In recent months, New York’s political world has been fixated on Western New York. While the previous governor gave plenty of attention to the region, Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took office last month, is a Western New York native who’s certain to look out for local interests. Earlier in the summer, the socialist candidate India Walton notched a major upset victory in the Democratic primary against Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, only to find herself facing off against him again in the general election. Change is also afoot in Rochester, where Malik Evans is on track to become that city’s next mayor. And although they didn’t get off to the start they wanted, the Buffalo Bills might even have a shot at getting to the Super Bowl this season – and maybe, just maybe, winning it all.
The time is right, then, to introduce City & State’s first Western New York Power 100. The list, which is a sequel of sorts to the Upstate Power 100 published earlier this year, features movers and shakers who play a more crucial role in and around the cities of Buffalo and Rochester and the broader Western New York Region. The list, which was researched and written in partnership with local journalists Geoff Kelly and Justin Sondel, highlights the government officials, real estate developers, business executives, nonprofit leaders, academics, activists, advocates and others who are revitalizing the region.
The first woman to lead the Empire State, Gov. Kathy Hochul has ascended to one of the most important and difficult jobs in politics, not just in New York but nationwide. Hochul faces a litany of challenges following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, including an ongoing pandemic, rising rates of violent crime and crumbling infrastructure. The well-connected Western New York native and former member of Congress will look to hold on to the office while facing likely challenges from Democrats and Republicans next year.
Since his election to the U.S. Senate in 1998, Chuck Schumer has visited Western New York often during his near-constant crisscrossing of the state. Now, with Schumer as U.S. Senate majority leader, Western New Yorkers have one of the most powerful elected officials in Washington in their corner. Schumer is a familiar face in the Buffalo area, often stopping to make announcements on issues like affordable housing and international border crossings with nearby Canada.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has never been in a stronger position. Once an East Side community activist, Buffalo’s Peoples-Stokes has now notched 18 years in the Assembly, the last three as majority leader, and has managed to stay largely free of internecine political squabbles and scandals. In the last session, she achieved what might be the capstone of her career: ushering in state legislation legalizing recreational marijuana and ensuring tax revenue raised from the new industry would benefit communities that suffered most from its criminalization.
First elected to Congress in 2004, Rep. Brian Higgins has long been one of the region’s most powerful politicians. A member of both the House’s influential Ways and Means Committee and Budget Committee, Higgins is in the rooms where the purse strings of the federal budget are held. Often out front and vocal on issues important to Western New Yorkers – he recently pushed for the reopening of the Canadian border – the South Buffalo stalwart enjoys broad support throughout the region.
When Matthew Pagels won election to the presidency of the Seneca Nation of Indians last year, he became an integral part of its work toward a new casino compact with the state just as it reached a critical juncture. With the current agreement expiring in 2023, Pagels will need to negotiate with state officials on a compromise to keep the Seneca’s casinos, which have brought in more than $1.5 billion over the past two decades, running smoothly.
Rep. Joseph Morelle stepped into some big shoes in 2018 when he won the congressional seat long held by the legendary Louise Slaughter. In 2020, the Democrat fended off a primary challenge from his left flank on his way to winning a second term. And now, with new census numbers requiring New York to lose a seat in Congress, Morelle will be at the epicenter of the coming redistricting battle, as state Democrats seek to isolate Republicans and protect their own. As a former Assembly majority leader, Morelle could have enough juice in Albany to get the district he wants.
They haven’t yet figured out a winning formula for the Buffalo Sabres, but the Pegulas certainly have improved the fortunes of the Buffalo Bills. Also, as real estate developers, Terry and Kim Pegula made a mark, too, so much so that locals refer to the blocks around the KeyBank Center as “Pegulaville.” Now, seven years after the billionaire couple purchased the Bills, they’re angling for a new $1.4 billion football stadium in Orchard Park, with taxpayers reportedly required to foot a significant portion of the bill.
Electronics dealer-turned-real estate developer Douglas Jemal made his mark in Washington, D.C., before ultimately amassing more than 180 properties over the years throughout the East Coast in the ensuing decades. Now the owner of Buffalo’s long-beleaguered HSBC Tower, which he has redubbed Seneca One Tower, Jemal is involved in some of the region’s most iconic, if difficult, projects – the Richardson complex chief among them – that could significantly alter Buffalo’s real estate landscape.
One of a handful of billionaires in Western New York, Bob Rich Jr., whose father started Rich Products Corp., a global frozen foods distributor, has held sway in Buffalo’s business and political circles for decades. Well known as a generous contributor to political campaigns, many politicians have worked hard to earn his endorsement. Rich has also been a driving force behind the push to redevelop downtown Buffalo: He helped keep the Buffalo Sabres in town during a rough patch for the team and owns the Buffalo Bisons minor league baseball team.
As chair of the food services giant Delaware North, Jeremy Jacobs Sr. is the patriarch of a long-established Buffalo power family. Jacobs, who also owns the Boston Bruins, has helped his business grow to serve clients that include major league sports franchises, New York state and the National Park Service. The octogenarian, whose nephew is Rep. Chris Jacobs, has long been both a political and philanthropic player: the Jacobs name appears on buildings throughout Western New York, including the University at Buffalo's downtown medical school campus.
The scion of a billionaire family, Chris Jacobs was hired early in his career as an assistant to then-Secretary Jack Kemp at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s and then as secretary of state under then-Gov. George Pataki. But Jacobs has also worked his way up the political ladder. First, he was on the Buffalo school board and then became an Erie County clerk. He then moved on to join the state Senate and, finally, became a member of Congress. With Rep. Tom Reed declining to seek reelection in 2022, Jacobs – although just a freshman – will soon become Western New York’s top GOP elected official.
A good measure of state Sen. Tim Kennedy’s power is his campaign fundraising. The chair of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, Kennedy has raised nearly $3 million in the past four years for his 63rd District seat, despite having no competitive challengers. As of July, he had more money on hand than state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. His donations come from every corner of the state and every sector, from unions to real estate developers to health care interests. His influence may be diminished if his ally, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, loses on Nov. 2.
After a 10-year run in the Assembly, state Sen. Sean Ryan this year joined a small but growing number of upstate Democrats consolidating the party’s hold on the state Legislature’s upper chamber. Ryan’s time in the Assembly makes him one of the senior members of the Western New York delegation. As a member of several key committees, including education and labor, the first-year senator’s influence in Albany has grown considerably in his jump to the Senate.
State Sen. Samra Brouk is part of the wave of young progressive state legislators growing in ranks in recent years. Brouk flipped her Rochester Senate district from red to blue after longtime state Sen. Rich Funke opted to retire rather than run for reelection in 2020. Brouk, who decided to run for office after a decade as a leader in New York’s nonprofit world, is a champion of educational and environmental causes.
A former chief of staff for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, state Sen. Jeremy Cooney won his Rochester-based seat in the state Legislature in 2020, flipping it from red to blue. Cooney, who was adopted from India and raised in Rochester, is the first Asian American state lawmaker from upstate New York. The co-chair of the Senate’s legalized marijuana task force is among the Senate Democrats who have expressed disappointment that the Assembly ended its impeachment investigation into former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Losing the June Democratic primary to India Walton has had one salutary effect on Byron Brown: The campaigner has reemerged energetically after years of dormancy, waging a write-in campaign and mounting a failed legal battle for an independent ballot line for a fifth term as mayor of Buffalo. Brown, a Queens native, has a nearly 40-year pedigree in mainstream Democratic politics – a résumé that was no doubt a contributing factor in his loss to the progressive Walton. If Brown bounces back on Nov. 2, it will be due in no small part to his powerful political alliances built over decades.
In June, India Walton made the leap from well-respected activist with a growing profile in her native Buffalo to full blown darling of the left. With Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown battling unsuccessfully in court for an independent ballot line and mounting a write-in campaign to keep his seat, the socialist challenger is not coasting to victory in November. But her primary victory over the longtime incumbent already represents a huge accomplishment, proving that progressive politics can work with the right planning and a lot of hard work.
Western New York Republicans love to hate Mark Poloncarz – probably because they can’t beat him. In his three successful runs for the county executive’s seat and two previous wins as county comptroller, he has knocked off an incumbent, self-funded millionaire, a GOP party official and a popular former TV news personality and legislator, among others. Poloncarz keeps winning in part because he projects the low-drama competence, diligence and intelligence of a policy wonk.
After the death of her husband, former Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr., Mary Wilson established one of the largest philanthropic foundations in the region, adding to her beloved family’s legacy. With an endowment of more than $1 billion, the foundation has pledged money to remake an iconic Buffalo park, to build a new children’s museum and to support other foundations and nonprofits in their work.
M&T Bank’s René Jones does not wield his influence as openly as his predecessor, the late Robert Wilmers, whose hand was evident in every local debate for decades. Jones leads the region’s preeminent bank, which is also one of its leading employers and a huge source of philanthropy for cultural institutions and nonprofits. His decision to locate the bank’s new $58 million Buffalo Tech Hub on 13 floors of the Seneca One building means the promise of 1,000 jobs downtown and an endorsement of developer Doug Jemal’s ongoing renovation of the tower.
In 2019, Adam Bello became the first Democrat to be elected Monroe County executive in more than three decades. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck New York, Bello, who had taken office just two months previously, immediately began putting enormous pressure on county governments to coordinate and deliver their responses to the crisis. Like his Erie County counterpart, Mark Poloncarz, Bello is moderate enough to attract some Republican voters – and progressive enough to alienate the rest.
If the Rev. Darius Pridgen were only the pastor of two East Side churches with a combined congregation of more than 3,000, he would still be on this list. But he has also represented the Ellicott District on the Buffalo Common Council since 2012 and has been council president since 2014. As a consensus builder who generally has been supportive of Mayor Byron Brown, Pridgen has recently grown more critical of the Brown administration. Pridgen never talks about seeking higher office himself, but any candidate looking for city voters wants his blessing.
After Howard Zemsky transformed an industrial section of Buffalo into a popular district with offices, apartments and restaurants, he took on government roles, co-chairing the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and then leading Empire State Development. The well-connected developer is now back at his development company while remaining ESD’s chair emeritus. He appeared in the attorney general’s report on sexual harassment claims against former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, offering to intercede on behalf of an accuser and confirming – albeit belatedly – that Cuomo did make a remark about strip poker.
Nick Langworthy’s career ascent – first to chair of the Erie County Republican Committee in 2010, then to state party chair in 2019 – coincided with the entrance into GOP politics of brash businessman (and now pardoned felon) Chris Collins, the birth of the tea party, Carl Paladino’s raging gubernatorial campaign and the rise of Donald Trump. No wonder, then, that Langworthy is all-in with the right-wing, take-no-prisoners members of his party like Reps. Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin.
Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley is the first woman to hold her office. She had nearly 20 years of experience before her election in 2011, earning a reputation as a shrewd investigator with a knack for solving cold cases and a special expertise in DNA evidence. As president of the District Attorneys Association of New York until this summer, she was a key voice in criminal justice reform debates in Albany. Closer to home, she has brought campaign finance and firearms possession charges against embattled Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren.
As chair of the Erie County Legislature, April Baskin has used her position to push for a social justice slate, including police reform and education. First elected to the chamber in 2017, Baskin quickly gained the confidence of her colleagues, serving as majority leader of her caucus as a first-term legislator before being elevated to chair of the full Legislature in 2019 – the youngest person to ever hold the position.
As the Republican president of the Monroe County Legislature, Dr. Joe Carbone has cast himself as an antagonist to the Democratic county executive. And the Irondequoit lawmaker, first elected in 2012, has assembled a supermajority – comprising all 15 Republican legislators, plus five breakaway Democrats – in his campaign to limit Adam Bello to a single term. Carbone, who is also a podiatrist, certainly knows how to give someone the boot.
Assembly Member Harry Bronson has been a vocal member of his chamber on issues like workers’ rights and economic development over the last decade. The lawmaker, whose district covers parts of Rochester and its southern suburbs, fended off a challenge from a member of Mayor Lovely Warren’s camp last year, losing the support of Monroe County Democrats through an arcane committee process but ultimately winning the primary and the general election. He’s also the first and only openly gay upstate member of the state Legislature.
Malik Evans isn’t just the Democratic nominee for mayor; he’s the only candidate on the ballot. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Evans will become mayor in January after having trounced scandal-plagued incumbent Lovely Warren by 32 percentage points in the June Democratic primary. Evans, who spent 14 years on the city’s school board and two on its City Council, inherits a city where police reform is squarely at the center of any discourse. He also will direct the use of $202 million in federal relief funds in his first two years in office – a game-changing opportunity for Rochester.
As a member of a prominent Buffalo political family, John Flynn has long been a fixture in regional Democratic political circles. Elected to office in 2016, he followed in the footsteps of an uncle who held the office decades earlier. Flynn, who was recently elected president of the National District Attorneys Association, previously worked as an attorney in the county’s homicide division before serving as a Buffalo City Court judge.
Since taking the helm in 2012, editor Mike Connelly has steered The Buffalo News through buyouts, contract negotiations and, finally, the sale of the newspaper to Lee Enterprises, a national chain that seems determined to further shrink an already-diminished newsroom. Love it, hate it or both, The Buffalo News, led by Connelly, remains the region’s paper of record, with strong coverage of local politics, the state Capitol and Washington, D.C.
As Western New York’s chamber of commerce, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership wields considerable influence. The organization supports Upstate United – of which BNP President and CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen is a board member – which pushes its pro-business agenda in Albany, while Gallagher-Cohen works the local electeds. A former marketing executive for The Buffalo News, Gallagher-Cohen also sits on the boards of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.
As the president of the Rochester area’s leading business advocacy group, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Bob Duffy continues a high-profile career that has spanned for decades. Duffy was the chief of police in the city of Rochester and the lieutenant governor during then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first term. Today, he relies on the many relationships he has built through the years to promote the Rochester business community’s interests.
Heading up the region’s largest school district is no easy task, and Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash has dealt with his fair share of issues in the post. Cash, now in his sixth year in Buffalo, has gained the respect of many of the school board members, earning high marks from the historically fraught and divided body. A tenure marked by incremental improvements in the massive district and an ability to bring people together has made Cash one of the district’s most successful superintendents in recent memory.
Frank Ciminelli’s sons, Paul and Louis, spun their father’s construction company into two firms, with Louis taking the construction side of the business and Paul assuming the real estate development and management side. The Buffalo Billion bid-rigging scandal resulted in a criminal conviction for Louis, but Paul’s business has continued apace, with branches in Canada and Florida, millions of square feet in commercial real estate under management, lucrative parking lots and more. Paul Ciminelli serves on powerful boards, donates generously to political campaigns and supports arts and cultural institutions.
Nick Sinatra comes from a restaurant family, but he studied political science at Yale, volunteered on George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign and served a stint in Washington, D.C., where he worked for then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. In 2009, Sinatra started buying real estate in his hometown of Buffalo with investment capital from the folks he had met while working in national Republican politics. He has been selling properties lately, but his portfolio remains extensive, as does his influence with elected officials and fellow developers.
Loretta Scott is a voice for change on the Rochester City Council. Scott, who was elected Council President by her colleagues in 2014, has seen her role grow recently as the city has been under increased scrutiny thanks to a string of police brutality cases, including the death of Daniel Prude. With Mayor Lovely Warren reeling from her own litany of scandals, Scott has stepped into a larger leadership role as the city tries to deal with simultaneous crises. Scott is set to retire at the end of the year.
Jeremy Zellner leads the Democratic Party in Erie County, which comprises deep blue pockets in heavily populated areas whose voters far outnumber those of the surrounding deep red towns and villages. He earns his paycheck as a commissioner of the Erie County Board of Elections – a patronage plum some have condemned as a conflict of interest. Despite near-constant schemes to replace him, Zellner has held on as party chair since 2012. If reelected in January, he’ll surpass the decadelong tenure of his mentor and predecessor, Len Lenihan.
The Rev. Myra Brown describes herself as an “activist pastor,” the truth of which was on exhibit during last summer’s street protests against police brutality in Rochester. Brown would place herself between lines of police and protesters enraged by the death of Daniel Prude and the apparent cover-up that followed. The progressive Catholic has become a leading voice among the city’s social justice advocates and organizations.
Henry and Caroline Wojtaszek have individually climbed to prominent government roles in Western New York, making them one of the region’s leading power couples. A member of a powerful Niagara County political family and an accomplished attorney, Caroline was elected as the Niagara County district attorney in 2016 before being elected as a Niagara County judge last year. Henry was a close ally of former state Sen. George Maziarz and continues to hold sway in upstate GOP circles. Also an attorney, he serves as the president and CEO of Western Region Off-Track Betting as well as Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel.
From time to time, Jordan Levy’s influence becomes visible to the public. For example, he chaired the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., the state agency directing redevelopment of the city’s waterfront. He also helped create 43North, which has made him something of a godfather to the region’s nascent tech startup scene, as evidenced by his early, vocal support of ACV Auctions, that scene’s poster child for success.
Michael McMahon was chosen earlier this year to lead KeyBank’s Buffalo operations – the Cleveland-based financial firm’s second-largest market. McMahon, who started with the company in 2015, quickly rose through the ranks to become its top regional executive. He takes over as KeyBank continues its expansion, having grown through acquisitions of HSBC branches and the purchase of First Niagara Bank in recent years. McMahon will now be responsible for overseeing business operations and growing the bank’s public image through charitable giving and partnering with nonprofits.
Jack O’Donnell has carved out a lucrative career as a political consultant and lobbyist, and his firm is one of the top lobbying outfits in Western New York. It’s no surprise, given that O’Donnell was born into a political family: His father, John, is a former state Supreme Court justice; his mother, Denise, is a former U.S. attorney who ran for state attorney general in 2006 and served under former Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson in Albany and former President Barack Obama in Washington.
Buffalo developer Rocco Termini made his name with his signature project: the restoration of Hotel at The Lafayette, a gorgeous, turn-of-the-century gem in downtown Buffalo, which had previously fallen on hard times. Since that project’s completion in 2012, Termini and other developers have restored a number of additional historic buildings, opening up apartment complexes and hotels throughout the city – and offering proof that such undertakings are economically feasible with the right blend of tax credits and grants.
Sarah Mangelsdorf has headed up the University of Rochester since 2019, most recently guiding it through the COVID-19 pandemic. Mangelsdorf has also concentrated on strengthening bonds between the university, whose reputation as a top research institution reaches far beyond Western New York and its home city of Rochester. During her decorated career in higher education, Mangelsdorf has also held positions at Northwestern University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
When ACV Auctions founder George Chamoun took his company public in March, he and his partners didn’t just make a lot of money: They made millions. The online wholesale car auction service raised $414 million, according to Bloomberg, rewarding early investors in the Buffalo startup – and endowing them with the capital needed to invest in other regional startups that can further boost the local economy.
Rochester Institute of Technology President David Munson helms one of the region’s top colleges, a science and technology powerhouse with nearly 19,000 students. The Princeton-educated engineer leads the school’s numerous partnerships with arts and research institutes and sits on many boards, including the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and the Greater Rochester Enterprise.
Robert Nesselbush took over as the CEO of Kaleida Health, one of Western New York’s largest health care systems, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Nesselbush started as Kaleida’s chief financial officer in 2019, returning to Buffalo after 24 years with Rochester Regional Health. He is now guiding the company, which runs some of the region’s largest hospitals, as the area struggles to overcome the most serious public health crisis in a century.
As the president of the largest and one of most prestigious SUNY schools, Satish Tripathi is at the helm of one of the most powerful institutions in the region. With 30,000 students and major real estate holdings across its three campuses – most notably the downtown campus for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences – the university has partnerships across nearly every aspect of life in Western New York. In his role, Tripathi has built relationships with power brokers across the region and state.
As the head of Ontario Specialty Contracting, Jon Williams has led projects throughout Western New York and across North America. Through OSC and other companies, Williams has built a business with diverse capabilities, including remediation, demolition and construction. Williams is also a major political donor who has consistently given money to politicians from both sides of the aisle, including sizable contributions to former President Donald Trump’s campaigns.
His family fortune comes from decades of pasta production in Buffalo, but Robert Gioia’s occupation for the past 30 years has been running the organizations that run the region. As chair of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in the 1990s, he oversaw the construction of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport terminal. Since 2007, he has been heading the influential John R. Oishei Foundation, which provides grants to regional nonprofits, although he’s set to retire at the end of the year.
Tom Golisano, another of Western New York’s billionaires, is now spending down his fortune, built mostly through his ownership stake in the payroll company Paychex, on philanthropic endeavors like building hospital wings and supporting programming for people with developmental disabilities. Once a disruptive force in state and local politics, the three-time third-party gubernatorial candidate and former Buffalo Sabres owner now spends most of his time in Florida.
Michael Kilian returned to his hometown of Rochester in 2019 to take over the Democrat & Chronicle, the area’s daily newspaper. Before coming home, Kilian had stints as the executive editor for the Burlington Free Press and as news director at the Cincinnati Enquirer – both papers owned by Gannett, a national media conglomerate that also owns the Democrat & Chronicle. Seasoned pros like Kilian are often charged with managing declining budgets, readership and staffing. But small-city dailies like the Democrat & Chronicle still drive civic conversations and contribute to a region’s identity.
Lesli Myers-Small started her career in the Rochester city schools system as a guidance counselor, then worked her way up through administrative posts across the region before returning to take her current post as superintendent last year. A dedicated educator who has received many distinctions for her work, she served for almost eight years as the superintendent of nearby Brockport Central School District. She is now grappling with a bus driver shortage while endeavoring to avoid remote learning this fall.
As the chief executive of the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Candace Johnson has led the nationally renowned facility through its continuing medical campus expansion for the past six years. Johnson also serves as the institute’s M&T Bank presidential chair in leadership. She is a constant presence at press events on the medical campus and works in partnership with politicians across all levels of government.
Thomas Quatroche Jr. has continued the expansion of the Erie County Medical Center since taking over as the president of its parent corp. in 2015. One of the largest health care providers in the region, the ECMC system has a 573-bed hospital and 3,700 employees, putting it on the front lines of COVID-19. Looking ahead, Quatroche is also planning for added outpatient services. Quatroche also knows Gov. Kathy Hochul, a fellow Western New Yorker, better than most, having served alongside her on the Hamburg Town Board for over a decade.
This year, Peter DeJesus Jr. became the first person of color to lead the Western New York Area Labor Federation. A self-described blue-collar leader with family roots in both private- and public-sector labor organizing, DeJesus now represents more than 145,000 workers from unions throughout the region. He took the reins just as a labor-friendly administration took over the White House, presenting him and his organization with an opportunity to grow its ranks and improve members’ lives.
Phil Rumore has been at the helm of the state’s second-largest teachers union for more than 40 years, securing yet another term by winning reelection earlier this year. Over the years, Rumore has made many friends and enemies, including once earning a spot on the famous downtown billboard that developer Carl Paladino used to attack his political opponents. Rumore is negotiating a new contract for his members with Buffalo Public Schools as they continue working under an agreement that expired in 2019.
Tony Masiello left the Buffalo mayor’s office in 2005 with almost $800,000 in leftover campaign cash – and he began making money in a related field as he built up a successful lobbying business. In 2020, the Buffalo-based firm Masiello, Martucci & Associates billed over $1.8 million to local clients – more than three times as much as its nearest local competitor. Masiello’s clients include the Seneca Nation of Indians, the City of Buffalo and Kaleida Health, among other heavy hitters.
For decades, Uniland Development Company was primarily a developer of suburban commercial space like office complexes and strip malls. Michael Montante, who succeeded his father Carl as chief executive of the company in July 2020, has expanded Uniland’s share of activities and influence in Buffalo with developments at Gates Circle, the new Delaware North headquarters and more. Carl Montante now serves as the executive chair of the company, which has an office in Rochester as well.
F. James McGuire leads the eponymous firm that has become one of the region’s largest real estate companies. With a portfolio of projects that includes residential, medical, industrial and office space, McGuire’s company employs more than 2,000 people and brings in more than $200 million in annual revenue. The company has also worked on some of the more recognizable projects around Buffalo, including the historic Richardson Olmsted complex.
Like many other SUNY campuses, Katherine Conway-Turner’s college has had difficulty attracting, retaining and housing students. To make things more complicated, SUNY Buffalo State College's campus is at the center of often competing projects: the possible removal or transformation of the Scajaquada Expressway, ongoing efforts to restore the long-suffering Scajaquada Creek and the redevelopment of the adjacent Richardson complex. But problems like these don’t diminish an office; they make its occupant – and her leadership – all the more critical.
As president and CEO of Strong Memorial Hospital, Steven Goldstein is responsible for leading one of the most well-respected health care institutes in the region. Goldstein commands respect among his peers, as evidenced by him being voted onto Becker’s Hospital Review’s list of the nation’s 40 smartest health care executives. Goldstein also serves an important role in directing the partnership between the hospital and the University of Rochester’s medical school.
Ken Glazer has continued the work his father began, expanding the holdings of Buckingham Properties in the seven years since he took over the family business. As the company’s head, he continues to lead his team in developing historic buildings and building new ones, adding to the more than 10 million square feet of office, retail and residential space the company owns and manages in the Rochester area.
The Wilmot family entered the construction business in the 1940s, expanding from residential and office buildings into developing shopping centers in the 1960s. The Wilmots and their Wilmorite Management Group popularized the concept of the enclosed shopping mall in Western New York and are now among the biggest owners and operators of malls in the country. In the 2000s, Thomas Wilmot added casinos to the portfolio and expanded the firm’s footprint downtown.
The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo’s roots date back to grand old Buffalo families like the Rands, the Schoellkopfs and the Kleinhanses. Today, its assets, which the foundation manages on behalf of more than 900 clients, exceed $650 million. When Perez-Bode Dedecker made lead poisoning in Buffalo’s poor neighborhoods a priority, the foundation brought its expertise and money to the table to work with a hesitant city government. The effort led to the first meaningful lead control program the city has implemented in 20 years.
Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart is a former investigative journalist and award-winning blogger on community issues. She’s also an outspoken activist with more than 50,000 Twitter followers. Her office and social media accounts provide her with a bullhorn to opine on county politics, criminal justice, police reforms, education policy and a wide array of other issues. Her tweets attract a fair number of anonymous right-wing trolls – a sure sign of her influence.
Stanley Martin will be formally elected to Rochester City Council on Nov. 2. The Black Lives Matter activist and member of Free the People Roc – a group advocating for sweeping reforms to police and prisons – secured an at-large seat in the June primary, alongside her “People’s Slate” running mate Kim Smith. Both ride into office on the wave of protests surrounding Rochester police, spurred in part by the death of Daniel Prude.
Trini Ross is poised to become the top federal prosecutor in Western New York. Ross, who would become the first African American woman to hold the position, previously spent 23 years in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Western District of New York before leaving to work for the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General in 2018. Ross served as the Western District’s senior litigation counsel and was the chief of the office’s anti-corruption unit for five years.
If you’ve hired Terry Connors as your defense attorney, odds are you really need one. And you’ve made a good choice: Connors is the go-to lawyer for business people and politicians in real trouble. He is recognized as one of the region’s top criminal defense and civil litigation trial attorneys and is exceptionally well-connected. He even played college basketball with lobbyist and former Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello.
The former political strategist and chief of staff for disgraced former Rep. Chris Collins is much in demand in Republican circles, not just locally but nationally. Chris Grant’s Big Dog Strategies has provided strategy and direct mail services to House and Senate candidates, conservative political action committees and gubernatorial and state legislature races across the country. Local candidates – including Stefan Mychajliw and Lynne Dixon – also avail themselves of his crafty spin and biting mailers.
Over the years, Betty Jean Grant has earned a spot as one of the most influential political voices in Buffalo’s East Side neighborhoods. Grant, who was a member of the Erie County Legislature for 10 years, ran a campaign for mayor in 2017 and came within a few hundred votes of winning a seat in the state Senate in 2012. Now, she uses her considerable influence to organize support for issues and candidates she is passionate about.
Last year, Bishop Michael Fisher was picked by the Catholic Church to lead the Diocese of Buffalo through one the most challenging times in its history. Following the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone amid allegations of a sex abuse cover-up, Fisher is now tasked with restoring the confidence of the faithful in heavily Catholic Western New York. Fisher’s business background is no doubt helping him deal with ongoing lawsuits related to the scandal while also managing the church’s other interests, including a health care system and charity organization.
As the president and CEO of Rochester’s Ibero-American Action League, Angelica Perez-Delgado has led her organization through unprecedentedly tough times in her first two years on the job. Now working in the Latino neighborhoods where she grew up, Perez-Delgado, who has a background in health services, endeavors with her team to help the community navigate the many challenges generated by the coronavirus pandemic, including improving vaccination rates.
As the head of the union for New York’s second-largest police force, John Evans is frequently at the center of many of the law enforcement discussions that take place in Buffalo. Evans has been busy in recent years, thanks to the relationship between police and the community in the Queen City coming under the microscope after a series of high-profile incidents, but he continues to enjoy the support of his members as he works toward inking a new contract with the city.
In October 2020, Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan became the first woman ever to command the Rochester Police Department. Appointed in the wake of Daniel Prude’s death in Rochester police custody last year, which led to the dismissal of her predecessor, Herriott-Sullivan must deal with a police force – and a city – roiled by continuing protests against police brutality. Two decades earlier, the trailblazing Herriott-Sullivan became just the second Black woman to serve as a lieutenant in the department.
Since he became president of Rochester’s police union in 2008, Mike Mazzeo has faced plenty of challenges – but nothing like what he has had to deal with in recent years. Following the death of Daniel Prude, violent clashes between police and protesters last summer and the January police pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old, Mazzeo has continued to enjoy the support of his members as he leads them through unprecedented levels of scrutiny.
As a managing partner at Phillips Lytle, Kevin Hogan helps lead and grow one of the largest law firms in Western New York. Hogan’s firm handles litigation of all types for clients in both the private and public sectors. Hogan, who specializes in environmental law, advises clients on compliance with state and federal laws and regulations – a critical area given the region’s legacy of industrial pollution.
Harris Beach has offices all across New York and in neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut. But the law firm’s roots are deepest in Rochester, where it was founded in the middle of the 19th century. These days, the Rochester office is led by Heidi Schult Gregory, a health care expert who also co-chairs the firm’s cannabis team. The Buffalo office is managed by Robert Murray, whose specialties are real estate development and environmental law. The firm serves a number of industries and sectors that involve dealing directly with government, including education and casinos.
Barclay Damon is one of the largest law firms in Western New York, which is in no small part thanks to the 20-year leadership of John Langan. Langan, who is based in Syracuse, stepped down as the law firm’s managing partner this year and took on the newly created position of firm chair. Taking up the reins is Connie Cahill, an Albany-based partner with a long career in public finance, who became managing partner in January.
Rick Kennedy has climbed the ranks at the law firm Hodgson Russ, where he started as an associate attorney in 1983, to become its managing partner and CEO. In addition to leading one of Western New York’s most prestigious law firms – and one of the biggest in the country – Kennedy, who specializes in environmental and manufacturing law, has also sat on the company’s board of directors for more than two decades.
Attorney John Elmore has a history as a political fixer and an ally of the Grassroots political club that gave rise to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. But these days, he’s most visible in the media representing the Minority Bar Association of Western New York, championing reforms to city police and county jails. He’s also senior partner at The Law Offices of Steve Boyd and John Elmore, a personal injury firm.
Robin Brown’s work at Bolton-St. Johns, where she recently led campaigns to get paid family leave and ride-sharing legislation passed, is deeply rooted in her belief in the political process as the way to effect change. Brown, a Buffalo native, first got into politics through her work on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. She worked on a number of upstate congressional races and New York City Council campaigns before joining the lobbying firm.
As a prominent figure in Western New York’s labor movement for decades, Dan Maloney was first elected president of the 100,000-member Rochester-Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation in 2015. Maloney, who also serves as the president of the United Auto Workers local 1097, has been a leading voice in the region on issues like the Fight for $15 campaign and efforts to bring manufacturing operations back to the area.
When a Western New York candidate wins the support of New York State United Teachers, that union endorsement usually comes with money and volunteers. It also comes with the assistance of NYSUT’s Mike Deely, the consummate political insider. NYSUT backed a number of Western New York candidates last fall, including eventual state Senate winners Samra Brouk, Jeremy Cooney and Sean Ryan, while its local affiliate, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, backed India Walton this summer in her upset primary victory over Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
After founding a local chapter of the union for nurses at Buffalo General Hospital in 1982, Debbie Hayes was quickly elected president of the local, a position she held for 18 years. In 2012 she was promoted to area director for Communications Workers of America District 1, covering parts of upstate and New England. CWA District 1, which represents over 15,000 health care workers throughout New York, many of them nurses in Western New York, won a major victory this year with minimum staffing legislation passing in Albany.
In 2018, Amanda Mays was appointed Western New York regional director at Empire State Development, New York’s economic development arm. The Grand Island native, who previously worked at The Brookings Institution, has helped drive economic development efforts in a region that was a major focus for then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo – and will continue to be under Gov. Kathy Hochul, who hails from Western New York. Mays is assisted by Mo Sumbundu, who was promoted to the role of assistant director in ESD’s Western New York office in 2018.
The New York Power Authority, which is the nation’s largest state-run utility, plays a critical role in Western New York as the owner and operator of the Niagara Power Project, whose two hydroelectric facilities produce a whopping 2.6 million kilowatts of clean energy. Since the spring, the power authority’s point person in Western New York has been Daniella Piper, who is also the first woman to head the Niagara Power Project. The NYPA veteran serves as chief transformation officer as well.
Since he was named as the Western New York regional director for the electric and gas utility company National Grid in 2017, Ken Kujawa has overseen community relationships, business arrangements and emergency response for a 10-county area. Kujawa, who has been with National Grid for more than three decades, is also engaged in local issues through his position on the board of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
Mark Meyerhofer is one of the most experienced and well-connected corporate lobbyists in Western New York. Meyerhofer spent a decade as district office manager for the influential then-Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz and went on to hold key positions at National Grid and Patricia Lynch Associates before joining Charter Communications in 2013. Meyerhofer has helped the telecommunications and media company navigate COVID-19 by finding ways to continue serving customers during shutdowns while donating funds to increase internet access for remote learning.
Rahwa Ghirmatzion is the executive director of People United for Sustainable Housing, or PUSH Buffalo, having taken the reins in 2018. From its start in 2005, PUSH Buffalo has been a potent organizer for tenants’ rights, neighborhood-level planning and environmentally sustainable community development. Wherever activists are gathered around a bullhorn, you’ll find folks in PUSH Buffalo hoodies among the crowd. Increasingly, under Ghirmatzion, PUSH Buffalo has become not just an advocate for, but a developer of, affordable housing on Buffalo’s West Side.
Ralph Lorigo has mastered the art of leveraging power. As the leader of the Erie County Conservative Party, he has led his group through many campaigns where they played an outsized role in election outcomes despite their third-party status. In endorsing candidates from both parties, Lorigo has been able to build relationships with political players while expanding his fundraising base over the years.
The Rev. Mark Blue has long been a man dedicated to public service, the latest example being when he became the president of the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP in 2016. Having served in the United States Air Force and as the president of the board of directors of the Lackawanna Area Chamber of Commerce, Blue is an experienced leader who continues to fight for racial justice in Buffalo and throughout Western New York.
Diana Cihak is behind WomenElect, or WE Pac, which provides intensive training and support with the goal of encouraging more women to seek elected office. One of the most prominent candidates to go through the WE Pac program is India Walton, who went on to shock Western New York with her primary victory over Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. Cihak also runs Buffalo-based Upper Edge Consulting, which she founded in 2013 to assist primarily small and midsized women-owned businesses and nonprofits competing for government contracts.
Jennifer Tuttle served as the chief strategist and campaign manager on Kimberly Beaty’s successful primary campaign for the post of Erie County sheriff, putting her in position to try to flip the seat from red to blue in November. Tuttle, who launched her consulting firm, Big Picture Strategic Services last year, previously worked for a pair of powerhouse unions including 1199SEIU and Communications Workers of America and still consults on labor issues. She also has worked on marijuana and ride-sharing legislation in Albany.
A decade ago, Robert Odawi Porter served as president of the Seneca Nation of Indians and founding chair of Seneca Holdings LLC. After leaving tribal government, he formed Capitol Hill Policy Group, an influential Washington, D.C. firm that lobbies on behalf of native nations and tribes. He has also become an explainer of Native perspectives on the ongoing conflicts between Seneca interests and the state and federal governments.
Mancuso Business Development Group got its start over six decades ago with what the Batavia-based development company claims was the world’s first business incubator. The company, which is led by B. Thomas Mancuso, has gone on to develop hundreds of thousands of square feet of former factories and manufacturing facilities into modern, mixed-use office spaces in Batavia, Lockport and the broader Buffalo and Rochester metropolitan areas.
For more than 30 years, Roger Brandt Jr. has been a key part of Western New York’s building community. He has expanded his Rochester-based company’s portfolio, which includes a variety of office developments, homes and historic renovations. Often working with public housing authorities throughout the region, Brandt’s Rochester’s Cornerstone Group has also helped to build or renovate more than $400 million in affordable housing.
Andrea Ó Súilleabháin runs Partnership for the Public Good, one of the most influential think tanks in the region. In her role, she is responsible for leading the organization in its efforts to study and shape policy on issues like police reform, immigrant rights and language access. The group’s studies and white papers are consistently cited by academics, journalists and politicians in discussions about the policies that shape government response to these flashpoints throughout the region.
Linda Goodman leads the Buffalo office of Norstar Development USA, a major real estate and construction firm that specializes in building affordable housing in the U.S. and Canada. Partnering with public housing authorities throughout the region, most notably the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, Goodman has led Norstar through dozens of projects. This includes creating affordable housing for public housing tenants, which involves the company’s current work on the Shoreline Apartments project in downtown Buffalo.
The Rochester Area Community Foundation is set to mark its 50th anniversary next year, and Jennifer Leonard has run the local foundation for nearly 30 of them. The $578 million foundation has grown dramatically under Leonard’s stewardship, and she has had an impact nationally by helping to implement national standards for local foundations. A key staffer working directly on local programming is Simeon Banister, who came on board four years ago.
Two years ago, Chris Austin was named Western New York team lead for the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, which has 28,000 members in New York and nearby states. Austin is a member of Local #276 Buffalo, covering 12 counties, and serves on his local town council in Hume. “Carpenters are pretty well-rounded mechanics, multi-talented craftspeople,” Austin told the Democrat & Chronicle this year. “Most people look at us as residential carpenters, but it’s more of a specialty trade now ... and the stigma that it’s just for men is all wrong.”
It’s been a tough year for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren: a felony indictment on campaign finance fraud charges last year, anger over her handling of the Daniel Prude case and firearms charges brought against her and her estranged husband this summer – with a June primary loss to Malik Evans in the middle of it. While she has rejected the charges against her, she accepted defeat gracefully and maintains a loyal base of supporters who believe she is being railroaded out of office. She has also overseen improvements in the city’s credit rating.
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