Asian Americans are achieving breakthrough after breakthrough at the ballot box. Vice President Kamala Harris is the first Asian American (as well as the first woman and the first Black person) to occupy her post. A record number of Asian Americans serve in Congress. And while Andrew Yang fell short in his campaign to become New York City’s first Asian American mayor, other major U.S. cities reached that milestone, including Boston and Cincinnati. An unprecedented six Asian Americans were sworn in as New York City Council members this year, following several “firsts” in the state Legislature in recent years – the first Asian Americans in the state Senate, the first South Asians in the Assembly, the first Asian American elected from upstate New York.
Yet, even in New York, known for its large – and growing – Asian American population, representation lags. Nearly 1 in 10 New Yorkers are Asian, yet Rep. Grace Meng is the sole Asian American in the state’s 29-member congressional delegation. In the state Legislature, Asian Americans hold just seven out of 213 seats. Even after impressive gains, Asian American New York City Council members constitute 12% of the 51-member body, below their 14.3% share of the city population. At a time when anti-Asian hate is on the rise, securing greater sway in government is a key objective.
City & State’s Power of Diversity: Asian 100 – researched and written in partnership with journalist Natasha Ishak – identifies New York’s Asian American leaders from a wide range of backgrounds who are gaining political power and standing up for their communities.
Rep. Grace Meng is the state’s highest-ranking Asian American elected official and has served New York’s 6th Congressional District in Queens for nearly a decade since becoming New York’s first Asian American elected to Congress in 2012. In February, she joined other Asian American leaders in calling for increased education and raising awareness about anti-Asian racism while introducing legislation to study the feasibility of creating a national museum of Asian American and Pacific Islander history.
Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou is a high-profile progressive in the Assembly. Her historic bill disaggregating data collection on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and her bill to help government staffers gain sexual harassment protections were both signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul in recent months. She also secured $10 million in funding for Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations. The lower Manhattan lawmaker’s bid to unseat state Sen. Brian Kavanagh is expected to result in one of the most competitive Democratic primary races this year.
Last year, Assembly Member Ron Kim took on then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo – and won. The chair of the Assembly’s Aging Committee, who has focused on protecting vulnerable senior citizens, continues to advocate for elderly nursing homes residents who died from COVID-19 during Cuomo’s handling of New York’s pandemic response. Kim is now advocating for fair pay and working conditions for home care workers. This year, he took on two other political heavyweights – the nonprofit Chinese-American Planning Council and the labor union 1199SEIU – with allegations of underpayment of home health aides.
The endorsement of state Sen. John Liu was sought by many of the Asian American candidates competing in last year’s New York City elections. As chair of the state Senate’s New York City Education Committee, Liu has also pushed to improve diversity in the city’s public school curriculum. His committee has begun soliciting public opinion over mayoral control of the city’s public schools following the at-times chaotic nature of school reopenings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Liu recently praised the Adams administration for expanding the city’s gifted and talented program, which had been on the chopping block.
Dr. Ashwin Vasan’s appointment as New York City’s new health commissioner this year marks a full-circle journey from his work as the founding executive director of the department’s Health Access Equity Unit. Vasan, who’s now shepherding the city through yet another surge in COVID-19 cases, previously led Fountain House, a nonprofit that provides wraparound mental health services through its world-renowned housing program, while also serving as a primary care physician and a public health professor.
Bhairavi Desai leads the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 25,000 taxi, corporate and app-based drivers in the city. She played a leading role in last year’s driver-led hunger strike, which ultimately led to a long-sought commitment from City Hall to provide a loan program to resolve the devastating taxi medallion crisis. The worker rights organization also played a role in securing a 5.3% pay bump for Uber, Lyft and other app-based drivers.
Meera Joshi is the first South Asian person to serve as New York City deputy mayor for operations. Her prior stints include correctional and law enforcement oversight as the first deputy executive director of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board. She also served as federal administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and as commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.
Maria Torres-Springer oversees New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ economic development team – among other responsibilities – as the deputy mayor for economic and workforce development. The first Filipina American to occupy the post, Torres-Springer is an old hand at economic oversight: She served as the commissioner of the city Department of Small Business Services before helming the New York City Economic Development Corp. as its president and CEO.
Zohran Mamdani’s work as an elected official is informed by his years of activism, including operating according to a “one hand in legislation, one hand in organizing, and one hand in constituent issues” philosophy, as he described it to The Nation. Mamdani, a democratic socialist, participated in a hunger strike last year alongside taxi drivers that secured a debt relief agreement with City Hall and successfully campaigned to stop a gas power plant from being built in Astoria, Queens.
Jeremy Cooney is one of three Asian Americans in the state Senate – and the only one from upstate. The Rochester area lawmaker, who was the inaugural chair of the state Senate Cities II Committee, was also instrumental in pushing New York’s legalization of recreational marijuana last year as co-chair of the state Senate Marijuana Task Force for the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. He championed a measure allowing marijuana entrepreneurs to deduct business expenses from state taxes and recently introduced legislation that would facilitate banking in the cannabis industry.
Jenifer Rajkumar’s priorities as an elected official are informed by her past experience as a lawyer advocating for immigrant New Yorkers. Rajkumar, the first South Asian American woman to serve in the Assembly, chairs the chamber’s Subcommittee on Diversity in Law. Her milestone legislative package granting domestic workers full protection under the state’s human rights law and expanding paid family leave was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul this year. She’s also pushing legislation that would make Diwali a school holiday.
A historic number of Asian Americans joined the New York City Council this past year, marking a major shift as the legislative body previously had only two Asian American members. Most of the cohort represent parts of Queens, including Council Member Linda Lee, whose district encompasses parts of eastern Queens. She chairs the City Council’s Mental Health, Disabilities and Addictions Committee and also co-chairs its Queens delegation. Council Member Sandra Ung represents District 20, which includes Downtown Flushing, Murray Hill and Queensboro Hill, and is one of the four Asian women on the City Council. A community organizer and attorney, Ung previously provided legal counsel for a nonprofit serving gender-based violence victims and served as executive director of the At The Table PAC. Both Shekar Krishnan, previously a housing activist and civil rights lawyer, and Shahana Hanif, a former staffer in then-City Council Member Brad Lander’s office, made history as the first candidates of South Asian descent to join the City Council. The daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, Hanif is also the legislative body’s first female Muslim member. City Council Member Julie Won is the first woman and immigrant to represent the 26th District, which includes Long Island City, Sunnyside, Astoria and Woodside. Prior to her election, Won was a tenant activist and served on Queens Community Board 2. City Council Member Chi Ossé, who has both Haitian and Chinese heritage, is one of the youngest City Council members elected to office and now represents Bedford-Stuyvesant and North Crown Heights.
Neal Kwatra has built his company, Metropolitan Public Strategies, into one of New York’s most effective strategic consulting firms. Last year, Kwatra ran the $2 million political campaign blitz for Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities, a political action committee under the auspices of the Hotel Trades Council – one of MPS’ biggest clients – in support of Eric Adams’ successful mayoral bid. Kwatra is increasingly focused on combating climate change, working with clients on offshore wind, building decarbonization and the state Environmental Bond Act before voters this fall.
Ibrahim Khan, a seasoned political operative, has worked with state Attorney General Letitia James since her days as New York City public advocate. The state attorney general’s office is keeping Khan and his 1,800 colleagues plenty busy: Its bombshell investigative report on the sexual harassment allegations against Andrew Cuomo ultimately led to his political demise as governor, and a judge ruled that James can interview former President Donald Trump and his adult children as part of the ongoing investigation into The Trump Organization’s financial statements.
Kevin Thomas has represented Long Island since 2019, when his election victory made him the first Indian American to serve in the state Senate. As chair of the chamber’s Consumer Protection Committee, he recently introduced a bill that would require mandatory consent from property managers and residents participating in Amazon’s tech-based Keys to Business program. Thomas, who only narrowly won reelection in 2020, has touted new transportation infrastructure investments coming to Long Island.
Rohit T. Aggarwala has served as New York City’s top environmental official since late January, when Mayor Eric Adams appointed him to a newly created dual role as chief climate officer and commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection. He previously led the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability during former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. Aggarwala, who was also part of the founding team at Sidewalk Labs, a tech startup that is a Google subsidiary, is a former senior urban tech fellow at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech.
Before his recent appointment to head the New York City Department of Small Business Services, Kevin D. Kim was the first Asian American commissioner of the state Liquor Authority. Also, in February, he was appointed to President Joe Biden’s Advisory Commission on Asian American, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Kim sits on a slew of boards, including the board of trustees for CUNY and the Asian American Bar Association of New York.
Kim Pegula shares ownership of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres teams with her husband, Terry Pegula. As president, Kim, who was born in South Korea, oversees the financing and operations of the teams’ businesses, with a commitment to developing services to improve fans’ game experience. The Pegulas recently secured a taxpayer-subsidized, $1.4 billion stadium deal for the Buffalo Bills through the state budget with backing from influential Buffalo executives.
Jo-Ann Yoo has served as executive director of the Asian American Federation, which supports more than 70 nonprofits that are part of its network, since 2014. The federation recently received $6.8 million in state funding to support the services provided by its community-based network organizations for Asian New Yorkers. Yoo was also tapped to serve on New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ COVID-19 Recovery Roundtable and Health Equity Task Force.
Edith Hsu-Chen, who was appointed to run the New York City Department of City Planning in January, has been part of the office since 1997. After emigrating with her parents from Taiwan, she started as an intern at the department before occupying other roles over the years. Her most recent post was borough director for Manhattan. Hsu-Chen holds a bachelor’s degree in design of the environment from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in urban planning from Harvard University.
Peter Tu is a Queens business leader and the head of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, which advocates for the economic interests of Flushing’s many Asian businesses. As executive director, Tu has pushed for further revitalization efforts for businesses impacted by the pandemic. The association pledged support for Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s legislation to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and supply new relief for local businesses.
Wayne Ho has served as president and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council, one of the country’s largest Asian American social service agencies, since 2017. The group provides services to some 2,000 senior residents and is among eight community organizations authorized to distribute $27 million in state funding for Hurricane Ida victims ineligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance due to their immigration status.
Queens College has had plenty of exciting developments since Frank Wu’s 2020 appointment as president. This includes news that the college is expected to receive $1.8 million in federal funding for a COVID-19 wastewater testing project conducted by the school’s Wastewater Epidemiology Training Laboratory. In March, Wu announced that the college will open a new business school as part of its five-year strategic plan.
Since his appointment as Baruch College’s president in February 2020, S. David Wu has worked to ensure the continued growth of the school amid a pandemic that has disrupted education at all levels. Following the launch of Baruch’s new Financial Engineering Hub, meant to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration between students and real experts, the college concluded the year with the unveiling of its first permanent student center.
Anne del Castillo, who has led the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment since 2019, will continue to do so in the Adams administration. Under her leadership, New York’s entertainment sectors shifted to pandemic-focused operations through initiatives like the Broadway Vaccination Site, which supports entertainment and nightlife workers, Curtains Up NYC, and Fair Share NYC: Restaurants, which assisted bars and restaurants in getting connected to federal relief funds.
Pat Wang is a veteran of New York’s health care sector. Under her leadership, Healthfirst has grown into the largest nonprofit health insurer in the state – and one of the highest-rated. Healthfirst serves 1.7 million members, more than 300,000 of whom identify as Asian American and Pacific Islander. Wang was appointed to the federal government’s Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and sits on the Alliance for Health Policy’s board.
This power couple found massive success in retail – Joseph Tsai as co-founder of Chinese retail giant Alibaba Group, Clara Wu Tsai as former Hong Kong general manager of Taobao, the largest online shopping site in China. They share both ownership of the Brooklyn Nets – which boasts superstars such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on its roster – and a commitment to philanthropy, dedicating $50 million to their Social Justice Fund, which works toward racial justice and economic mobility for minority communities in Brooklyn.
Jim Dao is a veteran journalist at The New York Times, where he has taken on multiple roles since his 1992 hire. He served as the paper’s Pentagon correspondent, its Albany bureau chief, and its op-ed section editor. Last year, he was appointed to lead the paper’s Metro section as New York City headed into the 2021 election cycle, which included a closely watched mayoral race.
As a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Joon H. Kim specializes in internal investigations and regulatory enforcement. Kim became known to the wider public after his press conference appearance last year, where he detailed findings in the five-month investigation against former Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he co-led for the state attorney general’s office. Kim was formerly acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
This year marks Satish Tripathi’s 11th year as president of the University at Buffalo. In January, the SUNY school received joint designation as a New York flagship public university by Gov. Kathy Hochul, further burnishing its reputation as one of the state’s preeminent academic institutions. Tripathi in March was named one of Western New York’s 250 most powerful figures by The Business Journals.
Ai-jen Poo has pushed the labor movement to new heights since co-founding the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2007. In New York, the organization played a key role in the inclusion of domestic workers in the New York City Human Rights law, securing legal protections for 60,000 domestic workers, and partnered with the city to ensure care workers had access to vital pandemic resources.
Maf Misbah Uddin is one of New York’s most politically active labor leaders. Beyond his responsibilities as the Alliance of South Asian American Labor’s president, Uddin occupies leadership posts with other labor groups. He serves as treasurer of District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union, and leads Local 1407. He was recently appointed to New York City’s new redistricting panel.
Filipino American businessman Ed Domingo oversees the daily operations of Empire City Casino, the sixth-largest gaming floor in the U.S., and its historic Yonkers Raceway counterpart. The casino, acquired by MGM in 2019, currently has more than 1,000 employees and hosts an estimated 9 million visitors annually. Empire City is expected to be one of the leading contenders to secure a commercial casino license now that legislators have authorized three full-fledged casinos in downstate New York this year.
John Park has led the MinKwon Center for Community Action since 2017. He and his staff help low-income Korean and Asian immigrant residents through social services and advocacy. The MinKwon Center has provided support for community members amid rising anti-Asian hate crimes, teaming up with other local groups to launch Hate Free Zones in Flushing where residents can access designated “safe zones” and resources for help. Park also spearheaded a coalition advocating for greater representation for Asian Americans in New York City through redistricting.
Faiza Saeed is a trailblazer in the legal sector. She oversees multibillion-dollar merger and acquisition deals for clients like Disney and, as one of the few Asian American women leading a top legal firm, continues to push Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s equity and diversity efforts. Saeed was named this year’s “Lawyer of the Year” by The Best Lawyers in America, a peer review legal publication.
Dr. Rajiv Shah has had a distinguished career in philanthropy. He served as United States Agency for International Development administrator under former President Barack Obama, leading the aid agency’s $20 billion operations in 70 countries around the world. He also spent several years as director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A Michigan native, Shah now leads The Rockefeller Foundation’s global humanitarian operations out of its New York headquarters.
New York City’s climate resiliency plans took on greater urgency after the remnants of Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc across the city’s boroughs last year. As head of the Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency, Jainey Bavishi oversees the city’s climate protection plans. That includes the embattled $1.45 billion East Side Coastal Resiliency Project to construct a 10-foot-high floodgate deep-rooted in steel stretching from East 25th Street all the way downtown. She was nominated last summer to be the assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Richard Siu oversees important investments made by New York real estate developer F&T Group. The company’s portfolio of developments around Queens includes the Special Flushing Waterfront District, a major redevelopment project. Another landmark development by Siu’s company is the $800 million Tangram complex, a 1.2-million-square-foot retail and residential project featuring shops, a hotel and a movie theater in the heart of downtown Flushing.
Nina Kubota is a veteran public servant at the New York City School Construction Authority, where she has served for more than two decades. She took on a number of roles in the department, including vice president of capital plan management, before she was appointed as its president and CEO by then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2021. The authority plans to open 12 new buildings and seven pre-K centers this year.
This year has been full of wins for Anita Gundanna and Vanessa Leung, who have directed the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families together since 2017. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law a bill to disaggregate data collection among different Asian American and Pacific Islander groups, a cause the CAACF has advocated for a decade, and the group received $1 million to support its work with New York’s Asian youth.
Margaret Fung leads the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which provides valuable resources and legal assistance to New York City’s vulnerable Asian communities in landmark civil rights cases. AALDEF is focused on educational outreach amid rising anti-Asian violence and is part of a coalition of organizations aiming to gain citizenship for 2 million eligible immigrants this year.
Emily Ngo is a political reporter and occasional pundit. She grew up in Chicago but has kept New Yorkers up to date on the political scene since 2007, reporting on legislation, gubernatorial races and citywide elections. She covered last year’s competitive mayoral race and continues to follow the Adams administration. Her reporting has earned her awards from the Deadline Club and the New York Press Club.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in New York City’s Chinatown, Chung Seto has deep ties within the city. She held leadership roles with political groups, such as the New York State Democratic Committee, and has worked on campaigns for elected officials like state Sen. John Liu and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou. Seto is also part of the United Democratic Organization, a political club in lower Manhattan.
My Chi To oversees the state Department of Financial Services’ insurance department, a crucial role she assumed just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her division, which regulates all 1,800 insurance companies operating in New York, has been part of DFS’ diversity efforts to reduce biases in the industry and to mitigate climate-related risk management for insurers. She is a former Rhodes Scholar and worked as a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton for 14 years.
Dr. Anthony Shih has led the United Hospital Fund in developing guidance on health policy and health care delivery since he was named president in 2017. Among the nonprofit research organization’s notable reports in recent years are its 2020 study on the impact of COVID-19-related parental loss for New York’s children, and its overview of the health policy agendas of the leading New York City mayoral candidates ahead of last year’s elections.
Angela Sung Pinsky has led Google New York’s government affairs division since 2020. Prior to that, she helmed the nonprofit civic organization Association for a Better New York. She also served as senior vice president of management services and government affairs at the Real Estate Board of New York, a powerful trade group. She represented Google at last year’s Centennial of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Wellington Chen steers the Chinatown Partnership, an organization launched in 2006 with the aim of rebuilding and revitalizing the Manhattan neighborhood. The organization partners with private and public entities – including the Chinatown Business Improvement District – to provide economic support for Chinatown’s businesses. Chen is also part of a planning committee overseeing $20 million worth of investments by the state to revitalize Chinatown as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
Jeremy Kohomban, who is Sri Lankan, leads two children’s services nonprofits: The Children’s Village, a Dobbs Ferry-based organization that serves 17,000 individuals every year, and Harlem Dowling, which is headquartered in Manhattan. Both are part of the Fair Futures coalition, which sought $35 million of baseline funding to provide individual coaches to foster youths. His nonprofit is working to repurpose Manhattan’s Inwood Library to include affordable housing.
Hae-Lin Choi has kept busy as the political director of one of the state’s most politically active unions. Choi has helped Communications Workers of America District 1 deliver a number of victories in recent years, including a state law on nurse staffing levels, a tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers and health care strikes in Western New York that paved the way for better worker contracts. Now, the union is pushing to strengthen labor standards for broadband workers and have lent support to Starbucks employees striking upstate.
William Ng took over as president and Karen Kim as president-elect of the Asian American Bar Association of New York in April. Ng is a shareholder at Littler, a major employment and labor law firm. A Brooklyn Law School alumnus, Kim has practiced law for over a decade and serves as counsel to QBE North America. In March, AABANY, together with like-minded organizations, filed a court brief addressing suspected racial bias in a ruling involving a Korean American individual.
Carl Hum advised the Real Estate Board of New York on legal regulatory matters related to building codes and construction before assuming his current role as the organization’s senior vice president. Prior to joining the powerful trade group, Hum worked at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York City Department of Small Business Services. He also led advocacy work with the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
As head of Blackstone’s Americas real estate division, Nadeem Meghji is the private equity firm’s top property investments executive, responsible for building its U.S. portfolio. This includes big-ticket acquisitions such as New York City’s Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village and the BioMed Realty Trust. Meghji, who has a number of family members who suffer from lupus, is an avid fundraiser for lupus research and is a Lupus Research Alliance board member.
As chair of Greenberg Traurig’s New York State Government Law & Policy Practice, Samir NeJame is committed to serving his clients as they continue to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes real estate clients like the Real Estate Board of New York and Tishman Speyer, one of the largest landlords in the country. NeJame’s legal expertise has also been sought by municipal governments like Westchester County and Syracuse.
The daughter of Chinese Trinidadian immigrants, Jeanette M. Moy has a wealth of experience in implementing innovative system services. Before her appointment to the state Office of General Services, she was executive vice president and chief operating officer for Public Health Solutions, a health equity organization, where she strengthened its corporate functions and developed new services models. She also served as chief operating officer for the state attorney general’s office.
Two years into her time at Kasirer, Marian Guerra has moved from serving as director of government relations to an associate vice president role. She provides nonprofit clients with a wide range of support on regulatory matters regarding government agencies. Before coming to Kasirer, Guerra served as deputy chief of staff to former City Council Member Margaret Chin and worked with the political group New American Leaders.
John Albert is a partner at the Bolton-St. Johns lobbying firm. In his role, Albert advises the firm’s diverse clients on government relations and policy. Albert has held multiple nonprofit positions outside of his lobbying work: He sat on the boards of New Destiny Housing Corp. and Taking Our Seat, a Queens-based civic organization. He was also chair of the New York City Bar Association’s State Affairs Committee.
Myung Lee is now two years into her role leading Volunteers of America-Greater New York, a human services nonprofit delivering housing, mental health services and other support to 30,000 people each year. She has leveraged her role to call on state leaders to do more nonprofits and the people they support. Earlier this year, Lee called for the state to commit $250 million in funding for the Housing Access Voucher Program and for improvements to New York City’s contracting process with nonprofits.
Nikki Singh oversees The Sikh Coalition’s on-the-ground political activism. Her leadership has helped pass hate crime legislation in states like Indiana and Georgia and workplace religious freedom laws in New York. In 2020, Singh managed the coalition’s census and voter outreach efforts targeting Sikh Americans across the U.S. She previously worked at the Clinton Foundation and the Human Rights Foundation.
Saima Anjam brings a long history of advocacy work to her work at The Parkside Group. She is a former senior director of advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition, where she worked on issues like expanding health care access for immigrants, and previously served as the director of public policy for the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Anjam works heavily with The Parkside Group’s nonprofit clients in the labor and environmental sectors.
Trip Yang founded his eponymous political consulting firm in 2019. He mostly works with progressive candidates of color, spearheading successful campaigns for elected officials like New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and state Attorney General Letitia James. He sits on the advisory board of the New Leaders Council, which trains young progressives, and was the political director for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. Editor’s Note: Trip Yang is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
The New York State Public Employees Federation is a union representing over 50,000 professional and technical state employees in New York. As its political director, Leah Gonzalez directs the labor group’s political organizing and campaigning. PEF notched several victories in the latest state budget, including increased funds for state agency staffing and a worker-friendly revision of a state pension tier. Gonzalez worked with the influential 1199SEIU health care workers union before taking on her current role.
Nayan Parikh is committed to expanding opportunities for minority entrepreneurs. The founder and president of Ashnu International, a New York City-based general contracting and construction management company, Parikh also sits on the New York City Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises Advisory Board, and serves as president of the New York Tri-State Chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, which provides networking opportunities for businesses.
Asian Americans for Equality has supported New York’s Asian communities since 1974. Under Jennifer Sun and Thomas Yu’s leadership, the nonprofit this year offered free legal clinics for residents and created a $1 million emergency loan program to assist small businesses destroyed by the March fire in Queens. The group will also receive new funds from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $6.8 million aid package supporting Asian American groups.
L. Austin D’Souza and Vidya Pappachan jointly lead the South Asian Bar Association of New York. Outside the organization, D’Souza serves as principal law clerk at the New York State Court of Claims and as a director on the New York County Lawyers Association board. Pappachan was appointed in December by then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to serve on New York’s Civil Court; she presides over Criminal Court cases as well.
A former refugee herself, Chhaya Chhoum leads Mekong NYC, a nonprofit serving Southeast Asian refugees and elderly residents in the Bronx. Beyond providing mutual aid, the group advocates for legislation supporting low-income immigrant workers such as the Nail Salon Minimum Standards Council Act. Chhoum frequently speaks on refugee issues, including recent appearances on panels organized by the World Health Organization and Manhattan College.
Shandra Woworuntu, who hails from Indonesia, is known among her peers as a powerful advocate for victims of sexual trafficking. A survivor of trafficking herself, in 2014, Woworuntu founded Mentari, a Queens-based nonprofit that provides services for trafficking survivors. In February, she appeared alongside U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and other advocates as New York’s junior senator unveiled bipartisan legislation supporting human trafficking survivors.
Dr. Henry Chen serves as president of Somos Community Care, which serves 650,000 patients through its network of 3,500 neighborhood health care providers. Chen has spoken of his own experience facing a racist assault during the pandemic. Last year, he estimated that up to 30% of his elderly patients have stopped making appointments with his organization due to their fears of being attacked.
In January, Richard Kim was appointed as editor-in-chief of The City, an award-winning nonprofit publication that has quickly become one of New York’s leading news outlets. He served in leadership roles at other major online and print publications, including as executive editor at HuffPost and at The Nation. Kim succeeds Jere Hester, The City’s founding editor-in-chief, who returned to a director role at Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.
Ali Chaudhry, who is from Pakistan, is a rising star in the construction sector. His prior government work has informed his current role at AECOM: He held multiple titles in the Cuomo administration, including that of deputy secretary for transportation. Chaudhry is busy guiding his firm’s numerous landmark projects, including the rehabilitation of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and LaGuardia Airport.
John Wang has led the Asian American Business Development Center for nearly three decades, supporting Asian businesses through a variety of initiatives. The group’s annual 50 Outstanding Asian Americans in Business gala has sought to uplift Asian American leaders inside and outside the business sector for more than two decades. The center is partnering with the groups One Hundred Black Men and the Hispanic Federation to dispense COVID-19 grants to small businesses representing minority communities.
Sayu Bhojwani’s work can most often be found at the intersection of immigrant issues, gender equality and civic affairs. She founded New American Leaders, a nonprofit organization that supports immigrant candidates for public office, and now leads the Women’s Democracy Lab, which she launched last year. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Bhojwani was New York City’s first immigrant affairs commissioner. Editor’s Note: Sayu Bhojwani is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Ali Najmi doesn’t hesitate to take on the political establishment. The attorney secured a statewide injunction requiring that the state count mail-in ballots two days after the primary and sued the Brooklyn Democratic Party for failing to hold meetings. He is also bringing a lawsuit on behalf of Rep Your Block against the Brooklyn Democratic Party, alleging signatures were forged on petition challenges. “I really love the law, the practice of it, the trial aspect, and I love politics,” Najmi told City & State in 2021.
The recently renamed New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, which represents 40,000 hotel and gaming workers in New York and New Jersey, is one of New York’s most powerful labor unions. The son of Indian immigrants, Bhav Tibrewal has been integral to furthering the council’s political priorities for years, first as deputy political director and now as political director. The Hotel Trades Council is also celebrating a move to expedite three full-fledged casinos in downstate New York, which will create new jobs for its members.
Vijay Dandapani co-founded the boutique hotel owner-operator Apple Core Hotels in 1993. As head of the Hotel Association of New York City, he is working to keep New York’s hotels running amid the pandemic’s economic downturn and was instrumental in coordinating the quick conversion of hotels into shelters. The trade group is campaigning for a break on late tax payments for city hotels.
As senior vice president and chief quality officer of New York City Health + Hospitals, Dr. Eric Wei oversees the quality standards for care services at these public health care facilities. An emergency medicine specialist, Wei led New York City Health + Hospitals’ emergency department’s COVID-19 fundraising efforts, which raised $30 million to support the health system’s programs during the pandemic. Wei is a board member of MetroPlus Health.
Soohyung Kim chairs Bally’s Corp., a global casino-entertainment company. Kim, who grew up in Queens, is also a founding partner of investment firm Standard General LP, which is the largest Bally’s shareholder. This year, Kim has sought to buy out the remaining Bally’s shares. Bally’s is one of several casinos vying to secure city contracts ahead of the state’s approval for a new downstate casino.
Charles Yoon has been president of the Korean American Association of Greater New York since 2019. The Manhattan-based group aims to advocate on behalf of the interests of New York’s roughly 500,000 Korean Americans. Leading up to last year’s citywide elections, the association organized civic engagement events like get out the vote campaigns targeting New York’s Korean diaspora and a mayoral candidate forum.
Justin Yu is a community leader in New York City who chairs the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of New York, which is dedicated to representing and advocating for local Chinese businesses. The coronavirus pandemic created severe challenges for Asian American businesses, but it also spawned a renewed sense of solidarity among Asian Americans and allies, he said. “I have never seen so many young people coming back to town, coming back to help,” he told CBS this spring.
Annetta Seecharran directs Chhaya’s program services geared toward supporting low-income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers. A Guyanese immigrant, Seecharran spoke out about the tragic deaths of residents who drowned in their basement apartments – many of whom were Asian immigrants – during the remnants of Hurricane Ida last year. Seecharran testified before a House subcommittee in March regarding discrimination against Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities.
Kamal Bherwani spent half of his career in New York City government. He left to work in the private sector in 1994 but returned as the city Department of Design and Construction’s first chief information officer in 1997. Bherwani later held the same title at other city agencies. As chief executive officer of GCOM for nearly three years, Bherwani wants the major New York government tech contractor to “be known as the company that helps government create healthier and more prosperous communities.” Editor’s Note: Kamal Bherwani is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Paul Mak is a community leader in Brooklyn who launched the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association in 1988 to address the unmet needs of the borough’s growing Chinese communities and has led the organization since. Among its victories, the association led community campaigns last year against the state Department of Transportation’s plan to build protected bike lanes on Sunset Park streets; the plan was scrapped after heavy protests from Asian American community members.
The driving force behind Adhikaar, an advocacy group serving Nepali domestic workers, is Executive Director Pabitra Benjamin, who has led the organization since 2017. Together with community partners and elected officials, the group introduced the groundbreaking Nail Salon Minimum Standards Council Act, which would establish the first nail salon industry council authorized to set working condition standards for nail salon workers like minimum wages and paid time off.
GAPIMNY is a member-based organization that has advocated and supported LGBTQ-identifying AAPI individuals in New York since 1990. Wu is a lawyer and attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Harlem Community Law Office. Shen is GAPIMNY’s first transgender co-chair. He served on the steering committee for Q-Wave, a New York-based community nonprofit supporting LGTBQ Asians. Kwong, who works in public health policy, previously worked with the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance in San Francisco.
Sanjay Mody has been at Windels Marx for nearly a decade, advising clients in infrastructure, real estate and urban economic development. A self-described urbanist, Mody speaks extensively on infrastructure development and has advocated for more hybrid private-public partnerships. He is treasurer of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy board and a former senior adviser to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s chair.
The American Pakistani Advocacy Group is dedicated to supporting Pakistani New Yorkers through mutual aid and advocacy. Under Ali Rashid’s leadership, the nonprofit has campaigned for important legislation like the noncitizen voting bill passed by the City Council this year, and the Language Access Act, requiring state agency documents to be provided in 13 languages. APAG recently launched a scholarship for Pakistani American students attending CUNY and SUNY schools.
Justin Chae is the CEO of Meridian Strategies, a political consulting firm that he co-founded just three years ago at age 19. The political operative has worked with the likes of former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and New York City Health + Hospitals. Chae is a board director of Stonewall Community Development, which offers supportive programs for elderly LGBTQ individuals.
Taehoon Kim and John Choe have co-led the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce for years now. Their focus during the COVID-19 pandemic has been organizing public events to support the reopening of Flushing’s Asian businesses. The Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce is part of a broad coalition that has been calling for city officials to fully fund the NYC Streets Plan, which aims for greater accessibility and sustainability of the city’s open streets.
Anna Mercado Clark leads the data security and privacy, and e-discovery and digital forensics practice team at the law firm Phillips Lytle. She advises clients on cybersecurity and data privacy matters – her specialty – and is a designated Fellow of Information Privacy, a prestigious professional certification demonstrating comprehensive knowledge in areas of privacy law. Clark handled white-collar crimes and investigations as an assistant district attorney in Queens.
The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance represents 1,927 AAPI and immigrant workers nationally. As head of the organization’s New York chapter, Steven Moy led voter campaigns ahead of last year’s elections and mobilized members to support Stop Asian Hate rallies. Moy is the former president of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus’ New York chapter and serves on the executive board of IBEW Local 3.
Steven Choi is best known for his work as executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, having led the immigrant advocacy group for seven years. Prior to that, he led the MinKwon Center for Community Action, which offers social services for low-income Korean residents. He now helms One For Democracy, a coalition of executives dedicating their personal wealth to democracy-strengthening efforts, and was one of a half dozen co-chairs of Mayor Eric Adams’ transition committee.
Kaushal Challa is the CEO of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, a federally qualified primary care center in New York that primarily serves non-English speaking and low-income residents. The center, which operates five locations across Manhattan and Queens seven days a week, has been a crucial health care resource during the pandemic, administering more than 70,000 vaccinations since the start of the outbreak.
A top lawyer in her own right, Sudha Setty will make history as the first South Asian to lead a CUNY school when she begins her tenure in July as dean of the CUNY School of Law. She previously served as the dean of the Western New England University School of Law, where she led the creation of the Center for Social Justice, which provides a framework for the school’s work in social justice law.
When COVID-19 began to ravage her Jackson Heights neighborhood, S. Mitra Kalita launched Epicenter-NYC, a COVID-19 informational newsletter for New Yorkers. It became a critical news source, helping 5,000 readers navigate chaotic vaccination registrations. Kalita later co-founded URL Media, a network of Black and brown community news outlets. She is a former senior vice president for news, opinion, and programming at CNN Digital.
Mon Yuck Yu drives the Academy of Medical & Public Health Services’ efforts to provide culturally sensitive health services for immigrant residents. Yu oversees the nonprofit’s daily operations, managing staff and building community partnerships. She serves on the Test & Trace Community Advisory Board of NYC Health + Hospitals. She previously worked with the American Red Cross and the Chinese-American Planning Council.
The Regional Plan Association is celebrating its 100th anniversary as one of the most influential advocacy groups focused on land use, transportation and other issues across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. A certified urban planner, Maulin Mehta leads the organization’s research and advocacy efforts in the state of New York. Mehta praised Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this year for backing the creation of an Interborough Express, which would connect portions of Brooklyn and Queens by train.
Kumar Rao has led the insurgent New York Working Families Party’s political strategies since 2020. He is the former director of justice transformation at the Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group, and co-founded Desis United, a project of New American Voices PAC, for targeted media outreach to Indian American voters in the 2020 elections. He is a former litigator and is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia Law School.
Sasha Neha Ahuja is a longtime queer Indian American advocate. She has worked with various gender equity-driven groups like Planned Parenthood – where she’s now national director for strategic partnerships – and Girls for Gender Equity, a Brooklyn organization that works to end gender-based violence toward girls of color. When she is not fulfilling her duties as a commissioner on the city’s Gender Equity Commission, she teaches social work at Columbia University.
Elizabeth OuYang is a civil rights attorney and advocate whose commitment to social justice was crystallized by the 1982 high-profile murder of Vincent Chin. She has worked with numerous advocacy groups and has provided valuable legal counsel for AAPI organizations like the New York Immigration Coalition and APA VOICE. She helped coordinate Asian American community groups advocating for representation ahead of the state’s recent redrawing of district maps.
Steven Sanyu has been a longtime leader in Buffalo’s Burmese community, heading an organization dedicated to helping Burmese refugees and immigrants. Between 8,000 to 15,000 Burmese people reside in Buffalo, and Sanyu’s nonprofit works to make sure they have access to housing, public benefits and legal assistance. When Gov. Kathy Hochul announced $10 million in funding would be awarded to community organizations serving Asian American communities in February, Burmese Community Services was named as one of the recipients.
New York City’s plan to build borough-based jails has received significant backlash in Chinatown, where the Manhattan jail is set to be located. Jan Lee and a group he helps lead, Neighbors United Below Canal, have been vocal opponents of the project, arguing it would have a negative environmental and economic impact on the community. Lee rallied together with other protesters in April in an attempt to block the demolition of the existing Manhattan Detention Complex.
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