Nearly a decade ago, the good-government leader and former New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum had a great idea for City & State: Identify a group of distinguished New Yorkers whose decades in local and state politics and government are worthy of recognition. The concept came to fruition as our annual 50 Over 50.
The feature, which has become one of our most popular lists each year, recognizes the legacies of 50 accomplished individuals who are 50 or older. While many of our lists regularly track the rise and fall of politicians within different power structures, this annual undertaking has allowed us to take the longer view – and offer well-deserved accolades for leaders who have amassed a long list of accomplishments over the course of their entire careers.
This is the eighth year City & State has partnered with AARP in highlighting 50 New Yorkers over 50. In this issue and at a gala celebration on Jan. 31, we recognize the contributions of this year’s class, ranging from prominent power brokers to pivotal behind-the-scenes players. Among them are 10 lifetime achievement honorees, including Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chair and CEO Janno Lieber, the recently retired 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg and The New York Women’s Foundation’s Ana Oliveira. Plus, as the entire population ages and professionals are staying on the job longer than ever, we have something new this year: a 7 Over 70.
Looking back, it’s no wonder Kyle Bragg turned out the way he did. Bragg’s father was an organizer himself, as vice president for 1199SEIU, the largest health care workers union in the country, as well as a civil rights activist.
“He would carry myself and my brothers, on many occasions, to labor demonstrations, civil rights rallies,” says Bragg, recalling a Malcolm X talk that he attended with his father in Harlem. “It had a real impact on both my principles and moral compass as I grew up.”
Bragg got his first taste of collective worker power as a part-time student working at a medical facility. He joined his father’s union and became part of its bargaining committee, helping to secure the workers’ first contract with the facility.
After joining 32BJ SEIU, in 2001, he was tasked with running the Westchester office and oversaw the integration of 9,000 new members following a merger with Local 32E.
Bragg served as vice president and secretary-treasurer before his appointment as president in 2019. His tenure saw union operations expand amid a debilitating pandemic and the most diverse leadership team in its history.
“The union that we have become, a champion for social and economic justice … and seeing that both are inextricably linked,” Bragg says, “has given me great, great pride in my organization.”
Following his retirement last year, Bragg has continued his work through a consulting firm co-founded with former New York City Council Member I. Daneek Miller set to launch in January.
Family legacies can be burdensome to some, but not for Assembly Member Inez E. Dickens. She recalled the outpour of support during her 2005 New York City Council bid to represent Upper Manhattan’s City Council District 9. A former state committee member and district leader, it was her first campaign for a legislative seat following the footsteps of her father, Assembly Member Lloyd E. Dickens, and her uncle, the late Assembly Member and state Supreme Court Justice Thomas K. Dickens.
“People began to tell me, ‘I knew your family,’ ‘I knew your father,’ ‘Your father did this for my family,’” Dickens recalls. “It was a good feeling to know that. … I had been the legacy of generations before me.”
A lifelong Harlemite, the first-term council member secured leadership roles as majority whip and chair of the Standards and Ethics Committee. She was also the first Black woman appointed as deputy majority leader and chair of the Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions Subcommittee.
In 2017, Dickens was elected to represent Assembly District 70 in the state Legislature, where she has focused on issues like affordable housing, public safety and economic empowerment for minorities. Asked about her most cherished achievement, Dickens highlighted the impact she has made within her neighborhood, much of it involving securing funds for various community needs.
“I've been blessed that this community has allowed me to represent them,” Dickens says of Harlem. She is running to serve again in her old City Council seat this year.
As founder and managing principal of real estate development company MSquared, Alicia Glen continues her lifetime work of building a better New York.
“Everything I’ve done in my life is about how do we figure out how to get the public sector and the private sector to work together to really build great cities,” Glen says.
Glen began her career as an attorney practicing in real estate. She later served as head of the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs before shifting to public service. She was assistant commissioner for housing finance under New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and most recently, deputy mayor of housing and economic development.
Under then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, she launched the “Housing New York” initiative, the largest housing plan in the nation. The program developed and financed over 125,000 affordable homes across the city.
With MSquared, Glen is now focused on building up its Affordable NYC Fund, a partnership with Trinity Church Wall Street, which provided $20 million of seed capital to the initiative for nonprofit and affordable housing development. Additionally, Glen chairs the Trust for Governors Island, which she described as an endeavor to build up “the best, most fabulous piece of dirt in the United States.”
“If you’re going to get an award for being old, I say keep taking on new challenges and keep growing,” says the lifelong New Yorker, who turns 56 this year. “Don’t stay in your lane.”
Elizabeth Holtzman is a true trailblazer. She was at one point the youngest member elected to Congress, served as New York City’s first female district attorney and remains the only woman to serve as New York City comptroller.
As a Harvard Law student, Holtzman worked with Yale and Columbia students to create the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, linking up with civil rights attorneys. Her own experience assisting civil rights litigation in the South inspired her deeply.
Seeing “young people who stood up against an intractable system and made changes and brought about justice, that gave me a sense of optimism that I don’t think I ever would’ve had otherwise about the ability to make change,” Holtzman says.
As a first-term U.S. representative in 1972, Holtzman secured a spot on the House Judiciary Committee, where she became involved in the impeachment hearings of then-President Richard Nixon following Watergate. Among her proudest accomplishments on Capitol Hill, she says, were co-founding the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues – which facilitated bipartisan efforts among the House’s few women legislators, including pushing the Equal Rights Amendment – and chasing down Nazi war criminals living in the U.S. under a special apparatus she created within the U.S. Department of Justice.
“My favorite honor that I received in my whole life was ‘Workhorse of the Year’ when I was in Congress,” she jokes. That designation appears to still ring true: Now in private practice at Herrick, Holtzman ran for the newly drawn 10th Congressional District last year at 80 years old.
Since joining Bolton-St. Johns in 2008, Mike Keogh has become a lead partner overseeing dealings with the lobbying firm’s myriad of clients in the labor sector, including trade, tech, and public employee clients.
Previously, he held key positions in government; he served as the director of finance for the New York City Council and represented the city on employee finance matters at the New York City Mayor’s Office of State Legislative Affairs.
Among the achievements that Keogh is most proud of is his work as the principal lobbyist and legislative counsel for District Council 37, the largest municipal employee union in New York City representing 150,000 members and 50,000 retirees. With Keogh’s expertise, the union successfully pushed legislation on pension reform, which included securing a cost of living adjustment for public employee retirees for the first time.
“I think the lawyer training was very helpful in terms of being able to gather arguments and facts,” says Keogh, who studied communications before pursuing his law degree at New York Law School.
At 60, the key to a long successful career, he says, is exploring different opportunities and approaching your work with honesty.
“If you want to have a career that is going to sustain you and stand the test of time and actually accomplish things, not just on behalf of your client but that will be a public good, then you have to come at them from a place of honesty,” Keogh says.
For John Lieber, widely known as Janno, the drive behind his career has been his desire to build New York.
A trained lawyer, Lieber jumped between public and private sectors throughout his career but always in transit and real estate development. Notably, Lieber led the post-9/11 rebuilding of the World Trade Center as president of the World Trade Center division at the real estate firm Silverstein Properties. The project remains the highlight of his decadeslong career.
“It took a little while, but we turned around and made a better version of downtown that is more dynamic … a true live, work, play community that is the envy of the world,” Lieber says.
Before landing at the MTA, Lieber served as a transit policy adviser in then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s administration. In the late 1990s, he was deputy assistant secretary for policy, then later acting assistant secretary, at the U.S. Department of Transportation under then-President Bill Clinton.
In 2017, Lieber was appointed chief development officer of the MTA, his first post at the authority. Lieber oversaw its multibillion-dollar capital spending encompassing system upgrades and major expansions like the Interborough Express.
As the authority’s top boss now, Lieber hopes to build a better transit system for residents than before.
“My goal is that the MTA doesn’t just survive but it thrives because New Yorkers depend on fast, reliable, safe mass transit to live their lives and to experience New York,” he says. “That’s what I want to leave behind at the MTA.”
Ana Oliveira has served as president and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation for 17 years. A veteran of social services, Oliveira expanded the foundation’s grant-making under her leadership with $100 million in total grants awarded to community-based organizations serving women and gender-expansive individuals.
Born and raised in São Paulo, Oliveira credited her family for instilling the importance of community service. Her mother was a progressive member of the Catholic Church and participation in community drives was normal.
“I was raised with values of generosity, values of empathy, values of we are one so to speak,” Oliveira says. “That we aren’t different from others.”
After moving to the U.S., Oliveira led community programs for support groups like Samaritan Village and the Osborne Association. She became involved in public service work for LGBTQ New Yorkers, serving in various roles such as on the New York City HIV Planning Council and the city Commission on AIDS.
Most recently, she led the nonprofit Gay Men’s Health Crisis as its executive director for seven years. She has been the recipient of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Liberty Award and the Rosie Perez Fuerza Award from the Latino Commission on AIDS, among other honors, for her tremendous work.
Asked what she hopes to accomplish in the years ahead, Oliveira says her goal is that the foundation “continues to express a type of philanthropy that is community-centered, that centers those who live the challenges into their creation of the solutions.”
Jerry Skurnik is a battle-tested veteran of New York politics. He began volunteering for the local Democratic club in the 1960s after his mother convinced one of her candy shop customers to hire the then-teenager. Politicking now comes second nature to him.
“When people say, ‘Why did you decide to spend all your career in politics?’ I tell them I have no other skill. I’m a native Manhattanite, I don’t even drive, I can’t even be a cab driver,” the 74-year-old quips.
Skurnik worked on a number of big campaigns during his career, including for the late Ted Weiss’ congressional campaign and former Rep. Bella Abzug’s bid for the U.S. Senate. But Skurnik’s most memorable work was his time on former New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s 1977 mayoral run.
“(Koch) used to say when he was mayor that he was sixth in the field of seven, and he eventually won, and that was true,” Skurnik recalls. “I would say that I’m most proud of what I did to help Koch get elected.” He later took on an assistant role to the then-mayor’s special adviser in the newly elected Koch administration.
In 1988, Skurnik co-launched his own campaign consulting firm Prime New York. In a post-Twitter world, the firm was dissolved as Skurnik embraced a new endeavor as a senior consultant with Engage Voters U.S., which provides up-to-date engagement products for political campaigns including social media-based services. Skurnik also serves as an appointed commissioner on the state Gaming Commission.
Elise Wagner has built an illustrious career as a legal expert on land use matters since joining Kramer Levin in 2005, working with corporate and nonprofit clients to secure approvals and land use agreements in New York City.
“I don’t think one should expect to be inspired or passionate every day, but I think you have to feel really good about what you do,” she says. “And I’ve always felt the projects that I've worked on are good for the city of New York.” A big part of that is seeing the fruits of her work in the city.
After receiving her law degree from New York University in 1981, Wagner went to work under the tutelage of John Zuccotti (the late namesake of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan) who was a role model for her at Tufo & Zuccotti.
One particular achievement Wagner cherishes is her success as a young attorney in securing the agreements for the subway development which created the underground connection on Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street.
“The first time I actually walked through that subway connection, it was like, ‘Oh my god, all that negotiation and drafting of the documents actually created something good for the people of the city of New York,’ so that was very exciting to me,” Wagner recalls.
In 2021, Wagner received the Woman of the Year award by WX New York Women Executives in Real Estate. She began serving as co-chair of her firm’s land use department in January.
Before S. David Wu forged a career in academia, he worked as a systems engineer at a private company in Chicago.
“A mentor told me if you feel yourself stop growing in whatever job you’re doing, you should make a change,” Wu says of his career. “I think that sense of personal growth, emotional and otherwise, to broaden your own perspective … is really what I’ve done.”
Wu transitioned to academia at the suggestion of his mentor. As a scholar, his research in systems engineering and operations was integrated by tech giants like IBM and Intel. He spent most of his career at Lehigh University’s P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, where he taught as a professor before his appointment as dean in 2004. Wu then served as provost and executive vice president of George Mason University, Virginia’s largest public research university, for six years.
At Baruch, where the majority of students qualify for federal Pell Grants, Wu’s priority has been increasing accessibility by adapting its offerings to a post-pandemic world. The school’s enrollment grew 10% during the pandemic, which he credited to its “value proposition:” a top education and high post-graduate employment rate at a fraction of the cost of a private education.
“Baruch has a very unique value proposition,” says Wu, who himself came to the U.S. as a graduate student from Taiwan in 1983. “We have this commitment of not only academic excellence but also to make it accessible for students of all different socioeconomic backgrounds.”
For decades, Robert Bookman has championed small businesses with a special focus on the hospitality industry. Pesetsky & Bookman, the law firm he co-founded, helps restaurants, bars and clubs navigate New York’s laws and regulations. As counsel of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, he also makes sure that the key issues facing the industry don’t get swept under the rug. “I have helped countless small business owners navigate an overwhelming regulatory environment that is often stacked against them,” he says.
If there is one thread throughout Barbara Chang’s career, it’s training individuals for the workforce and then connecting them to the right work. As former executive director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, she linked city agencies to education partners. She then united employers seeking specific skills to local schools at Bronx-based HERE to HERE. She now serves as executive director of CareerWise New York, a modern youth apprenticeship system. What gets her going every morning? “Helping to create a more equitable, practical and effective education system,” she says.
As president and CEO of Lifespan of Greater Rochester, Ann Marie Cook has become one of the region’s most effective advocates for the elderly. During the pandemic, Cook deployed Lifespan’s staff – whom she calls her “warriors” – to provide vital services. She also helps shine a light on elder abuse, a problem that is sometimes hidden behind closed doors. Cook works hard to make sure the needs of older adults are given top priority by politicians and decision-makers. “I really get motivated by being able to influence change at a systemic level,” she says.
At Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, Sean Crowley contributes to the firm’s government affairs and lobbying efforts on state, local and federal levels. Crowley was an investigator in the New York City Council in the late 1980s before he went on to get his law degree from CUNY School of Law. His team has helped win over opponents to secure approval for construction of the Coney Island Amphitheater and zoning approval of the Astoria Cove waterfront site. “Both projects demonstrate the strategic collaborative ability of our government relations and land use teams,” he says.
Vijay Dandapani, a high-profile spokesperson for the hospitality business at industry conferences and in the media, co-founded Apple Core Hotels in 1993, an owner-operator of boutique hotels in New York City. In 2017, Dandapani was appointed president and CEO of the Hotel Association of New York City, a venerable trade organization that represents almost 300 hotels. He was also tapped to sit on committees to guide tourism through reopening after the pandemic for the state and New York City. Dandapani’s secret to success is simple. “Unrelenting persistence,” he says.
When John Darin took the reins of the National Association on Drug Abuse Problems in 1997, the social services organization was assisting just 1,000 individuals from New York City and Long Island – and he knew they could do more. Today, NADAP provides vital services to over 35,000 people annually, getting those who need health insurance, employment and substance abuse assistance connected to the proper resources to succeed. “My proudest accomplishment,” he says, “was to transform a 25-year-old small New York City-based nonprofit agency struggling with debt into a successful multiservice organization.”
Douglas Dimitroff is a western New York local boy made good. He stayed for college, graduating cum laude in 1989 from University at Buffalo School of Law, and became a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP, where he specializes in the telecommunications industry. He also founded the New York State Wireless Association, through which he serves on the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. Bringing disparate groups together – “challenges that require collaboration among groups that often don't work together,” as he puts it – is what electrifies him the most professionally.
There are plenty of ways the government utilizes technology to improve the lives of residents, including high-speed rail, electronic voting, health care transformation and counterterrorism. Mike Donovan has worked on these efforts – and more – in his extensive career. Donovan held key IT roles at the state Department of Transportation and the New York State Police, then led the New York State Technology Enterprise Corp. before landing at KPMG. “An engineer by training, I enjoy tackling problems and am motivated to help our clients address their needs and make things better for New Yorkers,” he says.
During his 30-year educational career, AHRC New York City President Raymond Ferrigno found that his true calling lay in helping children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As a parent with an autistic son, Ferrigno saw firsthand how AHRC New York City’s programs helped kids with these disabilities and their families. Ferrigno believes that working through the bureaucracy with parents so their child with these conditions does not get left behind is one of the most important parts of the job. “These moments are my proudest accomplishments,” he says.
As an native of the region himself, Gary J. Fitzgerald, the president and CEO of Iroquois Healthcare Alliance is deeply invested in making sure the many upstate rural communities his company serves have access to the highest quality health care possible. Iroquois works to ensure that upstate hospitals and health systems are well-represented at all levels of government. “Professional success is loving what I do and making a positive impact on these communities,” Fitzgerald says. IHA has advocated for upstate health care systems throughout the pandemic and is now addressing acute staffing shortages.
As an athlete at Hofstra University, Bradley Gerstman found that true passion drives success in any endeavor, whether it be sports or politics. Last fall, Gerstman took that passion – and partner Nicole Epstein Schwartz – to form Gerstman PLLC, a law firm providing government relations and communications services to a variety of industries. He also draws on a belief in team spirit, which he learned on the football field, as a way to bring together enthusiastic professionals to serve company clients. “I consider our clients a part of our team and, together, we find success by meeting our goals,” he says.
Large, complex construction projects are Michael Giaramita’s specialty. The CEO of Group PMX developed an approach to managing projects that focuses on key players to work collaboratively, on time and within budget. Giaramita is adept at bringing off-the-rails projects back on track – like his work on the International Monetary Fund project in Washington, D.C., which was behind schedule and over budget. He brought stakeholders in line to focus on the end result. “I thrive when working with people and helping them realize their full potential,” he says.
As president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, Bea Grause makes sure medical providers in the state are best positioned to deliver the best care possible to New Yorkers. Among Grause’s top priorities: alleviating both the continuing strain on health care systems caused by three years of the pandemic and critical staff shortages. In addition to her law degree, Grause’s experience as a caregiver serves her well. “As a new RN, I realized learning in health care is endless; I still believe that and act accordingly,” she says.
Sharon Greenberger has improved the lives of countless New York City residents over the years by leading the New York City School Construction Authority’s efforts to construct 100 new public schools, building a new ambulatory care center as senior vice president at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and, as president and CEO of YMCA of Greater New York, opening two new Y branches in the Bronx. Greenberger always asks herself if her work will both improve the world and build community. “Every career decision is viewed through these two filters,” she says.
Berj Haroutunian spent more than three decades at Vital Transportation overseeing day-to-day operations at one of New York City’s oldest black car companies. And since the beginning, he has been fighting for the ground transportation industry and its drivers. His experiences behind the wheel inspired him to get involved. “I feel and understand what drivers go through and that motivates me,” he says. Since 2007, Haroutunian has been executive chair of The Black Car Fund, which provides benefits for operators in the state, including death and disability, vision care, dental and suicide prevention.
In a career spanning more than four decades in New York’s construction industry, Neil Heyman has had a hand in a number of iconic projects all across the downstate region, including a number of notable hospitals, educational facilities and cultural edifices. “From the Kings Theatre restoration to the largest renovation in the Brooklyn Public Library’s history to building countless educational and medical facilities, I have been honored by the trust of our clients,” says Heyman, who joined construction industry leader Gilbane in 2002.
Kathy Hirata Chin wields her legal prowess to fight for people she believes are disenfranchised. In addition to her work at Crowell & Moring LLP, where she is a partner in the firm’s health care group, Chin has served on a number of committees to improve the court system and the legal profession. The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association honored her last year with a lifetime achievement award as a trailblazer. When asked why she doesn’t ever seem to say “no” when asked to help, Chin replied simply that she has “a desire to make a difference.”
Putting the enormous potential of our health care system to work for underserved populations is where George Hulse has excelled. He created “Healthy Villages” in New York City’s medical deserts by commandeering people and resources for a purpose. Hulse, a former U.S. Army drill sergeant, maximizes his role as vice president and special advisor to the CEO at EmblemHealth to help create healthy communities. “I have the opportunity every day to aid someone who has not been as fortunate,” he says.
After serving as a state senator, Craig Johnson leveraged his legislative expertise to found the lobbying firm Long Point Advisors, which guides clients through the labyrinth of state and local government. He sat on a number of committees that gave him insight into different facets of government, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, taxation, education, health and gaming, “I’m proud to serve as a steady hand for my clients,” he says. During the pandemic, Johnson was able to build his company into the leading boutique government relations firm in New York.
Helping others is in Elliott Klein’s DNA – his father was a clergyman and social worker – and the CEO of New York Psychotherapy and Counseling Center brings that inspiration to work with him every day. Klein, who has been with the center his entire 40-year career, has been an integral part of the nonprofit’s ability to now offer mental health services to over 25,000 individuals. His 600 employees are the driving force behind the center. “As we continue to grow, they never cease to amaze me with their passion and desire to serve our communities,” Klein says.
Artists strive to change the way we perceive the world. Kris Kohler, who originally wanted to be a fashion designer, found it uninspiring – so in 1998, she redirected her desire to make a difference by joining the nascent Mason Tenders’ District Council Political Action Committee. Kohler, who’s now assistant director, has spent more than 25 years improving the lives of union members, which includes a number of different building trades. “Success for me means connecting the dots creatively,” she says. “Fighting for the underdog. Helping people transform their lives.”
As a lawyer representing companies in complicated employment matters, Howard S. Lavin deals with a number of different flashpoint issues – including discrimination and sexual harassment cases – that can be both sensitive and risky for management teams to handle on their own. A partner at Stroock, Lavin’s philosophy is to treat every client’s concerns with the utmost respect. “I’ve long said that law is a service business – and success turns on clients believing that their priorities are your priorities,” he says.
The New York Health Plan Association promotes managed health care services that cover more than 8 million New Yorkers. As president and CEO, Eric Linzer uses his experience – he spent 15 years at the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans in various roles – to craft policy positions, advocate in Albany and act as spokesperson on issues relating to the industry. On the way up the ladder, Linzer says there was always someone to give him a boost. “No one achieves success without having help from others,” he says.
Labor lawyer Rich Maroko, who came on as the Hotel Trades Council’s general counsel in 2002, took the reins of the politically powerful union in 2020 when Peter Ward stepped down. Maroko has helped the 40,000-member union secure better benefits, shape the permitting process for New York City hotels and capitalize on the looming downstate casino expansion. “There is nothing more rewarding than meeting a member who has a significantly better life because of our contracts – who has job security, great wages, health care, a pension, reasonable workload and is treated with respect,” Maroko says.
Vic Martucci says he hates losing more than he likes winning. “The fear of not accomplishing the task at hand, knowing the impact it will have on someone’s life, motivates me,” he says. As managing partner at the Buffalo-based lobbying firm Masiello, Martucci & Associates, Martucci knows winning – and Buffalo. He graduated from Buffalo State University and worked in local politics. His proudest professional achievement? Helping to pass a bill that made a cannabis-based drug to treat pediatric epilepsy immediately available to children in New York.
At Coordinated Behavioral Care, Pamela Mattel steers a consortium of 78 nonprofits in New York City providing medical, mental health and substance use treatment for low-income people. She excels in coordinating complex health care systems, having delivered innovative preventive behavioral and primary care with C-level positions at organizations like the Acacia Network, Public Health Management Corp. and the Institute for Community Living. For Mattel, her work comes with its own reward. “Along with so many others,” she says, behavioral health care “has built the foundation critically needed to improve population health.”
Last year, Stony Brook University was designated a New York state flagship institution, and the school received its highest ranking in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2023 Best Colleges – the latest height of President Maurie McInnis’ tenure. The university’s burgeoning reputation helps McInnis’ efforts to recruit faculty who will advance its mission – “and as they realize their potential, they are also helping the organization thrive,” she says. Prior to Stony Brook, McInnis was an administrator at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Virginia.
Carlos Naudon is writing a book on impactful community banking. Not only is he the CEO of Ponce Bank, which has been recognized for providing much-needed financial services to immigrant communities, he is also the publisher of a trusted banking operations manual and was recently appointed to a New York Fed advisory council representing community banks with assets under $10 billion. Naudon takes Ponce Bank’s mission personally. “Benefiting from the opportunities the U.S. offers to a young immigrant, I strive to make a difference in this, my adopted country,” he says.
In an industry whose sole objective is to link people together, Charles O’Shea says he succeeds “by forming meaningful connections with other members of the New York public sector.” As eastern regional executive for state government strategy at T-Mobile, O’Shea’s background as an elected official at all levels of government comes in handy. In a previous stint as director of government relations and external affairs at the state Department of Transportation for the New York City region, he helped garner support for the building of the new Kosciuszko Bridge.
Ronnie and Michael Oliva have crafted a long list of successful political campaigns during their years spent navigating the turbulent waters of crisis management. The couple met while working on a political campaign, and the match grew into a professional as well as a romantic relationship. “There is a place of wholeness we always strive for in pursuing with passion our largest and smallest professional and personal endeavors,” the duo explains. “Finding that place of integrity drives ambition.”
Jim Quent has an impressive background of behind-the-scenes work in state and local government, where he has run campaigns for the Democratic Party, been chief of staff for an Assembly member and directed statewide field operations for a gubernatorial campaign. He now uses all that knowledge as a partner at Statewide Public Affairs Inc., a government relations consultancy. Quent is most proud of his work securing funding for vital social programs. To do so, he has had to build coalitions, developing and maintaining relationships along the way. “Everyone is important in the process,” he says.
When the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors merged with the Bronx-Manhattan North Association of Realtors in 2020, it not only expanded its reach but also capitalized on the expertise of Bronx-Manhattan North Association of Realtors CEO Eliezer Rodriguez. Puerto Rican-born Rodriguez became the combined organization’s regional government affairs director, bringing his can-do attitude with him. Rodriguez is dedicated to service: He flew supplies into Nicaragua in honor of the late baseball legend Roberto Clemente, who died doing the same thing. “My glass is always half full, but, more importantly, I seek to help those who are thirsty,” Rodriguez says.
Barbara Salmanson spent 18 years as a lawyer in the financial services industry until the plight of vulnerable and exploited children called her to a different path. In 2002, Salmanson joined JCCA, a child welfare organization, where she now serves as vice chair. Salmanson, whose work has improved adoption and foster care in New York, helped form Gateways, a residential program for young women who’ve suffered sexual exploitation. “I have been able to raise my voice to ensure that I am part of conversations that influence decisions regarding children and families,” she says.
As chair, CEO and corporate secretary of Ayr Wellness, Jonathan Sandelman has focused his cannabis company on producing products that change lives. For him, success begins with the quality of the plant. Ayr makes a slew of cannabis consumer packaged goods, from edibles to flower to infused beverages, and has a footprint spanning eight states. “Cannabis provides an opportunity to touch so many lives, from health and wellness to social justice,” Sandelman says. “I seek to fulfill that promise.”
As a former chief of the criminal division for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Bart Schwartz gets brought in when things go awry. Guidepost Solutions, the company he founded in 2010, navigates compliance, ethics and integrity concerns for the private and public sectors. As a federal monitor, Schwartz is overseeing the implementation of an agreement NYCHA reached with HUD, SDNY and the City of New York for NYCHA to achieve decent, safe and sanitary living conditions for its residents. His secret to success? “By listening to others, being willing to change my mind and being able to put myself in my adversary’s shoes,” he says, he is able to “think like my adversary.”
Wayne Spence bootstrapped his way to success, immigrating to the United States from Jamaica at 10 years old, then rising from a parole officer job through the ranks of the Public Employees Federation to become its first African American president in 2015. While that journey was a major accomplishment for Spence, he says that there is one specific personal goal that is more symbolic. “It was the purchase of my home and feeling that I had achieved the American dream,” he says. “Something that I hope I can help members of my union achieve.”
Joseph Turner has spent his career ensuring the most vulnerable people in New York City are protected and nurtured. Inspired by past civil rights lawyers, Turner studied law and took up the call for social justice, working with organizations and serving on boards to protect the constitutional rights of groups who might otherwise be neglected. As co-founder and CEO of Exponents, he saw over 11,000 people complete compassionate drug treatment programs, which continued uninterrupted through the pandemic. “We were made a better organization during these most turbulent times,” he says.
As first vice president of public policy at the New York State Adult Day Services Association, Yvonne Ward helps provide respite to caregivers of the elderly through a variety of culturally appropriate programs. When Ward, who also helps health care facilities with a host of administrative projects as a consultant for GlattHealth Consulting Group, lost her son Joshua to cancer in 2017, she says helping provided her only comfort. But she doesn’t do it all alone. “Whether working or volunteering, I have a great team of people that support me,” she says.
Valerie White has been a force for positive change on issues of fair and equitable housing for people of color in New York, proper health care for underserved communities and economic and social opportunities for low-income residents. In 2020, she was brought on as executive director at LISC New York, a multibillion-dollar organization that invests in programs and initiatives to connect previously overlooked people and places with valuable resources such as affordable housing. White leads an organization focused on creating public policy that advances its mission to redress systematic discrimination.
Before he became a partner at Walden Macht & Haran, Milton L. Williams Jr. had a long career spanning public and private service, starting with a stint as a federal prosecutor. He served as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan and as chief compliance officer at Time Inc. Williams also has experience in the courtroom, bringing almost 60 individual civil and criminal cases to verdict. “Helping others motivates me most,” he says. And he’s continued to delve into governmental matters, co-chairing the state Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption and chairing the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board.
NEXT STORY: The 2023 7 Over 70