Black New Yorkers started serving in elected office at least a century ago. The first Black member of the state Legislature, Edward A. Johnson, was a former slave who became a successful attorney before his election to the Assembly in 1917. In 1944, the legendary Adam Clayton Powell Jr. took office as New York’s first Black member of Congress. The following decade, Bessie Allison Buchanan became the first Black woman in the state Legislature. In 1989, New York City elected its first Black mayor, David Dinkins.
Today, a new generation of Black leaders is breaking through. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is poised to likely be the city’s second Black mayor. Alvin Bragg is on track to become the first Black district attorney in Manhattan. Damian Williams is now the first Black U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. At least two Black politicians – state Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams – are eyeing gubernatorial bids next year. What’s more, Black representation in the state congressional delegation – headlined by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a potential successor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – is growing. The state Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker are both Black, as are the Bronx district attorney, the Queens borough president and the likely next Bronx borough president. And in the New York City Council, Black candidates are set to fill 17 seats, up from 14 currently, in the 51-member body next year.
City & State’s Power of Diversity: Black 100 – researched and written in partnership with Stephon Johnson of the New York Amsterdam News – recognizes all of these leaders, as well as the many Black business executives, nonprofit leaders, union officials, advisers, advocates and activists who are blazing new trails in New York.
State Attorney General Letitia James has made her name known nationally for her probes into former President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association. But her most high-profile investigation this year was directed toward former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who faced a number of sexual harassment and abuse allegations. The first Black woman to win statewide office released the crucial report that doomed Cuomo and led to his eventual resignation. Her next step? Issuing a subpoena in an investigation into Cuomo’s book – while also mulling over a potential gubernatorial run.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ priorities for 2021 included keeping tenants housed via eviction moratoriums and getting recreational marijuana legalized. And she secured several legislative victories in this year’s budget, which had to be negotiated amid then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s myriad scandals and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. After a tense relationship with the previous governor, Stewart-Cousins has worked hand-in-hand with Gov. Kathy Hochul on getting leaders confirmed to the state Cannabis Control Board and extending eviction protections for renters.
Ever since becoming the first African American Assembly speaker in New York’s history in 2015, Carl Heastie has talked softly and carried a big stick. That approach guided his response to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s downfall this past year. Heastie oversaw an impeachment probe that examined everything from Cuomo’s sexual harassment allegations to the cover-up of the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes – but he also faced heat for pausing proceedings once Cuomo announced his resignation. The inquiry’s findings will still make its way into a long-awaited report this year.
Brooklyn Borough President and Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams has just one minor obstacle to surmount before getting to City Hall: Republican rival Curtis Sliwa. But with widespread backing, a large war chest and party advantage expected to swing the race in his favor, Adams is on track to become New York City’s next mayor. Adams has already begun to gather local leaders for advice as he outlines his vision for City Hall. If Adams plays his cards right, he could wield immense influence come next year.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is trying to unite progressives and centrists in his party around President Joe Biden’s agenda in Washington, D.C. He has been pushing for the passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which passed the House but not the Senate. The Brooklyn Democrat has had a few misses in 2021, such as endorsing Maya Wiley in her run to become New York City mayor. But he’s doing well nationally, especially considering he remains the top contender to become the next speaker of the House.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes never forgets who her constituents are. Whether it’s funding the Stop the Violence Coalition in Buffalo or sponsoring the landmark Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act that legalized recreational marijuana statewide, Peoples-Stokes maintains an important presence in Albany. She continues to fight inequities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, while still working on perennial tasks like acquiring the funds to create more affordable housing for seniors.
As he openly explores a gubernatorial run, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has kept himself in the public eye. As a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform, Williams has called for the passage of the Clean Slate Act, which would conceal conviction records of a person once they have finished their sentence and are no longer on parole. Williams, who made a strong statewide showing in his 2018 lieutenant governor bid, is coasting to reelection as public advocate.
In Washington, Rep. Greg Meeks is refusing to let Republicans disrupt the investigation into the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. Closer to home, Meeks joined Gov. Kathy Hochul, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards to survey damage from Hurricane Ida – and promised to send disaster relief and to champion two bills that would address climate change nationally. And internationally, Meeks serves as chair of the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee.
It has been a busy year for state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, who has continued pushing for criminal justice reform while also helping the state recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Bailey, who reportedly was a top candidate to serve as lieutenant governor under Gov. Kathy Hochul, has raised his profile as chair of the Democratic Party in the Bronx. As the party boss in his borough, he has navigated the divide between long-tenured establishment figures and progressive insurgents while elevating more women to positions of power.
To say Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin had a good 2021 is an understatement. The Harlem politician began the year as a state senator and one of the leading candidates to be the next New York City comptroller. While he fell short in a crowded Democratic primary for comptroller, Benjamin was subsequently selected by Gov. Kathy Hochul to be her No. 2 after she replaced the disgraced incumbent Andrew Cuomo. Benjamin provides diversity and downstate connections to Hochul, a Western New York native who’s seeking a full term in office.
Front-line workers have been praised throughout the coronavirus pandemic – but they still need George Gresham. Gresham, the longtime president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, speaks out for those who have kept the city moving for the past 18 months and also against racism. His influential union held “Stop Asian Hate” rallies in the spring amid anti-Asian attacks around New York City, and he kept the pressure on politicians. This spring, Gresham celebrated the passage of long-sought legislation on staffing guidelines for hospitals.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, the head of the National Action Network and host of “PoliticsNation” on MSNBC, made voting rights a primary focus in 2021. In the wake of the 2020 presidential election and the subsequent attacks on voting rights by the Republican Party, Sharpton used his platform to call for President Joe Biden to end the filibuster to force the passage and implementation of federal voting rights laws. He’s also an ally of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who’s all but certain to be the city’s next mayor.
Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn got behind the right candidate in the race that matters most, endorsing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in his bid to be the city’s next mayor. Bichotte Hermelyn, who cultivated a similar alliance with the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, has also spoken out about the treatment of refugees from Haiti, the country her parents emigrated from. As the leader of the Brooklyn Democrats, she has fended off a challenge from young reformers but saw Civil Court Judge Dweynie Paul lose the race for Brooklyn Surrogate Court.
Rep. Ritchie Torres’ entire political career has been about breaking the mold. An Afro Latino who grew up in public housing, he’s often a welcome guest on the left-leaning MSNBC while also earning the praise of The New York Times’ conservative columnist Bret Stephens. One of the two first openly gay Black members of Congress, he recently introduced a resolution denouncing state-level anti-trans bills across America. He also surprised many Democrats by endorsing Andrew Yang for mayor of New York City.
Rep. Yvette Clarke has spent much of the past 18 months dealing with emergency issues for her constituents, including pushing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse city hospitals for emergency spending during the coronavirus pandemic. More recently, she has been raising awareness about federal and state relief funds available to businesses and homeowners impacted by Hurricane Ida. Clarke is also prioritizing reining in Big Tech via methods like banning facial recognition software in public housing.
After running unopposed for reelection in 2019, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark in 2020 had to grapple with COVID-19, rising shootings and the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd. She has focused on violence reduction and community engagement, including taking on the role as one of the co-chairs of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, which was previously held by the founding co-chair, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Clark also dismissed more than 6,000 minor marijuana cases this summer.
In the seven months since Meisha Porter took the reins of New York City’s public school system from Richard Carranza, she has been a near-constant presence in the press while shaping the routines of parents, students, teachers and other school staff members. In addition to implementing New York City’s adaptive measures for the current school year, including mask mandates and no remote learning, Porter also got the mayor to announce a discontinuation of the city’s gifted and talented program.
As New York City’s deputy mayor for health and human services, Melanie Hartzog is on the front lines of the ongoing fight against COVID-19 all across the five boroughs. Before she was promoted to her current role at City Hall, Hartzog helped craft and negotiate multibillion-dollar spending plans as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget director. The New York Foundling, a child welfare nonprofit, recently named Hartzog as its next leader starting in January.
Since he moved up to lead 32BJ SEIU following the unexpected death of then-President Héctor Figueroa in 2019, Kyle Bragg has made his own mark as a leader of the influential union and the broader labor movement in New York. Bragg’s union, which represents 85,000 airport employees, security guards and building and school sanitation workers, got behind Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ mayoral campaign before the June primary. The union is now looking to influence who becomes the next speaker of the New York City Council.
No matter your stature or position, if you’re a local politician, you’re going to be talking to Errol Louis on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.” His “Mondays with the Mayor” segments are a must-watch for political junkies, and his weekly reporters’ roundtables spotlight journalists covering stories he hasn’t tackled yet. He provides the city with his informed observations on these subjects in his new column for New York Magazine – and his reach goes beyond New York as a political analyst for CNN.
State senators typically have more clout than Assembly members, given that there are only 63 of them, compared with 150 members in New York’s lower house, and they represent larger districts. But a cohort of young Black women in the Assembly are upending that assumption. One of the most high-profile measures enacted in Albany this year, a coronavirus-era worker protection law called the NY Hero Act, was sponsored by Assembly Member Karines Reyes, an Afro Latina nurse. Another Bronx lawmaker, Assembly Member Latoya Joyner, helped advance the NY Hero Act and spearheaded the $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund as chair of the powerful Committee on Labor. Expectations are high for Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, who briefly ran for Queens borough president in 2019 and could seek another office in coming years. Other rising stars include Assembly Member Diana Richardson, a growing force in her Central Brooklyn district and a staunch proponent of police reform, and Assembly Member Latrice Walker of Brownsville, an ally of state Attorney General Letitia James and chair of the Committee on Election Law. Walker previously served as chair of the influential Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, a leadership role now held by Assembly Member Michaelle Solages of Long Island. Another Long Islander, Assembly Member Kimberly Jean-Pierre, chairs the state Legislative Women's Caucus. And Assembly Member Jaime Williams of Brooklyn has carved out a niche on such matters as disaster preparedness and food policy.
Rep. Antonio Delgado didn’t only flip a pivotal House seat from red to blue in 2018 – he managed to keep it in the Democratic column in 2020, thanks to the upstate lawmaker’s focus on local issues while steering clear of controversy whenever he could. With Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the former Republican gubernatorial nominee, announcing that he’ll challenge for the seat next year, Delgado is likely to face a tougher battle in 2022 than he did last year.
From educator to member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Jamaal Bowman has managed to make a name for himself quickly. The founder and former principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School in the Bronx has lived up to his promise of advocating for “jobs and education, not bombs and incarceration.” The first-term lawmaker and member of “the Squad” is pushing for investments in child care, universal prekindergarten and postsecondary education.
Rep. Mondaire Jones, a first-term lawmaker who represents Rockland County and parts of Westchester, has quickly found himself to be sought after both on Capitol Hill and with the Biden administration. With his progressive goals – like passing voter rights legislation and canceling student loan debt – Jones has also become a rising star in the Democratic circles, whether it's calling out U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema or arguing against means testing in the President Joe Biden's Build Back Better Act.
New York City Council Member Adrienne Adams is all but guaranteed to win reelection in November, but what’s up in the air is whether she’ll succeed fellow Council Member Corey Johnson as the next speaker of the legislative body. One of a half a dozen contenders for the post, the chair of the Committee on Public Safety has focused on police reform in the wake of police brutality protests in New York and nationwide. The Queens lawmaker is also an ally of Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams.
As the first Black woman to serve as New York City Council majority leader, Laurie Cumbo used her pulpit to advance women’s rights and fight the never-ending battle against gun violence. Cumbo has backed the redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory that’s now named the Major R. Owens Health & Wellness Community Center, which includes affordable housing. An ally of Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams – and a potential member of his administration – Cumbo has called the defund the police movement a product of white progressives.
After beating Assembly Member Nathalia Fernández, fellow New York City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and other rivals in this year’s primary, New York City Council Member Vanessa Gibson is poised to likely become the first woman elected as Bronx borough president and the first Black individual in the role in decades. During her tenure as the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, Gibson helped push police reform and backed increasing police staffing levels.
Among the Black members serving in the New York City Council, several are on their way out and several are just getting started. Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., who chairs the Committee on Housing and Buildings, lost his bid for Brooklyn borough president this year and will leave office at the end of the year. Joining him will be fellow term-limited Council Members Deborah Rose of Staten Island, the chair of the Committee on Youth Services, and Queens’ I. Daneek Miller, who chairs the Committee on Civil Service and Labor. Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel had harbored ambitions of being the next council speaker, but she lost her reelection bid and is now slated to become the New York-New Jersey administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Council Member Farah Louis is set to serve a full term a year and a half after winning a special election in Brooklyn. Council Member Kevin Riley of the Bronx won a special election in December, and Selvena Brooks-Powers of Queens won a special election in February – and they both turned around and recently won primaries to keep their seats in the summer.
Following the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent approval of his nomination, Damian Williams is the first Black individual to serve as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Previously, he was an assistant attorney from Brooklyn who once worked as a law clerk for U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Now, Williams has joined U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, U.S. Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Vice President Kamala Harris as members of the Biden administration who are of Jamaican heritage, according to Caribbean National Weekly.
Bill Thompson has led CUNY, New York City’s massive urban public university system, through the COVID-19 pandemic. From campus shutdowns, remote learning and cautious reopenings to lawsuits from the Professional Staff Congress labor union opposing CUNY budget cuts and layoffs, the former New York City mayoral candidate’s plate remains full. Thompson is also a partner and chief administrative officer at the investment firm Siebert Williams Shank & Co.
Lester Young Jr. has more than a half century of experience changing schools and educational programs for the better. In January, he was unanimously elected to succeed Betty Rosa as chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, which oversees the New York State Education Department. Young’s ascension makes him the first Black person to hold the leadership position. In addition to dealing with the restart of in-person learning, he has been responding to parent pushback against the mask mandate in schools.
A confluence of factors over the past few years – including the Black Lives Matter movement, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of color and Democrats solidifying control of the state Senate – have given political momentum to a range of state measures that directly affect Black New Yorkers. Among the Black members in the state’s upper house, state Sen. Robert Jackson of Manhattan notched one of the biggest victories this year with a major increase in state school aid that he has sought for decades. State Sen. James Sanders Jr. has kept his focus on supporting struggling minority and female business owners, while fellow Queens state Sen. Leroy Comrie is in a key role overseeing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. State Sen. Roxanne Persaud of Brooklyn has pushed for nonprofit funding as chair of the Social Services Committee, while a fellow Brooklynite, state Sen. Kevin Parker, chairs the Committee on Energy and Telecommunications. In the younger generation, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie toppled a former member of the old Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference in 2018 while helping mainline Democrats take control of the chamber. In 2020, the Democratic conference seized a veto-proof supermajority in the state Senate, thanks in part to upstate candidates like state Sen. Samra Brouk of Rochester flipping Republican seats. Of course, the expanding conference is not monolithic in its views. State Sen. Jabari Brisport, who won his seat last year, is one of a growing number of democratic socialists in the conference, pushing successfully for higher taxes on the wealthy and pressing for further progressive changes, such as single-payer health care.
Becoming the first Black male borough president in Queens was no small task for Donovan Richards. The former New York City Council member was victorious in a special election last December to replace Melinda Katz when she became district attorney. The start of Richards’ term took place during the pre-vaccination COVID-19 era, and with Queens being an epicenter of the pandemic, Richards worked on relief and affordable housing while also surviving a June primary for reelection to serve a full term.
David Jones is driven by helping low-income New Yorkers with pocketbook issues, like access to public transportation and debt relief. Jones was involved in the push for half-priced transit fares for those below the poverty line. He lobbied the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where he serves on the board, to implement a gas tax to forestall more fare hikes in a city that suffered major job losses during the coronavirus pandemic. He has also called for a state stock transfer tax.
Editor’s note: David Jones is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
The Public Employees Federation is part of a movement to keep workers from being brought back into government offices for work that can be done at home. Citing the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, PEF President Wayne Spence has argued that state agencies have thus far fared well with the remote option. Spence, who leads the second-largest public sector union in the state, was reelected to another term in the spring.
The year may change, but the work remains the same for Hawk and Chivona Newsome, the founders of Black Lives Matter Greater New York. Since 2016, the siblings have rarely missed a chance to protest against police brutality, including in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, when BLM activists took to the streets against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and advocated for the reallocation of police funds to other city agencies.
The Barrons are a radical power couple battling police brutality and building up their community in East New York and in Albany, but one of them is finally passing the baton. Assembly Member Charles Barron is returning to City Hall after winning the City Council seat his wife, Council Member Inez Barron, is vacating due to term limits. But instead of fully switching spots this time, they’re backing Keron Alleyne, a community board staffer, to fill the state legislative seat that Charles will soon vacate.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has been a staple in Western New York politics for years. But after a decade and a half of Brown running City Hall, Buffalo Democrats felt it was time to give India Walton a turn. Walton, a nurse, activist and self-proclaimed democratic socialist, notched a major upset win by beating Brown in the Democratic mayoral primary this summer. However, the battle between old-school Democrats and the emerging new left had only just begun. Brown lost a court battle for an independent ballot line to serve a fifth term but is mounting an active write-in campaign that could keep him from losing to Walton again in November.
No matter what her exact role ends up being, Ingrid Lewis-Martin will almost certainly be one of the top advisers in City Hall next year after her boss, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, won the pivotal Democratic mayoral primary this summer. With Adams positioned to possibly be the most influential mayor in recent memory, Lewis-Martin will likely continue her role as his gatekeeper and trusted confidant, given her many years at his side.
Alvin Bragg is on track to become one of America’s most prominent prosecutors after winning the Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney this summer, fending off a scrum of candidates looking to replace the retiring Cyrus Vance Jr. Upon taking office, Bragg will likely pick up on the politically explosive investigation into former President Donald Trump’s business. Bragg has served as chief deputy attorney general for New York state and as a former assistant to then-U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who endorsed him in the race.
Rowan Wilson was nominated by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017 to serve as an associate judge of the state Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court and often the one of last resort, where he’s now the only Black judge. Wilson started his career at the white-shoe law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in New York City in 1986. He was recently part of a project with his former firm that involved donating $6 million to support civil rights causes.
Shortly after she succeeded Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Gov. Kathy Hochul moved to jump-start the implementation of a new state law legalizing recreational marijuana while also demonstrating an ability to cooperate with the state Legislature. She did so by naming former Assembly Member Tremaine Wright to chair New York’s new Cannabis Control Board and installing Chris Alexander, a former state Senate associate counsel, to run the new state Office of Cannabis Management. The two will play critical roles in rolling out regulations and the licensing of companies to sell recreational marijuana in the state.
The head of the Manhattan Democratic Party and former Assembly member uses his clout in myriad ways. Keith Wright, who has long been a power broker in Harlem, has led the New York County Democrats for over a decade, playing a key role in backing candidates for elected office. He is also the director of strategic planning at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, one of the leading lobbying firms in New York City.
The founder of Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates capitalized on his close ties with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and his deep knowledge of Albany’s inner workings to help legalize recreational marijuana in New York via the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. Jenkins and his team have also lobbied on behalf of influential clients, such as the Real Estate Board of New York. Jenkins' portfolio includes political consulting in local and state elections as well.
The Working Families Party continues to have significant clout in New York City, where it backed a number of primary winners this cycle. The third party is also flexing its muscle upstate, where it backed India Walton’s upset primary victory over Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown this year and backed state legislative candidates who flipped Republican seats last year. With much of its power derived from making self-proclaimed progressives live up to their policies, the Working Families Party and its state director, Sochie Nnaemeka, had an adversarial relationship with then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo – and are pushing for more progressive policy changes in Albany under Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Sheena Wright has had to confront all types of crises since she took over as president and CEO of United Way of New York City in 2012. First she had to deal with the impact of Superstorm Sandy, and now she’s contending with COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latino New Yorkers. Wright has taken numerous steps to improve the situation, like promoting vaccine awareness in the community, organizing food drives and providing relief of all kinds to low-income families as well as assisting small businesses.
With the coronavirus pandemic’s fallout cutting across every swath of New York City, the nonprofit FPWA – formerly the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies – has played a key role in the response, including driving an outreach effort to get more Black New Yorkers vaccinated. FPWA’s leader, Jennifer Jones Austin, has called for a living wage and combated racism in social services. She was also appointed last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio as chair of the New York City Board of Correction.
After five years of planning, the merger of Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Interfaith Medical Center and Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center into a single entity known as One Brooklyn Health System is picking up steam. LaRay Brown is overseeing the merger as One Brooklyn Health System’s chief executive officer, a position she was named to in 2017 in addition to running Interfaith Medical Center. At the same time, Brown’s health care system has been striving to vaccinate more local residents for COVID-19.
As the National Grid’s New York president, Rudolph Wynter oversees an energy company that provides electricity and gas to 4 million customers in the state. After he was elevated to the new leadership role in December, Wynter helped to finalize a partnership with the New York Power Authority to rebuild 110 miles of transmission lines in the North Country and the Mohawk Valley. He previously oversaw the utility’s wholesale and capital delivery business.
When Dr. Philip Ozuah was promoted as the new leader of Montefiore Medicine in late 2019, he couldn’t have anticipated the crisis he would soon face with the worst pandemic in generations. Yet, Ozuah quickly pivoted Montefiore Health System’s network of 15 hospitals and 200 outpatient ambulatory care sites, many of which are in low-income areas and serve communities of color, into crisis mode. “The only way to prepare for a once-in-a-century global pandemic is to strive for excellence every day, individually and as a health care system,” he told Becker’s Hospital Review last year.
William Floyd manages Google’s state and local engagements with elected officials nationwide. He focuses on the company’s philanthropic efforts and community outreach as well as expansion efforts, which are bearing fruit. With staff levels in New York rising to 12,000, the company made headlines recently with its $2.1 billion purchase of a 1.3 million-square-foot office building on Manhattan’s West Side. Floyd previously worked at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, Verizon and the New York City Economic Development Corp
Rachel Noerdlinger was recently named partner at Mercury, a public relations and lobbying firm, but she and other executives are reportedly departing due to a dispute with the firm’s parent company. Noerdlinger is also a top communications professional for the National Action Network and an adviser to its leader, the Rev. Al Sharpton. She has also served as chief of staff to New York City first lady Chirlane McCray and ran her own firm, Noerdlinger Media.
Since Tyquana Henderson-Rivers launched her own consulting firm, Connective Strategies, in 2008, it has developed a reputation as a top-tier shop for candidates for elected office. The women- and minority-owned firm has enjoyed a recent run of successes in Queens, where it has worked on Melinda Katz’s district attorney race and Donovan Richards borough president bid while also assisting candidates for Congress and state legislative office.
Since Kassandra Frederique was promoted to executive director at the Drug Policy Alliance a year ago, she has led its push to legalize recreational marijuana in New York and reduce sentences for nonviolent offenses. Frederique’s organization has linked drug policy reform to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has branched out from protesting police brutality to pursuing justice of all kinds. Frederique scored a major victory when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation legalizing marijuana.
As the leader of the NAACP New York State Conference, Hazel Dukes is at the forefront of many political and policy debates in the state. While her loyal support of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo through multiple scandals wasn’t quite enough to keep him in office, she strongly supported Gov. Kathy Hochul’s selection of Brian Benjamin as her new lieutenant governor. In recent months, Dukes has weighed in on gig worker protections, questioned ranked-choice voting, advocated for parole reform and supported COVID-19 vaccination outreach.
Ever since Eric Garner died after being held by police in a chokehold, his mother, Gwen Carr, has been an outspoken advocate against police brutality, linking up with other mothers of men killed by the police, all the while fighting for justice for her son. A judicial inquiry into alleged neglect of duty by officers and higher-ups on the force is moving forward – more than seven years after Garner’s death. Carr is also pushing for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a federal policing reform measure.
Shontell Smith has spent more than a decade working for the state Senate Democrats. She is currently the chief of staff and counsel to the conference and previously served as the director of counsel and finance. Her current role consists of managing the legal, finance and public policy departments. According to Politico, she’s already one of the insiders involved in meetings with Gov. Kathy Hochul regarding final policy decisions. While Smith prefers to operate “under the radar,” she, Hochul and others are paving the way for female leadership in Albany.
As the commissioner of the New York City Department of Small Business Services and co-chair of the Small Business Subcommittee of the Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity, Jonnel Doris has had his hands full helping small businesses fight for their future during the coronavirus pandemic. A current priority is helping New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio implement the new vaccination policies for indoor businesses. Doris has also sought to streamline the city’s bureaucracy.
Around two-thirds of the New York City Council’s 51 seats will have new occupants next year, including nearly a dozen likely first-time lawmakers who are Black or Afro Latino. Amanda Farías, Pierina Sanchez and Althea Stevens of the Bronx, Kristin Richardson Jordan of Manhattan, Nantasha Williams of Queens, Kamillah Hanks of Staten Island and Crystal Hudson, Rita Joseph, Mercedes Narcisse, Sandy Nurse and Chi Ossé of Brooklyn all won pivotal primary contests this summer. Some have experience in the nonprofit sector, some have experience in education, and some are members of the LGBTQ community. All have brought their own brand of progressive politics to the fold, and it’ll be must see TV when these soon-to-be elected officials go toe-to-toe with Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who’s poised to likely be the city’s next mayor.
Amelia Adams and Yvette Buckner have a shared goal: to increase the number of women in the New York City Council. With their “21 in ‘21” initiative, they along with a group of other influential women are closer to surpassing their goal of electing 21 members to the 51-member body, with more than two dozen female candidates winning their council primaries. Adams, the president at Adams Advisors LLC, is also a senior adviser to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s reelection campaign, while Yvette Buckner is at the consulting firm Tusk Strategies.
The question isn’t what L. Joy Williams has done lately. What hasn’t she done? She is a political strategist at her firm LJW Community Strategies, host and creator of the podcast “#Sunday Civics” and is leader of the Brooklyn NAACP. Williams has also pushed for the state to end qualified immunity for police officers, helped Rep. Yvette Clarke crush a challenger in the 9th Congressional District primary and serves as chair of the Higher Heights for America PAC, which supports Black women seeking elected office. She also was part of Ray McGuire’s mayoral campaign.
After shutting down the entire Queens Public Library system during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year, Dennis Walcott reopened more than a dozen branches this past May. In July, all of the system’s libraries were again serving the public. The former New York City schools chancellor, who has run the system since 2016, has thrived while narrowing his focus to just one borough after once being responsible for educational instruction in all five.
Kiara St. James has advocated for and helped pass legislation beneficial to the trans community for more than 20 years. As executive director of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, her ceaseless battling for LGBTQ rights in New York City and state, via community organizing and public speaking, has taken on greater resonance during a prolonged increase in attacks on and murders of trans people nationwide. One recent policy victory was the repeal of the “walking while trans” ban.
Kirsten John Foy hasn’t let the coronavirus pandemic slow down his activism in 2021. The Arc of Justice founder railed against ranked-choice voting, which he called “a nefarious, intentional plan to dilute the vote of African Americans.” He also voiced his support for restoring voting rights and has called out New York City Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams for supporting the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy – part of Foy’s long-standing fight for police reform.
Charter Communications is a major corporate player in New York’s government arena, delivering political news through its Spectrum and NY1 channels while also playing a key role in access to broadband internet across the state. In New York, the company’s key government affairs executives are Camille Joseph-Goldman, who previously worked in the Office of the New York City Comptroller and for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rodney Capel, who had stints in the Cuomo administration and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
In July, the New York State Nurses Association, the largest union for nurses in the state, announced the election of Nancy Hagans as its new president. Hagans, a registered nurse and critical care expert, has been on the board of the politically influential union since 2015 and served as treasurer since 2019. She’s a Staten Island resident and native of Haiti who has also let her voice be heard as a member of the NYSNA’s Social Justice Committee.
Jessica Walker has long been a champion for small businesses, and she stepped up her advocacy in working with city and state government to address their plight as many have struggled to stay afloat through the coronavirus pandemic. The Partnership for New York City veteran is also opposing legislation pending in the New York City Council that would impose rent regulations for commercial spaces. Walker said that the bill would disincentivize renting to small businesses because of the extra rules required for city approval.
The Rev. Calvin Butts III’s stature in Black New York hasn’t waned. You might not see him as much, but not being in front of the camera doesn’t mean he isn’t doing critical work. The former SUNY Old Westbury president’s influence remains important: Before being selected as the new lieutenant governor, then-state Sen. Brian Benjamin received the Baptist minister’s endorsement for New York City comptroller.
New York City first lady Chirlane McCray has been keeping a low profile as her husband’s administration enters its final days, especially after abandoning a bid to be Brooklyn borough president. Yet, her rebooted ThriveNYC project is still tackling mental health issues across the city. “We launched Thrive long before the pandemic,” she told NY1 this summer. “And we were fortunate to have an infrastructure of services that people could turn to.”
Serving as part of the leadership of the New York City Central Labor Council, the influential umbrella group for public and private sector unions, Janella Hinds took to City Hall to testify about New York City’s school system being one of the most segregated in the nation. As vice president for academic high schools at the United Federation of Teachers, Hinds has also played a role in how the public school system in the nation’s largest city responded to COVID-19.
The year may change, but the mission remains the same for Mara Gay and Jeff Mays of The New York Times: to record the voices of the people and provide commentary in the nation’s leading newspaper. As a former City Hall reporter for The Wall Street, Gay has weighed in on key endorsements and appeared frequently on MSNBC as a pundit. She has also opined on criminal justice reform, the city’s mayoral race and COVID-19 recovery. Jeff Mays, formerly a DNAinfo journalist, has been covering city and state politics and policy.
While some New Yorkers simply know the Rev. A. R. Bernard as a religious leader, he’s also a player in New York’s political world. “His church, the largest in New York City, has long been considered a required stop on the way to City Hall and beyond,” The New York Times once wrote. It was also at Bernard’s Christian Cultural Center megachurch in Brooklyn in September that Gov. Kathy Hochul told parishioners that God wants them to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
During the course of her dozen years at the helm of the New York Urban League, Arva Rice has had the same mission: increasing the equity in chances, treatment, education and employment for Black New Yorkers. Rice is also an adviser to New York City Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea’s police reform task force. Previous stops on her journey to improve New Yorkers’ lives include stints as the executive director of Project Enterprise and Public Allies New York.
For years, Harlem Children’s Zone President Geoffrey Canada has sought to educate Harlem’s children block by block until the entire neighborhood has access to a proper education. Along with Kwame Owusu-Kesse, who was promoted from chief operating officer to the chief executive position last year, Canada is seeing that mission through with several charter schools, parenting workshops, health programs and preschool programs.
Malik Evans is on pace to become the next mayor of Rochester after soundly defeating incumbent Lovely Warren in the Democratic primary. Evans is running unopposed, which ensures his mayoralty of the Western New York city. Among his initial priorities as mayor: using his discretion to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in federal relief funds and tackling the long-simmering flashpoint of police reform that has only grown more urgent, thanks to several high-profile incidents since 2020. Evans has served on Rochester’s school board for more than a dozen years.
Elinor Tatum has one of the most listened-to megaphones in New York City politics. The Black community speaks through and looks to Tatum’s New York Amsterdam News, which promises to provide the “New Black View” to its readers – from city and state politics to issues like housing and social justice to arts and entertainment. Politicians have to meet with her to get what many consider to be an important and influential endorsement.
As the national AFL-CIO goes through a time of transition following the death of its President Richard Trumka in August, the New York State AFL-CIO continues its period of stability under its current President Mario Cilento and his long-serving No. 2, Terrence Melvin. As the secretary-treasurer for the statewide labor umbrella group, Melvin has collaborated with member unions, elected officials, community organizations, Black Lives Matter activists and religious groups – he’s an ordained minister – to defend working New Yorkers.
As chief diversity officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Michael Garner is responsible for awarding contracts to women- and minority-owned businesses to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Garner also created the Small Business Mentoring Program, which teaches business owners how to compete for government contracts. Before joining the MTA, he cut his teeth at the New York City School Construction Authority, another major source of MWBE contracts.
Juanita Scarlett and Violet Moss are both partners at Bolton-St. Johns, a leading government relations and public affairs firm with offices in Albany, New York City and the Buffalo-Western New York region. Before joining the firm in 2019, Scarlett served in key state government roles and in the private sector at Park Strategies and McKenna Long & Aldridge. Moss, who was named a Bolton-St. Johns partner earlier this year, previously worked in the Assembly, The Parkside Group and Mercury.
Editor’s note: Juanita Scarlett is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Leecia Eve is the vice president of public policy at Verizon, the telecommunications giant which made headlines for its sale of AOL and Yahoo for a combined $5 billion that was announced in May. Eve, who has been with Verizon for eight years, has overseen its rollout of a 5G network in the downstate region. She is a former state deputy secretary for economic development and is a commissioner at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
While the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a major abortion case and with various states curtailing abortion access, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York is stepping up its efforts to provide reproductive care to women, no matter where they come from. Joy Calloway, who took over as chief executive officer of the organization on an interim basis a year ago, has announced the reopening of a number of health centers that had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Larry Scott Blackmon has worked for a long list of political luminaries in New York: U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Hillary Clinton during her 2000 U.S. Senate campaign. Now, in addition to retaining his role as vice president of public affairs for FreshDirect, he has another boss – himself. He’s the head of his own consulting and lobbying firm, The Blackmon Organization.
Editor’s note: Larry Scott Blackmon is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
As president and CEO of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Lloyd Williams has spurred both the impressive economic development of Harlem as well as local preservation efforts, which have been more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Harlem Week returned. The Apollo Theater reopened. And Williams’ organization has teamed up with Carver Federal Savings Bank to boost minority-owned businesses.
Meredith Marshall, the co-founder of BRP Companies, has been a fierce advocate for affordable housing. In January, during an interview with The Real Deal, Marshall argued that city officials don’t really understand the complexities of real estate, that there needs to be more workforce housing built for the “typical New York City worker,” and that the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and city subsidies can’t do it all because it’s not sustainable.
From then-New York City Council Member Bill de Blasio to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Lupé Todd-Medina has worked for a plethora of public officials in New York and New Jersey. She has also worked with the national Equal Rights Amendment Coalition and was a key staffer on the New York City mayoral campaign of former Citigroup banker Ray McGuire this cycle.
Editor’s note: Lupé Todd-Medina is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
As the founder and president of The Black Institute, Bertha Lewis is intent on calling out City Hall whenever she feels New York City politicians are not addressing the community's needs to her satisfaction. Lewis backed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ successful campaign in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary this year, as the two share an interest in police reform. Lewis is the former head of ACORN and also called out then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo for using Black churches as political “props” earlier this year.
Christopher J. Williams founded The Williams Capital Group, a Black-owned investment bank that merged with Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co. LLC in 2020 to form Siebert Williams Shank & Co. LLC. Williams was installed as board chair and, along with Suzanne Shank as its president and CEO, leads the largest women- and minority-owned financial firm in America. The bank was recently selected to participate in Wells Fargo’s newly-issued Inclusive Communities and Climate Bond.
The Parkside Group’s Paul Thomas has been busy this year with his work at the influential political consulting and lobbying firm, which boasts high-profile clients like Microsoft, DraftKings and the Brooklyn Nets. However, some of his most important work involves advising labor unions – as well as nonprofit organizations and cultural institutions that have struggled or needed help of some kind during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thomas previously served in then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s attorney general administration and under Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
India Sneed isn’t just a rising star in New York politics and a talented attorney with an expertise in election law, women- and minority-owned businesses and government relations. She’s also part of one of the state’s newest power couples, having recently married New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who’s now exploring a bid for governor next year. Sneed’s firm lobbies on behalf of such clients as Wells Fargo, SL Green Realty Corp., Netflix and News Corp.
The government relations firm Kasirer has retained its position as the top lobbying firm in New York City based on compensation in 2020, and while much of the credit goes to company founder Suri Kasirer, it’s also a testament to the talent and hard work of key employees like Jovia Radix. Radix, a Brooklynite who has been a vice president at the firm since 2018, represents clients dealing with legislative matters before the New York City Council.
After serving for more than five years as chief financial officer in the state Office of General Services and in various roles with the Office of the New York State Comptroller as well as a stint at the state Division of the Budget, Brian Matthews in January joined Brown & Weinraub. The firm is based in Albany and mainly specializes in government relations; it was the top lobbyist in the state by compensation last year. Matthews specializes in government contracting and women- and minority-owned businesses, among other policy areas.
In her current role as the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, Beverly Tillery continues to add to her legacy of advocacy and education. In a career that includes stops at ACORN, 1199SEIU and Amnesty International and over a decade at Lambda Legal, her latest efforts are focused on helping to end violence against LGBTQ New Yorkers. Tillery’s organization recently condemned former Gov. Andrew Cuomo after the New York Attorney General’s report on his sexual harassment allegations.
Tara Martin, the political and labor strategist recently took a position heading up public affairs in the Northeast for REEF. She’s responsible for the international urban tech company’s business in New York City, Philadelphia, northern New Jersey and Boston. Martin established her bonafides in labor and politics when she worked for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, the New York State Nurses Association and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Editor’s note: Tara L. Martin is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Over the past year and a half, the coronavirus has forced Police Athletic League Executive Director Frederick Watts to improvise his way to successful, engaging programming for New York City youth. The PAL was able to once again offer its Playstreets initiative and has continued to partner with the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development’s Summer Youth Employment Program. The organization’s board includes influential business leaders, including John Catsimatidis, Maurice Greenberg and Ronald Perelman.
Late last year, Aldrin Enis was elected as the 11th president of the founding chapter of One Hundred Black Men, a Harlem-based nonprofit advocacy organization. In one of the most prominent examples of his and his organization’s stature, One Hundred Black Men was a crucial part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s June announcement of a $1.5 million expansion of Mentors Matter and mentoring programs around the city. Enis has also spent five years as the Northeast region outreach director at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Shawyn Patterson-Howard took office as the mayor of Mount Vernon in 2020, ending an especially tumultuous period of political scandals and power struggles in which two individuals claimed to be mayor at the same time. Facing a budget crisis earlier this year, Patterson-Howard asked the Westchester County district attorney to investigate the city’s finances. She declared a state of emergency in Mount Vernon over the city’s finances and gave herself the ability to rent a temporary replacement after a firehouse suffered structural and water damage.
Gregg Bishop is the executive director of the Social Justice Fund, which focuses on lifting up Black people and other people of color in Brooklyn. The initiative is funded by the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation, whose benefactor, Joe Tsai, is the majority owner of the Brooklyn Nets. Prior to joining the fund, Bishop served in City Hall for a dozen years, including in the de Blasio and Bloomberg administrations, most recently as the commissioner of the New York City Department of Small Business Services.
Editor’s note: Gregg Bishop is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Jomo Akono moved up the ranks of his labor union when he joined the executive board of the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters last November. Akono, a second-generation carpenter from the 12-county Local 276 in Western New York, has been recognized for his efforts to make the union more diverse. Akono is also executive vice president of the Buffalo Juneteenth Committee, which helped make Juneteenth a civic holiday in the Queen City.
Even though the Rev. Robert Waterman lost his latest bid for a New York City Council seat – the Antioch Baptist Church pastor and small business owner was part of a crowded field looking to replace City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. – his name still has plenty of juice in the community. Waterman is also the longtime leader of the African American Clergy and Elected Officials, which facilitates ties between public officials, religious leaders and the local community.
The Rev. Fred Davie in 2018 took over as chair of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, an agency in the spotlight in recent years amid growing public pressure to crack down on police misconduct. Under Davie, the CCRB recently released a searchable database of complaints against police officers in compliance with the repeal of 50-a, which has kept police disciplinary records private. Davie is also an adviser at the Union Theological Seminary.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly indicated that Rep. Mondaire Jones is a member of "the Squad."
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