It’s been said that youth is wasted on the young, but anyone paying attention to the inner workings of Albany knows that’s not the case. While the state Capitol has historically been the kind of the place that puts a premium on seniority and experience, it has in recent years seen the rise of a new generation of elected officials in their 20s and 30s who aren’t waiting decades before getting a seat at the table. And while big-name politicians headline press conferences and get their names in the news, they wouldn’t get anything done without their teams of smart, ambitious young staffers. Youthful experts, advocates and activists are a driving force in an array of important policy areas and professions in the state capital as well, from cannabis, casinos to construction and commerce to combating COVID-19 and implementing value-based care. City & State’s Albany 40 Under 40 recognizes the best and brightest of the bunch – all of them younger than 40 years old.
Profiles by Kay Dervishi, Natasha Ishak & Jasmine Sheena
At 31, Christopher Alexander is at a remarkably young age to head a state agency.
Born and raised in Hollis, Queens, he says his Caribbean immigrant parents instilled a strong sense of community responsibility in him. But the true catalyst behind Alexander’s policy work today was his experience with stop and frisks by police as a young Black kid.
“Witnessing and experiencing the way that law enforcement was able to, essentially, operate with impunity and really minimize the humanity of others in those interactions, really frustrated the hell out of me,” he says.
His career in politics began as a field organizer under the New York State Democratic Committee. Alexander also served as a congressional staffer and as policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.
By the time protests broke out over George Floyd’s murder, Alexander was counsel to the newly Democrat-controlled state Senate. He led proposals on a number of reforms including the repeal of 50-a, a law that previously allowed law enforcement agencies to shield records of police misconduct from the public.
His role spearheading the Start SMART NY campaign and drafting the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act led him to his current role as head of the new commercial marijuana agency. Alexander hopes to continue building an equitable marijuana sector in New York for the next decade or so.
“I’ll be here definitely to see that through and to make sure that the resources that we generate are going where they need to go,” he says.
– Natasha Ishak
Na’ilah Amaru’s passion for policy was shaped soon after graduating high school, when she joined the army.
“I do not ever regret joining the military. But quite frankly, it’s also a very racist and sexist institution,” she says, adding that “the experiences that I went through in the military completely changed my career trajectory because I understood, in a very painful way, what it meant to not have any power.”
Since then, Amaru has sought to “create and expand spaces to build power” through public policy. That has taken her to many different roles throughout her career. A Georgia native, she worked as a community organizer. On Capitol Hill, she was a legislative aide to the late Rep. John Lewis. Amaru has also been active in numerous electoral campaigns and served as executive director of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
She started her latest venture at the Human Services Council just last year, spearheading the organization’s advocacy on behalf of human services nonprofits and their workers. In 2022, Amaru helped secure cost-of-living increases on the state level for human services employees for the first time in 12 years.
Having that diverse range of experience has helped Amaru understand the importance of making sure policy discussions include the voices of the people who would be most impacted by those decisions. As she puts it, “I’m constantly asking the question: Who is missing? How do we get them to be part of this conversation?”
– Kay Dervishi
Zamira Ashe serves as a director at KPMG, one of the largest audit and accounting firms in the world, leading business development projects in the government health and human services sector.
Her early career aspirations stemmed from her father, who served in multiple public office roles in her home country of Kazakhstan following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hearing stories about his work inspired her as she got older.
“He was actually sort of the role model and a constant force in me being interested in the field of government,” she says.
In 2009, Ashe moved to New York to attend graduate school at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at University at Albany. She went on to work at the state Senate as a program analyst and assistant floor counsel, where she encountered the grueling workload of budget sessions. Looking for a change of pace, she jumped at the opportunity to interview with KPMG after a representative spoke at her alma mater. She has been with the firm since 2011.
Ashe has developed long-lasting relationships with her colleagues at KPMG, many of whom she considers mentors. But the most rewarding aspect of her work is her relationship with clients and being able to make a difference.
“New York is tough, there’s a lot of tough clients,” says Ashe, who has been juggling parenting and work challenges amid the pandemic like many working mothers. “Getting positive feedback specifically from them is really rewarding.”
About a decade ago, as a junior associate at Barclay Damon, one of Melissa Bennett’s first assignments was to review and finalize details for a transaction the firm handled. Now a partner at the firm, Bennett played a key role closing a similar $760 million transaction that will finance building renovations and new construction in 66 school districts across the state.
“It’s a lot of fun to keep all the pieces moving,” Bennett says.
Her journey to the legal industry wasn’t linear. A French major in college, she initially had plans to pursue a career path that would incorporate her academic interests. Instead, she secured an internship at the law firm that accelerated her interest in the legal profession, leading her to attend the University at Buffalo School of Law.
Early on at Barclay Damon, Bennett made it a priority to continually learn, carrying a legal pad everywhere to take notes – which resulted in her becoming a partner at the firm two and a half years ago.
Today, the public finance attorney manages transactions for a wide range of entities, such as school districts, municipalities and higher education institutions. She also serves as agency counsel to several industrial development agencies across New York state.
She says that one of her favorite aspects of working in public finance is seeing “projects that have a public good come to fruition” and working with others in the field toward a bigger-picture goal.
“I like this field because it’s very collaborative,” she says.
It’s no surprise that Taína Borrero ended up pursuing a career in policy work, given that her father is a veteran political journalist, and her stepmother worked in government at the city and state level, including as secretary of state of New York.
“Just from an early age, I was exposed to politics and government,” she says. “I have pictures of me at City Hall as early as age 4 or 5. I grew up around it.”
Now a senior vice president at The Hayes Initiative, Borrero works with some of the public affairs firm’s biggest clients. One is the state Democratic Party, which she helps on Latino strategy and outreach, and supports Gov. Kathy Hochul’s reelection campaign. Another was the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in preparation for its 20th anniversary event featuring President Joe Biden. Yet, another was working with the state Department of Labor as it rolled out its $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund for New Yorkers who didn’t qualify for federal stimulus and unemployment aid.
For young professionals just starting out, she stresses the value of internships. Her first internship was in the office of then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Borrero connected with colleagues – including Karen Persichilli Keogh, now secretary to Gov. Kathy Hochul – who remain mentors to this day.
“I would say intern, intern, intern, intern with us,” Borrero says. “I can’t stress that enough, and don't just intern to put it on your resume and move on, make sure you're maintaining those professional relationships with your internship supervisors and mentors as you move forward in your career. They want to hear from you and want to be helpful.”
– Jasmine Sheena
More than 40 years ago, Gilbane Building Co. played a key role in the construction of the Olympic Center and other facilities in Lake Placid in advance of the 1980 Olympics. The company has returned over the past several years to renovate those sites, including the Olympic Sports Complex near Mount Van Hoevenberg as Lake Placid prepares to host the 2023 Winter World University Games for collegiate athletes.
Christian Calabrese has managed the company’s progress getting those projects to completion, overseeing $50 million worth of construction across 20 contracts on eight different sites. He’s currently in the later stages of bringing the Olympic Center to completion, ensuring everything is ready to go before next year’s event.
Being able to work on the program was one of the factors that drew Calabrese to work with Gilbane. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially in New York state, to be involved in a project like that,” he says.
After graduating from college with a degree in civil engineering, Calabrese joined the construction engineering company M+W Group in 2010, right as the firm took on a major project to construct a facility for GlobalFoundries in Saratoga County. He spent six years working on that campus as a project engineer and field superintendent before moving into project management.
“At the time, I didn’t recognize some of the experiences that I was able to put under my belt,” he says. “It’s amazing today the dividends that it’s paid.”
While attending Oberlin College, Hazel Crampton-Hays ran the Ohio school’s reproductive rights group, organizing against rollbacks to abortion access in the state. Today, she’s serving in the Hochul administration as New York takes steps to respond to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“It’s kind of exciting that almost 10 years later, I’m working with the first female governor as she really moves the needle forward on abortion rights issues,” she says.
Crampton-Hays is no stranger to Albany, having worked in the Executive Chamber for three years before heading to New York City in 2019. She served as press secretary to then-New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer before returning to the state capital. When Kathy Hochul went from being lieutenant governor to governor last year, Crampton-Hays was offered a job as her press secretary. As she put it, “You don’t say ‘no’ to the first female governor.”
Since then, Crampton-Hays has been proud to serve in the administration as it responds to pressing developments in the state. That includes Hochul’s decision to create a new $35 million fund to help abortion providers increase capacity and her response to May’s mass shooting in Buffalo, resulting in legislation barring people under the age of 21 from purchasing semiautomatic rifles and prohibiting the purchase of body armor.
“It’s a really exciting time to be working in state government,” Crampton-Hays says. “Because in government, what you do can often have a tangible impact on people’s lives. It’s not theoretical, it’s real.”
When COVID-19 rapidly spread across New York in March 2020, it posed unprecedented challenges for the state’s health care workers. That same month, Michelle Crentsil became the New York State Nurses Association’s political director, tasked with ensuring nurses’ voices were heard during the pandemic.
“I knew I had to hit the ground running just because it was just so urgent and traumatic at the time,” she says.
Among her top priorities: getting the state to mandate nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals – one of the group’s main goals for years – and capitalizing on public awareness of staffing challenges during the pandemic.
“It created the conditions where it felt like it would be impossible for them to not do something,” she says.
While the union didn’t get everything it wished for, New York’s safe staffing measure was signed into law last year. Crentsil has been busy monitoring the implementation of the law while also continuing to push for other priorities in Albany, such as getting funding for retention bonuses included in the state budget. She also played a key role in pushing for the state Legislature to pass a bill to limit the length of time employers can mandate overtime for nurses during declared emergencies.
“We’ve heard directly from nurses on the ground that this was a challenge that they were dealing with,” she says. “People were being mandated to work back-to-back 12-hour shifts where they were being exhausted and where they were worried that that exhaustion would negatively impact patient care.”
When other kids were tuning into “Sesame Street” or “Blue’s Clues,” 4-year-old Therese Daly stumbled upon C-SPAN – and got hooked.
“When I tell you I was obsessed, I would tape it and record it,” she recalls. “I would watch it every Sunday. I was fascinated by it. For years … I would watch Parliament every Sunday, and I was just kind of obsessed. From there, I started getting involved in understanding government as a whole – because my parents were not involved in government.”
Today, she is a vice president at the public affairs firm Mercury, where she deals with everything from corporate emergencies to mergers and acquisitions to government relations, with a focus on transportation, finance and cryptocurrency.
“I have a couple of big projects going on right now, but one of them is understanding the regulations of cannabis and how our clients can really have an understanding and get to sell cannabis in New York state in a way that everyone approves of and believes is for the greater good,” she says.
Daly, who earned a degree in political science at Siena College, was previously a key staffer in the office of state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first woman to assume the leadership post. While there, Daly helped the state Senate Democrats pass the Reproductive Health Act.
“I would say my career has been defined by understanding well-respected women and understanding what it is that I can emulate from them,” Daly says.
In February, Brianna Durkee joined the American Heart Association, one of America’s biggest organizations dedicated to healthy living and cardiac care.
“Our mission is to be a relentless force for longer, healthier lives,” says Durkee, the association’s government relations director for New York. “That means moving policies that kind of fit this background, making those relations and addressing the needs of the community, and as we see the needs that our data drives.”
In the most recent state budget, Durkee lobbied successfully for an extension of the Medicaid postpartum coverage to a full year, up from 60 days. The capital region native played a role in securing $2 million in funding for the Double Up Food Bucks program, which matches SNAP benefits dollar for dollar for fresh fruits and vegetables, and overall work to fight food insecurity in New York. Durkee is also seeking to eliminate the sale of flavored tobacco products, such as menthol cigarettes.
“Since the start of my career, I have always been drawn to issues and policy that help people and allow me to be the voice of the needs of individuals in the community,” says Durkee, who previously had stints at a couple Albany-area lobbying firms. “So when I got the job offer at the American Heart Association, I almost felt like it was a no-brainer to accept it. It was the underlying meaning of helping them live healthier lives, knowing that my work was going to be meaningful.”
When Nicole Epstein graduated from law school at Hofstra University in 2015, she knew she wanted to enter the legal profession. But she “wasn’t really sure exactly where and how I wanted to get involved,” she recalls.
Luckily, she landed at the law firm Gerstman Schwartz LLP, which has an affiliated government relations firm, Gotham Government Relations. “It was through that work that I really saw firsthand the lobbying, the government relations work and how that is truly what I went to law school for, to be an advocate,” she says, “and what better way to be an advocate and have an impact on policy issues in the state.”
During this past legislative session in Albany, Epstein helped a coalition of special education providers, the 853 schools and 4,410 education programs, secure a major increase in state tuition reimbursement.
“We’re still working and trying to actually reach full parity with general education in terms of funding,” she says. “But this is definitely a big, big win for us that we’re very excited about.”
She also worked with the New York School Bus Contractors Association this year to address the bus driver staffing shortage many schools across the state are facing, helping to reach an arrangement on a pilot program to expedite commercial driver license testing via third-party certified instructors.
“Some of the most vulnerable people in our society, in Albany, I’m there to basically advance on other issues and make sure that their message is heard loud and clear by the right people,” Epstein says.
Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez is deeply familiar with the communities she represents in the Bronx. Before entering office, she served as chief of staff to then-Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj and was the Bronx regional representative to then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Now, she’s hoping that those community ties will allow her to reach greater heights as a member of the state Senate. After new lines were redrawn for the 34th Senate District, leading to Fernandez’s preferred candidate in the race stepping down, she decided it was time to “step up.”
“This is certainly a role with a bigger microphone – for the issues that affect my community on the ground, but also all over the state,” she says.
The Bronx lawmaker has also kept busy in Albany, describing this as one of her more successful sessions. Both chambers of the state Legislature passed six of her bills, including legislation that would allow for homeless young adults up to the age of 24 to stay in youth shelters and legislation requiring certain former foster youth to be allowed to return to care.
Because New York’s primaries are split this year, Fernandez is in the unique position of being able to simultaneously run for the Assembly and state Senate. Regardless of which chamber she lands in, Fernandez will be prioritizing another bill she introduced this year, which would protect victims of digital stalking and online harassment.
“We need to have protections put in place so people, especially young women that have been victims of revenge porn, don’t have to fear that this is going to keep coming back in their lives,” she says.
At the global law firm Greenberg Traurig, Jennifer M. Gomez handles cases dealing with commercial litigation and product liability. The Albany-based attorney represents medical device manufacturers in mass tort litigation and has had clients in civil litigation matters, including class-action defense at state and federal levels. Gomez also does extensive pro bono work through representing asylum seekers and assault victims.
“When you’re able to get the case disposed of or settled early, and you know you spared your client a lot of time, money and stress, that’s what makes me feel most accomplished,” she says.
Gomez says she gained valuable life skills growing up in Washington Heights, Manhattan, with parents who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, which prepared her for her profession.
“I gained so many lawyering skills by being a child of immigrants because I had to be their translator, their advocate, their negotiator, their accountant and their advisor,” she says. “In many ways, I was the head of the household from the age of 7 because I was learning English.”
Gomez encourages those looking to become attorneys to be willing to take risks.
“I think society judges people who fail,” she says. “I think I would challenge people to be less concerned about failing because if you try, that’s the success that needs to be celebrated. Ultimately you don’t have control over whether it’s going to work out or not, but you do have control over the effort and the energy that you put towards a goal.”
Having worked in local government himself, Ryan Gregoire is no stranger to the challenges county governments in New York state face – and he makes sure lawmakers in Albany are aware of those obstacles, as well as the possible solutions.
Just this year, that has translated into numerous policy outcomes supporting local governments. Among other issues, Gregoire successfully pushed for increased funding to county public health departments and got state leaders to eliminate the diversion of county sales taxes toward state funds. With input from county officials, he also crafted policy proposals to improve child care across New York. Many of those proposals made their way into this year’s state budget, which committed $7 billion over four years toward child care.
That’s just a small sample of the legislative victories that Gregoire has spearheaded over the years. Two years ago, he also prevented a major shift in Medicaid costs to counties, a change that he says would have “resulted in a huge, significant decline in services.”
Gregoire says his success in pushing forward legislative changes can be credited to the unity and collaboration between New York’s county officials.
“It doesn’t matter what party someone is if it’s the right thing to do for the residents and it’s the right thing to do for counties,” he explains, adding that the New York State Association of Counties “is this bipartisan group – all the leaders come together and decide on a program and a platform that we all collectively work to advocate for.”
Serving the public good has been a major impetus for Mo Helmy’s career, leading him to his current position as public sector executive at T-Mobile.
“In the end, you’re also helping your community, and you’re helping yourself and your future,” he says. “You have to think about, what do you want to leave behind?”
In his role at the telecommunications giant, Helmy works with public sector partners to deliver solutions related to community issues. He analyzes the challenges and costs the public sector juggles and finds solutions that can provide a tangible result for the community. Helmy has helped bridge the digital divide and bring access to broadband and high-speed data to students in partnership with municipalities or school libraries. He has also helped first responder agencies access 5G networks for faster information transfer and oversaw the implementation of fleet integration solutions for various public works agencies. He has supported other public sector agencies as well.
Helmy is particularly proud of his work helping students access schooling during the coronavirus pandemic – and hopes to find new ways to carry out his commitment to public service in the future.
“We connected over 3,500 students at the Albany school district with digital connectivity,” he says. “We provided digital equity during the height of COVID and when a lot of school districts and a lot of families had lost their jobs or been furloughed. Schools wanted to continue, students wanted to continue to learn.”
Ostroff Associates is firmly established as one of the top lobbying outfits in New York, where it’s regularly ranked in the top 10 based on revenue. Achieving that consistent level of success requires hard work from key staffers like Jay Holland.
“Through my work here, we always try to be as substantive as possible, really learn issues on behalf of our clients and get into the details and understand exactly what public policy we’re dealing with and how it would affect any interested parties – and then go out there and do the work in order to deliver results,” Holland says.
When he first embarked on his professional career, the Great Recession made jobs scarce. So he volunteered on political campaigns, often knocking on doors. He also volunteered in the office of then-Rep. Bill Owens, who helped him secure a staff job in the Assembly.
Now at Ostroff Associates, Holland oversees a number of public policy campaigns across the state. He was invaluable to the efforts behind the passing of to-go alcoholic drink legislation, a boon for many small businesses, during the past state legislative session.
“I represented a number of different clients in the hospitality and alcohol beverage control space,” says Holland, who also had a stint as government affairs director for the New York State Restaurant Association. “That was a big win for the industry and was a long time coming, and many many thanks to the governor for advancing it. The hospitality sector was devastated throughout the pandemic.”
Redistricting has created headaches for countless elected officials and candidates, but it opened up an opportunity for Assembly Member Michael Lawler. After lines were drawn for New York’s new 17th Congressional District, spanning parts of the Hudson Valley, the first-term Republican Assembly member announced his intentions to run for the seat.
“Ultimately, this district, the way that it was finalized by the special master, was one that I felt very confident that we have a great pathway to win in November,” he says.
Lawler’s optimism stems from a few factors. Republicans are expected to see a boost in this year’s midterm elections, and Lawler has roots in both Rockland and Westchester counties, which constitute significant chunks of the district. He represents Rockland County in the state Legislature, having flipped the district in 2020, and also worked for then-Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
If he wins the primary, Lawler will face stiff competition in the general election. He would either face off against Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who helms the influential Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a prominent progressive.
Lawler is centering his campaign on affordability, education and crime, issues he says resonated during his Assembly campaign.
“In areas like Rockland County, where we pay the second-highest property taxes in America, affordability is always a concern,” he says. “And, you know, getting our fair share of state school aid was a major issue that I ran on.”
As a kid, Dan Leinung spent a lot of time running around the halls of the state Senate, where his father worked.
“Throughout college and then law school, I always knew I wanted to go work in the Legislature,” Leinung says. “I’m a self-proclaimed policy policy nerd. So that was always my dream job, so it was kind of in my DNA literally.”
Leinung now analyzes legislation at Tress Capitol Advisors, a government affairs firm. Leinung, who specializes in health care policy, cites the Reproductive Health Act as his most significant professional accomplishment.
“Literally the first bill that was signed into law with the new Senate Democratic majority, I was the staffer that worked on that,” says Leinung, who spent seven years working in the state Senate before moving to Tress Capitol Advisors in 2021. “I have the pen certificate hanging on my wall in my office at home.”
Leinung helped legalize recreational marijuana and pass nursing home legislation as well. As a state Senate counsel and policy analyst to the Codes Committee, he also focused on issues related to mental health and substance abuse. He had a stint investigating environmental matters as an assistant attorney general too.
“Working on these issues, you really do have to dive deep and really understand them,” he says. “Now that I’m representing clients on the outside, I’m able to use the relationships and the contacts, and the knowledge that these issues are bigger than then a lot of people think.”
Alyssa Lovelace has spent much of her professional career advancing the long-term care industry’s agenda in the state Capitol. She has spearheaded public policy initiatives on behalf of organizations such as the Home Care Association of New York State and the New York State Association of Health Care Providers. Most recently, she has advocated for long-term care providers as the state sought to increase pay for home care workers, making the case for increased Medicaid reimbursements to help providers cover those increases.
“They need to be able to comply with these wage mandates and meet their workforce wage labor mandates and compliance,” she says. “To speak to it from that angle, it was really interesting.”
Lovelace sought a change in focus earlier this year, hoping to sharpen her government relations skills and broaden her expertise. She joined Envision Strategy, where she’s been able to work with a wide range of clients across other industries.
One of her current clients is the Chamber of Digital Commerce, a trade association for the blockchain industry. That means Lovelace has kept busy learning about the burgeoning crypto industry in New York state, while also advancing its interests. A major challenge she’s working to overcome is convincing the governor to veto a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on some cryptocurrency mining in the state.
“Going from long-term care to, say, crypto is just fascinating,” she says. “There’s this whole new world and industry to learn about.”
Meghan McNamara is an integral member of the health team at Manatt, a national professional services firm. The Albany-based partner delves into the inner workings of the state Department of Health while representing a range of clients, including health and behavioral health providers, federally qualified health centers, nursing homes and home care providers. McNamara has helped them respond to COVID-19 and access federal funds to stay afloat.
“I work with a lot of safety net hospitals in New York City. During COVID, they were negatively impacted,” she says. “Coming out of their long-standing need for additional funding to support providing equitable care to the communities that they serve, I along with my other colleagues here at Manatt helped form a coalition of safety net hospitals in New York City with the goal of improving their financial stability.”
It’s no surprise McNamara ended up in this line of work, given that her father worked for the state Department of Health, and her mother was an employee of the state Office of General Services. She was interested in health care policy from a young age and initially explored a medical career – but she opted to attend law school and save lives another way.
“Working as an attorney,” she says, “it’s a privilege, and it’s very interesting because you’re able to help people by pursuing different avenues, be it traditional legal work or advocacy, through lobbying on the state or federal level or other types of consulting services that you can provide.”
Jim Moore is at the center of the operations of O’Donnell & Associates, a highly regarded government relations firm with offices in Buffalo, Albany, Manhattan and Washington, D.C. As the vice president and policy director of the firm, Moore is responsible for coordinating policy strategies for all of its clients.
One of Moore’s proudest accomplishments is his work around the 340B program. The federal program allows drug manufacturers participating in New York’s Medicaid program to provide drugs at a discount to 340B entities like safety net hospitals, which support low-income and uninsured patients. Moore supported efforts to delay a policy proposed during the coronavirus pandemic that would have shifted funding and is actively working with stakeholders to block the change entirely.
Moore is behind a multitude of other policy initiatives at O’Donnell as well, including efforts to support New York’s transition away from fossil fuels.
“We’re at the center of renewable energy discussions, battery, energy storage, things like that,” he says. “We are specifically working on energy standards and deployment for better storage across the state.”
Moore got his start in government, including under U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, though he now enjoys going even deeper on policy issues.
“Government relations gives me an opportunity to work on some very interesting issues and get into the minutiae of those issues more so than I did on the government side,” he says. “We represent a mix of clients that I’m pretty proud to represent.”
Dr. Diana Mosquera has two roles at the Albany Medical Center: She holds a clinical position as an anesthesiologist, and she’s also an associate medical director, developing and supporting programs that advance value-based care. The two perspectives give her a holistic view on pressing problems in her field.
“A lot of folks that are not clinicians don’t necessarily understand what clinicians face on a daily basis and then the challenges perhaps to change,” she says, “and a lot of clinicians don’t understand the basics of how the health system is funded and how they’re paid. And that in itself can raise frustration on both ends if you don’t understand the other side. By having both sides of the coin, I feel like it puts me in a position where I can piece those together.”
A first-generation immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1999 from Colombia, Mosquera often had to translate for her grandmother at hospitals and doctors’ offices. She eventually decided to become a doctor, but while taking courses on health care disparities, she developed an interest in doing more than clinical work. That led her to pursue a master’s degree in business administration at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in health care management.
Mosquera is proud to have developed Albany Medical Center’s clinic focused on helping those patients who are being discharged from the emergency room but don’t have access to a primary care doctor. “Those are our most vulnerable patients,” she says.
New York’s ambitious clean energy targets make it a national leader. Aubrey Ohanian is helping industry players seize the opportunities presented by state climate change policies and put New York on track to meet its goals.
At Harris Beach PLLC, a law firm with offices across New York, Ohanian represents New York Transco, a company aiming to build high-voltage transmission facilities in New York. The company was chosen by the state in 2021 to build a new high-voltage transmission line in the Hudson Valley.
“Transco needed to secure regulatory approvals from the New York state Public Service Commission,” she says. “I was intimately involved on the legal team with a colleague of mine at Harris Beach to secure the approvals that they needed to begin construction from the state Public Service Commission. That process took about a year. We went through a pretty long settlement process where we negotiated certificate conditions with several different state agencies.”
Ohanian also represented a nuclear decommissioning company in securing PSC approval for the first transfer of a retired nuclear-powered electric generation facility in New York.
She encourages those looking to work in energy policy to be open-minded.
“Be willing to dive in because there’s different aspects of law and energy policy,” she says. “Having a full understanding of what’s going on from a policy level in the energy space as a whole is really important.”
Rich Orsillo serves as senior vice president at Red Horse Strategies, a top political consulting firm whose client roster includes Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and several first-term New York City Council members.
But Orsillo’s pathway into politics was unexpected. At 26, straight out of graduate school, a few years after the 2008 financial crisis hit, he was brought in temporarily to work on a family friend’s campaign for the state Senate seeking to represent Long Island, where Orsillo grew up. It was a small team, but it allowed him to immerse himself in every aspect of campaigning, from canvassing and door-knocking to coordinating campaign communications.
“I got bit by the campaign bug after that,” Orsillo says. He has made a name for himself as a savvy political operative in the decade since. Among his most notable campaigns was Democrat Todd Kaminsky’s state Senate win in 2016, which gave Democrats a one-seat numerical majority for the then-fractured party in the upper chamber.
Since joining Red Horse five years ago, Orsillo has played a lead role in expanding the firm’s television advertising strategies. He helped secure George Latimer’s upset win as Westchester County executive and guided large-scale labor programs to secure more funding for education and personal protective equipment for nursing homes. The creative challenges of his work are what excites him most.
“How can you connect with people in a better way?” he says. “I think that’s what keeps me going.”
State Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick ranks among the legislative body’s newest members, having been elected in 2020. He now represents District 38, including Rockland County, where he was born and raised. The district encompasses the towns of Clarkstown, Orangetown and Ramapo as well as Ossining in Westchester County.
Although he is only in his first term in office, the state senator is no stranger to government and politics. He served as an aide to then-Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, and served twice as a village trustee in Nyack. Most recently, he was the legislative director for state Sen. James Skoufis, another youthful lawmaker who represents the district to his north. His experience working for Skoufis, in part, inspired his own desire to “get off the sidelines” and run for public office.
“I think younger candidates are more willing to run for office because they see that it’s possible and that’s very empowering,” he says.
Several bills he introduced in his first year have been signed into law, including legislation to strengthen the state’s oversight against the beleaguered East Ramapo Central School District.
Reichlin-Melnick is eager to do more in his second term if reelected, including pushing his colleagues to pass his proposed bill to resolve the state’s nursing staff shortage.
“If we can’t take action on this soon, there’s going to be a point when hospitals and nursing homes simply are unable, no matter what they pay, to find the staff they need to treat patients safely,” he says.
Raised in a working-class family in the Bronx, Mayleen Rivera has embraced equity as a steadfast focus of her government work.
After completing an internship with the Assembly, she worked as a fellow under the state Department of Health and the governor’s office, before being selected to serve as legislative director to former Assembly Member David Buchwald.
As a Latina working in politics, building supportive relationships has always been important to her career.
“I had to kind of fight through that impostor syndrome and realize no, I’m here, and I’m occupying this space because my hard work has allowed for me to be open to a lot of these opportunities,” she says.
In 2016, she collaborated with the state Office of Children and Family Services to launch a mentorship program for incarcerated women, which operated under her nonprofit I Am Strong. The program garnered recognition from the Albany County Legislature.
As deputy secretary for intergovernmental affairs under Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Rivera acts as a liaison between state agencies. She developed an intergovernmental contact database featuring more than 200 city, state and federal level agencies and elected officials, effectively streamlining the office’s work.
Not limiting herself has been her mantra to success.
She says we “live in a very forgiving day and age when it comes to our career, where it’s okay to explore so many different things.” While she hopes to continue her public service, she is open to other possibilities in the future, including potentially opening her own business someday.
Josh Rosenfeld always knew that he wanted to work in a profession where he could make a real difference. His love for talking, and his passion for progressive causes made working in media relations a natural fit for him.
“This arena, it gave me the opportunity to do what I love and then do what I do best,” he says, “talking about issues that I’m really passionate about, messaging those and ensuring that they’re reaching the proper audiences.”
After attending graduate school and studying public affairs, Rosenfeld joined Kivvit in 2015 as a trainee. He then spent several years in the Cuomo administration as a spokesperson, including as the governor’s deputy press secretary, before returning to the firm in 2019, this time as a principal.
“It was cool to work in the governmental sector and then come back to a firm like Kivvit. … That knowledge base is invaluable,” he says.
Rosenfeld has been especially proud of the work he’s done handling campaigns on behalf of clients focused on criminal justice reform and disability advocacy. For the latter, Rosenfeld was glad to have supported efforts to secure a cost-of-living adjustment for direct support professionals in the state budget, a major priority for disability advocates.
“Every day there’s something different,” he says. “When you’re working with clients and you don’t have one general area of specialty, you have that ability every day to dig into a new issue and become an expert in that issue.”
Having family members who were hardworking public servants and members of CSEA imbued Josh Schick with a strong respect for public service – and drives him today as a political action coordinator with the union.
“That’s the most rewarding part of it all, bringing that all to the surface, having the public understand the hard work that’s done on their behalf and what their tax dollars actually go to,” he says. “It’s not just the politicians in Albany. It’s the hardworking public employees who clean the streets, repair the roads and bridges.”
Schick advocates for the union’s priorities in Albany as well as in local governments across New York. One priority was pushing forward pension reform in the past budget cycle. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, he called on the federal government to provide state and local government funding to make up for losses in tax revenue and to preserve public employees’ jobs. After the Biden administration included that aid in the American Rescue Plan, Schick worked on smaller-scale campaigns to ensure local governments in New York used those funds to bolster public services.
Schick is proud of holding municipal leaders accountable.
“It’s a rewarding experience when you can have CSEA members stand up and say, ‘Whoa, we’re going to put the brakes on this thing,’” he says. “We’re going to tell you what we think about this, and we’re going to tell the community what the impact or the loss of the service could be.”
For Long Island native Stacey Sikes, there’s no place like home. “It’s a very special place to live,” Sikes says.
As vice president of government affairs and communications at the Long Island Association, the region’s premier business organization, Sikes manages the group’s advocacy portfolio and its work with Long Island’s business leaders and government officials. She also oversees the association’s digital strategies and coordinated the launch of its rebranding this year.
After receiving her master’s degree in government and politics from St. John’s University, she served as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s deputy regional representative. In that role, she gained a deep interest in economic development, having been involved in initiatives such as the Ronkonkoma Hub project in eastern Long Island.
She previously served as the executive dean of entrepreneurship and business development at Hofstra University where she supervised the school’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Scott Skodnek Business Development Center. Sikes also launched new initiatives there, including the ideaHUb incubator, which provides mentorship and resources to startups.
She was also the assistant executive director at Accelerate Long Island, a network of academic research institutes and businesses promoting economic growth in the region. She has remained active with the organization, being appointed as the chair of its board this year. But the proudest moment in her career has been supporting small businesses as they navigated the pandemic.
“I was able to understand how it was impacting them, and we put together programs to support their resiliency,” she says.
David Siracuse didn’t plan to become a lobbyist. After finishing his undergraduate studies at Niagara University, he headed to the University at Albany to pursue a doctorate in political science and government, intending to go into academia. But after realizing that wasn’t a great fit for him, Siracuse was connected to Bolton-St. Johns.
“It’s a really more dynamic and fast-paced environment compared to academia,” he says, “where the usual project timeline or horizon is much longer and slower.”
Since joining the lobbying firm about four years ago, Siracuse has had the opportunity to advise a wide range of clients on legislative, policy and budgetary matters in Albany. “I think one of the fun things about the job really is the diversity of working with small nonprofits to large traditional businesses,” he says.
Siracuse is representing the Freelancers Union and supporting its efforts to get legislation helping freelance workers passed. One piece of legislation he lobbied for is the Freelance Isn’t Free bill, which would provide protections for freelancers dealing with nonpayment or delayed payments. The legislation was passed by the state Legislature and now awaits the governor’s signature.
Outside of his day-to-day work at Bolton-St. Johns, Siracuse is also busy finishing his dissertation, which focuses on political scandals.
What’s his advice for someone new to lobbying? Be patient.
“It’s a fairly steep learning curve,” he says. “Just because there’s kind of no training or any academic courses that you can go to to help you prepare.”
Jordyn Sogoian’s passion for her work at the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters is personal: Her father was an electrician who was able to secure a middle-class lifestyle for his family through his union work.
“I’m very grateful for the life that they provided for me growing up,” she says. “So I think it was a natural fit when I started working with the Carpenters.”
After graduating from college, she attended law school, but left after realizing the field wasn’t a good fit for her. She landed at the union four years ago, fulfilling her passion for the realm of policy and politics.
Since then, Sogoian has had a hand in major legislative pushes the union has made to protect construction workers across New York state. This year, in an effort to better enforce labor laws, she and her colleagues succeeded in getting a bill passed by the state Legislature that would require all contractors and subcontractors bidding on public works projects to be registered with the state.
That’s not the only victory of which she has been a part of. Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a measure into law that makes contractors liable for wages owed to their subcontractors’ employees. She’s particularly proud of her work advancing that legislation, which aims to protect workers from wage theft.
“I think that, especially when you’re talking about construction workers, they tend to live more paycheck to paycheck,” Sogoian says. “And it’s important that they’re paid on time.”
As a Bangladeshi immigrant growing up in the low-income Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx, community service was always top of mind for Tafadar Sourov.
“As I got older, I noticed that people across my community … they really had to work hard and spend a lot of time away from their families,” he says.
In high school, he joined a cross-borough youth collective called the Urban Youth Collaborative, which staged a protest over plans to stop providing subsidized MetroCards. That protest attracted hundreds of thousands of students to walk out en masse.
He continued his political organizing as he got older before joining the apprenticeship program under Local 79, the labor union representing more than 10,000 active and retired construction workers in the city. Upon graduating, he was recruited as a union organizer, a role the 27-year-old has occupied since 2020.
Last year, the group played a key role in pushing labor laws such as New York City’s “body shop” legislation, which requires labor brokers to obtain hiring permits and provide hires with written notice about their rights, as well as the Excluded Workers Fund on the state level.
Representing his union at a young age has been Sourov’s proudest accomplishment, particularly as a first-generation Asian American.
“It’s not a place where people who come from my background are the most represented in the workforce,” he says. “But this is something that I chose to personally make my direction in life, and I’ve loved every bit of it.”
Marijuana legalization has picked up speed – and New York is no exception, having legalized the use and sale of recreational weed. Being a part of these early conversations shaping cannabis regulations and policies in the state excites Alex Spyropoulos.
“There aren’t too many opportunities to be able to help influence or start a new industry,” he says.
Spyropoulos’ interest in politics began in 2013, during his senior year of high school, when he interned on a New York City mayoral candidate’s campaign. He would eventually go on to work on an unsuccessful New York City Council campaign and then as an aide to Rep. Adriano Espaillat, before making the move to the lobbying firm Kasirer.
Since last year, he’s been working in Weedmaps’ public affairs team to advance their priorities on the East Coast, especially the Northeast. That includes pushing for marijuana legalization and, in states that have allowed for recreational cannabis, working with regulators to create equitable and thriving marketplaces.
What Spyropoulos is most proud of is advancing policies and proposals that create results that can be tangibly seen. He’s already looking forward to seeing the cannabis dispensaries that are expected to open up later this year, driven in part by the work he’s pushed forward.
Spyropoulos hopes that in the future, it’ll be something he can look back on and say: “It was great to be able to effect change that has had a decadeslong impact on the way New York looks, feels and the way people live their lives.”
As the director of government affairs at the New York Health Plan Association, Ashley Stuart advocates on behalf of 29 health plans that collectively cover more than 8 million New Yorkers. She tracks legislation that affects the health insurance sector and educates lawmakers about the effects on insurers.
“I advocate on behalf of the industry to help keep insurance costs, your premiums down,” she says. “Keep costs affordable for New Yorkers while expanding access to coverage and making sure people have access to quality, affordable coverage.”
Stuart, who joined the Albany-based organization in 2019, recently was a part of efforts to expand health plan coverage for low-income and undocumented New Yorkers.
“We wanted to see some tax credits offered to middle-class families who might struggle to purchase coverage,” she says. “We want to continue to work with the administration to make coverage affordable and accessible to all, and we’ll continue to work with the administration until we get to 100% universal coverage here in New York state.”
Stuart, who was previously an assistant vice president of entrepreneurship at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute and legislative director to Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi, is now building support for prescription drug transparency bills that her current organization has been working on. Prescription drugs are one of the fastest-growing items in terms of cost related to health care spending, she says, and keeping their cost down is essential to making sure health care stays affordable for as many New Yorkers as possible.
Meghan Taylor’s introduction to casinos came at a time of unprecedented upheaval. She joined Genting Americas in May 2020, when the company’s two Resorts World casinos in New York state were closed because of COVID-19. Shortly afterward, the company announced plans to open a Hudson Valley location.
Since then, she’s kept up with major legislative developments in Albany. New York legalized mobile sports betting late last year, prompting Resorts World to build its first mobile platform to offer the service. This year, state officials opened up full casino licenses for facilities downstate. Resorts World New York City has been actively seeking to secure one, which would allow the Queens location to bring in live dealers at table games.
“One of the roles that I have played in that is trying to develop the overall plan and get us ready for submission of the request for applications,” Taylor says, adding that she is garnering support from local community leaders, our local electeds are all fully aware of what our plans are and supportive of the overall plan.”
Much of Taylor’s career has been spent in economic development, including serving as regional director for the mid-Hudson region for Empire State Development. While there, she was able to help cultivate huge projects like the Legoland New York Resort theme park in Goshen, as well as smaller economic development initiatives across the region.
“It was really interesting and something that I can look back on and be very proud of,” she says.
For Kaitlin N. Vigars, it has been an “exciting time” to work on environmental and energy law in New York, not least because of the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, “which I think is the most aggressive climate change law in the country,” she says. “It’s creating a lot of changes, not necessarily just regulatory changes, but obviously certain changes that are coming to buildings: there will be changes to building codes, pushing for electrification, pushing for increased generation of renewables.”
After graduating during the 2008 recession, Vigars pivoted from initial plans to pursue journalism and ended up taking a job on a federal grant, studying how health care professionals could better support victims of violence. While doing that research, Vigars encountered many lawyers and legal professionals, whose work fascinated her. Ultimately, she headed to Boston College Law School.
Now an associate at Phillips Lytle, Vigars has a hand in moving forward renewable energy, transmission and telecommunications infrastructure projects across the state, handling zoning and land use matters. Recently, she has been busy securing permissions to advance a major renewable energy transmission project slated to deliver power to New York City.
In addition to that legal work, Vigars has also sought to make herself an expert in New York’s ambitious climate law, ensuring she can translate its impact on clients and prepare them for regulatory shifts.
“I love being able to assist clients navigating this unknown,” she says, “and working towards these really important goals.”
Renee Wall has long been attuned to educational policy issues. Her mother was a teacher and member of New York State United Teachers and, living in small towns north of Buffalo, Wall had her first exposure to local politics through school board elections. When she was in the sixth grade, she organized a pro-teacher rally.
But what cemented her decision to make a career of labor organizing was attending Cornell University, where she obtained a degree in industrial and labor relations.
“I do think it pushed me even further into where I already was, to basically knowing that I want to advocate for the underdog, for the little guy,” she says. “And right now, the best way to do that, for me, was the labor movement.”
For the past two years, Wall has advocated on behalf of educators across school districts in Suffolk County, negotiating contracts, representing members in legal proceedings and handling day-to-day concerns.
One of her unit presidents was fired by the Wyandanch Union Free School District in November 2020. The union had reason to suspect that the person was fired for retaliation, and Wall soon filed a charge with the Public Employees Relations Board.
Ultimately, Wall succeeded in settling the case with the district, getting the unit president’s job back, along with a year’s worth of back pay and all of her vacation and sick leave time.
“I think we got absolutely everything we wanted,” she says, “and then a little bit more.”
As a legislative representative for the New York City mayor’s office, Sam Weprin’s work takes him all over the state meeting with lawmakers as the middleman advocating for the mayor’s policy priorities. He has served in the role since January, after a three-year stint in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget.
His interest in government work started in part due to his love of learning American history as a kid. But he also had a front-row seat to life in politics coming from a line of Weprins who have served in city and state legislative seats representing Queens, where he grew up. That proximity has both shaped his understanding of public service and driven him to carve out his own path.
“I wanted to make sure that I became known first for being Sam and not always being related to so and so,” he says. “That’s kind of been a driving force for me when it comes to my motivation and where I want to eventually go down the road.”
His commitment to policy work was further cemented as a college student at SUNY Albany studying political science and history. While a student, he interned for Rep. Joseph Morelle, who was serving as Assembly majority leader at the time.
“Being able to hone in and understand the state legislative process from the inside, has really helped my development and understanding of my current role,” he says of the experience.
A practicing attorney focused on family law, Joseph Williams was fighting the good fight long before he joined colleagues at Equality New York, a statewide advocacy group advancing equality and justice for LGBTQ New Yorkers.
He was behind the successful campaign to pass the Child-Parent Security Act in 2020, which effectively reversed the state’s ban on compensated surrogacy. Most importantly, the law also established a legal process so same-sex parents who opted for surrogacy could have their parental rights protected no matter where they end up living.
“That’s going to be especially important, as these crazy laws and rulings continue to happen,” he says, referring to the anti-LGBTQ laws being passed in conservative states across the country.
He joined his firm Copps DiPaola Silverman in 2018, after working with the firm’s partner attorney Lorraine Silverman as an intern at The Legal Project, a legal service provider for low-income women. He is also a co-founder of the New York Surrogacy Center, a surrogacy matching program under his firm, which he runs with another partner attorney, Casey Copps DiPaola.
“I really love what I do,” he says. “My hope is that we will be able to expand and be able to become bigger and help more families.”
Beyond serving on Equality New York’s board of directors, Williams is a member of the LGBT Family Law Institute and The Capital District Women’s Bar Association LGBT Committee, in addition to serving as a senior officer for the New York State Bar Association LGBTQ Law Section.
An immigrant rights advocate and bona fide socialist, Abdullah Younus has served in various roles at the New York Immigration Coalition since 2018.
Surprisingly, the politics of his youth had initially skewed to the right. He began to adopt increasingly leftist ideals at George Washington University, where he studied statistics and engaged with other students of different ideologies. But it wasn’t until the rise of former President Donald Trump that he began to seriously transfer that knowledge into action.
“That (Trump) agenda really activated me, and I decided, you know what, I’m not going to go into finance. … I’m going to organize my community,” says Younus, who grew up in post-9/11 New York as the son of Muslim Pakistani immigrants.
He got involved with Democratic campaigns in local races and became a strategic researcher with the United Auto Workers, advancing its Columbia and Harvard graduate worker organizing campaigns. As part of the New York Immigration Coalition, he helped secure a number of legislative wins including Green Light Law, which allowed undocumented residents to lawfully secure a driver’s license, and the Excluded Workers Fund.
Next on his plate will be coordinating the 200 member organizations under the New York Immigration Coalition and setting the foundation for the organization’s policy agenda next year.
“What really keeps me going is when … people we’re organizing with step into their own power and realize that they don’t just need to be bossed around by the system and the powers that be,” he says.
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