programs for Asian New Yorkers. As co-heads of AAFE, Sun and Yu are leading efforts to provide communities with support amid the pandemic, when immigrant workers and Asian business owners must contend with the double-effects of an economic turndown and racist attacks. The organization helped residents secure PPP and other loans.
Ruchi Shah is associate general counsel at Cockroach Labs, the creator of a cloud-based, distributed SQL database. She previously served as corporate counsel at Knotel, was a legal fellow at the Obama Foundation and an associate at DLA Piper. She’s also president of the South Asian Bar Association of New York, a professional development and resource organization of the South Asian legal community.
As a Muslim organizer, Zara Nasir splits their time as a coordinator for The People’s Plan NYC, a collective of social justice groups across New York City, and as a deputy director at New York City Anti-Violence Project, which serves LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of hate crime violence through social programs. Nasir was also a lead organizer of the Association of Legislative Employees, the union representing nearly 400 New York City Council staffers.
Dr. Ashwin Vasan is a primary care physician, public servant and nonprofit leader. He was the founding executive director of the Health Access Equity Unit at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before joining Fountain House as president and CEO in 2019. The nonprofit’s all-encompassing model to its housing program has garnered public praise and has been replicated in over 30 countries. Dr. Vasan is also an assistant professor of clinical population and family health and medicine at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Dr. Ashwin Vasan is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Ali Chaudhry has an extensive legal and government background, having held multiple positions in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. As senior vice president at AECOM, a Fortune 500 construction management firm, Chaudhry oversees a number of projects, acting as a bridge between the company’s architects and engineers with local lawmakers. The self-proclaimed “infrastructure nerd” has worked on several prominent transit projects so far, including the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and the LaGuardia AirTrain.
Sam Chang is the founding chair of McSam Hotel Group, a prominent developer specializing in budget accommodations across New York City. After a tough business year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company has been selling several of its hotels, including a Chelsea property sold to an unknown buyer for $147 million. At least eight of Chang’s businesses received millions in federal small business loans, which a company spokesperson said went to retaining employees.
As a political strategist, Trip Yang has an impressive record. He has guided such politicians as Letitia James, Eric Gonzalez, Donovan Richards, Margaret Chin and Jumaane Wiliams to election victories. He also led Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in New York as political director. Yang also sits on the advisory board of the New Leaders Council, a nonprofit that recruits and trains young progressive leaders.
Trip Yang is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Archana Jayaram’s extensive background in New York City government and social justice affairs – with stints at the Department of Correction, the Department of Buildings and the Department of Homeless Services – prepared her well to serve as chief operating officer at The Legal Aid Society, the oldest and largest legal aid provider in the U.S. With Jayaram’s assistance, the organization is consolidating its offices into a 200,000-square-foot space in Tribeca, one of the largest office leases this year.
Jason Wu advocates for LGBTQ rights as co-chair of GAPIMNY-Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders. The all-volunteer, membership-based organization, formerly Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York, was a lead organizer among organizations against the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on the grounds that it doesn’t address root causes of violence. Wu recently was promoted to the role of attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Harlem Community Law Office. GAPIMNY’s other co-chairs are Ryan Shen and Jason Kwong.
Wei Bo is an international businessman with more than 30 years of experience in commercial and residential property investment. In 2013, Bo oversaw Fosun’s $725 million purchase of One Chase Manhattan Plaza. He has since expanded the Chinese company’s footprint as one of New York’s most known developers, with a portfolio that boasts the city’s tallest condo building. Outside real estate, Fosun International has holdings in other sectors like retail and health care.
While he’s now the new head of The Door, a nonprofit providing development services for youth, Kelsey Louie is best known as the long-serving CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, New York’s venerable AIDS service organization. Over his seven-year tenure, Louie oversaw the organization’s $28 million annual budget, expanded programs to include supportive housing and mental health services, and increased outreach to transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.
For the past decade, Sayu Bhojwani supported immigrants seeking elected office through her New American Leaders organization. Since the beginning of the year, she has shifted focus to supporting women of color in elected office through Women’s Democracy Lab, another organization she founded. “We’re definitely getting more diversity in office, but folks are still asked to work in a system that wasn’t made for them,” she told her alma mater, Columbia University Teachers College. The India native and naturalized U.S. citizen was also New York City’s first immigrant affairs commissioner.
Sayu Bhojwani is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
As a community-based primary care physician, Dr. Henry Chen has served New York City’s Asian communities in Manhattan and Brooklyn for two decades. He leads several health care organizations in the city, primarily serving as president of SOMOS Community Care, a physician-led network boasting over 2,500 health care providers. Dr. Chen is on the executive committee for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force, formed to ensure underserved communities have access to the state’s vaccination services.
As president of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, Taehoon Kim drives the organization’s work to ignite economic development in Queens’ Flushing neighborhood, which boasts a large number of Korean- and Chinese-owned businesses. Kim has pushed to reopen the neighborhood’s business center safely as COVID-19 wanes and was among a number of community leaders who signed a petition urging the New York City Council to vote against the Flushing waterfront development, which is now embroiled in a legal challenge from residents.
Executive Director John Choe, who has served as a member of Community Board 7, chief of staff to then-City Council Member John Liu and developed the One Flushing project into the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, ran for City Council District 20 but fell short in the June Democratic primary.
As founder and president of the Asian American Business Development Center, John Wang leads the organization’s efforts to promote and extend resources to Asian American businesses in New York. Most recently, the AABDC launched Project Rebuild, which aims to connect minority-owned small businesses with big corporate donors to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The group also joined the U.S. Black Chambers and U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in a joint letter urging CEOs to commit to fighting hate crimes against Asians.
Shandra Woworuntu is a sex trafficking survivor, advocate and founder of Mentari, a nonprofit supporting trafficking survivors through service programs and supportive housing. The New York City-based organization has strong ties with community leaders and New York officials, and has been distributing mutual aid to its clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Woworuntu, who is originally from Indonesia, recently testified in an online hearing before Congress on evidence of trafficking and child exploitation on adult websites.
Justin Yu is a journalist-turned-community leader residing in Manhattan’s Chinatown. As chair of The Chinese Chamber of Commerce of New York, Yu has used his connections to business figures and New York officials to move the needle on local issues like the planned construction of a new jail in Chinatown, New York City’s school reform plans and the reopening of senior centers. He has spent the year advocating for Chinatown businesses and increased protections for Asian New Yorkers.
Annetta Seecharran’s life’s work centers around uplifting underserved New Yorkers through economic equity and development at Chhaya, a community development corporation based in Queens. She held similar leadership roles at nonprofits like United Neighborhood Houses and the South Asian Youth Action. Last year, Seecharran testified in a congressional hearing on the financial barriers faced by underbanked immigrants. She also led the economic development committee for Donovan Richards’ transition to Queens Borough Hall.
Paul Mak founded the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association in 1988 to serve the borough’s growing Chinese community, and since then he has worked with advocates and officials to fulfill the community’s needs. Mak’s organization hopes to revitalize Sunset Park, which is inhabited by largely working-class and undocumented residents hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. “We were like six or eight weeks ahead of New York City as far as businesses being affected,” Mak told Vox earlier this year.
As a lawyer and longtime Queens community advocate, Ali Najmi wears many hats. He co-founded the South Asian Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens and the Muslim Democratic Club of New York. He also serves on the city’s Taxi Medallion Task Force. More recently, Najmi won a lawsuit against USPS Postal General Louis DeJoy – who is now under FBI investigation – to reverse the postal service’s slowdown ahead of presidential elections in New York.
Under Ali Rashid’s leadership, the American Pakistani Advocacy Group delivered over 10,000 grocery packages in its COVID-19 food drive and amplified resources accessible for New York’s Pakistani Americans. APAG is also a political group, endorsing and canvassing for candidates in the New York City mayoral and Manhattan district attorney races. The group joined Emgage NY and YAMA Action to form the Muslim Agenda 2021 Coalition, which sought to engage and advocate on behalf of Muslim voters ahead of the city’s elections.
Pabitra Benjamin is a queer Nepali American advocate and head of Adhikaar, New York’s most visible advocacy group serving Nepali domestic workers. The group works with other grassroots organizations to lobby for worker-friendly legislation like the New York City Council bill to expand the city’s definition of employer to include those who hire domestic workers. Benjamin co-authored a report highlighting the social and economic contributions of Nepali TPS holders published by Adhikaar and partner organizations.
As the chief executive of Transit Wireless since 2018, Melinda White is among the few women of color holding C-suite roles in New York’s telecommunications industry. As CEO, White directs the company’s operations in providing 5G communications-related infrastructure services to private and public clients. The company forged an ongoing business agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to provide wireless internet service to the city’s underground transit system.
HeeWon Brindle-Khym has dedicated her life to fighting for workers' rights. She was a senior research analyst at UNITE HERE, which represents 300,000 members in the North American hospitality sector, and was a director at the Fair Labor Association. Now, as director of research and global strategies for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, she oversees corporate research and international outreach.
The Sung family runs Abacus Federal Savings Bank, one of the longest-operating community banks in Chinatown. The Sungs – Thomas is the founder, and his daughter Jill is president and CEO – dealt with a five-year lawsuit with the government and, since their acquittal, have spoken publicly about their case, which financial observers portray as the scapegoating of a small immigrant business following the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. They continue to serve Chinatown residents throughout the pandemic, with all six branches of their family bank open for business.
Mon Yuck Yu is a board member and manages the day-to-day operations of the Academy of Medical & Public Health Services, a nonprofit health organization serving immigrants in New York. She oversees the organization’s programming, outreach and advocacy. Yu also helped organize the Dumplings Against Hate fundraiser to support Chinatown businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, she previously worked at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Chinese-American Planning Council and the office of then-Assembly Member Felix W. Ortiz.
Kewsong Lee, an Albany native, is a key player as CEO of Carlyle, one of the first private equity firms in New York. He serves as a board member for a number of prominent associations and organizations, including as president of the Lincoln Center Theater’s board and as a trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Lee’s influence in the business sector had him appointed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s advisory board for enterprise to support the state’s reopening.
Angela Wu is a product of New York City’s Hunter College High School and Harvard University. She then became educated in New York government as an Empire State Fellow under Gov. Andrew Cuomo before transitioning to project management in the private sector. Now, as director of state and local government at public sector consulting firm Guidehouse, she provides clients with guidance related to risk management and regulatory compliance and business process redesign.
As partner at Windels Marx, Sanjay Mody represents clients across industries including government and real estate. Mody played a big role in developing New York’s infrastructure. He supervised projects like the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, and the redevelopment of an airport terminal when he was a senior advisor to the chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Additionally, he is founder and president at Spectacle Holdings, a New York City-based real estate investment and development firm.
Andrea Jang took on the title of chief operating officer at Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group, a boutique real estate advisory firm, right at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. “I am proud of how quickly our firm has adapted to new ways of working together and doing business with clients and lenders remotely,” she told trade publication Bisnow. Jang advocates for diversity and equity as co-founder of Asian Americans in Commercial Real Estate, and through her work with Apex for Youth.
Anu Joshi has served in her role as vice president of policy for about a year. She has been with the New York Immigration Coalition, one of New York’s most visible organizations serving immigrants, since 2016. She was deputy director for the group’s political action arm beforehand. Joshi, who holds a master’s degree in social welfare from California’s UC Berkeley, oversees the policy directives of the coalition. She previously worked with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Geetanjali Gupta has served in her role as chief investment officer of the New York Public Library since 2018, leveraging her experience as a financial expert – with a prior post at the Harvard Management Company in Boston – to manage more than a billion dollars in assets at the institution. The NYPL’s hundreds of library branches became the lifeline for many communities as critical connectivity and resource centers during the pandemic, yet had to fight to fend off proposed budget cuts this year.
Jenny Low is a longtime Chinatown advocate. She has been serving as a district leader since 1995 – the first Asian American to hold the position – and joined New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson as director of his office’s Administrative Services division. Low set her sights on the term-limited Council Member Margaret Chin’s lower Manhattan district this year, earning endorsements from prominent lawmakers including Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Grace Meng, but ultimately fell short.
Ahsia Badi is no stranger to community engagement and advocacy. As a Muslim woman and South Asian American, Badi has focused her civic work largely on mobilizing Muslim New Yorkers, notably through her recent position as the census director for Emgage New York. As former president of the Tilden Democratic Club and former second vice chair on Manhattan’s Community Board 6, Badi leveraged her influence to campaign for candidates in this year’s primaries – and drew an audience for her candidate interviews and discussions on Clubhouse.
Kaushal Challa is the head of management at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. He was previously the chief operating officer for ambulatory care services at NYC Health + Hospitals, where he managed the implementation of a centralized contact center operation. The community health center, which has served New York City’s Asian communities through its five branches in lower Manhattan and Queens since 1971, secured $10 million in federal funds to continue its COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
When COVID-19 first hit New York City and hammered Chinatown businesses, Jennifer Tam and Victoria Lee were determined to help. The duo launched Welcome to Chinatown, which began as a charity drive. Now it’s a fully formed grassroots initiative promoting Chinatown businesses. It’s also one of the few sources of financial relief the neighborhood’s businesses are able to access. Lee also ran for district leader representing the Assembly District 65.
Chhaya Chhoum first came to the U.S. as a Cambodian refugee. Now, Chhoum is helping New York’s underserved refugees from Southeast Asia as a community organizer and head of Mekong NYC, which is based in the Bronx. The nonprofit group collaborates with other grassroots organizations to distribute mutual aid support and to provide access to services like vaccinations, both of which have been difficult to access by the city’s immigrant communities.
Correction: Due to a posting error, an earlier version of this feature included incorrect details for Queens College President Frank Wu. This post has also been updated to reflect the latest number of grocery packages delivered by the American Pakistani Advocacy Group.
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