Staten Island has long been a place apart. The borough, which has a much more evenly divided electorate when compared to the rest of New York City, has seen the Republican Party gain an edge over the past year. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis ousted incumbent Max Rose in 2020, flipping the borough’s sole congressional seat from blue to red. Former Rep. Vito Fossella, a Donald Trump-endorsed Republican, returned to the scene to win the borough presidency this month. New York City Council Member Joe Borelli, who coasted to reelection, is poised to serve as the leader for a resurgent group of Republicans in the city’s legislative body.
Of course, Democrats still hold several key offices on the island. Kamillah Hanks will succeed New York City Council Member Deborah Rose in January, while fellow Democrats such as state Sen. Diane Savino and Assembly Members Michael Cusick and Charles Fall represent their constituents’ interest in Albany, where their conferences hold large majorities.
City & State’s Staten Island Power 100 identifies these key elected officials along with many other influential local power brokers, including business and nonprofit executives, labor leaders, advocates, activists, academics and journalists.
Staten Island’s lone congressional seat has seesawed between parties in the last two election cycles, so it’s no surprise Rep. Nicole Malliotakis hauled in nearly $2 million to help her do battle against two early progressive challengers for her seat next year. She has sought to shore up her conservative credentials by bashing President Joe Biden’s foreign policy approach regarding China and Afghanistan and by helping gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin in his search for a lieutenant governor. Also, a heavyweight rematch with former Democratic Rep. Max Rose could be imminent.
Staten Island District Attorney Mike McMahon has been laser-focused on the health crisis that has been overshadowed by the pandemic: 173 people in the borough overdosed on opioids in the first nine months of this year, and in 2020, fentanyl was present in 80% of fatal opioid cases, according to his office. There has been little rest for McMahon’s prosecutors, who have handled homicide cases and charged drug dealers while also chasing down gift card fraudsters, vehicle sales hucksters and litterers.
Former Rep. Vito Fossella barely held any events and didn’t even have a campaign website, but he got a huge boost via a robocall from former President Donald Trump just before the primary – and then enjoyed a sizeable margin of victory in the race to become Staten Island’s next borough president. Fossella, who notoriously kept a second family when he served in Congress more than a decade ago, unexpectedly edged New York City Council Member Steven Matteo by 290 votes in the June Republican primary for the post.
North Shore Democratic state Sen. Diane Savino has been the driving force behind some of Albany’s most important legislation since the pandemic hit. Savino’s yearslong campaign to legalize recreational marijuna succeeded in March. Now, she is working to ensure its smooth rollout, including new rules allowing patients to grow pot plants at home. Her labor-friendly measures, including one barring employers from penalizing public sector workers for taking sick time related to COVID-19 and another requiring private sector employers to offer retirement plan options for workers, both passed easily.
South Shore New York City Council Member Joe Borelli often takes to Twitter to keep constituents informed and engaged. Borelli posted a video of a brawl at Susan E. Wagner High School, asking whether the city’s vaccine mandate contributed to a lack of school security. He opposed the de Blasio administration’s plans to cut the gifted and talented program and excoriated the deteriorating conditions at Rikers Island – all while winning reelection and positioning himself as the next minority leader of a small Republican conference that performed remarkably well on Election Day.
As the Assembly Energy Committee chair, Michael Cusick is battling the effects of climate change in Staten Island and beyond. He has backed programs to put solar arrays on schools and waste treatment facilities and to advance decarbonization statewide. He has also hauled in state funding for a new inpatient building at the South Beach Psychiatric Center that will withstand hurricane-level flooding and $90,000 to enhance the Staten Island Zoo’s programming. Yet, in his role as the Staten Island’s Democratic chair, his party has struggled in recent elections.
Assembly Member Charles Fall has been so dedicated to helping the borough’s most vulnerable residents that he contracted COVID-19 after voting to extend the state’s eviction moratorium during a special session in Albany in September. Fall also helped pass legislation that allows individuals convicted of a felony to become an executor of an estate and to keep generational wealth within a family. The lawmaker was also key to securing $100,000 for Richmond University Medical Center to help prevent and treat gun violence.
Last November, Dr. Brahim Ardolic was devising a strategy to determine which COVID-19 patients his new field hospital would treat as cases surged. When Staten Island University Hospital saw fewer than 100 COVID-19 cases five months later, Ardolic turned his focus to the hospital’s future. The city approved the hospital’s application for a $139 million women and newborn center, and Ardolic hired two new deputy executive directors. COVID-19 patients are still occupying beds, but now they are primarily unvaccinated Staten Islanders.
Richmond University Medical Center President and CEO Daniel Messina celebrated what he called a “monumental day” when his staff received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in January. Since March, RUMC has given out 10,000 vaccines, launched an app to help patients schedule their appointments and kept the hospital safe by mandating vaccines for any visitors. Messina and his staff were the recipients of a gala in July for their heroism during the pandemic.
North Shore activist Kamillah Hanks didn’t succeed the first time she challenged New York City Council Member Debi Rose in 2017, but voters’ familiarity with Hanks helped her fend off eight other contenders for the open seat in this year’s Democratic primary. Now Hanks, who picked up the Staten Island Advance’s endorsement, won handily in this month’s general election. She has promised to create a “master plan” for the North Shore that includes updated infrastructure and new development as well as more assistance for unemployed and food-insecure Staten Islanders.
Most New York City Council races were decided in the June primary, but the contest for Staten Island’s Mid-Island seat was a question mark going into the November general election. After winning a contentious Republican primary battle against Marko Kepi, David Carr faced off against Democratic nominee Sal Albanese and the Conservative Party nominee George Wonica – and he easily emerged as the victor. Carr will succeed term-limited New York City Council Member Steven Matteo, for whom Carr worked as chief of staff.
Gwen Carr, whose son Eric Garner was killed by a police officer on a Tompkinsville street corner seven years ago, has led calls for Congress to pass law enforcement reform to get more abuse cases of that nature on the docket. The nationally recognized activist called the George Floyd demonstrations an “echo from the grave” on CNN and stressed the need for legislation. She criticized as “a mockery” the recently concluded judicial inquiry into whether city officials neglected their jobs to fully investigate her son’s death.
As his eight-year reign atop The Rock comes to an end, Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo is leaving as one of the borough’s most respected politicians ever, irrespective of party. Oddo helped secure the borough’s first new ferry route in decades, relentlessly pushed residents to get vaccinated after catastrophic coronavirus caseload spikes last year and worked seamlessly with the de Blasio administration to get resources for the borough. He even brought back minor league baseball to St. George after the Yankees affiliate left town.
As a term-limited City Council member, Deborah Rose could be in line for a cushy post in an Adams administration after endorsing him in June. One of her recent accomplishments is introducing a bill to make it easier for homeless young people to receive housing vouchers. Also, she recently questioned the failures of the New York City Police Department’s Special Victims Division at a City Council hearing and sponsored a bill requiring the NYPD to track sex offense cases and the city to report the outcomes.
As Staten Island’s commercial corridors have begun bustling again with the ebb of COVID-19’s third wave, Linda Baran has been keeping pace. She commemorated the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus shutting down New York City’s cultural sector while recognizing the newly renovated lobby at the St. George Theatre. She also helped clean Bay Street with National Grid volunteers and celebrated the grand opening of an Applebee’s in New Dorp. In addition, she has advocated for the city to work with nonprofits to ensure federal aid reaches pandemic-affected businesses.
In an era when local news has been threatened by everything from cratering ad revenue to predatory hedge funds, the Staten Island Advance endures. Even though its Fingerboard Road printing press shut down last October, Brian Laline and Caroline Harrison have continued to keep it local. Over the past year, the paper has meticulously covered the borough’s battle with COVID-19, opioid overdoses, unionization efforts at an Amazon warehouse, ferry route expansion efforts and the best pizzerias.
The coronavirus pandemic forced real estate developers Richard and Lois Nicotra to move hundreds of events from 2020 into 2021 while navigating state and city rules over capacity, vaccine and mask mandates. But the Nicotras, who are known for their hotel properties, were ultimately able to welcome back indoor weddings, cabarets and annual conferences while luring a new reproductive medical office to their Corporate Commons Three site in Bloomfield. They even added a stagecoach to celebrate the August expansion of their Hampton Inn & Suites in the West Shore area.
Since he became deputy minority leader in the state Senate last December, Andrew Lanza has emerged as a top opposition voice against Democratic rule. He was so staunchly opposed to New York City’s pandemic restrictions that he nearly got arrested outside a demonstration at Mac’s Public House in Grant City, and he rallied against vaccine mandates outside Millie’s of Staten Island in Charleston. Lanza was among the few lawmakers opposing a bill legalizing syringes, and he is now pushing Gov. Kathy Hochul to suspend fuel taxes amid rising costs.
South Shore Assembly Member Michael Reilly is in the minority as a Republican in Albany, but he’s well wired into his conservative constituents’ needs back home, particularly involving public schools. Reilly has been a frequent presence at rallies against the mayor’s vaccination mandate plans for city workers. He has also been a leading voice demanding the city Department of Education to add more school safety agents and metal detectors and opposed the city’s removal of the gifted and talented program in primary schools.
East Shore Republican Michael Tannousis easily dispatched Democrat Brandon Patterson by a 2-to-1 margin in the Assembly race to succeed Nicole Malliotakis last November. Since he arrived in Albany, Tannousis has tackled issues such as improving transportation, COVID-19 vaccine distribution and public safety. The first-term lawmaker also leaned on his experience as a former prosecutor as a member of the Assembly Judiciary Committee investigating then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an impeachment inquiry. Most recently, Tannousis toured Rikers Island while castigating City Hall over safety conditions at the jail complex.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Anita Laremont to head the City Planning Commission and the Department of City Planning in September after Marisa Lago left for an undersecretary role in the U.S. Department of Commerce. The land use attorney previously served as the department’s general counsel, a role in which she helped craft the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing program, and as executive director. She took over just after the commission approved the Gowanus rezoning and before approving the SoHo/NoHo rezonings and new hotel construction restrictions.
The Republican primary for Staten Island borough president didn’t turn out the way Steven Matteo hoped it would: The term-limited Republican City Council member lost narrowly to former Rep. Vito Fossella. However, Matteo’s protege, David Carr, was victorious in keeping his Mid-Island council seat in Republican control after running against Democrat Sal Albanese during the general election. Matteo has unfinished Council business, including his demand that the city reject a proposed River North high-rise in St. George.
Staten Island’s small businesses were on the brink last year, especially those in underserved communities. So Cesar Claro and his economic development team assisted immigrant- and minority-owned businesses with webinars, youth employment services and other resources to help them recover. Claro also pressed the city to consider transportation alternatives in the borough, including more bike lanes, electric vehicle charging stations, new light rail and open space projects like the proposed Staten Island Skyway.
Kathryn Krause Rooney, Staten Island’s most prominent philanthropist, chairs the boards of two essential New York City organizations. Rooney ensured that the Richmond University Medical Center served the borough’s most vulnerable populations and that The Staten Island Foundation provided direct grants to organizations in need throughout the coronavirus pandemic. She also took the helm of a leadership search for the foundation after its longtime executive director died in February.
There may be no one more plugged into the inner sanctum of the incoming mayoral administration than Vito Pitta. The veteran lobbyist served as Eric Adams’ campaign attorney and will help identify appointees for key City Hall posts. He represented Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin in his city comptroller campaign and also represents transit workers, school bus drivers and the Detectives’ Endowment Association. At the affiliated lobbying outfit Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno, Vincent Pitta and Jon Del Giorno will also have friends at City Hall next year. The powerhouse lobbying team represents a number of influential labor organizations in the city, including the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, which has argued for the reinstatement of solitary confinement and the influential TWU, which represents transit workers. The partners have also pressed for an electric scooter rental system in the outer boroughs.
Recently elected Staten Island Republican Party Chair Anthony Reinhart, who took over weeks after Brendan Lantry stepped down in January to pursue a judicial seat, has more than a decade of experience working for state Sen. Andrew Lanza. Reinhart’s goal is to recruit more newcomers, especially women, to run for public office, and he believes ranked-choice voting will benefit Republican candidates in the future. In September, the Staten Island GOP won an appeal allowing two judicial candidates to be on the ballot. In November, local GOP candidates performed strongly in a number of races.
Former Rep. Max Rose, who lost his seat to Republican Nicole Malliotakis 53% to 47% last November, hasn’t officially declared he’s running for his old seat. But the Democrat has been hiring a campaign team since he left President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force in July. An adviser told the Staten Island Advance that “everything is on the table,” while Rose told NY1 that “service is in my blood.” And with Democrats in control of the state’s redistricting process, a redrawn map could make the district more favorable to Rose.
Longtime judicial leader Desmond Green has so deftly handled the borough’s administrative responsibilities over the past four years that Chief Judge Janet DiFiore credited him with helping the court restart in-person jury selection for criminal trials last October after a seven-month delay. That included handling Eric Bellucci’s retrial – one of the highest-profile homicide cases on the borough’s docket – in which the presiding judge resigned because he was convinced Bellucci was guilty of murdering his parents.
Former Assembly Member Matthew Titone has only presided over Richmond County Surrogate’s Court since 2019, but he helped the judicial institution adapt quickly during the pandemic as other boroughs’ caseloads have stalled. Titone has also sought to streamline the guardianship process and overhaul the court so that parents wouldn’t be inundated with paperwork and weeks of delays. He also recently participated in a “Red Mass” where the Catholic Church blessed government officials and judges.
Alfred Cerullo III has been a rare dissenting voice against the de Blasio administration’s development dreams over the past two terms. The former Republican City Council member not only objected to the city’s $120 million Stapleton revitalization plan and Bay Street rezoning applications, but also cast the lone vote against the health and fitness text amendment because of his concerns over illegitimate businesses. He previously questioned the merits of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to restrict hotel development before ultimately approving it last month.
The Rev. Terry Troia knows the borough’s top need is more affordable housing – so she built some right in the neighborhood. Troia, one of the city’s leading hunger and homelessness advocates, teamed up with The Hudson Companies to construct a 48-unit apartment complex in Port Richmond that should be completed by this winter or early 2022. Another area of expertise for her is organizing food drives. Troia is also the board president of the Staten Island Long Term Recovery Organization, which has responded to natural disasters and the coronavirus pandemic.
Since leaving the New York City Council six years ago, Vincent Ignizio has dedicated his life to serving disadvantaged children and families. He has been a ubiquitous presence at Catholic Charities’ fundraisers, including the annual Drive In Movies series, Fall Festival and the Italian Festival at Mount Loretto, which returned with aplomb after COVID-19 scuttled in-person gatherings. Ignizio has also kept abreast of projects he started in the City Council, including a renovated soccer field at Bloomingdale Park and the widening of Arthur Kill Road.
Staten Islanders eager for a respite from COVID-19 could do worse than spending a few hours at one of Snug Harbor’s botanic gardens and sites. Mark Lauria helped keep the borough’s cultural jewel intact during a turbulent period when events and tours went virtual and its CEO stepped down. Visitors are coming back, and events like the Porch Plays Festival, its Halloween costume party and Winter Lantern Festival are returning this fall. And a new rain garden to manage stormwater runoff is coming soon.
It is impossible to replace Betsy Dubovsky and what she meant to The Staten Island Foundation, which she served for 22 years as executive director before her death in February. But Laura Jean Watters, who served as a program officer and worked closely with Dubovsky since 2007, has deep roots in the borough’s educational and arts communities. Watters was appointed acting director in March and led the foundation with a “superb performance,” according to its board chair. By August, she had won the job permanently.
As the Oct. 29 deadline for New York City workers to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine loomed, Paul DiGiacomo struck a delicate balance of opposing mandates while ensuring members who wanted to get inoculated could do so easily. The detectives’ union leader argued that the city’s weekly coronavirus testing program was adequate and chided the mayor for rushing the vaccine program. He predicted a rise in retirements, with nearly 10,000 officers eligible to vest out, and said morale is low within the department and needs to be fixed.
Community Health Center of Richmond CEO Henry Thompson made sure his facilities served as COVID-19 vaccine hubs for Stapleton and Port Richmond residents as soon as the CDC approved them. The nonprofit family health centers have continued to provide critical care as well as coronavirus-related treatment for thousands of patients throughout the pandemic. Thompson is also contending with a U.S. Department of Labor lawsuit filed on behalf of a former employee, who claimed she was fired for raising concerns about in-person meetings.
Luke Nasta warned New York City officials about the lack of urgency in fighting drug addiction as the coronavirus pandemic raged last fall. His Camelot drug counseling program had received two grants from the state for new treatment facilities, but both projects were delayed for years even as overdose deaths in Staten Island rose. By July, the bureaucratic issues were resolved and construction was given a green light – but Nasta again called out officials for their “coddling” approach toward fighting opioids citywide.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Community Health Action of Staten Island Executive Director Diane Arneth had to learn on the fly about storage management as goods continued to pile up. Now, Arneth and her CHASI staff are experts at reducing the amount of time it takes to distribute food to families in need. This year, she helped secure a partnership with Snug Harbor Heritage Farm to increase its produce donations to pantries and launched an educational program that provides students a pathway into health care careers.
Richmond County Bar Association President Michael Gervasi has been especially active this election cycle. Gervasi and his RCBA colleagues did not approve Civil Court judge Ron Castorina Jr., who ultimately won a state Supreme Court seat, in their judicial candidate rankings because he didn’t sit for an interview. Gervasi also represented Republican New York City Council candidate David Carr in a close and contentious primary, and Carr narrowly won that race as well as the general election.
Richmond County Clerk Stephen Fiala has been in city government for so long that he has sat on the past two decennial charter commissions in 2010 and 2019. In addition to the Republican’s duties as managing a repository of property, court and vital records – some of which date back to the 1600s – Fiala collects fines, taxes and revenues for the city. The former New York City Council member also swears in new elected officials and judges and even officiates weddings.
A year ago, NYPD Deputy Chief Frank Vega was assigned to serve as the commanding officer for Patrol Borough Staten Island. The NYPD veteran lives in the borough and previously served as its operations commander. Vega’s colleague, Rafet Awad, oversees the NYPD’s Community Affairs Unit in the borough, and in his role, he has educated residents on how to stop car thefts and other nonviolent crimes. This fall, Awad was recognized by the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island for his work cultivating relationships with the borough’s immigrant communities, organizing events and serving children.
Edward Josey and his colleagues have been striving to make Staten Island a more equitable place through direct action, education and youth organizing. But Josey, who has been honored for his leadership and work in the borough, is just as dedicated to ensuring Staten Islanders remember where they came from. He has worked to commemorate a hallowed African American burial ground that is covered by a parking lot near a strip mall in the North Shore.
After 13 years of academic service with the College of Staten Island, including nearly a decade as president, William Fritz in October announced his retirement, which will be effective at the end of the year. Fritz led the campus through $250 million in renovations and a move to NCAA Division II athletic competition, as well as managing CSI’s reopening during the coronavirus pandemic. But his plan to consolidate shared governance at the higher education institution was overwhelmingly rejected in October.
When Wagner College President Joel Martin resigned abruptly in October after running the liberal arts school for only two years, then-Senior Vice President Angelo Araimo adroitly managed the leadership change. A veteran academic administrator, Araimo joined Wagner in 1994, helped implement its long-term strategic plan and broke ground on its $3 million athletic facility. Araimo has the full backing of Wagner’s board of trustees and promised to keep the school running smoothly through the coronavirus pandemic.
As more Staten Islanders return to work, they’re noticing more express bus and subway cancellations. ATU Local 726 President Daniel Cassella wants the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to expedite hiring as Staten Island is down 40 bus drivers from pre-pandemic levels and ridership is only 53% of what it was in 2019. Cassella also recently called for the MTA to absorb two express routes into the city transit system so they wouldn’t be canceled. He could get a receptive audience in City Hall following his union’s Eric Adams endorsement for New York City mayor.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Yesenia Mata and her staff at La Colmena provided protective equipment and daily breakfast meals as well as health care advice to Port Richmond’s low-wage immigrant workers. Later, the Staten Island-based community organization offered legal assistance to vulnerable tenants and helped pay for funerals and medical care. Mata’s efforts drew notice from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed her to his racial justice commission. She has also raised money for essential workers with activist Cesar Vargas.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the celebration of St. Philips Baptist Church’s 150th anniversary, but the church has remained a beacon in Staten Island’s Port Richmond community and beyond. The Rev. Tony Baker Sr., celebrating his own silver anniversary with the church in October, has buoyed the congregation’s spirits in trying times. He has also kept them healthy by working with the governor’s office to set up a pop-up vaccination site at the church in March and encouraging his members to get vaccinated.
Adrienne Abbate has tackled childhood malnutrition and obesity, opioid abuse and systemic racism in her time at the helm of her Brighton Heights organization. This year, Abbate and her staff have condemned anti-Asian attacks in New York City and promoted anti-racism by leading trainings that help destigmatize racial groups. Abbate also participated in a March vigil at Snug Harbor’s South Meadow to denounce hatred and violence.
When Brendan Lantry stepped down as chair of the Staten Island Republican Party in January, he left the political organization in strong shape. This fall, as Republicans performed strongly across the borough and beyond, Lantry was also riding the red wave. The attorney beat Democrat Maria Novak in a Richmond County Civil Court judicial race by a huge margin, with voters backing the Republican candidate roughly 3-to-1.
Ken Mitchell celebrated his 10th anniversary leading the Staten Island Zoo through a particularly challenging period. The local attraction reopened last summer after a pandemic-induced pause, and Mitchell has been drumming up additional financial support, including $92,000 from the Staten Island Tuna Club and another $90,000 from the state Assembly for educational programming. Staten Island Chuck gave his weather prediction virtually this year (spoiler: spring came early), but more events have been in person this fall, including the children’s Spooktacular.
Staten Island native Varun Sanyal got his start a decade ago as a legislative and land use analyst in the New York City Council. He has since had stints at the Staten Island Economic Development Corp. managing real estate planning and at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, where he led its economic development initiatives. Now, he’s a key player at Kasirer, the city’s highest grossing lobbying firm, where he helps clients facing land use reviews with the public approval process.
In order to host events for the borough’s LGBTQ population while having enough space for social distancing, Carol Bullock relocated the Pride Center of Staten Island from its cramped third-floor space on Victory Boulevard to a new space in Clifton, celebrating the grand reopening in May on Harvey Milk Day. The new center also offers free HIV testing and dog therapy programs. Bullock and new board member Alex Carr hosted an inaugural golf outing in September that attracted 100 golfers.
In the two years since Pope Francis named him a bishop, Edmund Whalen has worked closely with Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York. The Staten Island clergyman, who recently celebrated his golden jubilee, has been visiting Westchester for outdoor masses and meet-and-greets with Catholic students while holding down the fort at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Just this past month, he helped lead a Guardian Mass for firefighters and police officers, celebrated the bicentennial of five Central American nations and consecrated the host on Columbus Day.
The men behind Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo have been toiling away to boost the borough for the past eight years. Edward Burke has been passionate about Goodhue Park, which inspired Oddo to put $6 million into a city proposal to acquire the 11-acre property and fund a pool and community center. Jason Razefsky played a key role negotiating the launch of the borough’s fast ferry route from St. George to Battery Park and Manhattan’s West Side.
Victoria Manna, who joined NY1 as a freelance video editor four years ago, has been thrust into one of the most turbulent periods to cover in the borough’s history. Her reports have documented the rapid spread of COVID-19 across Staten Island, the backlash from hospital workers and parents against coronavirus testing and vaccine mandates and the impact of city vaccine rules on restaurants. Manna has also covered the effects of inflationary price increases on businesses and how local homeowners are grappling with climate change-induced flooding.
Former Assembly Member Lou Tobacco took over the crown jewel of the Archdiocese of New York’s schools not too long before it celebrated its 60th anniversary. Tobacco has overseen a $4.7 million investment to modernize science labs and renovate restrooms, the first phase of a $12 million restoration project. Managing the school’s reopening during the coronavirus pandemic last fall involved temporarily moving to remote learning in December after two positive tests. The school safely graduated 212 students in May, and its science, arts and athletic programs are flourishing.
David Curcio had a couple local candidates – Leticia Remauro for Staten Island borough president and George Wonica for New York City Council – who had a chance to break through solely on the Conservative Party line. Although they both lost, Curcio’s Staten Island Conservative Party cross-endorsed New York City Council Member Joe Borelli’s successful reelection bid this year and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis’ candidacy last year. Curcio and his slate of candidates also filed a lawsuit in August against the city for its immunization mandate for municipal workers.
When Chris Smalls was fired for leading a strike at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse over working conditions at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he didn’t envision becoming the face of labor organizing at the global e-commerce giant. But Jeff Bezos’ company strategized about singling out Smalls in a media campaign. Now, Smalls has been trying to unionize his former warehouse workers, who filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union in October.
Northfield Bank didn’t have to look far to find a new chair after John Alexander retired in February. President and CEO Steven Klein, a 16-year vet at Northfield, was the perfect choice. He had already led the bank’s participation in the federal Paycheck Protection Program, distributing nearly $150 million in loans to 1,400 businesses with over 10,000 employees. Klein, who also serves on the boards of the Richmond University Medical Center and Staten Island Economic Development Corp., oversaw the acquisition of Victory State Bank, which was completed last year.
For the past 18 years, Raffaele DiMaggio has been dedicated to helping Staten Island residents bank with confidence and assisting local entrepreneurs launching or expanding their business. TD Bank has been an invaluable presence throughout the coronavirus pandemic. And its continued partnership with charity events like the Five Boro Bike Tour, which drew 20,000 participants after a one-year hiatus, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for free bike education programs.
Empire State Bank successfully weathered the coronavirus pandemic, as checking deposits nearly doubled from $86 million in February 2020 to $161 million in February 2021. CEO Philip Guarnieri attributes his bank’s resiliency to its personal connections with customers instead of relying on technology. Providing $110 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans might have had something to do with that too, but Empire State Bank did open a new branch in Bloomfield’s Corporate Commons Three in February. Ralph Branca, who helped create Victory State Bank in 1997 and turned the one-branch bank into a $400 million powerhouse, joined Empire State Bank as an executive vice president this year in September, a little under a year after Northfield Bank acquired VSB. Branca now leads Empire’s lending department in his role as chief credit officer.
Community banking executive Gail Castellano has spent nearly three decades helping small businesses and everyday Staten Islanders with their financial futures. Castellano oversees 20 branches, 200 employees and over $2 billion in deposits at Richmond County Savings Bank, a division of New York Community Bank. Castellano also helps children with cancer attend day camp for free as a Sunrise Day Camp Advisory Committee co-chair and serves on the boards of the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and the South Shore Business Improvement District.
If you’re not up all night listening to Frank Morano, you don’t know what you’re missing (other than your sleep). The inexhaustible radio personality does double duty hosting “The Other Side of Midnight” from 1-5 a.m. on WABC, which he joined last summer, and co-hosting the “Cats Roundtable” AM 970 with John Catsimatidis, both of which have topped their time slots. An astute observer of right-leaning politics, Morano has also served as chair of the Staten Island Reform Party.
Staten Island is home to the largest concentration of Liberian immigrants in the United States, and Jennifer Gray-Brumskine has advocated for refugee rights while raising awareness about West African culture. Gray-Brumskine has pressed the federal government for an extension to the deadline to obtain green cards since the coronavirus pandemic put many Liberians out of work and the consulate was temporarily closed. She also helped organize the second annual African Heritage Festival in Park Hill in September.
The former Staten Island Republican Party chair remains an elder statesman not only in the political sphere but in the borough’s philanthropic and educational communities. Robert J. Scamardella holds leadership posts on the boards of the YMCA of Greater New York, College of Staten Island Foundation, St. George Theatre Restoration and the Staten Island Children’s Campaign, while also lecturing on commercial and estate law at Wagner College.
The Great Kills millennial became the second Staten Islander in history to chair the New York State Young Republicans after a unanimous vote in August. It’s another show of the borough’s prominence in GOP circles. Peter Giunta has defended Rep. Nicole Malliotakis for siding with Trump-supporting constituents during the impeachment inquiry, although he has warned about the dangers of nationalizing local races. He also backed Curtis Sliwa in the Republican mayoral primary and honored former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani with the Staten Island Young Republican Club’s lifetime achievement award in July.
Staten Island’s Democratic counterweight on the City Planning Commission has helped push through two controversial rezoning policies for the Gowanus and SoHo just before the end of the de Blasio administration’s term. But Allen Cappelli has unfinished business as a member of the mayor’s property tax commission, which scrapped in-person public hearings during the coronavirus pandemic and hosted Zoom meetings over the summer. Reforming the city’s grossly unequal property tax system will have to wait for the next mayor anyway.
Although the coronavirus pandemic forced the shops at Staten Island’s Empire Outlets to close temporarily, resulting in a 65 to 70% decline in foot traffic last year, Joseph Ferrara and Winthrop Wharton helped the retail complex pivot. They housed a mass vaccination site in February, lent vacant stores to small business and artists and hosted outdoor screenings with the Tribeca Film Festival in June. Shoppers have since returned, with foot traffic up 20% and parking up 140% between February and March.
COVID-19 represented a threat to the retail sector in Staten Island, but Jim Easley kept the borough’s flagship mall above water. The Staten Island Mall reopened last September, adding two new restaurants to its location the following month. Long lines began to return by December, and the mall lured a Krispy Kreme, a comic shop, a Thai food restaurant and a candy store in June as Easley touted a flurry of interest in leases for the mall’s remaining vacant stores. This fall, foot traffic in the mall is up 2.6% compared with July 2019.
Samir Farag suffered a tragedy when a fire tore through his Museum of Maritime Navigation and Communication on Bay Street in February. Farag had spent months renovating the space, but the fire destroyed most of the artifacts. Despite the damage, the local businessman continued to give back to his community as a member of the Rotary Club of Staten Island, which distributed food, cleaning supplies, and hygiene products to pantries and celebrated its 100th anniversary this summer.
After taking over the Joan & Alan Bernikow Jewish Community Center of Staten Island in March 2020, Orit Lender quickly had to shift most of the community center’s programming online. That felt inadequate to regulars who missed their friends and in-person activities a year into the coronavirus pandemic. So Lender was thrilled when the JCC welcomed back the borough’s seniors to its facilities and reopened Sunrise Day Camp at Dongan Hills in July. This fall, the JCC has gotten back to hosting bat mitzvahs, information technology training and even bluegrass concerts.
As a board member for New York City’s public hospital system for nearly a decade, Dr. Vincent Calamia has sought to ensure Staten Island receives adequate health resources. NYC Health + Hospitals’ Gotham Health clinic on Vanderbilt Avenue became Staten Island’s first vaccination hub in January and recently opened a diabetes center in an area where 15% of the population is suffering from the disease. Calamia is also a medical director for UnitedHealthcare and an associate medical director of endocrinology at Northwell Health’s Staten Island University Hospital.
Although COVID-19 emptied storefronts on commercial corridors like Hylan Boulevard, James Prendamano wasn’t worried. The real estate broker pointed to trends that New Yorkers looking for “more elbow room” are flocking to the borough, which has kept rents steady and accelerated sales. His advice for commercial owners is to find nontraditional tenants like medical-related offices. Prendamano, who just changed the name of his company from Casandra Properties to Prendamano Real Estate, brokered the sale of a 24,000-square-foot shopping center in August with the help of Sonia Tomai, his associate broker.
Immigration rights advocate Cesar Vargas, who is celebrated as New York’s first undocumented immigrant attorney, announced in February he would run for Staten Island borough president. The Annadale resident campaigned with a focus on completing the East Shore Seawell, expanding transit options and improving the island’s energy grid. Vargas came in third in the Democratic primary’s ranked-choice voting. In October, he was awarded the David Prize, and he will use his $200,000 award to bring resources to immigrants in the U.S. armed forces.
Frank Naso, the president of The Naso Organization, has chaired the Building Industry Association of New York City since 2012. The longtime family-run residential and commercial builder’s phone should be ringing off the hook, with pent-up demand from the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of single-family homes in the region causing properties in the borough to sell rapidly. Naso has developed 1,500 homes in Staten Island and 100,000 square feet of commercial space.
Roxanne Mustafa was born and raised in Brooklyn, but for more than a decade she has called Staten Island home – and the Palestinian American has been outspoken in her efforts to make it more equitable. The Staten Island Women Who March co-founder has criticized former Staten Island borough president candidate Leticia Remauro, called on Rep. Nicole Malliotakis to support federal infrastructure funding to make the borough more resilient and advocated for peace in the Middle East. Also, she was recently elected to Staten Island’s District 31 Community Education Council.
The New York Center for Interpersonal Development has benefited from Candace Gonzalez’s hard work and expertise for more than a quarter century. Gonzalez, who started out as a volunteer mediator with the Staten Island nonprofit decades ago, went on to oversee program operations and was named executive director in 2018. She became chief executive officer a year later, succeeding Dominick Brancato, who died of COVID-19 last year. NYCID, which was founded in 1970, offers various youth and community programs as well as professional development and dispute resolution services.
Small businesses in need of guidance when people’s living and shopping habits shifted dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic could turn to John Amodio for advice. The mentor and business counselor offered a myriad of workshops during the pandemic on marketing, cybersecurity, tax preparation and adapting to trends to be more resilient. Amodio also serves on the board of the Rotary Club of Staten Island, which celebrated its centennial this year and continues to tackle food insecurity in the borough.
In early 2019, Edwina Martin made history as the first woman and first person of color to be named Richmond County public administrator. Martin, whose work involves handling the estates of deceased persons who never completed a will, previously served as deputy chief of staff to New York City Council Member Debi Rose. In the past, Martin was a candidate for a Staten Island Civil Court judgeship later in 2019 and is currently a co-chair of the President's Committee on Access to Justice of the New York State Bar Association.
As a business owner, Janet Dugo knows the struggles that Staten Island’s retailers and restaurateurs have faced while the COVID-19 pandemic upended how people work and shop in the borough. The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce official drives initiatives like getting restaurants to participate in the city’s #SmallBusinessSweeties Valentine’s Day campaign to encourage dining out. She has also helped maintain street cleaning for downtown neighborhoods and provided pandemic relief counseling for small businesses.
For the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, Frank Siller knew he had to do something monumental and meaningful to honor his younger brother, Stephen Siller, a firefighter killed in the attacks. So Siller walked more than 500 miles from Washington, D.C., through Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed, over the Bayonne Bridge and into lower Manhattan in time for the solemn ceremony. A month later, Siller’s foundation paid off the mortgages of 50 deceased first responders and Gold Star families across the country.
Con Edison has grappled with a spate of more severe storms wreaking havoc on Staten Island’s power supply, from thunderstorms in Todt Hill to flooding on the Staten Island Railway to the remnants of Hurricane Ida forcing a bus depot to run on generators. Fortunately, Katia Gordon, a fourth-generation Staten Islander, has been the friendly face of the utility in the borough for the past five years. She has also been an instructor for the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy program and spoke at the inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Festival this year.
Former Rep. Max Rose’s district director and political strategist didn’t have to look far for his next move after Rose conceded to Nicole Malliotakis last November. Kevin Elkins joined the 22,000-member New York City & Vicinity District Council of Carpenters in March after handling communications duties for Rose, who briefly explored a bid for mayor. Now that the buzz has Rose preparing for a rematch with Malliotakis, Elkins won’t be far away when it’s time to make a decision about 2022.
The Central Family Life Center, a minority-led community center in Staten Island, has been an essential part of the Stapleton Heights community for the past three decades. Credit the Rev. Demetrius Carolina Sr., the esteemed spiritual leader of First Central Baptist Church and a New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board member, for the center’s continued vitality despite a pandemic that scuttled in-person programs and gatherings. In April, the center unveiled a Spectrum Learning Lab to make technology more accessible to North Shore seniors and young people.
Bianca Rajpersaud is making waves as a lobbyist with extensive public sector experience thanks to stints with Assembly Members Michael Cusick and Danny O’Donnell. At Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, she concentrates on New York City Council budgetary issues as well as state and federal regulations that affect city policies and has aided a wide range of groups, from the SCO Family of Services to Facebook. She also serves as president of the North Shore Democratic Club of Staten Island.
The cost of medical care at hospitals, even for those with health insurance, can be terrifying, and unexpected charges loom around every procedure. Sebastian Angelico’s organization has distributed more than $2 million for medical care for children since its inception, and Angelico has continued to replenish ECHO’s coffers with galas and golf outings. With those funds, ECHO established a new pediatric emergency unit at the Staten Island University Hospital’s Prince’s Bay campus and helped special needs children access a swimming pool by installing a pool lift at the Sunrise Day Camp.
Michelle Akyempong made sure that her Social Service Employees Union Local 371, which represents 20,000 social service workers, juvenile justice and child protection staff in New York City, picked winning horses in this year’s Democratic primary. The local along with its parent union backed New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams, whom Akyempong called a “true civil servant” who “continues to walk in working, middle class, municipal workers’ shoes.” Akyempong is also a dynamic leader in her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, as the social action chair of its Staten Island Alumnae Chapter.
Following the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik urged the nation to “begin to heal.” The leader of the Staten Island branch of the Council of Jewish Organizations has also condemned anti-Semitic flyers in New Dorp and chastised demonstrators who wore yellow stars to protest vaccine mandates. Mirocznik has brought people together through COJO’s Rosh Hashanah food drive and created a day of action and kindness in tribute to the Surfside condo victims. He’s also executive vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America.
Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield joined other Jewish leaders in May to strongly condemn a spike in hate crimes, including inflammatory graffiti scrawled onto the Chabad of Staten Island and swastikas painted at a Sea View campground. The pattern of violent incidents has dismayed Lehrfield, who insisted Staten Islanders “are all the same” despite their differences. Lehrfield also honored NYPD Officer Umar Yasin recently for saving the life of a New Springville resident during the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
Brittany Ramos DeBarros isn’t waiting around to see if former Rep. Max Rose decides to run again against his successor, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, or if the 11th Congressional District is redrawn to be more favorable to Democrats. The self-described “Afro-Latina Staten Islander, community organizer, and progressive combat veteran” is out of the gates early in her bid to win the swing seat next year, and the Democratic Socialists of America member and first-time candidate has already displayed some fundraising prowess.
Grassroots activist Julienne Verdi has been on the front lines of the thorniest public policy debates. The attorney founded Move Forward Staten Island in the aftermath of the 2016 election to serve as a bulwark on reproductive rights and social justice issues. She took part in women’s marches, organized an Indigenous People’s Day cleanup at Conference House Park and urged Congress members to codify Roe v. Wade. Verdi also helped Democrat Olivia Drabczyk in her ultimately unsuccessful race against Republican New York City Council Member Joe Borelli for his 51st District seat.
Kosovar spiritual leader Tahir Kukiqi came to Staten Island nearly two decades ago and has since become an integral part of the borough’s fabric as a leader with the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center and chaplain within the NYPD. Kukiqi helped put together a pop-up vaccination site in April at the AICC, which inoculated more than 800 people, and he worked with the Staten Island district attorney’s Hate Crimes Task Force to unveil a campaign to deter and prosecute hate crimes.
The U.S. political climate even at the neighborhood level may be at its most divisive in the past 50 years, but civic leaders like Dr. Mohammad Khalid offer hope of finding common ground and working towards a more equitable future. The Todt Hill dentist and Community Board 2 member has served meals to members of the Pakistani immigrant community in need and honored longtime police officers who have made his community safer.
Moria Cappio’s nearly eight-year tenure leading the Children’s Aid Society’s early childhood education programs has overlapped with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s widely applauded efforts to implement and expand universal prekindergarten citywide. Since universal pre-K has been rolled out, Cappio has led her division with a budget of $18 million, which includes managing 310 educators and staff members at 14 Head Start, universal Pre-K and child care sites that serve 1,200 children and families.
The West Brighton barber and community activist Robert Perkins made history when he became Staten Island’s first Black male district leader candidate in June, edging incumbent Democrat Daniel Lavelle by 237 votes. In addition to being a minister at First Central Baptist Church, he’s a community school director at P.S. 78, has held leadership roles at Fatherhood Matters and The Edge Foundation and sits on the Staten Island Advance’s steering committee for its Disparity Project. His counterpart, Jasmine Robinson, also broke through as the borough’s first Afro-Latina district leader this year. The former state Senate candidate is the Staten Island co-borough director for AmplifyHer and holds various positions with the National Council of Negro Women, the NAACP, Progressive Women of New York and Citizen Action.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t always brought out the best in everyone, but this Staten Island duo has responded with resourcefulness and a commitment to their community. Natalie DeVito launched a Facebook group, Staten Island COVID19 Resource Network, to share updates about the pandemic. She later teamed up with her husband, Michael DeVito Jr., to launch a texting service notifying residents about open coronavirus vaccination slots. Natalie is also a member of Move Forward Staten Island’s Advisory Council and serves on the board of the Staten Island Long Term Recovery Organization. Michael, a former congressional candidate, is a key staffer at the New York Center for Interpersonal Development, a Staten Island nonprofit.
A life of service and selflessness was imbued in Sharmila Rao Thakkar at an early age by her father. Now, as a philanthropy consultant and nonprofit adviser with her own consulting firm, Thakkar has helped Staten Island community groups raise $20,000 for front-line workers fighting COVID-19 last year. This spring, she coordinated the donation of 14,000 face masks and face shields to hospital and nursing home workers. She has also spoken out against the rising spate of anti-Asian hate crimes, noting that confrontations can cause long-term mental trauma.
Immigrant groups have made a number of significant policy gains in recent years, thanks to the indefatigable work of advocates like Theresa Thanjan. The New York Immigration Coalition’s member engagement manager and public school parent has been at the forefront of the debate that would allow the city’s nearly 1 million foreign-born permanent residents to vote in municipal elections. Thanjan has also advocated for street vendors and other undocumented immigrants to receive pandemic relief from the federal government – something the state rectified in April.
The losses the Staten Island Democratic Party sustained in 2020 inspired Mohammed Karim Chowdhury to bear down and do more outreach in the borough’s immigrant community come the next election cycle. Chowdhury has been working with other community groups to form an immigrant caucus within the party to improve organization and sharpen the party’s focus. He encouraged the North Shore’s South Asian residents to vote in the 2021 and has helped candidates make inroads in the community.
Mike Ryan ceded the spotlight he usually occupies during election season when he took medical leave in March to battle with cancer. His expertise was missed when his deputy Dawn Sandow oversaw the board’s worst crisis in years after it mistakenly added 130,000 sample ballots to the city’s ranked-choice primary preliminary results. Ryan has since returned, brushing off criticism over the blunders and cronyism while noting the board helpfully expanded the number of early voting sites this year.
Correction: This has been updated to reflect the final election results in the 2020 general election matchup between Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and Max Rose.
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