One made history last year as the first Indian American elected to the New York City Council. Another spent years in under-the-radar information technology jobs in New York City government before being elevated to a newly empowered position overseeing all the city’s tech-oriented agencies, offices and programs. Others made their mark launching a major foundation, driving delicate diplomatic negotiations overseas or carrying out key tasks for the likes of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer or Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. What do they all have in common? They’re all New Yorkers under the age of 40.
City & State’s 2022 New York City 40 Under 40 list features all these individuals – and dozens more – whose professional endeavors are truly outstanding. Our latest crop of Rising Stars were selected from the hundreds of nominations we received, with so many deserving individuals that we could have expanded this to a 400 Under 40. Read on to get acquainted with these remarkable young professionals – and how they’re shaping New York City politics and policy.
– Profiles by Madeline Lyskawa, Keldy Ortiz, Maryam Rahaman and Erica Scalise
From his time as a Harvard Divinity School student to his work as a faith leader at Occupy Boston, Ryan Adams’ path to political consulting was rather unorthodox.
Adams’ exposure to organizing during the Occupy Boston movement sparked an interest in nonprofit endeavors. Following the 2016 presidential election, Adams began doing political fundraising and website building, even as he kept a day job in IT at Virtua Computers.
In 2017, he co-founded HZQ Consulting, a digital strategy and growth marketing firm that has taken on such clients as Rep. Jamaal Bowman and state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, companies like Nautilus and causes including the Fair Ballot Project and the Housing Rights Initiative.
“We like to jump into races that people don’t think they’re going to lead in, and we like to win,” Adams says. He says he considers himself lucky to “be a part of all of these ‘oh my god I can’t believe this happened’ moments.”
Adams, who says he specializes in profits and prophets, is committed to reinventing the wheel when it comes to advertising and marketing his clients to ensure they’re reaching people most effectively.
This year, HZQ was also part of the push for the Hospital Equity and Affordability Law, or HEAL Act – a measure tackling health care costs that hasn’t been signed by the governor but passed both houses in June.
“I used to fix computers,” he says, “and now I get to fix health care issues, and that is pretty amazing.”
– Erica Scalise
During his nearly six years with the New York City Department of Education, Adam Akmal-Gonzalez shifted his procurement portfolio to focus on supplier diversity – bringing a firsthand understanding of the obstacles that many small-business owners contend with.
“I saw the challenges that a lot of our MWBE community was facing as far as being able to compete on larger contracts,” he says, referring to minority- and women-owned business enterprises. “Being the son of a small-business minority entrepreneur based in New York City, it hit home in terms of making sure that we had a path forward for these businesses.”
A year ago, Akmal-Gonzalez moved to the private sector with a position at the information technology company CDW. He says CDW leadership embraces change, such as expanding supplier diversity beyond the categories of either minority- or women-owned businesses to include a wider range of disadvantaged businesses.
In the future, Akmal-Gonzalez hopes to mentor more business owners in order to build up diverse companies. In the meantime, he is getting the word out about CDW’s vision – and stresses the importance of equity in the form of monetary support to supplier diversity.
“The most immediate impact is when we’re able to successfully partner with a small diverse organization and help them actually have dollars in hand,” he says. “We take a lot of effort to have targeted approaches to who we’re looking to partner with. We’re doing everything we can to have a real meaningful impact aside from just checking the box.”
– Maryam Rahaman
Garrett Armwood’s dream of becoming a lawyer hit a wall when he had a stint as a paralegal in college and found the work tedious. So family members directed the Stony Brook University graduate to the campaign of Tim Bishop, who was a Suffolk County member of Congress seeking reelection in 2010.
“It ended up being the closest race in the country, and it went into (a) recount that year, and it was just exciting to be a part of,” Armwood recalls. “It was really my first time engaging on that level in the political process and seeing (not just) how the political process goes, but also (how it) affected the representatives you have in government.”
Making small and large impacts through electing candidates inspired Armwood to continue on the path of politics. The Merrick native went on to work for the Nassau County Democratic Committee and then-Rep. Steve Israel.
“I had the opportunity to work across Long Island in every corner,” he says. “I just had a really good knowledge base.”
That deepening expertise of the region led to an opportunity to become Long Island director for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer in 2017. Armwood was the point person for a $2 billion atom-smashing supercollider at Brookhaven National Laboratory for which Schumer and other officials helped secure funding.
Now deputy state director for Schumer – who’s one of the most powerful Democrats in New York and nationally – Armwood just wants to continue doing “challenging and interesting things with people that inspire me.”
– Keldy Ortiz
A native of France, May Boucherak came to America a decade and a half ago to finish business school. Soon after, she moved to New York, where she was drawn to accounting firm KPMG because of its emphasis on teamwork and inclusivity. Over her 13 years at KPMG, Boucherak has risen from the position as an associate working on projects like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to building long-term client relationships as a firm leader.
“At the beginning, you’re really getting your hands dirty on projects day in, day out,” Boucherak says. “Now, it’s more about understanding what agencies need to achieve their missions and help them identify the right level of support that they do.”
After witnessing firsthand the efforts that went into responding to Superstorm Sandy, emergency management became a major priority for Boucherak, who worked closely with New York City government officials on recovery efforts. More recently, during the coronavirus pandemic, she partnered closely with health care officials to manage vaccination efforts.
Boucherak was just promoted to the position of principal at KPMG, and she anticipates continuing to prioritize communication between branches of city government in addition to promoting diverse systems at KPMG, specifically neurodiversity, or the concept that everyone thinks and learns differently.
“We have a huge diversity plan that we're trying to accomplish,” she says, “and to me, that’s going to be a goal of mine as I continue to be a leader in next firms to continue on that vision.”
Growing up in New Jersey and New York City – on “both sides of the Hudson,” she says – Lizette Chaparro saw firsthand many urban challenges as well as disparities among immigrant groups. Her observations spurred her to think deeply about equity across the broader metropolitan area.
“As I think you get older, especially once you get into the field of urban studies, you find out that these things are very much intertwined,” she says.
Chaparro, who majored in urban studies at Brown University and completed a master’s degree in urban planning at Rutgers University, went to work for city-based nonprofit organizations focused on affordable housing. The opportunity to be a part of city government, in particular working at the Manhattan borough president’s office as director of land use and planning, was a natural next step.
“The city’s vantage point is not just that they get to know these individual projects, but they have a much broader scope in terms of policy decisions,” she says, “and so I really wanted in on that and looking at a broader lens than just the individual neighborhoods and communities that I have been working in.”
At the borough president’s office since spring 2020, she stayed on in the role as Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine took the reins from Gale Brewer. Chaparro is a key player in driving land use decisions in the mostly densely populated borough in the city, including high-profile rezonings sought in Harlem and SoHo and NoHo.
Alex Cohen-Smith took over as president of Mitchell Martin Healthcare in May 2020 as the company was placing thousands of nurses, nurses’ aides, home health care workers and others into medical care facilities during the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Plucked from the company’s IT staffing division, where he served as lead technical recruiter and vice president of recruiting, Cohen-Smith went from managing a team of seven to overseeing 30 people and helped expand the company from a $10 million to $60 million organization.
Prior to taking over the company’s health care division, Cohen-Smith helped open Mitchell Martin’s office in the Philippines.
Managing a transition from mostly providing physical and occupational therapists to staffing nurses was a significant undertaking – one that he says required full creativity from the team, an all hands on deck approach and the willingness to work long hours into the night.
“Helping people get jobs on the health care side has been especially rewarding and just knowing you’re helping others who will help people to get better and understand what’s going on with their health,” he says.
Recently recognized as a top 10 Staffing Leader to Watch in 2022 by the World Staffing Summit, Cohen-Smith says that while he never saw himself working in staffing, the field has given him the opportunity to hone his skills as a leader.
“It’s the kind of thing that excites me every day,” he says of finding new ways to adapt to the city’s greatest needs.
Growing up just outside of New York City, Marissa Coscia was no stranger to the region’s chaotic politics – in fact, it’s what drew her in.
“If you think New York politics is wild, you should really look at New Jersey’s because it is even crazier for sure,” Coscia says. “Growing up there, I was no stranger to the insanity of politics and how fast-paced and crazy and unpredictable it can be, and that was something that always sounded … like a meaningful career path to me.”
Coscia dipped her toes into politics interning for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker in college. Coscia knew Booker was an amazing communicator and saw the role it played in his political success.
“You can have people who are experts at policy but totally shy away from public speaking and don’t want to be the star of the show or don’t have the natural charisma for it, and it was exciting to work for someone who kind of had both,” Coscia says.
Coscia worked at Mercury for two years straight out of college, then joined Mike Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign as a national press assistant and later served as communications director on Brian Benjamin’s New York City comptroller campaign.
Now at Global Strategy Group, Coscia specializes in renewable energy and infrastructure projects. One current project of hers is guiding transit environment advocates on their communications strategy regarding the implementation of congestion pricing in New York City.
– Madeline Lyskawa
Elisa Crespo is aiming to leaving a lasting legacy of what successful transgender leadership can look like.
“Growing up as a trans Latina from a working-class family trying to climb the social ladder … I think my story in some ways is one many people are familiar with,” she says.
Having mounted a bid for the New York City Council that would have made her the first transgender woman of color elected to the legislative body and having served under then-Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and as a council staffer, Crespo brings valuable background to her advocacy efforts.
As The New Pride Agenda’s first executive director, Crespo is proud of the programmatic work being done at the nonprofit to provide financial literacy, sexual health education and civic engagement geared toward the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ community in New York.
Crespo advocated for a pair of bills signed this summer that will provide resources to the state’s trans community and establish the right of nonbinary individuals to run for party positions. State spending for LGBTQ New Yorkers went up by $8 million, including several million dollars dedicated to trans and nonbinary people, marking the first time trans New Yorkers were recognized in the state budget.
“New York is the second state to have funding of this type to support the trans and nonbinary community,” she says, “and we did this in a short time by the sheer power of telling stories and not taking no for an answer.”
Alexandro Damiron began chasing the American dream when he left his home in the Dominican Republic to pursue a scholarship at a Miami high school. Today, Damiron works for Somos Community Care, a nonprofit health care organization, in order to make that dream accessible to others.
Damiron credits his wife, an oncology nurse, as inspiring him to enter the health care field after he completed his MBA at St. Thomas University. Before coming to Somos, Damiron honed his administration skills at Corinthian Medical IPA and Mount Sinai Hospital. In his current position, Damiron emphasizes cultural competency, which can be as simple as patients receiving care from doctors who look like them.
“Health correlates with life. So if the doctor can understand the system and the problem that the patient is facing, it can also help to a better outcome when it comes for that patient,” he says.
Damiron hopes to keep building equitable health care systems across domestic and national borders. Internationally, he has volunteered with medical and dental foundations in his native Dominican Republic as well as in Cuba and Haiti. Domestically, he hopes to bring Somos’ ethos of cultural sensitivity to other cities – an initiative the organization began during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m in a position that I can keep helping people, can be an asset to our immigrant community here in New York City,” he says. “I want to continue to grow with Somos and keep providing services that will make a better life for those that are struggling.”
Richard David feels immense gratitude being able to lead New York City in its critical transition toward clean energy.
Since joining Con Edison as a regional and community affairs director in 2020, David has helped roll out an $800 million clean energy project – including linking Queens to renewable energy sources outside New York City through a 6-mile underground transmission line. He’s also working to implement curbside electric vehicle charging stations as part of a pilot program with the New York City Department of Transportation.
“I feel like I’m making a really big difference to people who matter, and I wake up every day excited to do it,” he says.
David is in charge of cultivating relationships with officials and key stakeholders as well as managing the borough’s funding portfolio with a commitment to delivering clean energy to its customers across Queens.
He also serves as a Democratic district leader in Assembly District 31 and mounted a strong campaign for a seat in the state Legislature in 2020.
The South American immigrant, who was raised in Jamaica, Queens, says providing accessibility to information about growing climate concerns is paramount to ensuring New York City is part of the solution – especially to people who look like him in his home borough.
“It’s about making sure that communities in Queens have an important voice in our company,” he says. “I feel like I have to speak up for these people and make sure that their voices are at the table so they know that they matter.”
For 16-year industry veteran Raquel Diaz, construction is “not about building buildings, it’s about building community and leaving an impact on the place” where she lives.
Diaz hails from Ecuador, which she left at age 18 to study at City College in New York City. Starting her construction career in the field as a superintendent with a background in life sciences, she quickly moved up the ranks until assuming her current role this summer as public sector area manager for New York City at Gilbane Building Co., where she works with the company’s biggest clients.
“Now that I hold a higher leadership role, it’s partly about the legacy,” she says. “I am very passionate about economic inclusion and leaving the legacy behind to build a better tomorrow for all of us and for the person behind.”
While no two workdays are the same for her, with most requiring multitasking across different teams and collaborating with many stakeholders, Diaz especially values being able to cultivate interpersonal relationships and serve as a client advocate.
In the height of the coronavirus pandemic, she led efforts to fast-track the building of three first-of-their-kind diagnostic centers designated to provide primary care to post-coronavirus survivors, which are still operating today.
“It was very meaningful to see us all come together at a time when I felt powerless,” she says.
Diaz also mentors for the Gilbane Rising Contractor program, where she’s working to build relationships and provide opportunities for diverse and disadvantaged businesses.
Before diving into politics, Greg Drilling wanted to be a professional classical musician. But Drilling kept his options open, studying classical oboe performance and political science simultaneously in Bard College Conservatory of Music’s dual degree program.
“My first real memories of being interested in politics were the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses,” recalls Drilling, who grew up in the Midwestern state.
Drilling’s first political job was with the consulting firm Dynamic SRG as a senior fundraiser on city and state political campaigns. Drilling eventually left the firm to join then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 reelection campaign. Despite starting out with the finance team, Drilling said he always felt drawn to communications work, which resulted in his transition to that team in the Cuomo campaign.
He’s now in a full-time communications role at Mercury, which he joined in 2019 and has worked his way up from director to senior vice president. At Mercury, Drilling focuses on government affairs and public relations for high-profile individuals and organizations seeking to make an impact across the city and state. One client that left a lasting impact on him was Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs, who won a special election this year and became the first formerly incarcerated individual in the state Legislature.
“When you ask me about the next five years,” Drilling says, “I see it as continuing to absorb as much knowledge and experience as possible from a lot of my really excellent colleagues and continuing to make a meaningful impact for clients.”
When Matthew C. Fraser was a child, he used a screwdriver to open up a computer and pull out the pieces, which his father didn’t appreciate. Fraser’s dad ordered him to put the computer back together – and thus began a career in technology.
“I’m an enabler, tech is an enabler,” says Fraser, a Brooklyn native. “It’s an entity that preserves itself. It’s an entity that’s built to help fulfill the mission and goals of others.”
Fraser’s dedication to technology and innovation that serves the public put him on the path to a professional career in New York City government. Over nearly two decades, he has held several tech-oriented jobs with the city, most recently as deputy commissioner for information technology at the New York City Police Department. At the NYPD, Fraser oversaw initiatives such as its online reporting service. In January, he took over as the chief technology officer of the New York City Office of Technology and Innovation, a new role created by New York City Mayor Eric Adams with expanded responsibilities and unified oversight.
“Somewhere along the line, those that serve in government lose their imagination, and they get lost in the things that’s always been,” he says. “I tell people all the time, I’m in the business of making believers out of nonbelievers and making dreams come true.”
Fraser enjoys his position, which encompasses all city technology agencies and offices – including NYC311, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and the new Joint Security Operations Center – in an effort to modernize the infrastructure of information technology in New York City.
Early in his career, when he was aspiring to work in government, Larry Gallegos recalls asking himself, “If I don’t want to be in the system, how do I change the system?”
He’s since worked inside and outside the system, whether it’s as a case planner at Cardinal McCloskey Community Charter School in the Bronx for kids in foster care or handling government outreach for the LaGuardia Airport redevelopment project.
Gallegos credits several role models for honing his ability to traverse the world of politics and policy, citing the late state Sen. Jose Peralta who helped him get his foot in the door and former New York City Council Member James Vacca, a former boss whom he still considers his political mentor.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with folks who give sound advice no matter what the changing winds look like, and that’s something I’ve always tried to maintain,” says Gallegos, a Queens native whose parents emigrated from Ecuador. “Government and politics has changed drastically and become so polarized and venomous, and the best advice I’ve gotten is to be genuine and true to who you are.”
Now at Lyft, Gallegos says his goal is to tackle inequality, spearheading efforts to combat food insecurity, increase vaccine access and partner with local council members to provide transportation to seniors.
“Those closest to the problem are those closest to the solution,” he says of being able to elevate underrepresented voices with the backing of a large national company.
Jenny Galvin remembers entering Boston University wanting to make a difference in life like her parents, who work in health care. While she majored in journalism, her minor in political science had a lasting impact. “Whether we like it or not, a lot of things that affect our everyday life come out of politics,” she says.
Since she graduated a decade ago, Galvin has found her niche in political fundraising and is now the owner of JLG Strategy LLC. When Galvin started the firm in 2019, she had two clients – Alvin Bragg, who mounted a successful bid for Manhattan district attorney, and then-New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who was running for New York City mayor. It has since expanded to six clients and a second employee on her team.
The journey to becoming an entrepreneur came after she worked on the campaigns of Daniel Squadron, a former state senator who ran for New York City public advocate in 2013, and then-state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s 2018 reelection campaign. Prior to Schneiderman’s resignation in 2018, Galvin was his finance director, her first time in a leadership role. Galvin recalls telling her employer she was ready for the gig after starting out as a deputy.
“I was 26, I’d never been a finance director before, and I only worked on a fundraiser two other campaigns … but I was willing to do the work, to learn and meet the challenges,” she says. “That gave me a confidence that I never had before.”
After spending a decade and a half as a federal bank regulator, Luis Gonzalez in April took on a new challenge with a pivot to the private sector.
Recruited to join Ponce Bank as its executive vice president and chief operating officer, Gonzalez has over the past few months acclimated to leading a team handling cash management, credit administration, enterprise risk and more.
“We’re really trying to help provide people with the tools and opportunities for future generations,” he says, describing the mission of the bank. “We’re providing people with traditional banking services to bridge the wealth gap with a long-term goal of continuing to ensure these communities have a voice.”
Gonzalez’s experience as a supervisory national bank examiner for the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – where says he was “a jack of all trades” – prepared him well for his new position at Ponce Bank. He became familiar with New York City in the three years he lived in the city during his time with the federal office, where he also served as acting assistant deputy comptroller.
While growing up in El Paso, Texas, Gonzalez says his mother and sister pointed him in the right direction – and that working at Ponce is the culmination of his long-term professional and personal journey.
“Having the opportunity to continue serving communities and leaving your mark in building up a bank like this, especially one that is so focused on serving a variety of individuals and minorities, has been extremely rewarding,” he says.
TaLona H. Holbert isn’t your traditional Big Law associate. Having grown up in foster care in Los Angeles, Holbert attended college with no financial support, stopping and starting her studies as she took breaks to earn money. Despite the obstacles, Holbert pursued a legal career, spurred on by her admiration for public speaking and advocacy.
After spending eight years completing her undergraduate education, Holbert applied to law schools – and was accepted to almost every school she applied to and was offered a plethora of scholarships.
“I was validated, and the lesson was reiterated that you don’t have to follow a traditional path to achieve your goals,” Holbert says.
After attending Cardozo School of Law, Holbert started as a first-year associate with Stroock, where she’s now an associate focusing on insurance and reinsurance.
Given her background, Holbert said her main interest lies in diversity, equity, inclusion and discrimination work. Part of her current pro bono caseload includes representing Black men in a digital stop-and-frisk case against New York City, and she also has represented organizations including Her Justice and the Name Change Project.
“Even though I wanted to work in Big Law, it was also important for me to find a way to give back,” Holbert says. “You can’t pour from an empty cup. So it was important to me to be able to go somewhere where I could get the resources where I could sow those resources into the community.”
When she was young, Claire Holmes envisioned a move from the United Kingdom, where her family settled when she was 11, to New York City. After graduating from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2013, the dream came true.
Holmes got a job in New York compiling research reports and analyses on a range of policy issues for transportation advocacy group Global Gateway Alliance, where she generated press around the need for greater investment in the region's three major airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and LaGuardia Airport.
She left Global Gateway Alliance in 2017 to join Risa Heller Communications, working first with a mix of nonprofit and corporate clients, including Airbnb, the New York Blood Center and Food Bank For New York City. Later, she moved to the company’s real estate and land use team, where she currently assists clients such as L+M Development Partners, Hudson River Park Trust and Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp.
“I love working on the issues that help shape the city and are in the news every day,” she says. “I also get to meet all sorts of people, doing different jobs and once went to all five boroughs in a day for work.”
Early on during the coronavirus pandemic, she worked with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. to help bridge relationships between tenants who banded together to produce face shields, medical gowns and other essential products.
“I was proud to work alongside them,” she says, “and help tell their stories.”
Karina Jimenez enrolled in graduate school at Binghamton University in pursuit of a career in urban planning. But after focusing on food deserts and disparities while interning for then-Binghamton City Council Member Lea Webb, Jimenez decided to change her trajectory.
“I just realized I could use my degree in a way where I could go and help my community out,” Jimenez says.
The daughter of immigrants, Jimenez was the first in her family to graduate from college. “You can say I’m my parents’ American dream,” she says. Post-graduation, Jimenez joined Webb’s reelection effort, as well as other campaigns in the Southern Tier city.
Inspired by campaign work, Jimenez joined the League of Conservation Voters, pitching in on campaigns across the country. But she missed the diversity and “hustle and bustle” of New York.
Upon returning to her native New York City, Jimenez joined the de Blasio administration. In 2018, she served as campaign manager for Jessica Ramos’ high-profile and successful state Senate primary campaign before returning to City Hall to work in intergovernmental affairs and, later, as director of state legislative affairs.
At the beginning of the year, she joined Capalino, where she works with the government affairs firm’s clients to support the city she grew up in, while keeping a close eye on pending legislation.
“That’s the Capalino way,” she says, “to be in the community, to make sure we’re a part of the community, and people know that our clients are representing the city and their communities as whole.”
When New York City Council Member Shekar Krishnan was young, he saw his South Indian immigrant parents face discrimination, whether in their professional careers or treatment by society in general.
“My parents came here with the privilege of status and papers, but I saw firsthand how so many who cross the border with far, far less, how their struggle was magnified,” he says. “So I knew that I ultimately wanted to go into civil rights lawyering.”
After Krishnan obtained an engineering degree, he went to law school and worked different legal jobs before landing at the Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A in 2014. He managed the organization’s fair housing and tenants’ rights litigation and coalition advocacy.
Krishnan went on in 2019 to co-found Communities Resist Inc., a legal services organization representing tenant associations and community coalitions against housing discrimination and displacement in Queens and northern Brooklyn.
The decision to seek a City Council seat came about because he wants to help people displaced or threatened by gentrification, he says. Now, as the first-term representative of District 25 in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst in Queens, he serves his constituents in a myriad of ways.
“My priorities are to fight for immigrant justice, to fight for our public hospitals like Elmhurst and to fight to expand green space in communities like mine that have some of the least amount of it in this city,” he says. “We’ve seen how crucial parks are for our mental health and our well-being, especially after this pandemic.”
Born and raised in the South Bronx, Desmon W. Lewis and Derrick H. Lewis consider themselves products of philanthropy, the children of parents who are grassroots, nonprofit and public sector leaders.
“We were raised into an environment that was focused on giving back, and our family really pushed us to prosper in nongenerational ways,” Desmon says.
After noticing a lack of large-scale collaboration in the Bronx’s nonprofit sector, Desmon, a fintech sales executive, and Derrick, an insurance executive, set out to create the borough’s first community foundation.
When COVID-19 temporarily slowed their efforts, the twins launched a series of pandemic relief efforts, spearheading meal distribution, giving out small-business grants, building outdoor dining facilities and forming the borough’s first digital equity coalition of 60 organizations.
As the pandemic ravaged the borough, their contributions were a catalyst in shining a light on the community’s needs and demonstrated its ability to have its members work together to solve long-term challenges.
“I think we’re most proud of the impact we’ve made on a multitude of levels, which includes the ability to foster collaboration amongst organizations that historically have not collaborated with each other,” says Derrick of the duo’s collective work.
Along with The Bronx Defenders, they’re also in the process of launching The Bronx Cannabis Hub for Bronx residents wishing to learn about or enter the cannabis industry, prioritizing those who have been convicted of marijuana charges.
Christian Loubeau has a track record of embracing challenges, whether it’s as a tenant organizer in the South Bronx, a public school educator with Teach for America in Miami, or a multilingual diplomat in Cuba and at the United Nations.
The son of a Haitian immigrant, Loubeau pivoted to diplomacy after studying public policy as a Rangel scholar at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Loubeau, who speaks Haitian Creole, Spanish and French, served as a U.S. diplomat in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and in Cuba helping to normalize relations.
He then returned to New York, advising then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Loubeau’s days were spent negotiating with Russian, Chinese and French diplomats. By night, he was in Central Brooklyn protesting for Black lives and responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It felt like I needed to serve my neighbors and for all of the Black and brown men and women who have been killed at the hands of police,” he says.
Now on leave as a diplomat, Loubeau is now at the Ford Foundation, where he helps advance equity through supporting multimillion-dollar grant-making programs abroad. He’s also gone hyperlocal, winning election as treasurer of Community Board 9 in Central Brooklyn.
“People need to be able to stay in their homes and live in dignity and not worry about getting evicted,” he says. “We’re organizing like hell to bring together that common tie that binds us and bring it to fruition.”
Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Zakariah Malik was shocked by the glaring educational disparities among the players on his soccer team. Driven to understand the underlying causes of the disparities, Malik decided to study government at Wesleyan University.
During his senior year, Malik joined Teach for America, drawn by its mission to bridge the educational gap. Placed in the Bay Area in California, Malik taught special education, then went on to earn his graduate degree in special education.
When Malik returned to New York City, he taught special education for another year, then switched gears. Malik became a Coro fellow, which let him use the city as his classroom and to examine the stakeholders and institutional players – such as the New York City Housing Authority, 32BJ SEIU and Moody’s Corp. – that make the city tick.
“Coming out of the fellowship, I really wanted to do something that bridged the gap between government and communities that historically have not had much chance to access our government,” Malik says.
In 2019, Malik joined Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies, where he assists nonprofit clients, including the Apollo Theater, City Parks Foundation and the Central Park Conservancy. This year alone, Malik said his team secured almost $50 million in funding on behalf of about 20 nonprofit clients – many of which provide services for schools across the city.
“I’m now grateful to work with these organizations that try their best to provide programming to the schools that my old teammates were in,” Malik says.
In middle school, Texas native Mia McDonald joined her father knocking on doors for Barack Obama’s successful presidential campaign. The experience later spurred her to get involved in the political sphere, starting with a college internship with the Metropolitan Council on Housing. During the internship, McDonald saw a sea of 1199SEIU members show up at a rally, demonstrating the clout of organized labor in New York.
“I was like, ‘How did an organization get so many people to come to a rally?’” she says. “I knew what unions were, but I had never seen the power of unions.”
This inspired McDonald to join 32BJ SEIU, where she advocated for pro-worker legislation such as the right to a fair work week for fast-food workers. She then went on to manage Jessica González-Rojas’ successful bid for the Assembly in 2020. After her union and campaigning work, coming to the Working Families Party, an influential third party, was a natural progression. She has now been with the WFP for about two years and has been proud to be a part of the New York City Council elections, where a number of progressive, WFP-backed candidates won.
“I learned so much about the impact that local legislation passed and how important it is to have people both in council and in Albany actually fighting for that,” she says.
McDonald now hopes to continue building power for the left in New York as part of a multigenerational and multiracial movement.
The public school on the block in Queens where Lionel Morales grew up was also a polling site – so he saw plenty of candidate signs, politicians on the campaign trail and locals showing up to vote. This early exposure to local politics led Morales to intern under then-New York City Council Member Paul Vallone, who he went on to work with as communications director.
In 2019, Morales took a communications job with The Black Car Fund, a nonprofit organization serving for-hire drivers. When the coronavirus pandemic hit just a year later, Morales quickly had to adapt the organization’s services to advocate for drivers, who were badly hit. He worked to help drivers acquire financial assistance, and the organization paired with the Independent Drivers Guild to distribute personal protective equipment to drivers.
“We knew that drivers were essentially front-line workers during the pandemic,” he says. “So I felt very empowered to take a role in trying to distribute important materials to drivers.”
Since then, Morales has made efforts to expand the organization’s marketing team, streamline communication systems between drivers and increase the programs and benefits offered to drivers. Looking ahead, he hopes to continue building the organization’s services and to translate The Black Car Fund’s work to other states.
“I feel really strongly about how The Black Car Fund’s model works and the benefits we’re able to provide,” he says. “Ideally, I would really like to continue expanding my role here at The Black Car Fund and spreading the word to other states.”
With a number of major nonprofit clients in her portfolio, including The Public Theater, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City and Ballet Hispánico, Madison Mounty has an inside look at how these organizations shape and mold New York City.
“It’s really incredible to be able to see the work of all the groups we represent and the evolution of their work over the years,” Mounty says.
Mounty first started with Kasirer as a senior associate three years ago and was promoted into her current director role in spring 2021. Now in a leadership role, Mounty works directly with about 17 of the firm’s 40 nonprofit clients, while taking the lead with about 10 of them.
“I think I’ve always just wanted to progress in any way that I could at Kasirer, just knowing all of the opportunities that being at the firm provides,” Mounty says.
Prior to joining the top lobbying firm, Mounty spent three years with Patricia Lynch Associates Inc., where she gained a foundation in the workings of the New York City budget, how the New York City Council functions and the best way to tailor her work for specific clients.
Lately, Mounty said her focus has been guiding her various nonprofit clients through New York City’s “sea change” in government.
“It’s great to see the continued impact throughout different council bodies, different administrations, who have different priorities and are still making sure that our clients are seen as leading voices to amplify those priorities,” Mounty says.
Breeana Mulligan’s path to becoming a professional communicator started when she happened to meet Paul Vallone on the street in Queens. Through her father’s encouragement, Mulligan, then a high schooler from Whitestone, volunteered for Vallone, who was in the middle of an ultimately unsuccessful 2009 primary for a New York City Council seat in Queens.
“We stayed in touch and then he brought me on board for what ultimately became a successful race in 2013, and he became a council member,” Mulligan says of her “political father.”
Mulligan spent three years as deputy communications director for Vallone, before landing press secretary jobs for then-Council Speakers Melissa Mark-Viverito and Corey Johnson.
Mulligan joined Queens Borough President Donovan Richards as communications director in December 2020, helping him to identify policy priorities and craft his message. During her tenure with Richards, she coordinated local, state and national media when President Joe Biden toured parts of Queens in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Mulligan is now back at the City Council as press secretary under Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who’s also from Queens.
Mulligan says her younger brothers, who are on the autism spectrum, are a key motivating factor behind her efforts to serve the public.
“I think about their future and see if there’s any way I can help families like mine who have people with disabilities,” she says, “whether it’s being their advocate or just trying to help provide them services, just doing something that can help people.”
Sophie Nir began helping women get access to abortions when she was 19 through a social media marketing internship with the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. During the internship, Nir assisted the organization’s political team as well.
“I think that that experience was really the catalyst that has led to my career in politics,” Nir says. “My passion has always been supporting women, electing women, empowering women and abortion access above all.”
After graduating from Emerson College, Nir joined a political fundraising firm that later became Culver Place Strategies. Her first day on the job coincided with then-New York City Public Advocate Letitia James’ first day as a client.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Nir says. “I was 22, and I knew absolutely nothing.”
Nir was dining with James when Eric Schneiderman resigned as state attorney general, making James an immediate front-runner to replace him. Nir worked closely with James on her campaign and also worked on Melinda Katz’s successful Queens district attorney bid.
Last summer, Nir took the reins at Eleanor’s Legacy, an organization that backs female Democratic candidates in New York who support abortion rights. Nir, who describes the job as a “dream come true,” has prioritized bolder messaging around abortion and a shift from grant-giving to providing more candidate support.
Aside from her executive director duties, Nir also founded a network called the Vaccine Vigilantes last winter, which helped over 2,000 New Yorkers with language or digital literacy barriers secure vaccine appointments.
Having dedicated most of his career to the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, Nicholas Novak, now a development manager with the organization, says his aim is to mold the future of nonprofit work.
“It’s pretty clear that the landscape as it relates to politics and nonprofit work in and of itself is changing,” Novak says. “I want to see how I can be a resource in the future to see what nonprofits look like.”
Novak’s first experience with NYSTLA began through a summer internship while he was still a student at Pace University in 2012. Novak then had a brief stint as an intern with a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm before rejoining NYSTLA after graduation. In his current position, Novak focuses on handling major fundraising events for the organization, as well as outreach to elected officials.
“Coming in as an intern and being where I am today, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to learn quickly when the organization needed it,” Novak says.
Having been with NYSTLA for eight years, Novak said his main goal now is continuing to meet the challenges faced by the organization, which includes political and special interest groups’ attempts to undercut workers’ ability to access a robust civil justice system.
Outside of his work at NYSTLA, Novak is passionate about playing the drums and jazz fusion music.
“There’s really no better release of energy than to get behind a drum set and play what your mind has been creating,” Novak says.
Masha Pearl’s grandparents, both individuals who survived the Holocaust, did not speak about what they had witnessed until she had grown up. Their memories – as well as her shock at the fact of how many Holocaust survivors live at or below the federal poverty line – propelled Pearl to take a job with The Blue Card, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to Holocaust survivors.
“My mission is to educate and to create awareness and advocate on behalf of Holocaust survivors so that they can live out those twilight years with dignity and with comfort,” she says. Pearl has worked at The Blue Card for the past 13 years, working her way up to executive director. During her tenure, she has traveled alongside elected officials on missions to concentration camps, presented an award to Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel, and participated in the recent signing of a Holocaust education measure by Gov. Kathy Hochul. She is also proud of the work the organization did during the coronavirus pandemic to provide survivors with supplies and programs to battle loneliness.
Pearl knows that her mission has only so much time remaining and plans to continue forging connections between aging survivors and young students.
“I wake up every morning knowing that my work is time limited,” she says. “That propels me and inspires me to keep creating new programs and meet the emerging needs of Holocaust survivors so that they can do all we can while survivors are still here with us.”
“The West Wing” was Hayley Prim’s entry into politics while growing up in a conservative part of Texas. When she came to college at Stony Brook University, Prim took the next step with an internship at then-Rep. Steve Israel’s office. The internship gave her a local and national sense of the political sphere – and launched a wide-ranging political career.
Prim went on to help raise money for Bill de Blasio’s 2013 New York City mayoral campaign – describing the night he won as “magical” – and later worked on Cynthia Nixon’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. After a stint at City Hall under then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, Prim joined Hilltop Public Solutions, where she fondly recounts the effort required to launch campaigns of progressive newcomers.
“The challenging parts that happened behind the scenes led to setting a trend for other people to realize that it’s possible as well,” Prim says.
In 2019, Prim landed at tech giant Uber, where she drives policy. The coronavirus pandemic was an unexpected obstacle the ride-hailing company faced, and Prim and her team adapted the company’s operations to the rapidly changing landscape.
“We were able to step up and help so quickly and kind of retool what our company is made to do in a totally different way to help with the situation during the pandemic,” she says.
In the near future, Prim is excited to forge Uber’s path as a policy leader and aspires to one day bring her expertise to international markets as well.
Casey Ryan got inspired to get into politics after attending a labor rally in Youngstown, Ohio, for Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign. What the Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, native didn’t know was that his interest would eventually lead to working for New York governors.
Ryan graduated in 2012 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and moved to Washington, D.C., where he entered the world of political fundraising, working with Berger Hirschberg Strategies. In 2015, he relocated to New York to become deputy finance director for then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Though Ryan left that job after nearly three years to work as finance director for Rushern Baker, a candidate for governor in Maryland, he eventually came full circle working as a major gifts officer for the Human Rights Campaign.
“I had always known about HRC when I was younger in high school and coming out and getting on their website for their coming out guide,” he says. “For me to be at a point where I can give back and get involved in that organization that’s specifically helpful to LGBTQ people … I think that was one moment that I was grateful to be involved in this political space that I’m in.”
Last summer, Ryan became finance director for Friends for Kathy Hochul. Looking back at his career thus far, Ryan says building important meaningful relationships has helped him.
“That’s kind of what has leveraged me into the position I am in now,” he says.
Although now at the helm of top New York fundraising outfit, Allegra Scheinblum went to college to study sound design, thinking she wanted to be involved in theater. But she “immediately got hit by the bug” after volunteering on a campaign.
Scheinblum went on to serve as statewide field coordinator for Eric Schneiderman’s successful state attorney general campaign in 2014, through which she met her current business partner and formed the fundraising firm Culver Place Strategies in 2015.
Scheinblum said her main focus at the LGBTQ-owned firm is building strong relationships with her clients by spending a lot of time with them at events and getting to know them as individuals, as well as candidates.
“I think the biggest thing about fundraising is persistence, and I think the other thing that’s really important is the relationship between a client or candidate and the fundraiser,” Scheinblum says.
Since getting her start in fundraising, Scheinblum has done a lot of work on behalf of district attorney candidates, including Eric Gonzalez in Brooklyn, Darcel Clark in the Bronx and Dan Quart in Manhattan.
Looking ahead, Scheinblum said she aims to seek out and inspire younger donors to become more involved in New York City races.
“I think that we’ve seen that donors tend to skew older and not as diverse,” she says, “and one thing I’ve been really interested in is figuring out a way to cultivate a group of younger donors who are going to be excited about candidates and campaigns.”
Althea Stevens started her career at a nonprofit organization in the Bronx helping kids be civically engaged in and outside of school. Then the kids asked her to get more involved – by running for elected office.
Now, as a first-term New York City Council member representing District 16 in the Bronx, Stevens is on a mission to get constituents engaged to improve their quality of life. “Ninety-nine percent of the reason my decision was to run is because I wanted to inspire young people that they need to get involved in government because it affects their lives,” says Stevens, who was named chair of the City Council Youth Services Committee in January.
A single mother, she balances legislative and policy work, constituent requests and community outreach with making time for friends and family, including her daughter. And she still has to clean the tank for Purple and Squirt, the pet turtles she’s had for nearly 20 years.
When she was younger, Stevens originally wanted to be a dentist. Instead, the lawmaker, who completed her undergraduate studies at LIU Brooklyn and a master’s degree at Hunter College, started out as department director for East Side House Settlement, a nonprofit organization in the Bronx.
“My professional goals have always been to help as many people as I can,” she says. “I have so many people who say that I’m their mentor and for me, it’s like how am I leaving a legacy of service and making it cool to help other people?”
While Jordan Stockdale was enthusiastic about teaching after graduating college, he wanted to make a broader impact on policy and help a far greater number of people. That opportunity came for him when he met Vincent Schiraldi, then-commissioner for the New York City Department of Probation, who was speaking on a panel about ending mass incarceration.
“I asked him if he needed an intern and he said, ‘Actually I really do,’ and I started working for him,” says Stockdale, who was a graduate student at the time. That led him in 2014 to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, where he later became deputy executive director of the Close Rikers Initiative.
Education and criminal justice are areas Stockdale focuses on because of the disparities faced by communities of color, particularly for Black people, and the potential to make significant gains. Stockdale, who in 2020 became the executive director for New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative, helped secure a funding boost for Mentors Matter, an initiative created to mentor, tutor and support Black and brown young people.
In January, Stockdale was hired as chief of staff for new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is the first Black person in the powerful prosecutor’s post. Stockdale has already launched an anti-violent grant initiative.
“Going to those programs, meeting the young people, meeting the staff who are really dedicated and seeing the work they’re doing in part because of the program that you created, reinvigorates me,” he says.
With the aim of hyperlocalizing Grubhub’s focus on the New York City community, Brett Swanson spearheaded a program called Serving the City. Through the program, which Swanson called his “brainchild,” Grubhub works directly with New York City Council members to identify a community partner to provide meals to, paid for by Grubhub and provided by a local restaurant.
“This program has been a huge hit, and it’s just heartwarming and heartbreaking to see how food insecurity is such a prevalent issue still in this day when there’s such a mass of excess food,” says Swanson, who hopes for the program to eventually be ubiquitous across the country.
Before joining Grubhub, Swanson used the legal skills he honed at New England Law to assist then-New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, focusing on legislative affairs relating to transportation, higher education and civil service. Swanson went on to work for the Queens Chamber of Commerce, leading legislative and policy goals for the Queens business community, before transitioning to the private sector and joining electric scooter and bike company Lime.
Now having been with Grubhub for two years, Swanson’s role has evolved from a focus on legislative and policy initiatives, like working on a measure affecting the third-party delivery companies, to philanthropy.
“I like to be out in the field, I like to be getting my hands dirty, I like to meet people, I’m a social butterfly,” Swanson says. “And so just sitting behind a desk and being a policy wonk all day, it didn’t tickle my fancy.”
Back in high school, Erika Tannor would get a thrill out of crafting political solutions on her policy and debate team. Today, she gets to develop effective policy proposals in the real world.
While at Mount Holyoke College, she got a crash course as an intern on Bill Thompson’s 2013 New York City mayoral campaign. After graduating, Tannor worked on state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s 2014 reelection bid and then as scheduler for then-New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.
But perhaps her biggest impact was helping then-New York City Council Member Rafael Espinal repeal the infamous Cabaret Law, which disproportionately targeted minority and LGBTQ nightlife spaces, and to create the city Office of Nightlife.
“It was right after Donald Trump got elected, this small way of helping businesses and contributing to the culture in your city and the vibrancy that’s so important for our economy,” she says. “It felt like a movement – getting all of these people from diverse backgrounds who had never been involved in government involved in this process to right a historic wrong.”
Tannor now navigates regulatory issues for clients at Tusk Strategies, a political consulting firm. She also is vice chair of the board of the 5Boro Institute, a new think tank co-founded by City & State Publisher Tom Allon. (Editor’s note: The 5Boro Institute’s work is entirely independent from City & State.)
“Whether it’s running campaigns, or pursuing my ideas with 5Boro, or working on campaigns through my political clubs, I really want to help build momentum around ideas that move our city forward,” Tannor says.
Dylan Tragni didn’t grow up in a politically involved family, but his passion for history and political science put him on the path to a career in politics.
“When I was in high school and in college … it was something that I would want to pursue a career in,” he says, “because I wanted to help fight for the state that I live in and fight for policies that I believe in and make change in the communities that I care about.”
When Tragni interned at the Assembly, he quickly fell in love with local and state government. He worked for Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez for a decade, rising to be her chief of staff and senior strategist, and contributing to key legislation. He also served as Fernandez’s chief political strategist, among other campaign positions at the local, state and federal level.
This spring, he joined Bolton-St. John’s, a leading government relations firm. Tragni says his current work fits hand in hand with his previous positions, and he’s been enthusiastic about advocating for clients in city government over the past year.
The Pace University graduate advises other young people in politics to also get their feet wet and try working in as many sectors as possible to find their own fit.
“When I was younger, my dad would write on our lunch bags ‘Explore your world,’” he says. “It’s the best advice that I could give anyone who’s young and trying to work in this industry.”
Bronx native Amanda Valera never expected to work in politics. But the summer after she graduated high school, a search for a summer job led to an internship with state Sen. Jamaal Bailey. At the time, Valera was pregnant with her daughter, which she didn’t initially disclose. She excelled at the internship and received an offer to stay on in a staff capacity.
“Things I was doing all around, it just wasn’t expected for someone who was like expecting a child,” she says. “So I think that they saw that drive, that motivation and they ended up keeping me.”
Working for Bailey required Valera to hone her scheduling and networking skills as she traveled with the Bronx lawmaker and witnessed him forging connections with his constituents. After spending about a year on Bailey’s staff, Valera took on her current position at Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates, a political consulting firm. She’s been able to continue growing further after the move from the public sector to the private – while also helping the firm adapt effectively to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Doing all this outreach and making connections with people, I think that’s definitely one of my biggest accomplishments,” Valera says. “Going from just working for events to then networking with our different abundance of clients – I’m really grateful for that.”
As Valera continues in her career, she’s excited to continue taking opportunities as they come up and encourages other young professionals to do the same and not to doubt themselves.
When Lashea Woodson began doing canvassing work in the summer of 2014, she was just looking for something to do. A week in, however, Woodson found that she wanted to learn more about political races – and began posing questions to residents about how to make positive changes in the area.
“I felt like I got a lot more answers at the door being myself and looking like people that are in the community,” says Woodson, who is Black. “Also, I was right in basically my home – Queens – so I felt like I was able to address people and approach people a lot easier because it was mostly my neighbors that I was going to talk to.”
She has since moved up the ranks at Connective Strategies, a top campaign consulting shop with a strong record in Queens. In 2019, Woodson was a field organizer for Melinda Katz, who won a competitive race for Queens district attorney. While attending community boards to advocate for Katz, Woodson saw she was among a small group of young people – which solidified the need to stay involved.
Now as director of operations at Connective Strategies, Woodson has honed her public speaking skills, which could come in handy as the University at Albany graduate aspires to go back to school to become an attorney. She’s also learned from political clients like Assembly Members Jeffrion Aubry and Vivian Cook. “I think I definitely learned to fight,” she says, “and to not give up.”
NEXT STORY: The 2022 Nonprofit Power 100