Black New Yorkers hold powerful political positions at all levels of government. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who took office earlier this year, is the second Black man to hold the post. Of the other major positions in the city, two are held by Black politicians – New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. At the state level, the top two legislative leaders – state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie – are Black, as is state Attorney General Letitia James. Black New Yorkers make up a significant share of the state’s congressional delegation, the state Legislature and the New York City Council.
Yet amid the gains in representation, racism is still rearing its ugly head. Just last month, 10 Black people were killed in a racist shooting at a Buffalo supermarket. When Western New York Republican Rep. Chris Jacobs subsequently came out in support of an assault weapons ban, he was pressured into retiring – and party members rallied around a candidate with a history of racist remarks. Meanwhile, a backlash against critical race theory has gained traction in parts of the state.
City & State’s Power of Diversity: Black 100, researched and written by City & State’s Shantel Destra and freelance journalist Jared McCallister, recognizes the most influential Black New Yorkers in politics, government, business and other arenas who have blazed a trail for others – and are continuing to battle in pursuit of equal rights for all.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams started his term with a pledge to “get stuff done.” As far as getting Albany on board with some of those priorities, he’s had mixed results. While the state’s leaders signed off on bail reform changes that he backed, he only managed to secure a two-year extension of mayoral control of schools. Throughout June, he’ll be keeping busy trying to get the New York City Council to sign off on his budget proposal, which would boost spending for police and set aside $5 billion for affordable housing.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins had a busy legislative session. The Westchester lawmaker passed legislation protecting abortion access and combating gun violence, which became a high priority after the deadly Buffalo supermarket shooting. And that’s after an already busy state budget process, which brought her successes such as increased funding for child care and disappointments such as bail reform rollbacks.
New York’s redistricting snafu left the state’s political leaders in a tough position, though Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie avoided contending with changes to the Assembly’s new district maps – and any threats to his unsurmountable majority. Meanwhile, the Bronx legislator delivered a major victory to survivors of sexual abuse by passing the the previously stalled Adult Survivors Act and has kept laser focused on other progressive legislative priorities.
State Attorney General Letitia James excited many New Yorkers with her gubernatorial aspirations last year. But James said she wanted to “finish the job” on various ongoing investigations she has spearheaded, shifting her focus to securing a second term as attorney general. With multiple court rulings in her favor, James' probe into the business practices of former President Donald Trump and his associates remains one of her top priorities.
As New York’s court-appointed special master redrew the state’s electoral maps, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries went on the offensive. The House Democratic Caucus chair said the initial draft maps would “make Jim Crow blush” and decimate Black districts. In an effort to get the maps changed, the top-ranking Democrat spent tens of thousands of dollars in advertising to denounce the proposal. The final maps ultimately ensured that Bedford-Stuyvesant remained in one district as Jeffries insisted, but he still decried the process, calling it a “constitutional travesty.”
New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has faced down her first budget negotiation process as the legislative body’s leader. The Queens lawmaker outlined several priorities in her State of the City speech in May, including increasing capital funding for housing to $4 billion, ensuring youth employment programs run year-round and expanding curbside organics collection in the five boroughs. Now, she has to square those goals with the mayor’s own budget proposal ahead of the July budget deadline.
A white 18-year-old driven by racism shot 13 shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in May, terrifying Western New York residents. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes called the attack in her district “an act of terrorism on the Black community." She has joined other New York officials in pushing for a stronger response to racism and gun violence, while also urging the federal government to do more to regulate access to guns and other military-grade equipment.
As chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Gregory Meeks has played a key role in Congress monitoring developments in Ukraine. He and other congressional leaders met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv earlier this year and worked with colleagues to pass legislation making it easier for the United States to lend the country military equipment. Meeks also criticized the process for redrawing electoral maps in New York in May, calling it “a disaster” and “anti-democratic.”
Throughout state Sen. Jamaal Bailey’s five years in office, he has been committed to criminal justice reform and greater police oversight. That includes sponsoring the Clean Slate Act and legislation that Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law in December that raises the minimum age for arrest and prosecution of juveniles from 7 to 12 years old. Bailey also continues to play a key role shaping political developments in the Bronx as the head of the Bronx Democratic Party.
After a white teenager killed 10 shoppers and injured three in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, the Rev. Al Sharpton immediately headed to Western New York to console the families of the shooting victims and plead for change. The veteran civil rights leader pledged that his organization, the National Action Network, would cover the funeral expenses for those killed in the racist attack. He also called on President Joe Biden to hold a summit on hate crimes.
George Gresham was pleased with this year’s state budget, praising the “meaningful pay raise” allocated to home care workers in New York and increased funding for safety net hospitals. Supporting health care workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been a top priority for Gresham, who was elected president of the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East in 2007. The leader of New York’s largest union also joined the attorney general in calling for additional protections for nursing home workers.
In this year’s gubernatorial election, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is the left-wing foil to Gov. Kathy Hochul. He has been critical of the governor’s decision to change the state’s bail reform laws, saying that she was “feed(ing) the fearmongering” to win the election. The public advocate has also been an avid critic of criminal justice policies on the local level, lambasting New York City Mayor Eric Adams for reinstating the plainclothes anti-gun unit of the NYPD.
Mayor Eric Adams said he wanted an emotionally intelligent and compassionate leader when he interviewed a handful of high-ranking female officers last year. He ultimately chose then-Nassau County Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell to serve as police commissioner. She immediately had to grapple with several severe crimes, including the shooting deaths of two young police officers. Sewell has also criticized the Manhattan district attorney’s prosecution policies as soft on crime and successfully lobbied for tougher bail reform measures in Albany.
Under Preet Bharara, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York successfully prosecuted a string of corrupt state lawmakers. Damian Williams, the first Black occupant of the office, has brought renewed attention to Albany misdeeds, bringing a bombshell indictment against Brian Benjamin, a former state senator who had been appointed lieutenant governor, on campaign finance charges. Benjamin’s subsequent resignation shook up the New York political landscape.
Ingrid Lewis-Martin is one of few people in City Hall who can say with authority she speaks directly for the mayor. Adams’s closet adviser also happens to be his longest-serving aide. She handled hiring decisions and operations for Adams during his tenure as a state senator and was appointed deputy borough president when Adams was in Brooklyn Borough Hall. Now she preapproves budgets, recruits candidates for administration jobs and liaises with city agencies and public officials on Adams’ behalf.
As New York City Mayor Eric Adams made his pitch to state lawmakers that mayoral control of the city’s public schools should be renewed, Schools Chancellor David Banks was right alongside him. Banks joined other Adams administration officials on a trip to Albany in May, aiming to assuage legislators’ concerns and pledging to ensure parents’ voices are heard. Banks also spearheaded an expansion of the city’s Gifted and Talented Program.
Sheena Wright’s track record helping vulnerable New Yorkers attracted the attention of Eric Adams, who put the United Way executive in charge of his transition committee last year. Wright said she would prioritize diversity when filling out posts in the Adams administration and she scored a top position of her own when Adams tapped her to be a deputy mayor. She has since administered a scholarship account for 97% of kindergartners and helped secure $100 million to make child care more accessible.
Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn has been busy leading a Brooklyn Democratic Party at war with itself. And this year’s primary elections, in which many reformer candidates are seeking to unseat incumbent district leaders, will play a key role in determining whether she comes out on top. Yet the Brooklyn Democratic leader continues to maintain strong ties at City Hall, backing Mayor Eric Adams as resolutely as she backed his predecessor, Bill de Blasio.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark has been vocal in calling for more flexibility in charging teenagers with gun possession and other limits prosecutors in New York City face. The borough’s top prosecutor – who was also the first Black woman to be elected as district attorney in the state – was pleased to see the governor and state Legislature take up many of those issues in this year’s state budget. That includes making it easier to prosecute gun trafficking and making changes to the state’s discovery laws.
Rep. Ritchie Torres made history as the first openly gay Afro-Latino person elected to Congress two years ago. Since then, Torres has kept busy in New York City and on Capitol Hill. The Bronx lawmaker has pushed congressional leaders to ensure funding is in place for public housing and rental assistance, and together with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced legislation strengthening fire safety after a devastating Bronx fire killed 17 people earlier this year.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Yvette Clarke remains focused on cybersecurity issues and pressing local challenges in New York. Clarke, along with fellow representatives, sent a letter urging the Internal Revenue Service to halt the agency’s plan to require anyone trying to access records online to use facial recognition software. After a fire in the Bronx killed 17 residents early this year, the Brooklyn lawmaker and Rep. Ritchie Torres also introduced the Safer Heat Act, which would establish safety standards for space heaters.
More than 30,000 door attendants and building workers prepared to go on strike earlier this year. But Kyle Bragg of 32BJ SEIU managed to secure a contract deal with the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, averting a strike. Bragg, who has served as the union’s president since 2019, has been leading the push for increased wages for the workers to account for inflation. Having spent 35 years as a member of the 32BJ SEIU, Bragg has also been critical of high health care costs in New York.
The Democratic Socialists of America has made significant inroads in Albany in recent years, winning half a dozen state legislative seats and pushing for such legislation as higher taxes on the wealthy, single-payer health care and tenant protections. While progressive momentum on some issues, such as criminal justice reform, has fizzled this year, the DSA-backed state Sen. Jabari Brisport became the leading advocate of a push for universal child care – and notched a victory when the governor got behind a record $7 billion in child care funding.
Since making history as the first African American to serve as Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg has struggled with a rocky transition. The district attorney faced backlash soon after taking office for no longer prosecuting people for minor offenses such as marijuana misdeameanors and prostitution. By March, Bragg drew national scrutiny after two prosecutors in his office resigned over disagreements about whether to bring criminal charges against former President Donald Trump. He maintains that the high-profile investigation is still ongoing, and that his office is “exploring evidence not previously explored.”
New York politicos seeking insight on the latest developments in New York City and Albany tune into “Inside City Hall” on NY1. Errol Louis has hosted the nightly primetime show for more than a decade, interviewing prominent local, state and national elected officials about pressing political issues in the region. Louis also regularly pens columns in New York magazine, evaluating topics such as the mayor’s progress on tackling crime and redistricting.
Assembly Member Latoya Joyner has been laser-focused on pushing forward legislation to support workers in New York. The Assembly Labor Committee chair introduced the Warehouse Worker Protection Act alongside state Sen. Jessica Ramos, and it would prevent employers like Amazon from penalizing workers for failing to meet work quotas because they used rest periods and bathroom breaks. Joyner has also been working to get New York to pass a bill that would increase minimum wage to $20.45 by 2025.
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson made history this year as the first woman and Black person to hold her position leading the borough. But soon after her tenure began, tragedy struck the Bronx, when an apartment building fire in Fordham Heights killed 17 people. Gibson’s team mobilized to help other government agencies and organizations connect victims to resources and accommodations in the aftermath. The borough president has also outlined economic development, job creation and COVID-19 recovery as some of her priorities in office.
The first-term progressive representative who made headlines for defeating a longtime incumbent in 2020 appears to be coasting to reelection this year after emerging unscathed from redistricting. Rep. Jamaal Bowman has drawn some criticism for his decision to break from his fellow Democrats by taking a stance against the Abraham Accords and for voting against the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill. Bowman managed to avoid what would’ve been a tough challenge from Rep. Mondaire Jones, who had the option of running in his district after new congressional maps were finalized.
The former New York City comptroller has presided over the city’s public university system during difficult times – and has gotten it through the other side. Bill Thompson, along with CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez, also hauled in $879 million for capital repair costs for its senior colleges and $240 million in operating funds in the state budget this year. There was talk Thompson could serve as Hochul’s lieutenant governor replacement, but he’s finishing out his term instead, ensuring CUNY continues to lift thousands of students out of poverty.
Eleven Black lawmakers currently serve in the state Senate, led by state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Several of these senators hold key leadership positions, including state Sen. Leroy Comrie as chair of the Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions Committee, which involves overseeing important entities ranging from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to the New York City Housing Authority. State Sen. Kevin Parker of Brooklyn chairs the Energy and Telecommunications Committee and state Sen. Robert Jackson of Manhattan chairs the Civil Service and Pensions Committee. State Sen. James Sanders Jr., who chairs the Banks Committee, has been a champion of minority- and women-owned businesses, while state Sen. Roxanne Persaud is a key player in the nonprofit sector as chair of the Committee on Social Services. State Sen. Samra Brouk chairs the Mental Health Committee, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie chairs the Elections Committee and state Sen. Cordell Cleare – who won a special election last fall – chairs the Committee on Women’s Issues.
Concerns about COVID-19, health care equity and other issues have kept Commissioner Mary Bassett occupied since December 2021. Though the doctor is not on the pandemic’s front lines, she constantly mans the informational front, providing New York state residents with the latest guidance on COVID-19, monkeypox and other health-related matters. Bassett has also been outspoken about New York’s continued commitment to abortion access as many states other states prepare to ban the procedure.
Anne Williams-Isom is Mayor Eric Adams’ go-to official when it comes to leading New York City’s initiatives around health and social services for vulnerable New Yorkers. That includes playing a key role in supporting an expansion of the city’s doula program and broader efforts to improve maternal health care in the region. Williams-Isom, who has previously led the nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone, also continues to monitor the city’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Mondaire Jones has an unusual midterm election coming up. The first-term lawmaker has represented much of Rockland and Westchester counties, but after redistricting upheavals, is now busy running for an open seat encompassing lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The unusual primary will have him facing off against numerous candidates, including former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou. Jones has already managed to get the backing of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, among others.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards successfully staved off a tough challenge in his reelection bid last year. Since beginning his first full term as borough president, Richards has been occupied bolstering diversity on Queens community boards and trying to get the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on board for a proposal to establish a ferry service connecting travelers to LaGuardia Airport. He also will continue to be a key voice in proposed rezonings across the borough, including a redevelopment project in Astoria.
One-third of the 51-member New York City Council identifies as Black or Afro Latino. Apart from Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Black lawmakers in the legislative body hold some key posts, including Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers as majority whip and transportation committee chair, Council Member Kamillah Hanks as chair of the Public Safety Committee and Council Member Rita Joseph as chair of the Education Committee. Apart from Speaker Adams, who has been in office since 2018 (and Council Members Darlene Mealy and Charles Barron, who returned to the council this year after serving in it previously), the largely youthful group is on track to make its mark in the months and years ahead.
Lester Young Jr. has worked to positively impact the lives of students throughout the state on the state Board of Regents since 2021, relying on his experience as a teacher, principal and official with the state Education Department. A public servant for five decades, Young has been focused on attaining educational progress and addressing educational inequities across about 700 school districts. The veteran educator is the son of the late jazz great Lester Young.
After dramatically losing the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary to candidate India Walton, Byron Brown saved face by securing victory in the general election with write-in votes. Now six months into his fifth term leading New York state's second largest city, he faced a tremendous challenge guiding Buffalo residents after a white teenager allegedly shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black east-side neighborhood. “We won't let hateful ideology stop the progress that we are seeing and experiencing in the city of Buffalo,” Brown said on CBS News in May.
Heading the state Department of Financial Services, Adrienne A. Harris plays an important role in overseeing and regulating New York’s financial services industry. To that end, she established a climate division for her agency, which issued guidance pushing insurers to take into account the financial risks presented by climate change. The Department of Financial Services has also been expanding its team focused on regulating and guiding cryptocurrency companies under her leadership.
When he rolled out his U.S. attorney nominations last summer, President Joe Biden named Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton attorney Breon Peace to head the Eastern District of New York and Trini Ross, then an investigative director with the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General, to lead the Western District of New York. Along with Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, their ascension marked “the 1st time that these 3 vital roles will be filled by 3 African American legal leaders at once!,” as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted in a tweet.
Wayne Spence has consistently proven he’s got the right stuff to lead the state's second-largest public workers union, and the union’s members concurred by reelecting him to a third term as president last year. Through his time as a state parole officer and beyond, he’s been active with the New York State Public Employees Federation. Spence has gained member loyalty through concrete results, having negotiated three contracts with pay raises and no givebacks. Recently, Spence and union executives have been conducting a tour to meet with members in their workplaces.
As abortion bans are on track to take hold in numerous states across the country, Assembly Member Karines Reyes has been one of the key lawmakers bolstering access to abortion in the state. The Bronx legislator has sponsored a bill that would create a special fund New Yorkers could donate to that would help people from other states get abortions and reproductive health care in New York. She has also rallied fellow lawmakers to adopt a measure for single-payer health care statewide.
Although New York City Council Member Kristin Richardson Jordan narrowly won her primary battle with incumbent Bill Perkins last year, she has quickly become one of the most high-profile members of the legislative body. She has been outspoken in her calls to abolish the NYPD, and just notched a major land use victory when a housing developer scrapped the One45 proposal that she argued was unsuitable for her Harlem district. Jordan and New York City Council Member Charles Barron, a veteran politician from Brooklyn and ideological ally on many issues, form an informal, two-member Black socialist caucus.
The leader of the Community Service Society of New York for over 35 years, David R. Jones has long been one of the foremost defenders of low-income New Yorkers. In his column in the New York Amsterdam News, Jones has called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign legislation to tackle medical debt, demanded that New York City Mayor Eric Adams have the New York City Police Department destroy illegally gathered DNA samples and advocated for more effective alternatives to expanding gifted and talented enrollment in the city.
Editor’s note: David R. Jones is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Amid the push to wean New York off fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources, National Grid has another suggestion for fueling households. Rudolph Wynter stressed that the state’s gas infrastructure should have a role in the state’s energy portfolio and proposed using “fossil-free gas” sourced from methane from landfills and green hydrogen. The utility drew up the plans as an alternative to a state bill that would ban gas hook ups to new buildings starting in two years.
New York City Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks found some success pushing state lawmakers to adjust bail and discovery reforms to crack down on crime. Mayor Eric Adams will also be banking on the deputy mayor’s support as he tries to make good on his plans to crack down on gun violence, which continues to plague New York City. His appointment this year came under scrutiny due the fact that he was an unindicted co-conspirator in a police corruption probe.
The brother-and-sister duo of Hawk and Chivona Newsome aren’t afraid to make powerful enemies in their efforts to stand up for Black New Yorkers. The Newsomes in recent months have called for NYPD officers to be disciplined for their brutal actions during protests following the killing of George Floyd and for renewed urgency in combating police violence – but Hawk’s warnings of “riots, fire and bloodshed” in response to a reinstated NYPD anti-gun unit prompted New York City Mayor Eric Adams to tell him to back down.
The state’s new marijuana law has been a long time coming, but New York’s cannabis officials Christopher Alexander and Tremaine Wright want to ensure its rollout won’t take years to implement. Alexander, a Queens native who was the lead author of the legalization bill, has taken on the role of cannabis czar and held workshops to help entrepreneurs gain a foothold. Wright, a former Brooklyn Assembly member in charge of regulating the industry, has estimated that legal weed would hit retail shops by this fall.
Appointed as CEO in 2017, LaRay Brown took a pivotal role in the successful clinical and administrative consolidation of three health systems into the One Brooklyn Health System, serving the heavily populated central and northeast sections of the borough. She now oversees three hospitals, 12 ambulatory care centers, two nursing homes, an urgent care center and other sites serving Brooklynites. Brown joined other health care executives in March to call on state lawmakers to ensure safety-net hospitals are sufficiently funded.
The well-connected Albany insider might be the best way to get on Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s radar in the state Capitol. Patrick B. Jenkins once worked for Rep. Gregory Meeks and as a special assistant to Heastie. These days Jenkins fundraises for Democratic candidates and is a top government affairs professional in Albany, lobbying legislative leaders on behalf of clients like DraftKings and del Lago Resort & Casino.
Keith Wright presently has an abundance of party wealth with the election wins of New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other city Democrats. The Manhattan Democratic Party boss and former Harlem Assembly member called New York’s draft congressional district maps “horrible,” saying they could hurt the voting rights of Black New Yorkers. And the final maps have two incumbent political veterans – Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney – facing off against each other in the borough, a faceoff Wright called unfortunate.
Since 2019, Dr. Philip Ozuah has overseen the operation of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System, which covers the Bronx, Westchester County and other parts of the Hudson Valley through hospitals and outpatient ambulatory centers. Ozuah’s efforts to help underserved communities access health care got a major boost recently. In April, congressional representatives steered more than $3.3 million in federal funds toward Montefiore’s school-based health program serving Bronx students in pre-K through high school.
When social justice and arts philanthropy makes headlines, Darren Walker and the Ford Foundation are often behind the news. Most recently, the $16 billion foundation has committed $10 million over five years toward organizations helping the transgender community and, alongside the Mellon Foundation, awarded funding to visual artists of Latin American or Caribbean descent. In May, Walker heralded the foundation’s release of a report calling on civic leaders to rethink social, economic and political systems to address global issues exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Brooklyn-based nonprofit leader’s tireless dedication to combating poverty earned her appointments to the New York City Board of Correction and the National Action Network’s board. But one of Jennifer Jones Austin’s most high-profile accomplishments may well be her work as chair of New York City’s Racial Justice Commission, which released a report identifying six patterns of systemic racism. The findings prompted New York City Mayor Eric Adams to promote three ballot initiatives that would establish a racial equity office and measure the true cost of living in the city.
William Floyd’s duties for Google are wide-ranging, managing the tech giant’s state and local engagements with community leaders and elected officials nationwide. And he stays busy with other civic responsibilities in New York City, serving on Mayor Eric Adams’ new COVID-19 Recovery Roundtable and Health Equity Task force and as a board member for Tech:NYC, a nonprofit advocating on behalf of technology companies in the region.
When the governor needed someone to lead the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic, she turned to a business leader and city planning commissioner with a record of revitalizing southeast Queens. Hope Knight joined the Hochul administration in November and immediately set about administering more than $81 million in grants to 97 shovel-ready projects across the state. By March, nearly 30,000 small businesses had received $500 million in pandemic relief funds from Empire State Development. The agency also funded a $118 million mixed-use project in Brownsville in May.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s opponents for the June 28th primary elections are lined up and ready for challenge, but the governor is banking on politically savvy Tyquana Henderson-Rivers to help her secure victory. A veteran of political contests, Henderson-Rivers is also busy helping several other candidates in their respective primary races. In the past, she has played a key role delivering electoral victories to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
Former Brooklyn City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel is familiar with the challenges surrounding public housing. Ampry-Samuel grew up in a New York City Housing Authority building in Brownsville, previously worked at NYCHA and helmed the City Council’s public housing committee. That made her a natural fit to serve as the regional administrator for New York and New Jersey at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a position she was appointed to by President Joe Biden in January.
Assembly Member Latrice Walker had been very public with her concerns about Mayor Eric Adam’s call for criminal bail reform rollbacks. She invited the mayor to have a public debate on the issue, which he declined. Ahead of the state budget, she took on a 19-day hunger strike in March to protest proposed rollbacks to the bail reform law. But the governor and state legislature ultimately agreed to make changes to the law, which Walker said would hurt the state’s efforts to end the criminalization of poverty and “do nothing to advance public safety.”
The Rochester-born mayor's 2021 victory is a breath of fresh air for some voters still reeling from the scandals that swirled around former Mayor Lovely Warren. Meanwhile, Evans is looking for a new police chief to cope with an uptick of gun violence in the city. In response to the proliferation of shootings, Evans also committed $5 million in April toward a new “Rochester Peace Collective” initiative, an effort that will channel funds to successful violence prevention programs.
After handling the Rev. Al Sharpton’s press inquiries for more than two decades and coordinating media for funerals of George Floyd and others killed by police brutality, Rachel Noerdlinger left Mercury in January to join a new bipartisan strategic communications firm chaired by two former U.S. senators and former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Noerdlinger has since lured former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to join the lobbying firm and continues to field media requests for Sharpton’s National Action Network.
The state’s legalization of recreational marijuana last year was the culmination of a multiyear campaign run by drug policy activists like Kassandra Frederique. Now that the state is setting guidelines for the legal sale of pot, Frederique is closely monitoring the regulations to ensure people with marijuana-related convictions get access to cannabis licenses. Frederique also advocated for government officials to treat addiction as a health crisis and backed the city’s efforts establishing supervised injection sites.
After years of surviving Andrew Cuomo’s onslaughts, the Working Families Party struck back and helped drive him from power last summer. Now, Sochie Nnaemeka has a shot at putting WFP-endorsed progressives Jumaane Williams and Ana María Archila into statewide office. Nnaemeka already defused a threat from state Democrats to put a new third -party on the ballot when she promised to support whichever Democrat won the primary. In the meantime, she successfully backed Monique Chandler-Waterman in a Brooklyn Assembly special election in May, defeating New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ choice.
The telecommunications executives continue to play important roles on the state’s political scene as their company launches a joint streaming service venture with Comcast. Camille Joseph-Goldman, a former deputy city comptroller, manages government affairs for Charter across the Northeast and is a board member of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Rodney Capel, a Schumer alum, helped launch Charter-funded technology centers known as Spectrum Learning Labs in nonprofits in Queens and Staten Island.
At the start of the year, Assembly Member Michaelle Solages laid out the priorities for the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. That includes pushing for universal pre-K and child care, a move toward renewable energy and other policies that promote “equality and prosperity” for communities of color. Toward the end of session, Solages was also busy getting two bills changing wrongful death law and making burials more environmentally friendly.
The chief of staff to state Senate Democrats has helped her conference pilot a far more progressive agenda than Albany has seen in decades since the party gained a supermajority two years ago. Shontell Smith has provided strategic and legal advice throughout the pandemic and on issues ranging from congestion pricing, marijuana legalization and rent regulations. This year has been more challenging, as Smith opposed New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ efforts to tweak bail reform legislation.
After waging front-line battles during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, Hagans was called to duty once again, selected last year by more than 42,000 members of her union to serve as president. A critical care specialist, she comes to the top leadership position with decades of labor experience. With the proposed New York state budget featuring increased aid for health care professionals, Hagans said in April that the union will support Gov. Kathy Hochul in the June primary.
After founding the New York Transgender Advocacy Group in 2014, the Brooklyn-based trans activist was instrumental in passing laws that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and banned conversion therapy. Kiara St. James followed those victories by lobbying to decriminalize sex work and successfuly pushed lawmakers to overturn the state’s “walking while trans” law last year, drawing the attention of then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed her to the Commission on Gender Equity.
Clients working with Bolton-St. Johns have influential allies on their side when either Juanita Scarlett or Violet Moss is representing them in the halls of power. Scarlett, a former executive vice president at the Empire State Development Corp., helps clients in the health care, energy and education sectors develop their policy and communications goals. Moss, a former state legislative counsel and leader in the children’s health field, represents labor groups, higher education institutions, hospitals and nonprofits.
Editor’s note: Juanita Scarlett is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
The political strategist is known for her frank insights and analysis of campaign races as well as organizing talents. L. Joy Williams has helped reinvigorate the Brooklyn branch of the NAACP and mobilized rallies that led to the repeal of a law that shielded police misconduct records. She also helps Black women run for office through the Higher Heights for America political action committee, which has sought to increase representation in the midterms, and hosts a weekly podcast, “Sunday Civics,” which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.
When then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio needed someone to handle the city’s pandemic response efforts, he promoted his trusted budget director to a deputy mayor role. As de Blasio’s tenure wound down, Melanie Hartzog accepted a position leading a historic nonprofit at the forefront of helping youth with developmental disabilities and tackling juvenile justice issues. It’s a natural fit for Hartzog, who has a lot of experience in child welfare.
Local governments are often lacking in technological prowess. Matthew Fraser is working to make sure that isn’t the case in New York City, keeping the city government’s technological and IT infrastructure in good shape. When Mayor Eric Adams appointed him as the city’s chief technology officer, it also came with the responsibility to lead a new consolidated office handling technology initiatives across city agencies. Fraser has also kept a close eye on bolstering the city’s cybersecurity protections.
Public service and education have been mainstays in Dennis M. Walcott’s career. That made him a natural fit to take the helm at the Queens Public Library in 2016. Since then, Walcott has guided the library system through the COVID-19 pandemic and recently welcomed the reopening of its popular Flushing library branch in April. In March, New York City Mayor Eric Adams selected Walcott, who has previously served as the city’s schools chancellor, to head the commission responsible for redrawing 51 New York City Council districts.
Working inside and outside of the political system for years, Foy has amassed an impressive resume and gained extensive social justice expertise. The Pentecostal minister founded the Arc of Justice, serving as president and CEO of the 10-chapter advocacy organization. Previously, Kirsten John Foy was Northeast regional director for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and an aide to then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. This past year, Foy has called for reforms to the lawsuit lending industry, drawing on his personal experience with the “predatory practices of lawsuit lenders.”
For years, Janella T. Hinds has fought hard for both educators and students. She is serving her second term as secretary-treasurer of the New York City Central Labor Council, overseeing the finances of 300 unions and their 1.3 million members. She has worked as teacher, dean and student adviser in New York City high schools. Hinds also stays active in labor as the United Federation of Teachers’ vice president for academic high schools, a role she has held since 2012.
The veteran civil rights leader is still making waves in state politics after celebrating her 90th birthday in March. Hazel Dukes endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul for reelection in October, a few months after pulling support from Andrew Cuomo, and vouched for Hochul’s lieutenant governor pick Brian Benjamin, even after he was arrested for campaign finance impropriaties. Dukes is currently planning the NAACP’s annual convention in Atlantic City in July.
The head of the Harlem-based nonprofit has occupied reviewing police misconduct allegations as the interim chair of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, a role she has held since February. The police oversight agency substantiated about a quarter of the misconduct accusations it received related to the 2020 racial justice protests, with investigators facing “unprecedented challenges,” according to Rice. She has also backed the extension of mayoral control and supported the launch of the Black Education Research Collective at Teachers College, Columbia University.
The Harlem pastor is no longer the president of SUNY Old Westbury, having retired from the position after two decades of service, but he still provides counsel to New Yorkers on and off his pulpit. The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III’s candidates of choice haven’t always won their elections, but his church remains a reliable stop on the campaign trail and he’s one of the city’s most heartfelt eulogizers. Butts spoke at Fordham University’s commencement ceremony in May and received an honorary doctorate in divinity.
The Brooklyn pastor, who leads one of New York City’s largest houses of worship, has been a decadeslong draw for Democratic politicians looking for support and an audience of more than 30,000 congregants. The Rev. A.R. Bernard recently endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. More importantly, Bernard has been instrumental in fighting poverty and hunger in his backyard by running a food pantry that provides meals to 100,000 people annually.
The Rev. Terrence Melvin has an extensive background in labor organizing. More than 40 years ago, he began his career as a member of the Civil Service Employees Association. He has worked his way up over the years, until eventually becoming secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO in 2007, a role he has held ever since. Outside of his work with the union, Melvin also holds a leadership position within the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP and serves as president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
As a New York City deputy mayor, Richard Buery helped then-Mayor Bill de Blasio roll out a free universal prekindergarten program that became the administration’s signature accomplishment. The East New York, Brooklyn, native wanted to continue fighting poverty and joined the Robin Hood Foundation in September. Buery helped haul in $126 million at its highly anticipated annual benefit. Now he is working with the Adams administration on a $100 million initiative to expand and streamline access to child care in the five boroughs.
Charlie King gained his political know-how and savvy over the course of 25 years, working with prominent elected officials such as former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His experience ranges from serving as executive director of the state Democratic Party to being acting national director for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Since joining Mercury in 2015, King has delivered local, state and federal expertise to the lobbying firm and its clients.
Joy D. Calloway heads the region’s leading reproductive health organization a pivotal time in the abortion rights movement’s history. In May, thousands of demonstrators marched across the city after a leaked draft opinion indicated the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. Calloway said she “woke up in a time warp” and denounced the “politically motivated” ruling. Calloway has expanded Planned Parenthood’s executive team and organized the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally, calling for continued abortion access.
Mara Gay’s moving columns are too numerous to name, but some of her standout work includes documenting her own battle with COVID-19, vaccine misinformation and what the country could learn from New York City’s pandemic response. Meanwhile, Jeff Mays has diligently covered two mayoral administrations for the paper of record. More recently, he has written revealing articles about New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ goals, the mayor’s relationship with Gov. Kathy Hochul and how the governor’s team missed Brian Benjamin’s red flags.
The veteran political operative who has advised politicians such as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker was an essential part of Ray McGuire’s brain trust last year. McGuire was a long shot to win the New York City mayoral primary and Lupe Todd-Medina has since come aboard a steadier ship, joining Gov. Kathy Hochul’s reelection campaign as a senior adviser. Todd-Medina also helps other clients such as the New York County Defender Services map their communications strategies.
Editor’s note: Lupe Todd-Medina is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Elinor Tatum has steered the course of New York City’s oldest and largest Black-owned newspaper since 1997, guiding the publication’s transition to the computer age and transforming its coverage over the years. More recently, Tatum spearheaded the creation of a new investigative unit at the New York Amsterdam News called The Blacklight. She is also a prominent voice on the many issues affecting Black people in America and is often sought out to speak about media, race and politics in New York.
Larry Scott Blackmon has cultivated influential local political connections over the years, working with prominent elected officials such as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and two former New York City Council speakers. The experience informs both his work at The Blackmon Organization – his government affairs and public relations firm – as well as his work as vice president of public affairs at FreshDirect.
Editor’s note: Larry Scott Blackmon is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority made major headways in paying out contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses in fiscal year 2021, beating all other state agencies and authorities. Those payments totaled $916 million, and the MTA surpassed the state’s goals for working with minority- and women-owned business enterprises. That success can be attributed to Michael Garner, who oversees a number of programs and initiatives engaging diverse businesses interested in working with the MTA.
The former Lehman Brothers investment banker once managed the firm’s structured derivatives group before launching his own investment firm in 1994. A quarter-century later, Christopher J. Williams merged his company with Siebert Williams Shank to create the largest minority- and women-owned investment bank in the United States. Under Williams’ leadership, the investment bank formed a strategic partnership with the investment management firm Apollo in April, allowing Siebert Williams Shank to increase its underwriting capacity and expand its position in the capital markets sphere.
Beyond his leadership at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, the Rev. Jacques Andre DeGraff makes his voice heard on notable civic issues in New York. He helms the MBE Leadership Summit, a coalition that advocates on behalf of minority-owned business enterprises, and he has played a pivotal role advancing opportunities for businesses owned by people of color. DeGraff also serves on the National Black Clergy Health Leadership Council, which oversees initiatives fighting health inequality through Black churches.
John Wright, the head of the Manhattan-based government relations firm, has been a go-to lobbyist for human services providers, arts organizations and other nonprofits seeking funding from city agencies or trying to navigate the trickier aspects of New York regulations. The Children’s Defense Fund, Universal Hip Hop Museum and The Trevor Project number among the clients who have sought the advice of Wright and his team.
An experienced veteran when it comes to government operations, Brian Matthews brings three decades of government experience with him to Brown & Weinraub. That includes serving as chief financial officer of the state Office of General Services, where he handled a wide range of duties such as contract management, financials and business diversity efforts. Matthews’ background allows him to successfully operate behind the scenes to get results for his clients.
For the past decade, Paul Thomas has used his varied skill set in government and politics to meet the various needs of his firm’s clientele. The political veteran manages The Parkside Group’s budgetary advocacy practice and represents a diverse set of companies, trade associations and charities. Before joining the firm, he held positions working with top New York state officials. That includes serving as an assistant director of intergovernmental and community affairs for the state attorney general and as chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
India Sneed-Williams transitioned from New York City and New York state posts to lobbying three years ago. Since joining Greenberg Traurig, she has become immersed in a wide range of electoral issues, working on the ballot challenges during the state’s primary elections and counseling campaigns for New York City elections. Sneed-Williams, who is married to New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, also recently shed light on the need for better Black maternal health care after opening up about her experience with cervical cancer and pregnancy.
Jovia Radix is ready to go to bat for her clients, equally adept at deciphering legislation from the New York City Council and at drumming up the opposition necessary to defeat matters before the legislative body. Her work at the powerhouse lobbying firm is informed by her past political, governmental and legal experience. Outside of her responsibilities at Kasirer, the Brooklyn-born attorney also helps manage a tutoring program run by the Barbados Ex-Police Association.
Meredith Marshall and his Manhattan-based real estate firm have a lot to celebrate, boasting an impressive roster of projects completed or in the pipeline in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island. As managing partner, Marshall handles the firm’s investment strategy and strategic partnerships, including its relationship with New York City agencies. He warned in May that state lawmakers’ decision to let a lucrative property tax break expire would mean New York City would lose out on construction jobs.
Two years ago, the former Oracle executive launched a private equity firm dedicated to helping technology services companies innovate and access capital. Since then, Charles Phillips has helped raise $1.3 billion for the firm’s first fund, and invested in a cloud services provider in January. Phillips also sits on the boards of ViacomCBS and American Express and was recently a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The Obama administration and JPMorgan Chase & Co. alum heads a national association of business leaders with a mission to advance economic mobility within the Black community. David Clunie has set about advocating structural solutions within the economy such as extending the child tax credit and creating opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. He also has called for hiring more diverse executives in the private sector.
Tara Martin is the force behind TLM Strategic Advisors, a social impact strategic development firm that she launched in 2021. The veteran communications professional has previously held key roles inside and outside of government, including positions as state political director and senior communications manager at the New York State Nurses Association, a politically influential labor union, and stints with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the Westchester County Board of Legislators and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Editor’s note: Tara Martin is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Jomo Akono has been a critical force revitalizing Buffalo through programs and advocacy. The Erie County-based labor leader backed the Buffalo Bills’ bid for a publicly financed billion-dollar stadium, touting the potential for local job creation for construction, transportation and other services. Akono has also organized an annual Juneteenth parade, which will be in-person this year after going virtual during the pandemic, and Kwanzaa celebrations in the heart of the city.
It was a match made in heaven, or at least in the state Capitol. Despite having a $5.5 million war chest, before redistricting the upstate member of Congress faced a tough reelection challenge from Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. But the governor needed a new lieutenant governor when her first choice resigned after being arrested on fraud charges. After arm-twisting from legislators to dump Brian Benjamin from the ballot, Gov. Kathy Hochul picked Antonio Delgado to be her second in command.
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