Latinos are a rising force in U.S. politics. The growing demographic makes up nearly a fifth of the population both in the country as a whole and in New York, while constituting 30% of New York City’s residents. Although New York has yet to elect a Hispanic governor, mayor or U.S. senator, one of the state’s most prominent politicians is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Latina, and she has been floated as a candidate for all three posts.
Of course, Latinos are not a monolith. While President Joe Biden won the Hispanic vote, much has been made of the small but significant gains made by former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Even in New York City, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Islander of Cuban and Greek heritage, acts as a counterweight to progressives like Ocasio-Cortez. And while Puerto Ricans and Dominican Americans are the largest nationalities in New York City’s Latino population, New Yorkers hail from many other Latin American countries as well.
To mark Hispanic Heritage Month, City & State is publishing its latest Power of Diversity: Latino 100. The list, compiled in partnership with journalist Gabriel Arana, highlights the most influential Latinos who are serving in public office, running businesses, leading nonprofits and advocating for policy changes in New York. Roughly half of the list is made up of those with Puerto Rican heritage, and around a quarter are Dominican American, with at least a handful of individuals from Cuba and Colombia and nearly a dozen other countries of origin represented as well.
For the second year in a row, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tops City & State’s list of most powerful Latino politicos. While still a junior lawmaker in the House – she easily won a second term to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District last November – her raw star power and unparalleled communications skills have given her an outsized voice in the national political discourse. She recently locked swords with U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema over the Democrats’ proposed $3.5 trillion infrastructure deal and lambasted President Joe Biden for maintaining the U.S. embargo on Cuba. A right-wing boogeyman and progressive hero, Ocasio-Cortez has become a powerful fundraising machine for both the right and left.
As the first Puerto Rican American elected to Congress in 1992, Rep. Nydia Velázquez has since helped nurture scores of progressive people of color seeking office. This was demonstrated in the last political cycle that included future Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and progressive mayoral hopeful Maya Wiley, where Velázquez endorsed both candidates. In Congress, where she chairs the Small Business Committee, she has been at the forefront of providing New Yorkers with coronavirus relief, helping to send aid to struggling small businesses and expanding the Child Tax Credit.
The first Dominican American elected to Congress – and one of the first two formerly undocumented member’s as well – Rep. Adriano Espaillat has been a stalwart supporter of immigrants’ rights. He recently joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to propose expanding the number of “essential workers” who would be granted a path to citizenship in the Democrats’ massive infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills. Espaillat wields influence back home in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx, where he recently helped his latest protégé, Oswald Feliz, win a seat on the New York City Council.
After leading the state Board of Regents, Betty Rosa was called to lead the state Department of Education on an interim basis during the coronavirus pandemic before being elected to fill the position full time in February. The first Latina to hold the position, Rosa oversaw the reopening of state schools and issued guidance related to COVID-19 safety after the governor – embroiled in scandal – and the state Department of Health failed to do so. Rosa was previously a teacher, principal and superintendent in New York City schools.
In 2019, Félix Matos Rodríguez became the first Latino chancellor of CUNY, the country's largest urban university system with 275,000 students spread across 25 campuses. As a major springboard of upward mobility for low- and middle-income New Yorkers, the CUNY system lifts far more students out of poverty than all eight Ivy League schools in the country combined. Matos Rodríguez has been instrumental in helping students hardest hit by COVID-19, establishing a CUNY emergency relief fund and working with the state to secure $125 million in debt relief.
As the leader of New York City’s largest public sector union, Henry Garrido has defended the rights of government employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has battled City Hall’s effort to mandate vaccination of government employees and called for delaying city government’s return to in-person workdays. He also pushed back against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s threat to lay off 22,000 city workers last year and helped reach a deal to save on health care costs for retirees.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos has used her position as chair of the state Senate Labor Committee to fight for the rights of workers. She led the charge to create New York’s $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund, which will provide payments to undocumented workers excluded from unemployment insurance and stimulus payments. Ramos also sponsored the Child Poverty Reduction Act, which passed in June, and legislation to curb wage theft among construction workers.
Amid calls for criminal justice reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Eric Gonzalez has doubled down on his reputation as one of the nation’s leading progressive prosecutors. Gonzalez is the first Latino district attorney elected in New York and notably stopped prosecuting low-level pot offenses and prostitution charges. He also backed reforming discovery rules to grant defendants better access to evidence and supported granting parole to those who have pleaded guilty and served a minimum of their sentences. In addition, he’s running unopposed as he seeks reelection this year.
Former New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres made history last year by becoming one of Congress’ first two openly gay, Black representatives. The Afro Latino lawmaker has pledged to preserve and expand public housing, having grown up in public housing across a Trump-owned golf course, as well as making the child tax credit permanent. As a member of the House's Financial Services Committee, Torres is among a cadre of lawmakers calling for rental vouchers to be included in the Democrats’ infrastructure spending bill.
After a brief campaign for Bronx borough president this year, New York City Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. abandoned his bid to instead secure another four-year term representing his South Bronx district. Salamanca chairs the influential Land Use Committee and blocked the de Blasio administration’s proposed Southern Boulevard rezoning last year. The Puerto Rican American lawmaker is also a prolific fundraiser and a leader among the Bronx Democrats.
New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera is among a handful of members making a bid for council speaker – and arguably one of the contenders best positioned to win the leadership post. As chair of the Hospitals Committee, Rivera was a key voice on the city’s COVID-19 response. The Lower East Side lawmaker was also instrumental in setting up a $250,000 abortion fund for women whose care is not covered by insurance or Medicaid as well as introducing legislation requiring city-run health clinics to provide long-acting contraceptives.
The first Latino leader of the New York City Central Labor Council – an umbrella organization that coordinates the efforts of some 300 unions in New York City with a total of 1.3 million members – Vincent Alvarez has been effective at coordinating the efforts of public and private sector unions across the five boroughs. As a champion of the NY Hero Act, a coronavirus-era worker protection measure, Alvarez was also appointed to a committee advising the state on erecting a monument to essential workers during the pandemic.
As the coronavirus pandemic brought inequities in health care to the forefront of New York politics, state Sen. Gustavo Rivera’s voice as an advocate for progressive reform has gotten louder. Along with Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Rivera has been the main advocate for the New York Health Act, which would bring single-payer health care to the state. He was an outspoken critic of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policies around COVID-19 and nursing homes – which included undercounting the number of deaths in these facilities.
Backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, Julia Salazar unseated longtime incumbent then-state Sen. Martin Dilan in 2018, making her the first socialist in the state Legislature in nearly a century. Elected during the same cycle as fellow DSA-backed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Salazar has championed progressive policies like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reforming the immigration and criminal justice systems and raising taxes on the wealthy. After the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated an eviction moratorium, Salazar called for a special legislative session to help New Yorkers in danger of losing housing.
Assembly Member Karines Reyes, a former Montefiore Einstein Hospital nurse, has hit the ground running in the state Legislature. She was the primary sponsor of the NY Hero Act, which established workplace protection standards for workers affected by COVID-19, and the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act, which converts dilapidated hotels and commercial properties into residences for homeless New Yorkers. At the height of the pandemic, the former New York State Nurses Association representative returned to Montefiore to care for coronavirus patients.
After two terms representing the New York City Council’s 34th District, Antonio Reynoso is expanding his sphere of influence by winning a competitive Democratic primary for Brooklyn borough president this year. Reynoso, who ran on a pledge to be a “boombox for progressive values,” staked his campaign on areas he had focused on as a City Council member: community-based health care, infrastructure, tenant rights, public housing and criminal justice reform. He has also pledged to ease oft-contentious negotiations between developers and community groups.
After flipping New York’s 19th Congressional District from red to blue in 2018, Rep. Antonio Delgado has helped secure funding for child care facilities and broadband internet for his Hudson Valley district and introduced legislation to keep rural hospitals afloat. Despite calling for then-President Donald Trump’s impeachment in his swing district, he won reelection to a second term last fall – though he may have a tougher fight next year against Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, a Republican now seeking his seat.
The only Republican to represent New York City in Congress after beating one-term Democrat then-Rep Max Rose, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis has served as a foil to left-wing lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While Malliotakis condemned the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, she joined Republican lawmakers who voted not to certify the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Next year, she may face a rematch against Rose, who could face better odds thanks to Democratic gerrymandering.
Before taking on her current role as chair of the influential New York City Planning Commission and director of the New York City Department of City Planning in 2017, Marisa Lago served in the Obama Treasury Department as assistant secretary for international markets and development. She also held key roles in the administrations of former New York City Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins. In addition to helping ensure the closure of Rikers Island, she helped craft a 10-year plan to improve the city’s infrastructure that would total $134 billion.
A tenant organizer who ran with the backing of the Democratic Socialists of America, Marcela Mitaynes became an Assembly member this year after beating decadeslong incumbent Félix Ortiz in the Democratic primary to represent District 51. The Brooklyn lawmaker began her career in advocacy after being evicted from her rent-stabilized apartment of 30 years. As an organizer with Neighbors Helping Neighbors, she helped pass the landmark Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. She was recently arrested protesting a court decision overturning the state’s eviction moratorium.
Assembly Member Catalina Cruz came to the U.S. from Colombia at age 9 and remained undocumented for the next 13 years. As a lawyer who put herself through school working 50-plus hours a week, Cruz now advocates for countless other immigrants. In addition to pledging to build a immigrant welcome center in Queens, she advocated for the Green Light Law, which allows undocumented New Yorkers to obtain driver’s licenses. Last month, she and other lawmakers called on the Biden administration to resettle Afghan refugees in New York.
Havidán Rodríguez has helped the University at Albany and its students weather the COVID-19 pandemic and a decline in revenue across the SUNY system. Rodríguez pivoted to remote learning amid the height of the outbreak and was tapped by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to study the effect of the pandemic on communities of color. He also heads up SUNY’s Hispanic Leadership Institute, which aims to cultivate Hispanic leaders in the university system.
Ana Oliveira has presided over expansive growth since taking helm of the New York Women's Foundation in 2006: The group’s grant-making has shot up from $1.7 million to $9 million by 2019 – and will surpass $100 million in total by the end of the year. Among those grants, $1 million was for women, transgender and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. She is also a commissioner on the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
Fixtures in New York politics and media Luis Miranda Jr. and Roberto Ramírez co-founded political consulting firm MirRam in 2000. Miranda – previously adviser for Hispanic affairs for former New York City Mayor Edward Koch – served on the Senate campaigns of Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Hillary Clinton and was lead consultant to Letitia James in her successful run for New York City public advocate. A former member of the Assembly, Ramírez was formerly Bronx Democratic Party boss and a member of the Democratic National Committee, where he spearheaded efforts to diversify the ranks of elected leaders.
When term-limited New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez leaves his post after more than a decade representing Inwood and Washington Heights, he can take credit for making the city more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. As chair of the Transportation Committee, he pushed the city to commit to creating 250 miles of protected bike lanes as well as adding 83 miles of open streets during the coronavirus pandemic. An ally of Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, Rodriguez campaigned with Adams for legislation letting noncitizens vote in municipal elections.
Jose Lopez, Arlenis Morel and Theo Oshiro took the reins of Make the Road New York, one of New York’s most powerful immigrant rights groups, in April. The trio helped secure $2.1 billion in unemployment benefits for undocumented immigrants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the state’s Excluded Workers Fund. Most recently, the organization praised the House’s passage of a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers.
A longtime Bushwick resident and native of Puerto Rico, Assembly Member Maritza Davila won her seat in a 2013 special election. As chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force in the state Legislature, she oversees the annual Somos conferences, which bring together legislators, scholars and business and labor leaders to discuss policies important to the state’s Latino community. A former community organizer, Davila founded the North Brooklyn Coalition Against Domestic Violence and served on its board for two years.
As a former police officer and one of Long Island’s few Latino elected officials, Assembly Member Phil Ramos has spent much of his time in the state Legislature holding law enforcement accountable. He helped pass legislation making police disciplinary records available to the public and has pushed to close a loophole that allows officers who were fired from one department to be rehired in another. Also, while on the force, Ramos founded the Suffolk County Police Hispanic Society.
Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas brings deep activist roots to her seat in the state Legislature, which she won following an upset victory in the 2020 Democratic primary. The daughter of a mother from Puerto Rico and an immigrant father from Paraguay, González-Rojas was previously executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice and president of the New Immigrant Community Empowerment, which works on behalf of vulnerable immigrant workers.
Since ousting then-Assembly Member Carmen Arroyo last year, who is a Democratic Party fixture, Assembly Member Amanda Septimo has made a name for herself in state politics. She organized protest sleepovers outside then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “War Room” this spring and attended the Hunts Point Teamsters Local 202 strike, helping the union build pressure for a deal on a new contract. She was previously community liaison and then district director for then-Rep. José E. Serrano.
Having won the Democratic primary to keep her seat, New York City Council Member Diana Ayala is expected to easily coast to a second term when she reportedly plans to mount a bid for city council speaker. Before being first elected in 2017, Ayala served as the deputy chief of staff of her predecessor, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Among her accomplishments was voting to close down Rikers Island – a legacy defining priority for her former boss, Mark-Viverito.
New York City Council Member Francisco Moya was the first Ecuadorian American lawmaker to hold public office when he was elected to the state Legislature over a decade ago. He is now poised to win a second term on the City Council after winning the Democratic primary. Representing a district dubbed as the “epicenter of the epicenter” of COVID-19, Moya said he has focused his tenure responding to the pandemic by protecting workers’ rights and housing. He sponsored a recently passed law reining in food delivery services, which includes limiting the fees these services can charge restaurants to be no more than 20%.
The first Latina to head the agency that oversees New York City's taxis, Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk helped licensed taxi drivers weather the pandemic by creating the $39 million TLC Delivery Program, which allowed drivers to earn money making deliveries to food-insecure New Yorkers. Earlier this year, she also launched a $65 million bailout plan for indebted taxi drivers, whose medallions have plummeted in value with the rise of ride-sharing companies.
Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez served in high-profile public sector and nonprofit roles before joining the de Blasio administration as head of the Department for the Aging, which runs 250 senior centers, delivers meals and provides other social services to 1.64 million elderly New Yorkers. During the worst of COVID-19, she shuttered senior centers and launched mobile services – providing pick-up meals, mental health assistance and information about the pandemic and vaccination – until they reopened in June. She’s now overseeing the agency’s expansion with a $58 million investment from the city.
As the leader of the state office combating addiction in New York, Arlene González-Sánchez has been grappling for more than a year with the devastating impact of COVID-19. González-Sánchez has overseen a pivot to telehealth, mobile treatment and other measures to ensure New Yorkers under her purview have access to care while staying safe. The commissioner, who has led the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports for a decade, has also spoken out in support of masking requirements due to the coronavirus.
Elected to the state Senate in 2004 after three years on the New York City Council, José Serrano represents a district spanning a swath of Manhattan and portions of the South Bronx, including Mott Haven and Melrose. The son of longtime former Rep. José E. Serrano, the younger Serrano chairs the chamber’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation, drawing on his former experience as a staff member at the New York Shakespeare Festival. In 2013, he was appointed as chair of the Senate Democratic Conference.
Although Assembly Member Nathalia Fernández lost her bid for Bronx borough president in the Democratic primary this summer, she remains a rising star in the state Democratic Party. Representing Bronx neighborhoods like Allerton and Morris Park in the state Legislature since 2018, the daughter of a Cuban American father and Colombian American mother started her political career as a staffer for then-Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj. In 2017, Fernández moved on to serve as then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo's liaison to the borough.
Appointed as secretary of state by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2016, Rossana Rosado oversaw a major restructuring of the State Department and launched the Liberty Defense Project, which provides legal services for immigrants, regardless of status, who need representation. A native of the Bronx, Rosado served as editor-in-chief and publisher of El Diario Nueva York, the country's oldest Spanish-language newspaper, and has garnered Peabody and Emmy awards for her journalism and advocacy work.
The second Latina to serve on the state Court of Appeals when her appointment was confirmed in 2013, Associate Judge Jenny Rivera previously clerked for then-Southern District of New York Judge Sonia Sotomayor and worked for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Prior to joining the state's highest court in 2016, Associate Judge Michael Garcia had served as the Manhattan U.S. attorney, where he investigated a prostitution ring that led to the resignation of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
A staffer to Mario Cuomo during his years as secretary of state, lieutenant governor and governor, Tonio Burgos’ ties extend beyond New York City and Albany to Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and New Jersey, which the top lobbyist represents on the Democratic National Committee. TBA recently hired two Latino directors, Oliver Riquelme and Elvin Garcia, to help expand its services to the Latino political campaigns and organizations. Noteworthy clients include American Airlines, the Greater New York Hospital Association and Pfizer.
Sonia Ossorio has led the National Organization for Women of New York chapter since 2014. Once a strong ally of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Ossorio called for his resignation on behalf of the group’s 20,000 members amid a spate of sexual harassment allegations this year. With the New York City Council poised to comprise a majority-female delegation next year, Ossorio stands to have even more support for her policy goals. In June, NOW-NYC pushed the New York City mayoral candidates to address sexual assault and street harassment.
Frankie Miranda runs the Hispanic Federation, which helps coordinate the efforts of more than 300 Latino nonprofits. While rising through the ranks of the organization – he was previously executive vice president – Miranda has spearheaded the expansion of the organization with field offices in Florida and Puerto Rico. During COVID-19, Miranda has been at the forefront of efforts to provide Spanish-language information about the virus, tie vaccination to food drives and monetary support and set up vaccination centers in accessible locations.
As the first gay and Latino director of the powerhouse American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero has increased diversity at the organization and presided over its rapid expansion while former President Donald Trump was in office. When the organization’s budget tripled to $300 million, its attorney workforce doubled, and the group filed over 400 lawsuits against the Trump administration. Under Romero’s leadership, the ACLU has expanded its programming to combat racial injustice, launching a program earlier this year that seeks to address systemic racism.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Edwin Quezada has shepherded Yonkers Public Schools through the coronavirus pandemic – including school closures and a shortage of bus drivers – and a delayed in-person start to schools this year because of Hurricane Ida. Quezada, who first joined Yonkers Public Schools as a human relations facilitator in 1998, became assistant principal at Charles E. Gorton High School in 2000, principal of Emerson Middle School in 2003 and principal of Lincoln High School in 2004 prior to his current role.
A superintendent of one of the state’s “Big 5” districts, Jaime Alicea navigated a shift to remote learning in Syracuse during the coronavirus pandemic and the return to in-person instruction earlier this month. The Syracuse City School District recently secured $128 million in federal funds to help address learning loss. Alicea started in SCSD 38 years ago as a teaching assistant in a kindergarten class. He then rose through the ranks to become chief operations officer of the district before assuming his current role.
As news director of the only 24-hour, Spanish-language news network in New York City, Roberto Lacayo sees his mission not only as informing the city’s nearly 2 million Spanish-speaking residents, but helping new immigrants navigate the city. The network’s news model – in which reporters must live in the areas they cover and make assignments – served the station well during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing the station to report on developments in local neighborhoods. Under Lacayo's tenure, NY1 Noticias has also begun collaborating with papers like Diario de México.
A health care economist specializing in population health management, payment and delivery systems and the social determinants of health, José Pagán has one foot in academia and another in practice. He serves as board chair of NYC Health + Hospitals – the country’s largest public hospital system – and chairs New York University’s Department of Public Health Policy and Management. His research has been funded by the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
More than a quarter-century ago at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Guillermo Chacón joined the Latino Commission on AIDS, where he continues to oversee a range of prevention, treatment and advocacy efforts. Chacón was recently named to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and is also a member of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Last year, he and other activists launched the COVID-19 Working Group to draw attention to the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on marginalized communities.
A scholar of Latino identity and the son of immigrants from Mexico and Spain, Fernando Delgado ascended to the top post at Lehman College, CUNY’s only senior college in the Bronx, earlier this year. The Hispanic-serving institution with 15,000 students – over half of whom are first-generation college students – made headlines last year when MacKenzie Scott gifted the school $30 million. Delgado was previously the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Cesar Perales has spent much of his tenure on the SUNY Board of Trustees helping to make its 64 campuses and institutions of higher learning more inclusive. He also has a career in public service that goes back decades. He was an assistant secretary for health, education and welfare under former President Jimmy Carter and secretary of state to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A longtime activist who has been called “Northeast’s César Chavez,” Perales co-founded the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
In July, Georgia Pestana was confirmed as the first Latina and first woman to lead the New York City Law Department, which handles the city's legal affairs. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Pestana is the first lawyer selected to lead the department from among the organization's own ranks, after having served there for 33 years. She started her career at the Law Department after graduating from New York University School of Law in 1987.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lisette Camilo to head the Department of Citywide Administrative Services in 2016. As commissioner, she oversees the city’s real estate, contracting and civil service – and during COVID-19, that has meant extensively assessing and upgrading heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems in city buildings. Camilo was previously director of the Mayor's Office of Contract Services and city chief procurement officer. Before working in the de Blasio administration, Camilo served as legislative counsel for the New York City Council.
Ana Bermúdez is the first openly gay and first Latina to be appointed commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. She has decades of experience advocating for children and teenagers, including previous experience at the department as deputy commissioner of juvenile operations. She was recently named to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Racial Justice Commission, which will recommend ways to improve racial equity in the city.
Omar Toro-Vaca handles the retail portfolio at top lobbying firm Kasirer, where he has worked with clients including Boston Properties, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Navy Yard, The Related Companies, Atlantic Yards and the New York Building Congress. As a trained architect, Toro-Vaca came to Kasirer after serving as principal at Assembly Design Studio and associate principal at SHoP Architects. He is a graduate of the Pratt Institute School of Architecture and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
A partner at the top-tier consulting firm Bolton-St. Johns, Teresa Gonzalezs advises a range of corporate, real estate and nonprofit clients. Gonzalez, who has extensive experience in governmental offices and nonprofit organizations, also remains a principal at DalyGonzalez, a women-owned consulting firm she launched in 2015. Before joining Bolton-St. Johns, Keyla Antigua worked as assistant director of public policy at one of New York City’s largest nonprofits, Children’s Aid, where she developed and implemented the organization’s policy agenda.
After serving a term and a half on the New York City Council, Rafael Espinal went on to head the Freelancers Union, which has more than a half-million freelancers as members. On the City Council, he was instrumental in passing the 2016 Freelance Isn’t Free legislation, which put new protections in place for freelance workers. With millions of Americans working from home due to COVID-19 and the continuing expansion of the gig economy, Espinal’s work is increasingly important.
As president and CEO of the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, Michael Nieves has expanded the network's viewing audience to 10 million Latino households and more than 44 million viewers. Before joining HITN, Nieves served as a political adviser to dozens of campaigns, including those of Bronx Democratic Party boss José Rivera and Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez. He is secretary of Somos, an influential gathering of Latino political leaders.
Editor’s note: Michael Nieves is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
ImpreMedia's influential news brands include Spanish-language periodicals like La Opinión, La Raza and El Diario Nueva York, collectively reaching a global audience of 31 million each month. Adaime, who has overseen the portfolio’s vast digital expansion – it boasts about 2 million fans on social media and 300,000 newsletter subscribers – was previously vice president of digital before taking the helm of the organization as CEO in 2018.
As one of the country's most recognized and respected Latina journalists, Maria Hinojosa is an anchor and an executive producer on the Peabody Award-winning show “Latino USA” as well as a co-host on the popular podcast “In The Thick.” In 2010, she founded her own production firm, Futuro Media, with the goal of producing multimedia content from a minority perspective. Hinojosa is also a contributor to CBS’ “Sunday Morning” and a frequent guest on MSNBC.
Paloma Izquierdo-Hernandez has run the Urban Health Plan, founded by her father in 1974, for decades. From its modest roots in the South Bronx, it has grown into one of New York’s largest community health centers. With a $144 million budget, it operates 12 primary care clinics, a mental health clinic and 12 school-based centers in high-need areas, serving more than 90,000 New Yorkers per year. This spring, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped her organization to help vaccinate bodega and grocery workers.
After making his mark at the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, Jason Ortiz has in recent years launched two consulting firms: the lobbying, communications, organizing and political action firm Blue Suit Strategies, which he led, and Moonshot Strategies, which he co-founded with StudentsFirstNY veteran Jenny Sedlis this year. Ortiz was also behind a pro-Eric Adams super PAC that helped propel the Brooklyn borough president to a pivotal victory in the Democratic mayoral primary.
Camille Rivera brings years of experience in organized labor to the progressive political consulting firm New Deal Strategies, which seeks to “lift up the voices of women, people of color, the working class and the LGBTQ community.” She was previously national political director for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; national deputy political director of the Service Employees International Union, where she helped get out the Latino vote in several states; and executive director at UNITED NY, which mobilized fast-food workers seeking a $15 minimum wage.
Rafael Cestero is at the forefront of New York's efforts to create more affordable housing. As the chief of Community Preservation Corp., he helps finance affordable housing and community revitalization projects. The group recently allocated $937 million in financing to create and maintain multifamily housing in underserved areas in addition to $20 million for entrepreneurs who are people of color. Cestero was formerly head of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
After three terms as Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr. abandoned his bid for mayor during the Democratic primary this election cycle, returning money to donors and endorsing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the eventual victor. He has been a major political player in New York politics for nearly a quarter century. Whatever his next steps will be, Diaz brings years’ worth of political connections and experience to his future endeavors.
As co-executive director of VOCAL-NY along with Jeremy Saunders, Alyssa Aguilera helps push lawmakers to address homelessness, mass incarceration and drug policy. VOCAL-NY has been among the organizations calling for cuts to police funding in the wake of racial justice demonstrations last summer and has turned its attention to tenant rights as eviction moratoriums expire. She was previously a community organizer with the Health Justice program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
Head of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance for more than a decade, Eddie Bautista has advocated for waste disposal, storm resiliency and climate change policies that protect low-income communities. NYC-EJA has sounded the alarm amid public crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, which Bautista says exacerbated existing health inequalities for poor New Yorkers in low-income areas with higher pollution and rates of respiratory disease, and Hurricane Ida, which caused sewage overflows in predominantly minority communities.
As a national spokesperson on environmental justice, Elizabeth Yeampierre is executive director of Sunset Park-based climate justice group Uprose. After successfully lobbying the state to turn the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into a wind turbine manufacturing hub by 2025, Yeampierre met with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to discuss bringing even more green businesses to the area. Also, as an attorney, she co-chairs the Climate Justice Alliance and was the first Latina to chair the Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Lourdes Zapata returned to lead the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. in 2019 after a five-year stint in state government that included serving as chief diversity officer in the Cuomo administration. The first woman and Latina president of SoBro, Zapata oversees 500 housing units, 30,000 square feet of office space and a $15 million budget. She was previously director of community development and senior vice president at SoBro, where she had worked for 17 years. Zapata also serves on the mayor’s COVID-19 Small Business Sector Advisory Council.
Marcos Crespo entered the Assembly as one of its youngest members in 2009 at the age of 28. After serving in the state Legislature for more than a decade – where Crespo chaired the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force and the Committee on Labor – and as Bronx Democratic Party boss, Crespo left elected office to handle community and government affairs at Montefiore Health System. Among his first duties in his new position, he represented Montefiore during a major nurses’ strike in New Rochelle.
With more than 100 affiliates in seven states and 150,000 beneficiaries, the Acacia Network is one of New York City's largest providers of housing for the homeless – and the largest Latino-led nonprofit in the state. As head of the organization, Raul Russi helps maintain the organization's support of those with mental health challenges and chronic health conditions. Before coming to the Acacia Network, Russi was a Buffalo police officer, superintendent of the Erie County Correctional Facility and chair of the New York State Board of Parole.
Dr. Ramon Tallaj and Mario Paredes oversee a massive network of 2,500 primary care physicians and specialists that deliver health care to more than 700,000 Medicaid recipients – many of them immigrants – in New York City. Paredes directed operations at the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops and was an adviser to the late Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop of New York. He also founded the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center. Tallaj cofounded what is now Somos Community Care under the state’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program in 2015, which emphasizes quality of care and medical outcomes. Another co-founder, Henry Munoz III, is a successful businessman who has long been active in Democratic politics, including as the former finance chair for the Democratic National Committee and as a key official on the Biden campaign who helped with Latino turnout in 2020.
As leaders of the New York City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Nick Lugo and Cindy Estrada help promote the city's Hispanic businesses. A veteran of the travel and publishing businesses, Lugo has helped grow the 116th Street Festival into the largest Hispanic food festival in the world. He’s also a longtime member of the board of directors of Ponce De Leon Federal Bank. Estrada, who has helped the organization expand its membership since its launch in 2006, previously opened a women's designer boutique and founded a clothing manufacturing business.
Formerly the chair of New York City Health + Hospitals, Rosa Gil went on to found Comunilife in 1989. The nonprofit provides housing and other services for at-risk and homeless Latino New Yorkers. This year, Gil announced the opening of a 32-unit residence in the Bronx for singles making 60% the median area income, and the building also has 46 supportive housing units. She also served on the state’s Vaccine Equity Task Force, which has sought to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach underserved communities.
Correction: A previous version of this entry incorrectly described Comunilife's new residence in the Bronx.
Nearly two decades ago, Rolando Acosta became the first Dominican immigrant to be elected justice to the Supreme Court in New York County. He was then appointed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer to join the appellate division in 2008 and was elevated further by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017 to assume the court's presiding justice role. So far in his post, Acosta has been a fierce advocate for diversity on the bench.
Despite an independent expenditure funded by a Walmart heiress in support of another candidate, tenant rights attorney Oswald Feliz won a March special election to replace Rep. Ritchie Torres in the New York City Council – and emerged victorious again in the June Democratic primary. The lawmaker is a protégé of Rep. Adriano Espaillat, whose 2016 campaign Feliz worked on. Feliz also founded the Bronx political club Northwest Bronx Democrats for Change in 2019.
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Although Mauricio Gutierrez’s NRG Energy is consolidating its headquarters in Texas instead of having corporate offices in both Houston and New Jersey, the multistate energy company maintains a large footprint in the Northeast – including New York, where it has power plants upstate and downstate. The energy company’s proposed repowering of a peaker plant in Astoria with more efficient gas-fired turbines is at the center of a debate over the future of efforts to combat climate change in the state.
As the leader of the Velez Organization, a construction firm started by her father, Elizabeth Velez has earned a national reputation as an advocate for diversity. In her position as president and chief contract officer, she has presided over the construction of 600 units of affordable housing in the Bronx and Harlem and more than $10 billion in major projects. She is also commissioner of the New York City Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform.
After a decade at the helm of Make the Road New York – the state’s largest immigrant rights group – Javier Valdés was tapped to head the Ford Foundation’s Civic Engagement and Government program in May. In this role, he will lead strategy for the foundation’s democracy-building efforts. At Make the Road New York, Valdés was instrumental in helping launch IDNYC, New York City’s municipal identification card, and limiting the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in the city.
In 2019, Alicia Guevara became the first Black and Latina woman to head the Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. The country's first – and New York City's largest – youth-mentoring organization, it has paired disadvantaged youth with mentors for more than a century. A Bronx native, Guevara, who took the group's programming virtual during the pandemic, has pledged to grow its membership in her home borough. She previously ran Part of the Solution, which feeds the needy.
Since taking the helm of consumer publication Consumer Reports in 2014, Marta Tellado has built the magazine's subscriber base into a membership organization of 6 million. As a self-described “change agent,” Tellado has expanded the organization’s privacy and security testing for digital products and launched television shows on NBC and Telemundo. She was previously vice president for Global Communications at the Ford Foundation and worked for Ralph Nader and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley.
Lupé Todd-Medina’s Effective Media Strategies works with campaigns in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. She was recently a senior adviser and spokesperson for New York City mayoral candidate Ray McGuire. She has also advised Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “I looked in the mirror and decided it’s time to open my own thing,” Todd-Medina told City & State recently regarding her decision to run her own shop. “So I’ve decided to bring my own folding chair to the table like Shirley Chisholm.”
Editor’s note: Lupé Todd-Medina is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
This month, Lourdes Rosado took the reins of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a New York City-based Latino rights advocacy group that was established as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund in 1972. Rosado previously served as program director at the New York Civil Liberties Union and chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the Office of the New York State Attorney General. She succeeds Juan Cartagena, who retired after leading the organization for a decade.
After serving nearly a year as interim president of Eugenio María de Hostos Community College in the Bronx, part of the CUNY system, Daisy Cocco De Filippis was appointed to the position on a permanent basis in July. A recognized scholar in women’s studies, Cocco De Filippis is the first Dominican woman to serve as head of the institution, which has a large Latino student body. She was previously president of Naugatuck Valley Community College, where she was the first Dominican president of a community college in the U.S.
Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick served for nearly two decades on the state Court of Appeals – where she was the first Latina and second woman on the state’s highest court – before joining Greenberg Traurig as of counsel for the firm’s New York litigation and appellate practices. She is chair of the New York City Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary, co-chair of the New York State Justice Task Force on wrongful convictions and chair of the New York State Board of Law Examiners, which administers the bar exam.
With an extensive background field organizing in congressional campaigns, Jorge Perez has risen up the ranks of the top-tier political consulting firm The Parkside Group, which is known for its campaign work as well as handling government affairs for corporate clients. Perez, who was previously a senior associate at the firm, was named digital director earlier this year. With more than 20 certifications in digital advertising, Perez has helped service major government and corporate clients such as FreshDirect, AT&T and Microsoft.
After falling short in her bid to become the first transgender member of the New York City Council, Elisa Crespo was appointed to lead LGBTQ rights group The New Pride Agenda in June. Under her leadership, the group – which emerged after same-sex marriage was legalized in the state – plans to focus on public health, housing, jobs and combating police violence against LGBTQ New Yorkers. A former sex worker, Crespo supports an ongoing effort to decriminalize sex work in the state.
As a government affairs manager at the communication infrastructure firm Crown Castle in New York, Ana Rua is one of the state's leading telecommunications professionals. An immigrant from Colombia, Rua works to empower underserved communities by connecting them with technology and access to the internet. Rua previously ran the state’s $500 million broadband initiative to wire rural parts of New York state with internet access and has advised policymakers in 16 states about telecommunications policy.
Since arriving in Albany to cover state politics for The Associated Press in 2019, Marina Villeneuve has made a name for herself with groundbreaking coverage of the Cuomo administration’s undercounting of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 – and subsequently documented the dramatic downfall of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the ascension of Gov. Kathy Hochul. Villeneuve was previously a staff reporter at The Record, where she covered five city governments in Northern New Jersey, and was a AP statehouse reporter in Maine.
Prisca Salazar-Rodriguez in 2019 landed at the political strategy consulting shop Hilltop Public Solutions, where she most recently served as a senior adviser for Latino operations on Ray McGuire’s New York City mayoral campaign this cycle. Also, the Bronx native was previously director of scheduling and executive operations for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and deputy chief of staff to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Since 2010, David Garza has led Henry Street Settlement, which offers social services, arts and health care programs for Lower East Side residents. The nonprofit – which has 450 full-time staff and 400 seasonal workers – has received an influx of private and public funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Garza is also focused on sustaining the organization’s expansion long term. He serves on the boards of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition and the New York City Regional Economic Development Council.
Quenia Abreu co-founded the New York Women's Chamber of Commerce in 2002 and has led it since 2004. The only women's chamber of congress in the state has since offered training to more than 10,000 women and helped female entrepreneurs access $15 million in funding and $30 million in procurement contracts. Abreu also launched a women and minority business development center in Manhattan in 2006.
As editor of the Manhattan Times and the Bronx Free Press – sister publications published by the MirRam Group’s Luis Miranda Jr. and Roberto Ramírez Sr. – Debralee Santos is deeply connected to New York's communities of color. She helped chronicle the coronavirus pandemic and its toll on New Yorkers and is a frequent guest on public radio, where she recently spoke about then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation in light of the sexual assault allegations made against him.
Eddie Cuesta runs Dominicanos USA, which helps Dominican American immigrants apply for citizenship and register to vote. As head of an organization that helped register 100,000 Dominican Americans in its first year of voting registration efforts, Cuesta has helped fuel the political power of the city’s burgeoning Dominican population. The community stands to further expand if lawmakers adopt a proposal to allow noncitizen New Yorkers to vote in municipal elections.
Up until early this year, Sheila Garcia led the Bronx-based Community Action for Safe Apartments, or CASA, which has pushed for a right to counsel and other tenant protections at the city and state level. She remains the director of organizing at New Settlement, which launched CASA. As a tenant member of New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board, she helped the city enact its fourth rent freeze in the last seven years, affecting 1.2 million units of regulated housing stock in New York City.
Nancy de Delva twice campaigned for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and was a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Sanders supporters who were members of New York’s DNC delegation that year went on to found the New York Progressive Action Network, which de Delva now co-chairs. She is also a member of the New Queens Democrats and has pushed for the Queens Democratic Party to have more transparency.
The appointment of Ariana Collado as the Bronx Democratic Party’s executive director was among Bronx Democratic County Committee Chair Jamaal Bailey’s key moves in diversifying the borough’s representation. Former chief of staff to New York City Council Member Andrew Cohen, Collado has seen a remarkable increase in female representation among the Bronx’s elected officials – with New York City Council Member Vanessa Gibson set to be the borough’s first female president.
As president and chief executive of social services organization RAIN Total Care, Anderson Torres oversees 13 senior centers in the Bronx and Manhattan in addition to an array of other services for elder New Yorkers, including home care, case management, housing, advocacy and education. The organization, which was founded in 1965, has been led by Torres since 2013. He previously worked at the American Diabetes Association.
A rising star in Brooklyn’s Democratic Party, Samy Nemir-Olivares is a Latinx queer activist and the party’s district leader of the borough’s District 53, representing Williamsburg and Bushwick. Nemir-Olivares has been involved in local grassroots activism since 2016. Through his work at the Center for Popular Democracy, Nemir-Olivares has advocated for safe conditions for refugees, an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages and voting rights.
As artistic director of Ballet Hispánico, Eduardo Vilaro helped the largest Latino dance company in the country weather the coronavirus pandemic and celebrate its 50-year anniversary. A former dancer with Ballet Hispánico himself from 1988 to 1996, Vilaro founded Luna Negra Dance Theater in Chicago before returning to New York. Born in Cuba and raised in the city, Vilaro strives to capture the diversity of the Latino experience and its connection to other diasporas through dance.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera's bill expanding access to contraceptives had passed. She has introduced it but it has not passed.
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