Upstate New York is on the up and up. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who just won her first full term in office, is the first governor from upstate New York at least since George Pataki – and even longer than that, depending on where you define the upstate-downstate boundary. Rep. Elise Stefanik of the North Country is a dynamo in Washington, D.C., serving as a leader in the Republican conference that just won a majority in Congress. New York’s junior senator, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, is a native upstater – and while U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is technically from Brooklyn, the Senate majority leader is something of an honorary resident, known for visiting every county of the state each year.
City & State’s Upstate Power 100 features these high-ranking elected officials, as well as local politicians, business executives, university presidents, heads of advocacy organizations, labor leaders and nonprofit heads who are key players outside of the downstate region. The list, which covers Western New York as well as any region north of Westchester County, was researched by City & State staff and written in partnership with journalist Robert Harding. We’re pleased to introduce the 2022 Upstate Power 100.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has had a jampacked 16 months. She became governor after the downfall of her disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo, dealt with COVID-19 surges and the reopening of schools, named a lieutenant governor who was eventually forced to resign due to legal woes, responded to a mass shooting in her native Buffalo, and then won a contested primary for the Democratic nomination and beat back a well-funded Republican opponent in the general election. Along the way, she made history as the first woman to be elected governor of New York. And the former member of Congress is already delivering for her old constituents in Western New York, with a deal for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has used his clout as majority leader to appropriate more funding and pass legislation that benefits the residents of upstate New York. After years of work, he ushered the CHIPS and Science Act through the Senate to be signed by President Joe Biden. The bill helped attract Micron Technology to the Syracuse area, where the semiconductor chip company will invest $100 billion for over 20 years to build a new manufacturing facility – the largest private investment in state history. And he just defied political trends to retain a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.
New York’s junior senator, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, advocated for including a $1 billion program in the bipartisan infrastructure law to right the wrongs of past decisions in cities like Syracuse, where Interstate 81 divided a predominantly Black neighborhood. The former upstate congresswoman scored another legislative victory this year when President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act to help veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxins. Now, Gillibrand is pushing for nearly $2 billion to fund the Older Americans Act’s nutrition programs.
Tragedy struck Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes’ district in May when a white supremacist killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo. In the aftermath, she pushed for more development on the city’s East Side and called for the manufacturers of the gun used in the attack to be financially responsible for injuries and deaths in the mass shooting. Peoples-Stokes, whose majority leader position traditionally entails representing upstate lawmakers in the Assembly’s Democratic conference, also urged fellow state leaders to advance legislation to curb gun violence. Aside from gun violence, Peoples-Stokes wants to create a group home working group to provide feedback about group home operations, and she wants to address fraud in the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises Program.
Byron Brown is Buffalo’s longest-serving mayor, having first been elected to the office in 2005. In 2021, he won a fifth term despite losing the Democratic primary to India Walton, which led to him mounting a successful write-in campaign to stay in office. Early in his new term, he consoled neighbors and family members who were affected by the mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store. Among his fifth-term priorities: a partnership with Buffalo Public Schools to develop a school safety policy.
In his first term as mayor of Rochester, Malik Evans has prioritized confronting violent crime in his city, where there have been at least 70 homicides reported for the second year in a row. To combat the problem, Evans provided funding to anti-violence initiatives and declared a gun violence state of emergency. He has also shifted police officers to a part of the city where multiple shootings have occurred and is working to ensure young people have educational opportunities to steer them away from violence.
Early in her third term as mayor of Albany, Kathy Sheehan celebrated the completion of one infrastructure project – the Albany Skyway – and declared a state of emergency to address another infrastructure priority: the crumbling Central Warehouse. She proposed a $217 million budget that includes investments in parks and public safety. When the Albany Common Council voted to repeal the city’s skateboarding ban, she vetoed the measure.
The two-term independent mayor of Central New York’s largest city, who recently had his $294 million budget approved by the Syracuse Common Council, is a leading proponent of the community grid to replace the Interstate 81 viaduct in Syracuse. Federal and state authorities signed off on the grid plan this year. He is now fighting back against a lawsuit that is delaying the project. Walsh was also more active on the campaign trail this year, endorsing Democrat Francis Conole for Congress after not endorsing in past Syracuse-area congressional races.
North Country politician Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has quickly become one of the most prominent Republicans in the country, remains one of former President Donald Trump’s most reliable allies in Congress. While her national profile is growing, she has used her position as the No. 3 House Republican to advocate for her district, including pushing the FBI for answers about the role the agency may have played in the fatal Schoharie limo crash – the driver was an FBI informant. She’s also gaining clout thanks to a new, narrow GOP majority, but House Republicans in a divided Washington are already dealing with infighting in their own ranks.
State Senate Democrats in New York suffered a few notable losses in this year’s election cycle, notably on Long Island, but most of its leading upstate members won another two years in office. Albany-area state Sen. Neil Breslin has been in office for over a decade and chairs the Insurance Committee. In Western New York, state Sen. Tim Kennedy chairs the Transportation Committee, while state Sen. Sean Ryan, a former Assembly member, chairs the Libraries Committee. State Sens. Samra Brouk and Jeremy Cooney came into office together in 2021, bringing more diversity to representation for the Rochester area. Hailing from the Syracuse area, state Sen. Rachel May chairs the Aging Committee. And state Sen. Michelle Hinchey is a rising star in Albany, following in the footsteps of her father, the late Rep. Maurice Hinchey.
Led by Andrew Pallotta, New York State United Teachers had an active election season, endorsing a slew of statewide officials and candidates for Congress and state Legislature. Outside of politics, Pallotta urged state lawmakers to allocate funding for additional mental health staff in schools. Before the current school year began, he unveiled his union’s school safety recommendations, which called for, among other things, consistent state guidance and federal gun safety laws. NYSUT represents some 600,000 current and retired teachers and other educational employees across 1,200 locals.
The statewide labor leader Mario Cilento emerged as a key ally of Gov. Kathy Hochul during her reelection campaign, and the help paid off as she emerged victorious from a closer than expected contest. Cilento appeared with the Buffalo Democrat at campaign events, and the AFL-CIO played a pivotal role to boost turnout late in the race. Earlier this year, Hochul named Cilento to the state Climate Action Council, which is tasked with developing a plan for New York to meet its climate goals. Cilento’s umbrella labor organization is a coalition of some 3,000 public and private-sector unions all across the state.
One of only two individuals on this list to literally represent a nation, Ray Halbritter continues to oversee the Oneida Nation’s growing business interests, from casinos to convenience stores. Beginning next year, the longtime leader will be able to trumpet the Oneida Nation’s newest venture: a 50,000-square-foot cannabis production facility in Verona. When he announced the plans for the operation in September, Halbritter said it was important that the Oneida people “not be left out from taking advantage of this economic opportunity.”
In November, Rickey Armstrong Sr. was elected Seneca Nation of Indians president for the third time; his most recent term was from 2018 to 2020. Before his latest victory, he was the Seneca Nation’s treasurer, where he called for withholding gaming revenue-sharing payments to the state until the National Indian Gaming Commission reviewed the matter. When he again takes over as president, he said, his focus will be on quality-of-life issues, including “dealings with outside governments.” A key source of revenue for the Seneca Nation of Indians comes via its three casinos, which is where Kevin Nephew comes in. Nephew in 2020 was named head of the Seneca Gaming Corp., whose Western New York casinos attract millions of visitors annually.
The Assembly Democrats’ power has traditionally been centered in and around New York City, but plenty of upstate members have significant clout within the conference. Assembly Member John T. McDonald III, the former mayor of Cohoes, chairs the Oversight, Analysis, and Investigation Committee. Also in the Albany area, Assembly Member Phil Steck chairs the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee and Assembly Member Patricia Fahy chairs the Banks Committee. Assembly Member William Magnarelli chairs the Transportation Committee, while fellow Syracuse-area Assembly Member Pamela Hunter chairs the Assembly’s Majority Conference.
Binghamton Assembly Member Donna Lupardo chairs the Agriculture Committee and Rochester-area Assembly Member Harry Bronson chairs the Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry Committee. Ithaca Assembly Member Anna Kelles, meanwhile, notched a major victory when her bill to declare a statewide moratorium on a kind of cryptocurrency mining was signed by the governor.
Martha Pollack, who has been leading Cornell University through the COVID-19 pandemic, is now focused on combating another crisis: climate change. The Ivy League institution’s 2030 Project is a faculty-driven initiative to identify solutions to the climate crisis. In her State of the University address, Pollack detailed a plan to heat the Ithaca campus with geothermal energy. It’s part of the university’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035.
Mark Poloncarz is serving his third term as Erie County executive, with recent accomplishments including his leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the pivotal role he has played in keeping the Buffalo Bills in Western New York. Ensuring the team stayed home didn’t come cheap, though: As part of the plan to build a new $1.4 billion stadium for the Bills, Erie County will provide $250 million toward making it a reality.
Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, who’s also in his third term, saw his $756.8 million budget pass unanimously this month. The former county legislator, firefighter and labor leader – and current member of the New York Army National Guard – was also elected first vice president of the New York State Association of Counties this fall.
In Monroe County, Adam Bello has served as county executive since 2020, overseeing an area that includes the population center of Rochester. This month he signed a $1.34 billion budget that increases spending on public safety.
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, a Republican who’s been in office since 2018, joined Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others this year to tout Micron’s pledge to build a microchip manufacturing facility in his county, a major economic development project.
And in the Hudson Valley, Orange County Executive Stephen Neuhaus and Rockland County Executive Ed Day – both Republicans –initially welcomed the ascension of Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul after years of sparring with her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
After two close races, Rep. Claudia Tenney moved to the newly drawn 24th Congressional District and cruised to a win in November. Tenney, a Trump-supporting conservative Republican, has panned the state’s ban on hydrofracking and the lower overtime threshold for farmworkers and has already proposed federal legislation to force New York to reverse those policies. She also believes that President Joe Biden should be impeached for his border security and immigration policies.
Nick Langworthy pulled double duty this year. The Buffalo-area Republican not only worked to get GOP candidates into office but also entered the electoral fray himself. The state GOP chair easily won the 23rd Congressional District seat – one of the party’s several landmark wins in House races across the state. Economic issues, such as high inflation and energy costs, are among Langworthy’s stated top priorities once he is in Congress.
Marc Molinaro, a Republican, was elected to represent the 19th Congressional District after losing a special election for a Hudson Valley House seat in August. The Dutchess County executive campaigned on improving the mental health care system and taking his ThinkDifferently initiative for people with special needs nationwide. When he takes his seat in Congress, he will have spent time in every level of government – he previously served two terms in the Assembly and as the mayor of Tivoli.
Brandon Williams, a U.S. Navy veteran and co-founder of a software company in California, pulled off two upsets in 2022: First, he defeated the Republican Party’s preferred candidate, Steve Wells, in the primary for the 22nd Congressional District seat. Then, in November, he shocked Democrat Francis Conole – and the political establishment – by capturing the 22nd District seat. He campaigned as a political outsider focused on addressing inflation and high energy costs. One of his jobs will be providing federal support for Micron’s plans to build a memory chip manufacturing facility in Onondaga County.
The billionaire husband-and-wife owners of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills scored an extremely team-friendly deal to build a new $1.4 billion stadium in Western New York. Taxpayer funds totaling $850 million – including $600 million from the state – will help finance the project. The Pegulas also played a role in the response to the Buffalo mass shooting in May. They visited the site of the shooting, helped pass out food and the Buffalo Bills Foundation, along with the NFL Foundation, donated $400,000 to support local organizations.
After Robert Wilmers’ sudden death in 2017, René F. Jones, who was M&T Bank’s longtime chief financial officer, ascended to the role of chair and CEO. Jones now oversees a bank with $200 billion in assets and more than 1,000 branches, including locations across upstate New York. He sits on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s board of directors and is one of the few Black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. He also counts Gov. Kathy Hochul as a former colleague at the bank.
As the member of Congress for two Western New York cities – Buffalo and Niagara Falls – near the U.S.-Canadian border, Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins, the co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus, has been one of the loudest voices encouraging both countries to lift pandemic travel restrictions. He easily won reelection in the newly drawn 26th Congressional District and will begin his 10th term in the House in January.
Rochester-area Democrat Rep. Joe Morelle fended off a challenge from Republican La’Ron Singletary, a former Rochester police chief, to win a third term representing the state’s 25th Congressional District. He has supported President Joe Biden’s agenda, including votes this year for the Inflation Reduction Act and legislation to combat gun violence. Gun reform, such as expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban, was a key part of his campaign platform.
It was a whirlwind year for this Ulster County executive-turned-member of Congress. Pat Ryan won a special election to fill the House seat vacated by Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, then won a full two-year term in Congress in a newly drawn Hudson Valley district. Abortion was a top issue in both races – Ryan, a Democrat, supports reproductive rights – and he also advocates for bolstering voting rights, combating gun violence and targeting the spate of price-gouging that has contributed to inflationary pressures.
Rep. Paul Tonko played an instrumental role in the passage of this year’s CHIPS and Science Act, a bill that provides $52 billion to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing. The final legislation included a provision he wrote to boost microelectronic research and development. He also supported the Inflation Reduction Act and touted provisions that aim to lower prescription drug prices. The Amsterdam Democrat defeated Republican Liz Joy in the 20th Congressional District race, which was a rematch of the 2020 election.
Douglas Jemal continues to add to his real estate portfolio. The developer’s work on Seneca One, a skyscraper in downtown Buffalo, is a high-profile example of his impact on the city. The building houses several businesses and its residential units are occupied. He has his sights set on other projects in Western New York, including planning a $35 million project at a former Catholic church in Lackawanna, which would feature retail space and 160 apartments.
Carla Freedman and Trini Ross are history-making federal prosecutors in upstate New York districts: Freedman is the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney in the Northern District of New York, while Ross is the first Black woman to be the U.S. attorney in the Western District of New York. Both are experienced federal prosecutors who previously worked in their offices as assistant U.S. attorneys. Ross also sits on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Advisory Committee of U.S. attorneys and chairs a subcommittee on law enforcement coordination, victim assistance and community relations.
Now that the state Thruway Authority’s cashless tolling system is in place, Matthew Driscoll and his staff plan to crack down on drivers with unpaid tolls. With the former Syracuse mayor at the helm, there are several projects in the works to improve the 570-mile highway. Service areas are getting a makeover for the first time in three decades, old bridges are being replaced and stretches of Interstate 90 have been repaved. Driscoll announced in December that he will step down as the state Thruway Authority’s executive director.
As the head of the leading pro-business group in the state, Heather Briccetti Mulligan has been supportive of some Hochul administration policies, such as the creation of the Office of Strategic Workforce Development and legislation to boost semiconductor chip manufacturing. But she also expressed concern about how lowering the overtime threshold will affect New York’s farms. A former consultant and lobbyist for Powers & Co., Mulligan has spent 15 years with the council, starting as the group’s vice president of government affairs in 2007.
As Buffalo grieved in the aftermath of a racist mass shooting in May that killed 10 Black people at a grocery store, Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen urged people not to be silent. Pridgen, who’s also a pastor at True Bethel Baptist Church, held a Sunday service after the shooting. Since then, Pridgen has discussed other forms of gun violence affecting his city and possible solutions, including initiatives at the local level and federal gun control legislation.
There are dozens of state agencies and offices in New York, but some are particularly important to upstate. As agriculture commissioner (and as a farmer himself), Richard Ball runs a department that oversees and promotes everything from cows to crops to craft brewing – while also putting on a major tourist attraction in the New York State Fair. Erik Kulleseid is the state’s parks commissioner, a role in which he oversees such gems as the redesigned Niagara Falls State Park – and more 250 other parks and sites across the state. And while the New York State Police – currently led by acting Superintendent Steven A. Nigrelli – are known for occasionally making their presence known in the five boroughs, they largely operate in the rest of the state.
Delaware North, a Buffalo-based hospitality company owned by Jeremy Jacobs and his family, has rebounded after the COVID-19 pandemic affected its sports concession business. The company reported revenues totaling $2.8 billion in December 2021 and landed on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies. Outside of his Delaware North responsibilities, Jacobs is the owner of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and is known for his philanthropy. He has donated to Buffalo-area hospitals and other worthwhile causes.
After 37 years at Rich Products Corp., Mindy Rich became the chair of the Buffalo-based food company in August. She is the third person in the company’s history to hold that title, succeeding her husband, Robert Rich Jr., who served as the chair for 16 years. She is now responsible for the strategic direction of this family-owned enterprise, which has 12,500 employees and generates $4.5 billion in annual sales.
Sandra Doorley had a busy year, with her office prosecuting numerous murder and violent felony cases. One of her more notable cases was the conviction of a former teacher who sexually abused 21 victims – all of whom were students at the elementary school where he taught. The former president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York also displayed her clout last year by securing a plea deal that forced Lovely Warren to resign as mayor of Rochester.
In Erie County, John Flynn’s office prosecuted the Broome County man who carried out the mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in May, killing 10 people. In November, Flynn’s team secured a guilty plea in the case, with Flynn expressing his hopes that the victims’ families believe justice has been served.
J. Anthony Jordan, who is in his second year as president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, has urged Gov. Kathy Hochul and state legislators to make changes rolling back the state’s bail reform law, a key criminal justice reform that has faced blowback on the political right. Jordan has said he thinks the state Legislature should hold public hearings on bail reform, which could lead to additional amendments.
Antonio Delgado was in his second term representing the state’s 19th Congressional District when Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed him to become lieutenant governor. In his new position, he has prioritized the continuation of the work he began in Congress on economic development and infrastructure. Most of his 2022 was spent focused on the election. He won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor and was one-half of the winning gubernatorial ticket.
Gavin Donohue leads a group representing energy producers and sits on the state Climate Action Council. When he had concerns about the council’s draft scoping plan, he collaborated with business groups and unions to develop seven principles for combating climate change. He has also spoken out about the state’s plan to shift away from gas-powered vehicles in favor of electric vehicles, calling instead for a study to determine how that policy will affect electricity rates.
Jack O’Donnell is a top lobbyist whose portfolio extends from Buffalo to Albany, with a client list that includes such Western New York heavyweights as Delaware North and the University at Buffalo. With a wealth of experience working in government and politics, he was a go-to political analyst during the 2022 election season. He releases a memo every Monday breaking down what’s happening in state government.
As editor of this Albany-based newspaper, Casey Seiler oversaw key reporting on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s fundraising – and how one donor appeared to benefit from that relationship. His past experience as the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau chief also makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the latest developments in state government. He has also held other roles at the paper, including as its managing editor and entertainment editor.
During this year’s midterm elections, Beth Finkel led statewide efforts to ensure that candidates at all levels made sure to keep the concerns of older voters front and center in their campaigning. She has also been advocating for various state-level policies, such as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive order to develop a state master plan for aging and calling on state regulators to reject energy rate increases, which would disproportionately hurt older New Yorkers.
Mary Wilson has been stewarding her late husband’s legacy in Western New York through the foundation bearing his name. The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation has committed funds to local and national causes, including a $100 million parks and trails initiative in the Buffalo area and a $5.1 million grant provided to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. The foundation has also supported a charitable organization, Buffalo Together Community Response Fund, that launched after the mass shooting at a grocery store in the city that left 10 dead in May.
Helen Hudson knows firsthand what the Interstate 81 viaduct did to the 15th Ward in Syracuse. Now, she is in a position to prevent history from repeating itself. She successfully pushed for the elevated highway to be torn down and replaced with a community grid. While federal and state agencies agree that the grid is the best option, some opponents stand in the way. But that isn’t stopping Hudson, who reiterated her support for the grid at an event with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Under Havidán Rodríguez’s leadership, the University at Albany is focused on becoming a leader in artificial intelligence. The state is providing $75 million to renovate the former Albany High School, which will house a supercomputer for the university and Albany AI programs. Rodriguez also announced 27 faculty members will be hired, part of the university’s goal of expanding artificial intelligence education offerings. Rodríguez was named president in 2017 after holding various administrative roles at Texas universities.
The quasi-governmental New York Power Authority is a powerhouse in New York – in every sense of the word. The veteran Western New York banker and business executive John R. Koelmel has served as the chair of NYPA’s board for over a decade. Joseph Kessler, a fellow Western New Yorker, is in a more hands-on position as the authority’s chief operating officer, running the 16 power generation facilities and 1,400 miles of transmission infrastructure that make NYPA the nation’s biggest power organization. And as NYPA adapts to the climate crisis, Chief Transformation Officer and Western Regional Manager Daniella Piper helps maintain a key renewable energy resource, the Niagara Power Project, while driving various innovations.
Howard Zemsky, the former president and CEO of Empire State Development, spearheaded the redevelopment of Buffalo’s Larkinville area with more projects planned in the near future. But the ex-Cuomo administration official did not shy away from state politics. He and his wife, Leslie Zemsky, each donated $70,000 to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s successful reelection campaign this year. The Zemskys were among the top Hochul donors from the Buffalo area.
In upstate’s largest county, April Baskin quickly rose to power. She was elected to the Erie County Legislature in 2017 and was named majority leader by her fellow Democrats once she took office. In 2019, she became the youngest person elected chair of the county legislature. She already boasts some major legislative achievements, notably through her part in passing fair housing laws and connecting Erie County women and minorities with contracting opportunities.
Gun rights activist Tom King scored a major victory when the increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a century-old New York state law requiring individuals to demonstrate the need for carrying a concealed firearm outside their home. As the leader of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and a member of the National Rifle Association board, King has been an outspoken opponent of the state’s gun control laws, namely the SAFE Act.
Like other hospital administrators have been doing for almost three years now, Dr. Dennis McKenna continues to face challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic for both patients and staff at Albany Medical Center. In non-coronavirus news, Albany Med Health System unveiled a new financial assistance program for patients and entered into a partnership with Russell Sage College to address nursing shortages. The system also donated supplies to help health care providers in Ukraine.
Stephen Acquario has led the New York State Association of Counties for nearly two decades and has long been a voice for county governments across the state. Speaking on behalf of his association and its members, he advocated for the passage of the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act and urged state leaders to ensure that counties keep their local sales tax revenue as a way to shore up coffers that remain badly depleted by the pandemic.
It has not taken long for Sarah Mangelsdorf, who became the University of Rochester’s president in 2019, to leave her mark at the highly ranked national research university. Under her leadership, the institution adopted a $15 minimum wage for its employees and fully implemented it a year ahead of schedule. A psychologist by training, Mangelsdorf also has boosted the university’s investments in research and is leading plans to establish the university as a “global research university of the future.”
Two years after creating an advisory council on race, Satish Tripathi recently highlighted its achievements during a town hall meeting, including more programming, vying for diversity among the faculty and addressing Buffalo’s public school teacher shortage. In September, Tripathi also hosted Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke about federal legislation at the university, and received the Buffalo Renaissance Foundation’s Renaissance Man of the Year award in recognition of his outstanding community leadership.
David O’Rourke oversaw a successful racing season at Saratoga Race Course. The New York Racing Association reported a raft of good news, including a wagering handle record of $878.2 million – which topped the previous high of $815.5 million in 2021 – and strong attendance. Paid attendance was 1,075,586, and average daily attendance was 26,890 in 2022.
Mike Elmendorf’s members stand to benefit from federal and state infrastructure investments that will result from programs like Build Back Better. He has been a leading voice in support of infrastructure funding, especially for local bridge and road projects across New York. He also spoke out about the state’s gas tax holiday, which would cut prices at the pump but take away a major funding source for infrastructure projects.
Sheila Rayam made history when she was hired by The Buffalo News to lead the paper – one of the state’s most important publications. Rayam, who is the first Black journalist and the second woman to serve as the newspaper’s executive editor, has strong upstate ties: She hails from Rochester, worked at the Democrat & Chronicle and most recently oversaw Gannett’s Utica-area news outlets.
Colleen Wegman has been the supermarket chain’s president since 2005 and CEO for the last five years and continued the Rochester-based company’s expansion. Wegmans will have new locations in the Washington, D.C., area and Wilmington, Delaware, in the next year. The company topped Fortune’s Best Workplaces in New York list and has been a good environmental steward by eliminating single-use plastic bags in its stores. Outside of her corporate duties, Wegman is a past board chair of the United Way of Greater Rochester.
Frederick Kowal, who was elected United University Professions president in 2013 and is a longtime professor at SUNY Cobleskill, has been crisscrossing the state to raise awareness about a crucial, ongoing issue affecting his members: deficits at state colleges and universities. Several state institutions have reported multimillion-dollar budget deficits. Kowal is calling for the state to increase operating aid so the schools can close the budget gaps.
Rochester Institute of Technology students are back in classrooms, and David Munson hopes to keep it that way. He described RIT as an “experiential, in-person place” – a reminder from when the school shifted online early in the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a reason Munson is upbeat about the future. This year, RIT set a record for undergraduate applications, and the university received $92 million to fund research initiatives. Munson remains engaged with the campus community through the “Ask Munson” series on a student-run radio station.
Greenberg Traurig has become the premier legal and lobbying practice in Albany thanks to Harold Iselin and Hank Greenberg’s work. In August, they added former state Sen. Todd Kaminsky to focus on environmental matters and bolstered their health care regulatory practice with former Oscar Health executive Randi Imbriaco a few months later. Greenberg has expanded his focus internationally, traveling in April to view the Ukraine relief effort as part of an interfaith delegation. His firm is also helping Gov. Kathy Hochul evaluate candidates for the state’s top judge after Janet DiFiore resigned in August.
Thomas Quatroche Jr. has been president and CEO of the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo for six years. This year, under his leadership, the Buffalo Rising Against Violence at ECMC program was one of three hospital-based violence response programs in the country to be awarded federal funding. ECMC has also been recognized as one of the nation’s top 100 hospitals for orthopedic surgery and as a leader in LGBTQ health care equality.
With New York restaurateurs concerned about business conditions in the state, Melissa Autilio Fleischut’s job is clearer than ever: to push for policies that can make their lives easier. She was a leading proponent of making alcohol-to-go, which became a pandemic-inspired economic success story, permanent. The final 2022-23 state budget allows alcohol-to-go, which helped many restaurants during the pandemic, to continue to be legal for a three-year period.
Donald Boyd has a new role, but he is not new to Kaleida Health, having worked for the massive Western New York health care network since it was formed in 1998. After serving as president and chief operating officer, he was named president and CEO in July. His experience includes a stint as president of Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital and developing partnerships with other medical facilities. He is credited with leading Kaleida Health’s COVID-19 response. He succeeded Bob Nesselbush, who retired.
The 2022 election did not result in a power shift in the state Legislature, with Democrats retaining their supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate. That will keep Assembly Member Will Barclay and state Sen. Rob Ortt, the leaders of their respective Republican conferences, solidly in the minority. But they plan on being thorns in the side of Democrats. Barclay and Ortt rail against one-party rule in Albany and have called for the state’s bail reform law to be repealed. They also think the state must take action to address declining population – both blame Democratic economic and public safety policies for this change.
Jeremy Zellner volunteered for the Erie County Democratic Committee in 2003. A decade later, he was elected chair – a title he has held for the last 10 years. While Democrats struggled in some parts of New York, they won every state legislative seat in Erie County. The biggest win, though, was Gov. Kathy Hochul’s historic election victory. Hochul hails from Erie County, which could lead to a statewide role for Zellner within the Democratic Party.
In Western New York, Paul Ciminelli is one of the biggest names in commercial real estate. He has played a major role in many of his company’s successes, including the redevelopment of the former Federal Reserve Building in Buffalo for New Era Cap Co. and the creation of Allpro Parking, a Buffalo-area parking operator. The largest project of them all is Conventus, a 350,000-square-foot facility near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Wendell Weeks, who has a nearly 40-year career with Corning and became its CEO in 2005, is finding new markets for the company’s famed glassware. In September, Corning was awarded $103.8 million from the federal government to expand its manufacturing of pharmaceutical glass tubing and vials. Corning also continues to expand its efforts to boost high-speed internet access. The Southern Tier company recently opened an optical fiber manufacturing plant in Poland.
While the fallout from COVID-19 and staffing shortages has been ongoing, Dr. Mantosh Dewan and Upstate Medical University are focused on planning for the future. That planning includes an announcement that could change central New York’s health care landscape. Upstate University Hospital and Crouse Hospital, both in Syracuse, are hoping to merge. There is opposition to the proposal, but Dewan believes the merger will allow the hospitals to retain employees and provide “seamless patient care” in the region.
As a former town supervisor in Coxsackie, Alexander Betke’s practice with one of Albany’s top lobbying firms is focused on government relations. He has built relationships with federal and state elected officials and agencies. One way he is helping his clients is by encouraging them to seek funds through the congressional earmarking process. His clients include the Boston Beer Co. and BAE Systems, a defense contractor.
A Long Islander and University at Buffalo graduate, Kathleen Achibar joined Bolton-St. Johns in February. She has been involved in government and politics since working on Buffalo City Court Judge Betty Calvo-Torres’ reelection campaign in 2017. Her experience includes working for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. She is a member of the Eleanor’s Legacy Innovation Council, which supports Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights, and is western vice president of the New York State Young Democrats.
During state budget negotiations earlier this year, Peter Baynes and the New York Conference of Mayors lobbied for increased municipal aid. Although that effort was not successful, Baynes picked up a legislative victory later in the year. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that allows cities and villages to lower their speed limits to 25 mph, which the conference had pushed to introduce and get approved by the state Legislature. Baynes also informs his members of funding opportunities available through federal and state programs.
RPI’s 19th president is also an alumnus. Martin Schmidt, who previously served as the provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a 1981 RPI graduate. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering before continuing his studies at MIT. He took office as RPI’s president in July, and his inauguration was held in October. One part of his vision for the university is the role RPI will play in the effort to boost semiconductor manufacturing in the region.
Ashley Ranslow became the National Federation of Independent Business’ New York state director in January after three years as assistant director. Before she joined NFIB in 2018, she worked for five years at the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association. In her job, she is an advocate for small businesses – and the policies that allow those businesses to flourish. She also speaks out against policies that her organization believes may harm small businesses, such as New York’s 40-hour overtime threshold for farmworkers and a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $21.25 an hour.
The top issue for the New York Farm Bureau this year has been the opposition to the state’s plan to lower the overtime threshold for farmworkers. But Elizabeth Dribusch and her organization were busy on other fronts as well, including keeping members informed about the 2022 elections and about how the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act, which would pave the way for the state to borrow money to deal with wide-ranging environmental issues, would benefit New York farms.
Paul DerOhannesian II is a well-known criminal defense attorney who is known for representing Keith Raniere, the leader of the NXIVM cult. He is also no stranger to election law matters, having represented conservative Rep. Claudia Tenney during the absentee ballot counting process in 2020 and state Senate Republicans in a lawsuit challenging New York’s absentee ballot laws. He has lent his expertise as a legal analyst and won several honors, namely the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall Award.
As a key lobbyist at Ostroff Associates and head of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, Scott Wexler was a leading proponent of the state’s alcohol-to-go policy this year. Alcohol-to-go was adopted during the pandemic to help restaurants stay afloat – and even though COVID-19 shutdowns are a thing of the past, Wexler wanted to see it extended. While he has helped clients with other issues, such as economic development and tax policy, Wexler is recognized as an expert in the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.
An experienced attorney and lobbyist, Lisa Marrello has an impressive portfolio covering a range of issues, from economic development and higher education to health care and casinos. She got her start in lobbying at Wilson Elser before joining Park Strategies in 2019. A former state legislative staffer who also worked in the New York City mayor’s office, she has connections at all levels of government. She sits on several boards and is a member of the New York State Bar Association.
With heating costs expected to rise this winter, Melanie Littlejohn has informed upstate customers about various options available through National Grid that could lower their bills. She also represented the company at the unveiling of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s first electric bus, the first of a fleet that will be grown with a $3 million grant from National Grid. Outside of her employment, she serves as board chair for CenterState CEO in Syracuse and has been a student mentor at Syracuse University.
Andy Marsh announced in March that Plug Power would build a $55 million plant in Albany to increase its fuel cell production. The state is supporting the project with tax credits linked to job creation goals – Plug is expected to create 1,633 new jobs. Marsh made more news in August when he announced an agreement with Amazon to provide liquid green hydrogen beginning in 2025. The deal, according to Marsh, will help Plug meet its $3 billion revenue goal by 2025.
When Congress approved the CHIPS and Science Act to boost semiconductor chip manufacturing, Thomas Caulfield lauded its passage – and with good reason. GlobalFoundries, the semiconductor manufacturer that he heads, is planning to expand in Saratoga County, where the company employs about 3,000 people. GlobalFoundries bought an 800-acre lot for the project, but there is no timetable for the expansion. Before joining GlobalFoundries, Caulfield was the president and chief operating officer at Soraa and held the same titles with Ausra.
Micron Technology’s plan to invest $100 billion over 20 years to build semiconductor fabrication plants in central New York is being hailed as transformational for the region. Company CEO Sanjay Mehrotra is leading the semiconductor chip manufacturer’s promise to make the largest private investment in New York’s history. Beyond the jobs and manufacturing plants, Mehrotra recently announced a community investment fund for the Syracuse area, which will be dedicated to supporting community and educational programs.
The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association has been led for nearly nine years by Michael Powers. Powers is a key player in the debate over criminal justice and incarceration in the state, as he has opposed closures of upstate prisons and pushed for changes to protect correctional officers. A sergeant in the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Powers is also a longtime City Council member in Ogdensburg, which sits just across the border from Canada.
Since 2005, when Hamdi Ulukaya founded Chobani in a defunct yogurt factory in Chenango County, the company has grown into the top Greek yogurt brand in the U.S. His success has earned him national recognition. In June, he received the Maverick in Leadership Award from the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute for putting people and social causes first in his entrepreneurship. He has not shied away from wading into politically difficult subjects – after a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion decision was leaked, he tweeted that Chobani would cover employees’ expenses if they needed to travel to access reproductive health services.
Oliver Kardos’ specialty is Small Business Administration lending. His work helped KeyBank rank in the top 10 nationally among lenders after it provided 803 loans totaling $314 million during the 2022 fiscal year. One of Michael McMahon’s main accomplishments this year was the launch of a commercial banking internship – he created a pilot program in the Buffalo area last year, which is now being introduced into other markets. With the internship, he hopes to build a burgeoning bench of commercial bankers.
Chris Jagel, who was named CEO of the Rochester-based law firm in 2017, deftly guided Harris Beach through the COVID-19 pandemic. He created a COVID-19 response team in February 2020 that allowed for quick implementation of work-from-home policies. As CEO, he said he wants to strengthen the firm’s “collaborative, all-hands-on-deck culture” – and he has achieved that through the creation of an associate advisory committee to promote communication between associates and management. The firm has offices in New York, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Connecticut.
Miguel A. Meléndez Jr., who was appointed to the Rochester City Council in 2020, won a full term in 2021. The council has been divided on many issues, but it agreed that Meléndez would be the best person to serve as president. One topic on his agenda: reforming the city’s Police Accountability Board. In a letter signed by Meléndez and other members, the council informed the board that they “will either fix what’s broken or build something better in its place.” He’s also chief community engagement officer at Ibero-American Action League.
Wilmorite has commercial real estate interests in other states, but two of its biggest projects are in upstate New York: Eastview Mall near Rochester and del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County. It was Thomas Wilmot who successfully applied for one of the state’s casino licenses and built del Lago near a Thruway exit. While Wilmot no longer owns del Lago, it’s a reminder that he was a driving force behind bringing commercial gaming to upstate New York and the Finger Lakes region.
Since Catholic Health’s founding in 1998, Mark Sullivan has been on hand, helping to build an institution that now brings in over $1 billion a year. In 2018, he was named president and CEO of the health system in Buffalo. Like other health care systems, Catholic Health is facing financial challenges. But it’s committed to a major project in Niagara County – the construction of the $62 million Lockport Memorial Hospital, an investment that Sullivan called “the right decision for the community.” The project is expected to be completed in 2023.
Last year, The Martin Group and Gramercy Communications joined forces to become the go-to communications and marketing firm for clients from Troy to Buffalo. Tod Martin made the wise decision to keep key Gramercy executives, including Andrew Mangini, on board to handle its public affairs duties. Martin has been working with the international federation of water sports and thinking about how to help upstate college athletes tap into advertising opportunities with brands. Mangini has taken on more responsibilities as well since the post-merger departure of Gramercy founder Tom Nardacci.
A perennial policy question for government officials in New York is how to spur business growth and create jobs outside of the economic engine that is New York City. These local chamber of commerce leaders have plenty of insights into what works, and what doesn’t. The North Country Chamber of Commerce’s Garry Douglas has touted everything from tourism to transportation equipment manufacturing. Robert Duffy, the former Rochester mayor and ex-lieutenant governor, has joined Centerstate CEO’s Robert Simpson in welcoming Micron’s pledge to build a major microchip plant near Syracuse. Stacey Duncan has forged local partnerships in the Southern Tier, heading up both the Broome County Industrial Development Authority/Local Development Corp. – branded as The Agency – and the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, Mark Eagan, Dottie Gallagher and Carole Voisey have spearheaded similar job-creating initiatives and investments in the Capital Region, Western New York and the Hudson Valley, respectively.
As the heads of the Albany area’s largest law firm, John Henry and Robert Schofield are responsible for leading their firm’s adaptation to a more competitive job market. Larger firms in other cities, namely New York City, are hiring attorneys who can work remotely from anywhere. To counter this trend, Whiteman Osterman & Hanna has increased compensation and adopted a policy that allows employees to work from home. The changing employment landscape doesn’t seem to have hurt the firm’s hiring ability: It has added new associates this year and expanded its alcoholic beverage and hospitality practice.
Connie Cahill took over as Barclay Damon’s managing partner in 2021 and is the first woman to lead the firm, which has offices across New York and in Washington, D.C., Boston, New Haven and Toronto. Cahill previously chaired Barclay Damon’s public finance practice and is recognized as one of the top bond lawyers in New York. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she oversaw the firm’s adoption of work-from-home policies. As workers began returning to offices, she allowed employees to continue working from home as long as they could effectively do their jobs.
On the legislative front, Ivette Alfonso and Citizen Action of New York have a full agenda, from advocating for the end of mass incarceration to promoting measures that would achieve climate justice. The high-profile progressive group also celebrated key electoral victories. Under Alfonso’s leadership, Citizen Action supported Democratic candidate Lea Webb, who won a state Senate race in central New York and the Southern Tier. The group also helped Gov. Kathy Hochul fend off a strong challenge by Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin.
Jennifer Pyle has praised Gov. Kathy Hochul and state legislators for fully phasing in the foundation aid formula while advocating for other changes in the state budget. Pyle, whose organization represents large school districts across the state, also urged the state to fully fund prekindergarten programs, provide additional aid for mental health services and continue to allow the state Education Department to oversee child nutrition programs. She also called for limiting charter school expansion in New York and more funding for instructional materials.
When the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities named its new leader in 2021, it turned to someone with significant state government experience. Lola Brabham was the commissioner of the state Department of Civil Service under then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Her other prior experience includes stints as chief financial officer for the state Department of Labor and as an Assembly aide. In her current role, she represents leaders of dozens of private and not-for-profit colleges and universities in New York.
Benjamin Zuffranieri Jr., a respected attorney who has held various titles at Hodgson Russ, now leads what has become Buffalo’s largest law firm. He was named managing partner in February after leading the firm’s business litigation and construction practices. One of his strengths – dispute resolution – could serve him well in his leadership role. He sat on the mediation panel for the U.S. District Court in the Western District of New York and has served as a mediator in commercial and international disputes.
Kevin Hogan runs a prominent Buffalo law firm with offices in other New York cities and Washington, D.C. His practice focuses on environmental law, including Brownfield redevelopment and regulatory matters. At Phillips Lytle, he is leading a five-year strategic plan that hones in on several key areas, including diversity and innovation. While many law firms lost attorneys during the coronavirus pandemic, Hogan announced in September that Phillips Lytle added 26 attorneys at its offices over a four-month period.
As managing partner since 2015 of Lippes Mathias, a major Buffalo law firm, Kevin Cross has prioritized establishing a positive work environment. That strategy appears to be working – the firm has continued to grow in Buffalo and beyond. In May, Lippes Mathias announced it had opened new offices on Long Island and in San Antonio, Texas.
The Buffalo-based government relations pro has shaped Charter Communications’ legislative strategy for the past decade. Mark Meyerhofer helped the telecommunications giant push for a CBRS-type framework, improve its earnings per share by 44% over the past year and ensure Chief Operating Officer Chris Winfrey can succeed at the helm of the company after CEO Tom Rutledge announced he would step down in December. Meyerhofer will help plot out Charter’s moves to expand its mobile footprint and spend $5.5 billion to bring high-speed broadband to its customers, especially in rural areas.
Sabrina LaMar is one of 15 Democrats on the Monroe County Legislature, but she eyed being more than just a rank-and-file lawmaker. With Democrats holding just a one-seat majority, she sought to become president of the legislature. When her party balked, she approached Republicans with her idea – and they accepted. LaMar, who was first elected in 2019 and won reelection in 2021, is the first Black woman to serve as president of the county Legislature.
Daniel White in 2019 was named managing partner for the Albany office of KPMG, the tax, audit and consulting firm with offices all over the world. White, who has spent nearly three decades at the firm, oversees around 140 employees in Albany and also leads its work across upstate New York. KPMG is widely known as one of the Big Four accounting firms and also one of the biggest such firms in the Albany area.
Mark Blue has played a key role in the response to the mass shooting in May at a Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo. He is a co-chair of the steering committee for the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund, which has raised more than $5 million to help victims of the tragedy. In October, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the creation of a commission tasked with developing plans for a May 14 memorial – which Blue, who is also a pastor, was selected to chair.
A College of Saint Rose and RPI graduate, Peter Gannon has led the United Way of the Greater Capital Region since 2018. With many families in the Albany area facing economic difficulties, Gannon and the United Way have made efforts to assist them, conducting outreach to help families struggling amid inflation and a pandemic. One way the United Way has filled the gap: a summer meals program to help ensure children in the Capital Region have access to food when school is not in session.
Thirty-two years after starting as a school counselor in Buffalo, Williams was named superintendent of the city school district this year. In August, she delivered her first State of the Schools address and outlined five themes, including eliminating achievement gaps, prioritizing safety and security and activating partnerships. Williams’ tenure has gotten off to a bumpy start, though. The Buffalo Teachers Federation, upset about the lack of a contract, held a vote of no confidence in her leadership.
Katherine Conway-Turner is looking forward to her next chapter. The higher education leader announced that the 2022-23 academic year will be her last as president of Buffalo State College. She has served as the school’s president since 2014 and has been an active member of the campus community. One part of her legacy will be Bengals Dare to Care Day, an event she created that encourages alumni, faculty, staff and students to commit to a day of service in the city of Buffalo.
Dr. James K. Reed is set to retire at the end of the year after leading St. Peter’s Health Partners for a decade. He was the first person to serve as president and CEO after St. Peter’s Health Care Services, Northeast Health and Seton Health merged in 2011, and he took on more responsibility in his final year when Trinity Health, which owns St. Peter’s and St. Joseph’s Health in Syracuse, consolidated leadership. Reed will hand the reins to Dr. Steven Hanks, the system’s chief clinical officer and chief operating officer.
Four weeks after the coronavirus pandemic temporarily shut down activity at the Tonawanda Engine Plant, General Motors brought back a familiar face to be its plant manager. Luis Cervantes, who previously served as the plant’s quality manager, left Mexico where he ran GM’s Silao Plant. By the end of the year, GM announced it would invest $70 million to increase the facility’s capacity. The plant endured temporary layoffs in September 2021 due to the chip shortage but will soon begin its transition to making parts for GM’s electric vehicle line.
The largest Buffalo-area manufacturer will have a leadership change in the new year. Patrick Roche, who moved from Ireland to become Moog’s executive vice president and chief operating officer in December 2021, is set to succeed John Scannell as CEO in February. Roche, who was president of Moog’s industrial systems segment for six years, has been with the company since 2000 and will lead its 13,000 employees, including 3,500 in Western New York.
If a New York company is looking to expand into global markets, Mo Sumbundu can help. He is an international trade manager for Empire State Development’s Global NY division, which provides assistance to businesses hoping to tap into new markets. He has held other positions at Empire State Development and helped administer the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.
The Diocese of Buffalo, which had already filed for bankruptcy, avoided stiff financial penalties in its October settlement with the state attorney general for its yearslong abuse cover-up, but it must comply with an independent monitor. Bishop Michael Fisher said the agreement would safeguard against abuse and asked parishioners to give his “Road to Renewal” plan a chance. Parishioners haven’t been keen on the changes, which include fewer pastors and rescheduling or canceling masses. Fisher also had to put an Allegany priest on leave following a complaint about an improper relationship.
Corrections and clarifications: Ray Halbritter's title has been corrected to reflect that he is a representative of the Oneida Indian Nation in addition to being CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises. Kevin Cross is a litigator, not an environmental lawyer.
NEXT STORY: The 2022 Responsible 100