Latinos have solidified their status as the second-largest demographic group in New York and nationally, and that has led to some significant political breakthroughs. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the country’s most iconic politicians, has been floated as a future U.S. senator, New York City mayor or even president. Robert Mujica, the state’s budget director, garners less attention but is perhaps the most powerful unelected official in the state. And this year, the ranks of Latinos in the New York City Council swelled to 15, up from 11 last year.
Yet, a growing population has yet to propel Latinos into New York’s most powerful political posts. Not one has ever served as governor of New York, as a U.S. senator in the state or as mayor of New York City. The only statewide office ever occupied by a Latino is the relatively ceremonial position of lieutenant governor.
City & State’s Power of Diversity: Latino 100, researched and written in partnership with journalists Felipe De La Hoz, Kim Gonzalez and Juanita Ramos, identifies New York’s leading Latinos, including government officials, business executives, labor leaders, academics, advocates, activists and others.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s status as a second-term House member who doesn’t chair a committee belies her power as the standard-bearer for a continuing wave of progressive politicians. She is the archetype for a certain sound bite mastery and no-holds-barred intraparty conflict to the extent that being the “next AOC” has become both a coveted moniker for like-minded Democrats – and a bull’s-eye for conservatives taking aim at them. Prior to her 2018 upset win, Ocasio-Cortez had never held political office; now, the question is how high she can go?
A ubiquitous presence in Albany, Robert Mujica is one of the only high-level survivors of the Cuomo administration. He continues to oversee the state’s behemoth $220 billion budget for the Hochul administration in what many see as a mark of both sheer competence and influence. Raised in Brooklyn and Staten Island by Puerto Rican parents, Mujica also serves on more than 30 boards, including CUNY’s board of trustees and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, giving him purview over a huge swath of state government.
Thanks to her many years spent as a teacher, principal and superintendent in the Bronx, Betty Rosa has a deep understanding of the inner workings of public education in New York. Rosa took the reins of 731 school districts with over 4,400 schools on an interim basis in early 2020 – at the start of the coronavirus pandemic – and was given the role permanently last year. Prior to becoming commissioner, Rosa was chancellor of the state Board of Regents.
Félix V. Matos Rodríguez became the first Latino steward of the citywide system of 25 campuses, including the “working man’s Harvard” of City College, in 2019. In addition to previously serving as Queens College president for almost five years, Matos Rodríguez spent four years working in the government of his native Puerto Rico. The longtime academic, who has prioritized expanding student access to growing industries, is dealing with problems ranging from funding needs to an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents at CUNY.
Around New York, it’s known that calling “Nydia” about an injustice to the Hispanic community will yield an immediate response. She arrived from her native Puerto Rico on a scholarship for a master’s degree at New York University in 1974 and got involved in politics in 1981. In nearly 30 years in Congress, Rep. Nydia Velázquez has risen to become the chair of the Small Business Committee and been a consistent sponsor of bills to encourage mom and pop commerce. In September, her favored candidate in the 10th Congressional District, New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera, fell short.
The first formerly undocumented person in Congress, Dominican-born Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s 2017 primary victory was a referendum on the growing Latino power base forming in Upper Manhattan. Espaillat, a former member of the Assembly and state Senate, has long known how to build bridges with various constituencies. He was a consistent voice denouncing the Trump administration’s abuses of immigrants and holds leadership roles in the Hispanic Caucus, Progressive, and Latino-Jewish Caucuses. He has also elected a growing “Squadriano” of local allies, although his endorsements fizzled in September.
There’s hardly a bigger union town than New York City, and few unions with more muscle than the public employee union District Council 37, which boasts 150,000 members working a wide array of jobs, from lifeguards and park workers to actuaries and city agency staffers. Dominican-born Henry Garrido, whose mother was a union garment worker, took over leadership at the end of 2014. He has recently been at the center of battles over retiree health benefits and the Adams administration’s insistence that all municipal workers return to the office.
Eric Gonzalez, who grew up in Bushwick and East New York in a Puerto Rican family, was thrust into the limelight when he became acting Brooklyn district attorney after the sudden 2016 death of reform-minded predecessor Ken Thompson. As a part of the office since 1995, Gonzalez was well-positioned to take charge. Gonzalez, who has since won reelection twice, has continued the office’s progressive legacy with initiatives including a policy to help noncitizens avoid disproportionate immigration-related consequences when facing low-level convictions.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera survived an onslaught from the Bronx Democratic Party to vanquish primary challenger Miguelina Camilo in August. It’s just the latest uphill battle for Rivera, a reformer who knocked out the scandal-plagued Pedro Espada Jr. in 2010 to win his seat. Now, an elder statesman among Albany progressives, Rivera has long pushed for state-level single-payer health care – and assuming he continues as health committee chair, he’ll be taking the lead on health policy with longtime legislative partner Assembly Member Richard Gottfried retiring.
In New York City, where few things come at a higher premium than land, City Council Land Use Committee Chair Rafael Salamanca Jr. wields considerable clout, which he often uses to try to secure more affordable housing from developers. Before winning a 2016 special election in a six-person race where he received the support of the Brooklyn Democratic machine, Salamanca served on Bronx Community Board 2 and as president of the 41st Precinct Community Council.
Queens native state Sen. Jessica Ramos cut her teeth on local civic issues as a teenager before starting in politics as a New York City Council staffer during college. After taking on a variety of roles, including as district leader, Ramos, the daughter of Colombian immigrants, decided to run for the state Senate against a former Independent Democratic Conference member in 2018 as part of a movement angry at the IDC’s cooperation with Republicans. Her victory helped shift the balance of power in Albany – and she went on to champion worker and immigrant rights as the state Senate Labor Committee chair.
As the first Latino president of the New York City Central Labor Council since 2011, Vincent Alvarez represents the collective interests of some 1.3 million workers across 300 unions in the city. This has put him in the middle of disputes as diverse as a strike of building doormen around the city and arguments over the operation of Staten Island ferries. Throughout it all, the former International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers member has become known for his ability to keep cool and negotiate truces.
Rep. Ritchie Torres became the youngest elected official in New York City history and the first openly gay legislator from the Bronx when he joined the New York City Council in 2013 at age 25 before jumping to Congress in 2021. He has attributed the achievement to his Afro Latino heritage, growing up with a Puerto Rican dad and African American mom. He has said that his focus on affordable and public housing stems from a childhood spent at the Throggs Neck Houses.
Among the highest-ranking Latinos in the Adams administration, Dominican-born Ydanis Rodriguez arrived in the city as a fresh-faced 18-year-old and spent 15 years teaching before elected office. He then served for more than a decade in the New York City Council advocating for medallion owners, fighting to enact municipal noncitizen voting and chairing the City Council’s Transportation Committee. Now, as city Department of Transportation commissioner, Rodriguez oversees a billion-dollar budget and is aiming to make New York City more walkable and bikeable.
New York City Council Member Diana Ayala was a top contender in the crowded contest to serve as speaker of the city’s legislative body, a position previously held by her mentor, Melissa Mark-Viverito. While she fell short, the Puerto Rico native was savvy enough to step aside and back the eventual speaker, Adrienne Adams, while landing a plum post as deputy speaker. Ayala also chairs the Committee on General Welfare, which has been scrutinizing the lack of shelter space for homeless people.
Miami-born Democratic Socialist state Sen. Julia Salazar has always been an activist and organizer, getting involved in campus organizing at Columbia University and later focusing on police reform. Salazar, who overcame a flurry of controversies about her upbringing and background during her 2018 Democratic primary race to handily defeat longtime incumbent Martin Malavé Dilan, is now chair of the state Senate Crime and Correction Committee, where she has been a notable supporter of sex worker rights.
Where others might be cowed by being the only Republican member of Congress from New York City, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis seems to revel in her outsider position. For example, she ran against then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017 for his position as mayor in a race she was almost guaranteed to lose; she then defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Max Rose the following year. Malliotakis, the daughter of a Cuban mother and Greek father, is a Trump supporter – but also voted in favor of Democrats’ recent infrastructure bill.
Raised by parents who immigrated to Crown Heights from Costa Rica, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie was part of the wave of young progressives who took down the Independent Democratic Conference in 2018, when he defeated incumbent Jesse Hamilton by a comfortable margin. Myrie knows his way around the technicalities of legislation, having served previously as a New York City Council legislative director. He has been a vocal defender against rollbacks to the controversial 2019 bail reform, of which he was a co-sponsor.
This time last year, no one expected then-Rep. Antonio Delgado to be named second-in-command of state government – including Delgado himself – but the sequence of Andrew Cuomo’s resignation as governor, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s elevation and former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin’s own fall from grace had the domino effect of putting the Schenectady native on the primary ballot, which he won a month after his swearing-in. Delagado – whose Afro Latino roots came into question before he clarified that his roots include Cape Verde, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia – had represented Congressional District 19 since 2019.
Growing up largely in Rockland County with a Cuban father and a formerly undocumented Colombian mother, Nathalia Fernandez always felt more at home in the Bronx. In 2018, when her former boss Mark Gjonaj won a seat on the New York City Council, Fernandez, who had been working as then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s representative in the Bronx, ran a successful campaign for Gjonaj’s old Assembly seat. Now she’s on the move again, having won the pivotal Democratic nomination for an open state Senate seat.
Antonio Reynoso, the Williamsburg-born son of Dominican immigrant parents, hasn’t let what is often considered a semiceremonial role stop him from making his mark on Brooklyn, pledging to combat NIMBYism and improve maternal health. Prior to becoming Brooklyn borough president this year, Reynoso served two terms on the New York City Council, succeeding Diana Reyna – for whom he was chief of staff – where he wasn’t shy about taking controversial stances, as exemplified by the ultimately unsuccessful plan to rezone Bushwick.
Only 14 Latinos serve in the Assembly, exactly the same as a decade ago, and they make up just under 10% of the legislative body’s 150 seats – even as Hispanics account for nearly 20% of the state’s population. Despite this lack of representation, however, many of New York’s Latino lawmakers punch above their weight. Assembly Members Catalina Cruz, the sponsor of the Clean Slate Act, and Kenny Burgos, whose district includes Rikers Island, have been on the forefront of recent criminal justice reform efforts. Assembly Member Karines Reyes, who identifies as Afro Latina, championed the New York HERO Act, a worker safety measure, and is a proactive legislator on a number of fronts. Assembly Member Maritza Davila chairs the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, which oversees the popular Somos conference. Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas, who previously led the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, has sought to increase abortion access in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Another first-term lawmaker, Assembly Member Amanda Septimo, has pushed for greener transportation systems. Assembly Member Erik Dilan fended off a Democratic Socialists of America-backed primary challenger this year, but another DSA-backed Brooklynite, Marcela Mitaynes, is coasting to a second term. While Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez is moving up to the state Senate, Assembly Member Phil Ramos of Long Island lost his state Senate primary bid to comeback candidate Monica Martinez. Another non-New York City incumbent, Jonathan Rivera, is making his mark in Western New York. Two other incumbents, Manny De Los Santos and Yudelka Tapia, won special elections but have served for less than a year, while longtime lawmaker José Rivera is on his way out after losing to primary challenger George Alvarez this year.
In 2017, Havidán Rodríguez, who grew up shuttling between Puerto Rico and the Bronx, became the first Latino SUNY president when he was named to lead the University at Albany. The appointment was a homecoming of sorts for Rodríguez, who had been serving in an executive role at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Prior to coming to Albany, Rodríguez conducted significant research on topics like disaster preparedness and socioeconomic conditions among minority communities.
Following the pipelines of both nonprofit executive and legislative staffer to elected official, Carlina Rivera put in her time as director of programs for nonprofit organization Good Old Lower East Side and as a legislative director for then-New York City Council Member Rosie Mendez. As chair of the City Council Criminal Justice Committee, she has sparred with New York City Mayor Eric Adams on his enforcement-focused approach to crime. And though she didn’t win, Rivera was a strong candidate in the newly redrawn 10th Congressional District’s Democratic primary.
Luis Miranda Jr., MirRam Group founder and partner, has worked as a representative of the Latino community in various political and cultural board positions. His company has become one of the most influential political consulting and strategic communications groups in New York, thanks in no small part to the contributions of Eduardo Castell and Catherine Torres, who are partners of the firm and have each previously worked as public servants dealing with the array of issues facing minority communities in New York City. MirRam Group has advocated for equal treatment for Puerto Ricans in the United States and is a supporter of the Unity March for Puerto Rico.
A recognizable family name can be both a blessing and a curse in politics, but onetime New York City Council member and longtime South Bronx state Sen. José M. Serrano is forging a path distinct from that of his father, Puerto Rico-born former Rep. José E. Serrano. As chair of the state Senate Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee, Serrano has been a champion for an arts industry that was heavily battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of the New York City Council’s Latino members are still in their first year in office. One exception is Council Member Francisco Moya, a veteran lawmaker who was New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ pick for council speaker but fell short. Council Member Oswald Feliz also took office before most of his colleagues, winning a special election in the spring of 2021. Other than Diana Ayala, Rafael Salamanca Jr. and Carlina Rivera, the rest of the legislative body’s Latino contingent took office this year. Among the notable members of the group are Council Member Carmen De La Rosa, a Rep. Adriano Espaillat ally who previously served in the Assembly, and Tiffany Cabán, a progressive who previously came close to winning the Queens district attorney race. Two Bronxites, Amanda Farías and Marjorie Velázquez, ran in 2017 and lost, but saw their respective rivals decline to seek reelection ahead of the 2021 race. Council Member Pierina Sanchez is in a key role as chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee, while Council Member Alexa Avilés chairs the Public Housing Committee, Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez chairs the Technology Committee, Council Member Sandy Nurse chairs the Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Committee and Council Member Shaun Abreu – another Espaillat protege – chairs the State and Federal Legislation Committee.
A former Bronx borough president and Obama administration official, Adolfo Carrión Jr. was selected by New York City Mayor Eric Adams to lead the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development as City Hall seeks to address the housing crisis and encourage more affordable housing construction. Carrión left his role as an executive vice president at Stagg Group, one of the Bronx’s largest affordable housing developers, to take the job.
It is perhaps the least enviable task in New York City government to reform the Rikers Island jail complex, a crisis that has persisted for years. Louis Molina, the Bronx-born son of Puerto Rican parents and a former public safety chief of Las Vegas, was tapped by New York City Mayor Eric Adams to clean up the mess. In the months since, despite mounting criticism from numerous stakeholders, Molina has maintained his commitment to improving conditions and avoiding receivership.
Even after decades of advocating and providing services for women and LGBTQ people, The New York Women’s Foundation head Ana Oliveira’s work is never done, as typified by her springing into action to promote candidates committed to protecting abortion rights following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The São Paulo-born Oliveira led the Gay Men’s Health Crisis for seven years before taking over the foundation in 2006, where she’s overseen a significant expansion of its grant-making capabilities.
It might seem cumbersome for an organization to have three executive directors, but each has been working with the organization, Make the Road New York, for more than 15 years, advocating and organizing on causes from police reform to New York City’s sanctuary policies to medical care for immigrants. Theo Oshiro and Arlenis Morel are both themselves immigrants, having arrived in the city from Peru and Venezuela, respectively, while Jose Lopez hails from Bushwick. The trio took over last April, one year into a pandemic that both energized and strained community organizations around New York. Their organization, notched a victory in December when New York City legalized noncitizen voting, although the law was overturned this summer.
People 65 years or older make up 16.4% of New York City’s population – and that number is projected to increase to 20% by 2035. New York City Department for the Aging’s Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez supports that growing population by leading the way on key initiatives like meal programs for the elderly, increasing the reimbursement rate for home-delivered meals to make the program sustainable and securing funding for vehicles to deliver food to older adults.
Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated Robert Rodriguez, who previously spent 11 years as an Assembly member, to serve as the state’s secretary of state in 2021. With a background in finance, Rodriguez has been able to facilitate the state’s investing in housing projects that aided low-income and diverse communities. During his time in the Assembly, he was an advocate for affordable housing – and he continues to tackle discriminatory housing practices today.
With more than two decades of experience working to improve diversity and civic engagement, Julissa Gutierrez was the natural choice to become the state’s chief diversity officer in 2020. She has since helped increase the registration rate of minority- and women-owned business enterprises in the state to 30.51% – the highest percentage in the nation. Her commitment to women and minorities is also exemplified by her past work with the Anti-Defamation League and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
Tonio Burgos has long been one of New York’s most influential Latino lobbyists, having built TBA into a powerhouse. His firm, formerly known as Tonio Burgos & Associates, operates in the tri-state area, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico and has clients in such sectors as energy, transportation, health care and education. Burgos served in the Mario Cuomo and Hugh Carey administrations before launching TBA over three decades ago. Elvin García came on as the firm’s director of New York City affairs a little over a year ago after stops at the Open Society Foundations, the Hispanic Federation and as Bronx borough director for City Hall.
As the Adams administration’s top immigration official, Commissioner Manuel Castro is dealing directly with the influx of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers being bused to the state from Texas. Castro, a Mexican immigrant himself, has been welcoming them with open arms – in fact, City Hall’s efforts to educate and provide services to these newcomers is dubbed “Project Open Arms.” Castro previously spent more than six years leading New Immigrant Community Empowerment, an organization supporting immigrant workers.
Reappointed this year as commissioner and chair of the New York City Commission on Human Rights by Mayor Eric Adams, Annabel Palma leads the civil rights legislation of New York City. Palma worked to ensure all New York City residents were vaccinated against COVID-19 and to increase access to vaccines as the chief equity officer of the Test & Trace Corps. In addition to her work with the city, Palma has been an influential organizer for inclusion and unionizing.
Acting as a de facto umbrella organization for Hispanic-focused nonprofits nationwide, the Hispanic Federation, which is led by President and CEO Frankie Miranda, is a leading voice on the issues affecting Hispanic communities in New York and around the country. Having risen through the organization’s ranks since 2006, Miranda has helped increase its national presence by managing expansion in Florida and Puerto Rico. He now oversees operations that run the gamut from disaster relief to improving health outcomes.
No municipal agency or department was spared the monumental impact of COVID-19, including the city’s sprawling public hospital system at the center of the pandemic, with emergency rooms overflowing and health care providers at grave personal risk. Pagán, who has served as NYC Health + Hospitals’ board chair since 2019, isn’t a medical doctor but a health economist, which has helped in his efforts to change how New Yorkers can get better access to coronavirus-related health care.
In 2021, Fernando Delgado became the fourth president of Lehman College, an institution that serves the Hispanic community in the Bronx and the surrounding region. Delgado, who has 20 years of public college administrative experience, was the first in his family to go to college. Among his other accomplishments, he has done extensive research on Latino identity and culture. This year, under his leadership, the first public business school in the Bronx and Westchester was created at Lehman.
The foundation of Cesar Perales’ career has been his early work to represent poor New Yorkers, which led to the establishment of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, an organization devoted to defending the human and civil rights of Latinos. He also previously served as the secretary of state for New York from 2011 to 2016. As the vice chair of the SUNY board of trustees, Perales works to create more equality and equity in New York.
A fierce advocate of educating people about the effects of HIV, sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis on Hispanic and Latino communities, Guillermo Chacón has served as the president of the Latino Commission on AIDS since 2010. He led the commission’s founding of the Hispanic Health Network, which is dedicated to fighting the disparities in health for Hispanics. Chacón has also served on the state COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force.
NY1 is must-see TV for New York politicos, and for New York City’s many politically engaged Spanish speakers, the station’s affiliated NY1 Noticias is equally essential. Lacayo took the reins in 2014 after working as a reporter for Univisión Channel 41 and at Telemundo Channel 52 in Los Angeles. His encouragement of reporters to integrate themselves into communities left the station well-positioned to effectively cover the pandemic’s impact on residents around the city.
This year has already seen a nationwide shortage of baby formula, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and an alarming rise in violence against women in New York City. Advocating for the rights of women in this fraught climate is Sonia Ossorio. Most recently, Ossorio has been pushing to get the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act – which would prevent people from being fired for being pregnant or not being provided adequate medical support – passed with bipartisan support.
Teresa Gonzalez and Prisca Salazar-Rodriguez are partners at Bolton-St. Johns, the public relations firm that serves a wide range of public- and private-sector organizations. Keyla Espinal Antigua is the organization’s vice president of government affairs. Prior to joining Bolton-St. Johns, each of them gained experience in helping the residents of New York City and having positive impacts on the community: Gonzalez served as deputy press secretary at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs during the Bloomberg administration; Salazar-Rodriguez worked as director of executive operations and scheduling for then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, among other positions; and Espinal Antigua was assistant director of public policy at Children’s Aid, one of the oldest and largest nonprofits in New York City.
Since she succeeded New York City Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright as president of United Way of New York City this summer, Grace Bonilla has made sure her organization remains at the forefront of advocacy for low-income New Yorkers, through the implementation of programs designed to increase economic mobility, improve grade-level reading and strengthen access to workforce development programs. She brings an extensive background in politics to her work, including stints at the New York City Human Resources Administration, where she worked to increase access to food and benefits for low-income communities.
As president and CEO of HITN, Mike Nieves has played a crucial role in generating Spanish-language content for Hispanic audiences on key issues like the 2016 election, when he produced the program, “Tu Momento,” in which he explained the complex U.S. electoral process. Nieves has worked as a strategic adviser to local politicians and unions such as Transit Workers Union Local 100, and he also serves as secretary of the Somos Puerto Rico conference, one of the most important political events for Latinos.
Editor’s note: Michael Nieves is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
At the helm of Urban Health Plan is Paloma Izquierdo-Hernandez, who has been a key figure in shaping the health center’s evolution. In 1974, Urban Health Plan was a community group practice for Hispanic and impoverished residents in the Bronx. Today, the organization has sites across New York City that help disadvantaged communities – thanks in no small part to Izquierdo-Hernandez’s determination to provide affordable health care to increase the quality of life for all.
Many of the progressive politicians on the ballot this year have been assisted by Camille Rivera, a leader of the political consulting firm New Deal Strategies. She supported Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential run as a senior adviser for its New York operation, helped secure Jamaal Bowman’s congressional seat in 2020 and aided the campaigns of numerous New York City Council members in the 2021 election, including Tiffany Cabán and Pierina Sanchez. She also helped state Sen. Gustavo Rivera notch a hard-fought primary victory despite opposition from the Bronx Democratic Party.
State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, who had developed a reputation as a criminal justice reformer in Albany, had his own brush with the law when his wife accused him of domestic abuse early last year. Sepúlveda was ousted as chair of the state Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee and condemned by colleagues, then lost a bid for Bronx borough president. In October, however, the charges against him were dropped when his wife declined to testify. He now chairs one of the state Senate’s two committees on cities.
Montefiore Medicine is a regional leader in health care in the Bronx, Westchester County and the Hudson Valley, and among the executives aiming to expand its reach and improve its services are two former elected officials: Marcos Crespo and Ruben Diaz Jr. The former Bronx politicians – Crespo served in the Assembly and chaired the Bronx Democratic Party, while Diaz was the Bronx borough president as well as an Assembly member – had already assisted the medical system while in office. Diaz came on in February as senior vice president of strategic initiatives. Crespo, who joined Montefiore in 2020, is senior vice president of community affairs.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Miguel Centeno has served the community since 1996, when he worked as a deputy director of economic development for the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office. At Healthfirst, the national nonprofit health insurer where he has been since 2020, Centeno contributes to narrowing the gaps in health care in minority communities. The son of Puerto Rican immigrants as well as an aficionado of Latin music and its roots, Centeno also leads the salsa band Grupo Centeno.
Over the past 13 years, Jose Tavarez has played a significant role in Bank of America’s relationship with New York City, including in his current role leading its growth plan for all five boroughs. He is part of both the Bank of America Global Diversity & Inclusion Council and the Leadership Council for the Hispanic/Latino Organization for Leadership and Advancement. Tavarez was recently appointed to the “New” New York panel by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul.
As president and CEO of New York-based Ponce Bank, Carlos P. Naudon has made it a priority to give back to the community that has been so integral to the success of his New York City-based financial institution. He holds numerous positions to further that goal, serving on the board of directors of The Brooklyn Hospital Center and directing the Ponce De Leon Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations that benefit communities in New York City.
Jason Ortiz is one of New York City’s go-to operatives. He has notched key victories as director of political and strategic affairs for the influential Hotel Trades Council, worked with the Innocence Project and the Drug Policy Alliance and, last year, helped Eric Adams win the pivotal New York City Democratic mayoral primary through his work on a super PAC. A little over a year ago, he teamed up with charter school veteran Jenny Sedlis and communications pro Jennifer Fermino to launch the consulting firm Moonshot Strategies.
Community Preservation Corp. was about to go bankrupt in 2012 when Rafael Cestero stepped in to begin enacting the plan that has made the nonprofit what it is today: a large community development financial institution that helps support multifamily, affordable and workforce housing. Cestero, who has helped get housing units built throughout the state from Buffalo to the Bronx, previously served as New York City’s housing commissioner under former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Rafael Espinal resigned from his New York City Council seat in early 2020 to take the reins of the Freelancers Union, which represents tens of millions of independent workers around the country. Born in Brooklyn to Dominican parents, Espinal rose to become chief of staff for then-Council Member Erik Dilan before getting elected himself to the Assembly at age 26 and then becoming a City Council member in 2013.
Under the leadership of Raul Russi, the nonprofit social services organization Acacia Network has become one of the largest Hispanic advocacy organizations in six states and Puerto Rico. Russi, who came to New York at age 12 from Puerto Rico, was a highly decorated Buffalo police officer in the 1970s, where he was once shot while on duty. One of his missions in 2022 is to expand the organization’s affordable housing offerings.
New York City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nick Lugo and Executive Director Cindy Estrada led the business organization’s crucial efforts to help small businesses survive during the pandemic through creating partnerships with community banks. Before coming to the chamber, Lugo began his career in the travel and publishing businesses and founded Casa Publications. Estrada established herself as an entrepreneur from an early age and has also been involved in nonprofit organizations such as Somos El Futuro.
While emergency rooms were where the sickest New Yorkers ended up during the worst of the pandemic, community health centers offered a place for preventive and continuing care – and were often on the front lines. Somos, which the Dominican-born Dr. Ramon Tallaj founded in 2015 after years of providing care for immigrant New Yorkers, is the city’s largest of these nonprofit networks. Tallaj brought on Mario J. Paredes, who was previously a Merrill Lynch executive and commissioner for the New York City Charter Revision Commission, to run it.
With more than two decades of health care experience, including time as a care specialist, a marketing specialist and director of business development at different health care companies, Joselyn Salazar has the skills to meet the needs of patients while growing business for long-term care programs. At MetroPlus Health, a low-cost health insurance company for residents of New York City, Salazar helps members on Medicare and Medicaid, and those in long-term care.
Liberty Coca-Cola recently announced it would be switching from plastic to paper six-pack holders – and Mayra Linares-Garcia, the company’s vice president of public affairs and communications, has been a crucial part of the rollout. In addition to such initiatives, she works to listen to and support the company's customer communities in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. The daughter of former Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, Linares-Garcia also serves on the board of trustees for CUNY.
As the executive director of Uprose, Elizabeth Yeampierre leads one of New York’s most influential Latino community organizations. A lawyer and advocate for environmental and racial justice who also co-chairs the Climate Justice Alliance, Yeampierre served on the Sustainability Advisory Board of the de Blasio administration. She advocates for framing the fight against the climate crisis as a collective one and has recently warned about extreme heat as an immediate concern for the community.
One of New York City’s most influential environmental advocates, Eddie Bautista recently took part in an initiative to measure air quality and hot spaces in neighborhoods such as the East Village and Hunts Point, which have been disproportionately affected by pollution and global warming. His efforts have been a difference-maker for the immigrant community, including his work on an initiative for city agencies to offer services and documents in the six most commonly spoken languages in the city.
Organizer and political strategist Maritza Silva-Farrell’s work has focused on advancing initiatives that benefit migrants and communities of color in New York City. Now the executive director at the nonprofit ALIGN, she previously served as coordinator of Real Affordability for All, the city’s largest affordable housing coalition, and has worked on a number of boards, including for Partnership for Working Families. She helped raise $1.2 million for the Caring Across Generations campaign, which helped low-income and undocumented seniors access home care.
Elizabeth Velez is the president of the Velez Organization, a construction firm that was created by her father, Andrew Velez, in 1972. Velez’s company has been part of hundreds of projects, including the construction of 600 affordable housing units in New York City. Velez was recently appointed to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Traffic Mobility Review Board to recommend toll pricing for Manhattan’s congestion pricing program. In 2020, she was elected by the New York Building Congress to serve a two-year term as its chair.
The communications professional Lupé Todd-Medina has shaped the messaging for countless organizations and candidates, from the New York County Defender Services to the businessperson and former New York City mayoral candidate Ray McGuire to Gov. Kathy Hochul – all while making it a point to help uplift the careers of other Black women. She founded her own public relations firm in 2013 after having previously worked as the press secretary for then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker and a vice president at George Arzt Communications.
Editor’s note: Lupé Todd-Medina is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
As the chief of staff for Stu Loeser & Co., the strategic communications firm led by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s former communications director, Stephanie Miliano manages its talent acquisition and client relations. Before taking on her current role, Miliano led political engagement for the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. She also served as field director for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s reelection campaign and was Manhattan political and field organizer for Hillary for America.
As a partner at New York-based Hollis Public Affairs, which provides political strategy consulting, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland puts her expertise on issues such as finance and economic development to work for a wide range of clients. Ferreras-Copeland knows the territory well: She was born in Corona, Queens, and once served as the influential finance chair in the New York City Council while representing residents in neighborhoods like East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Corona.
As the leader of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, Alicia Guevara is responsible for having everything in place for thousands of city youth to explore their potential through mentoring relationships. During her career, Guevara, who believes in mentoring youth as a solution to social justice issues, has raised millions of dollars for the organizations she has worked for, including Brooklyn Children’s Museum and Part of the Solution.
David Garza has been with Henry Street Settlement for more than two decades, where he began as the social service agency’s chief administrator for its Workforce Development Center before ultimately taking the reins in 2010. Under Garza’s leadership, the organization, which also provides health and arts programs, received a gun violence prevention initiative award from the Manhattan district attorney’s office to continue its efforts to keep neighborhoods safe and help meet the needs of young people.
Marta Tellado came on nearly nine years ago as the president and CEO of Consumer Reports, the Yonkers-based consumer advocacy and product review company whose reach extends far beyond the Hudson Valley. Tellado is out with a new book this fall entitled “Buyer Aware: Harnessing Our Consumer Power for a Safe, Fair, and Transparent Marketplace.” She previously served as vice president of global communications for the Ford Foundation.
Rosa Gil has been at the helm of Comunilife, the nonprofit dedicated to improving the health and welfare of New Yorkers with special needs in the Hispanic community – and the community at large – since she founded it in 1989. In addition to Comunilife, where she helps change thousands of lives each year, Gil was appointed chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s board of directors in January. Gil also created the Life is Precious program, which counsels suicidal Latina teens, in 2008.
The father-and-son duo of Sam Ramirez and Sam Ramirez Jr. are the driving force behind their eponymous family investment and advisory firm – the first Hispanic investment bank on Wall Street. Ramirez started the firm in 1971, with Ramirez Jr. joining in 1992. The Ramirez family has long been committed to uplifting youth: When not managing portfolios, they partner with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund to aid children in higher education opportunities and in 2021 formed the Ramirez Investment Institute to support professionals interested in finance.
A lifelong fighter for justice, Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick has served on the state Court of Appeals – the first Latina to do so – and on the state Supreme Court. A retired judge, she is currently co-chair of the New York State Justice Task Force, where she has led recent efforts in examining and reforming racial discrimination in the jury selection process. She continues to act as a mentor to junior attorneys at Greenberg Traurig.
Jorge Perez has been with The Parkside Group for seven years. During that time, he has supported a variety of national and state-level political campaigns, as well as businesses in the nonprofit and public sectors. Named as The Parkside Group’s digital director in 2021, Perez helps support digital campaigns through social media engagement. Early in his career, Perez worked for then-New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Rep. Charles Ruppersberger, setting up a successful trajectory for his career in the political world.
As president and executive director of The Ali Forney Center in New York City, Alexander Roque leads some of the most important advocacy for LGBTQ youth in the country, primarily working to protect them from homelessness. He has an extensive history of service to the organization, including working as its director of development for nearly a decade. In that role, he helped secure valuable partnerships with companies like Whole Foods, Converse and Aeropostale.
In 2021, Elisa Crespo ran for New York City Council – the first transgender woman of color to do so. That same year, Crespo was named executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy and education organization The New Pride Agenda. Since the introduction of monkeypox in New York City, Crespo and The New Pride Agenda have worked to educate the public on issues like the difficulties of getting equal vaccine access for the LGBTQ community and the recent rise in discrimination against gay and bisexual men.
A feminist and writer who has been recognized for being one of the pioneers of Dominican women’s studies, Daisy Cocco De Filippis was named as president of Hostos Community College in the Bronx last year. As part of her administration’s plan to support students during the coronavirus pandemic, she initiated the motto, “manos a la obra/all hands on deck.” During her first 20 years in academia, Phillips was a professor of Spanish.
Miguel Martinez-Saenz is the 19th president of Brooklyn’s St. Francis College, an institution where 60% of the students come from underrepresented communities. Martinez-Saenz, whose leadership philosophy revolves around teaching students “to make a life, not just a living,” was previously provost at Otterbein University in Ohio. His educational career has included becoming an administrative Fulbright scholar and conducting philosophy and poetry workshops for youth in juvenile detention.
As the leader of this medical organization, Navarra Rodriguez has taken point on some of AdvantageCare Physicians’ most important health care initiatives in New York City, overseeing clinics that span all five boroughs as well as Long Island. The organization seeks to provide inclusive care that respects all gender identities, ages and languages. Rodriguez herself is a veteran of the medical field, bringing with her more than 20 years of experience and acumen to support the organization and its mission.
Jorge Montalvo held a number of key city and state government positions prior to assuming his current position of chief operating officer at the Physician Affiliate Group of New York, a New York City-based multispecialty physician group with nearly 4,000 physicians and other providers. He previously served as the founding executive director of the state Office for New Americans and had leadership positions with the New York City Charter Revision Commission, the governor’s Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative and the New York State Consumer Protection Board.
Since 1993, Padilla Construction, headed by founder Samuel Padilla, has proffered services in the five boroughs of New York and Nassau County and provided employment for more than 100 people. Among the projects in which his company is currently involved: the construction of a new North Screening Building and Plaza Entrance Area to the United Nations and renovations at Jamaica High School. Padilla is also the treasurer of the National Hispanic Business Group.
Fernando Bohorquez Jr. is a partner at BakerHostetler, a law firm with offices in major cities all across the country. Bohorquez, a corporate attorney who serves as the New York litigation leader for the firm, is also the acting chair of the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board, which rules on ethics issues in city government and a board member for The New York Community Trust, which supports thousands of nonprofit organizations in the city.
Ramon Rodriguez was installed as president and CEO of Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in late 2011 and has spent over a decade seeking to stabilize its finances and reform its business practices. The hospital, which is located in Brooklyn near the border of Queens, found itself at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic early on, with the first COVID-19 death in New York City having been documented there in March 2020. Rodriguez has also expressed support for New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ efforts to combat gun violence.
More than 1 million New Yorkers don’t have broadband – a crisis that Ana Rua is at the forefront of trying to fix. As the head of government affairs for New York Crown Castle, a communications infrastructure company, Rua has been a staunch advocate of making broadband and statewide 5G a priority for New York. In her role, she educates policymakers on the digital needs of citizens throughout the state and aims to empower disenfranchised citizens by closing the digital divide.
Since Quenia Abreu founded it in 2002, the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce has grown in scope and ability enough to aid in the creation of more than 10,000 businesses. The chamber has also helped certify minority- and women-owned businesses. Abreu led the chamber’s efforts to help businesses navigate COVID-19 policies and apply for grants that sprang up during the past two-plus years and has had an active role in developing economic support programs for small businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
Committee for Hispanic Children and Families President and CEO Ramon Peguero brings more than two decades of experience working in organizations that seek to improve the quality of life of families in New York to his role. In his current position, which he has held since 2017, Peguero is charged with protecting Hispanic children through improved care and education programs. Recently, he led the opening of a new CHCF center in the Bronx designed to expand child care coverage.
Since founding the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services in 1990, Denise Rosario has helped thousands of children and families via the efforts and offerings of her nonprofit. Rosario has worked to provide services in English and Spanish in foster care, mental health and child abuse prevention. An East Harlem native, Rosario has received several awards for her work, including the Lady Deborah Moody Founders Award from the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office.
Daniel Diaz leads East Side House Settlement, one of New York’s oldest nonprofit organizations: founded in 1891, it now serves 10,000 individuals. Before becoming executive director, Diaz held various positions there, and during his more than 17 years with the organization, which is dedicated to educational programs in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan, he has been responsible for budgeting and overseeing education programs for children, youth and adults.
Debralee Santos edits both the Manhattan Times and the Bronx Free Press – free, bilingual community newspapers in New York City that provide news to Spanish-speaking readers while putting a spotlight on underrepresented communities. Both papers have covered some of the boroughs’ most important stories, from elections to reports on poverty, as well as the impact of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation last year. She is a frequent commentator on panels, podcasts and shows.
Luz Tavares is responsible for managing government relations, community partnerships and various advocacy projects for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York – one of New York City’s most important charities – where she has worked for more than 15 years. The organization, which has been a critical part of the efforts to help Latino migrants arriving in New York, has long provided needed assistance to New Yorkers, including many residents who were adversely affected by the pandemic.
When Ariana Collado was brought on as executive director for the Bronx Democratic Party in early 2021, the former New York City Council staffer emphasized that she wanted the party apparatus to be more inclusive. Since then, what critics had dismissed as an old boys’ club made a notable shift in backing a number of female candidates for city and state office, including Vanessa Gibson in her successful bid for Bronx borough president.
When people think of Latinos in New York City, many of them tend to think of Puerto Ricans, but in the past several years, the Dominican population has grown explosively enough to become a dominant Hispanic subgroup. Since 2013, Eddie Cuesta has helmed Dominicanos USA, a national nonprofit dedicated not only to preserving Dominican culture in the United States, but getting the demographic civically engaged and registered to vote to translate those numbers into political power.
When Graciela Mochkofsky was elevated to the position of dean of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism this summer, she also earned the distinction of being the only Latina to lead a graduate journalism school in the country. Mochkofsky, an Argentina native who previously focused on bilingual journalist training and ran the CUNY school’s Center for Community Media, is a longtime media scholar and a writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and The Atlantic.
With global experience in public relations and marketing, Francisca Cruz works on health policy with various stakeholders across the country at J Strategies. Cruz has worked in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Italy, and has a range of multicultural experience that helps her aid a variety of stakeholders. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Cruz now lives in the Bronx with her family, where she is an active member of the LGTBQ community.
As a tenant representative on New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board for nine years, Sheila Garcia has vocally opposed the rent hikes made by the majority of the board by rallying to support multi-family homes. Garcia has been a champion of affordable housing and tenant rights on the board and as a key organizer in tenant issues throughout New York City during her 11 years at New Settlement.
Hispanics make up a smaller share of the population in New York as a whole than they do in New York City, but the five boroughs aren’t the only parts of the state where Latinos are vying for political power. In the Hudson Valley, Joe Torres co-founded the Latino Democrats of Dutchess County, fought to ensure county government provided voting material in Spanish and mounted campaigns for the Assembly in 2014 and 2016.
Cynthia Travieso, who brings more than 15 years of experience to her role as deputy director of Community Voices Heard, comes from a childhood informed by activism. Among her responsibilities at CVH, Travieso oversees the nonprofit’s organizing and advocacy efforts, helping lead the fight to improve the quality of life for women of color and low-income families. Under her supervision, the organization has assayed formidable initiatives in New York City as well as the Hudson Valley.
In her role at FWD.us, Alana Sivin manages efforts on important criminal justice work, assisting the organization in its advocacy efforts around causes like bail and sentencing reform. Sivin, who briefly ran for a seat in the state Assembly earlier this year, brings an extensive advocacy background to her work, having held senior positions at the New York City Council and with advocacy organizations like A More Just NYC, and at The Appeal Media.
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