Gov. Kathy Hochul won a full term in office last fall, but the honeymoon didn’t last very long. Progressive Democrats in the state Senate torpedoed her nominee for state chief judge, suburban lawmakers shot down her sweeping housing plan and a standoff with lawmakers led to a state budget limping across the finish line over a month late. Yet, despite these high-profile setbacks, the trailblazing leader did notch some noteworthy victories this session – and, in the grander scheme of things, she remains at the helm of a sprawling state government apparatus that serves a population of nearly 20 million people.
The Albany Power 100 tracks the successes and failures of Hochul and other key power players in the state Capitol over the past year. City & State’s latest ranking of the Albany elite puts a spotlight on state lawmakers, gubernatorial appointees, business executives, labor leaders, advisers, advocates and activists who are vying to shape New York’s future.
Gov. Kathy Hochul made history as the first woman elected governor of New York, winning a full, four-year term last fall after assuming the state’s highest office following her predecessor’s unceremonious exit. Hochul collaborated early on with lawmakers on issues like expediting the rollout of recreational marijuana and sealed the deal on a new Buffalo Bills stadium in her own backyard. But since her unexpectedly narrow election, she has struggled to score political points, most notably the failed state chief judge nomination of Hector LaSalle. This year, Hochul notched some victories in the state budget, including tweaking state bail laws, paving the way for new charter schools and delivering hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Belmont Park, but her sweeping housing plan was scrapped.
The longer state legislative leaders stay in power, the more influence they tend to amass – and that could certainly be said of state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The Westchester lawmaker broke through in 2019 as the first woman and the first Black woman to lead a majority conference in Albany and has gone on to secure and maintain a veto-proof supermajority while building an effective partnership with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. This year, her conference took the unprecedented step of blocking Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nominee for state chief judge on the grounds that he wasn’t progressive enough, a move that reflects a shift in balance among the branches of government in Albany.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is the one of the three people in a room – no longer the “three men in a room” – who hash out the state’s massive budget, which is rising to nearly $230 billion this year. While the Bronx politician ceded some ground to Gov. Kathy Hochul on charter schools and bail policy this year, he has staunchly defended the priorities of his vast Democratic conference, from affordable housing to workers’ rights to recreational cannabis. When he became speaker of the Assembly in 2015, he was the first Black person to assume the leadership post.
By the time she started her second term as state attorney general in January, Letitia James had cemented her status as one of the nation’s most influential legal and law enforcement officials. James is not afraid to stand up to those in positions of power and prominence, whether it’s the National Rifle Association and the family and business of former President Donald Trump. Among recent priorities, she has outlined a new plan to combat deed fraud and vowed to protect abortion rights.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, the first woman to be governor of New York, has relied on a trio of experienced women to advise her and carry out her objectives. Her right-hand woman is Karen Persichilli Keogh, who brought significant experience working with other female leaders in New York, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Keogh, who has helped Hochul forge a strong relationship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and partner on projects like a new life sciences hub in Manhattan, is one of the governor’s most trusted advisers. Another member of Hochul’s inner circle is Kathryn Garcia, who burnished her reputation as an effective bureaucrat in City Hall before mounting an impressive bid for mayor of New York City – and now oversees nearly 100 state agencies. As the governor’s legal counsel, Liz Fine has navigated such policy matters as cracking down on illegal marijuana shops and tweaking the state’s bail reform law.
Now in his fifth term as state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli is well on his way to tying or besting Arthur Levitt’s record-setting six terms in office. DiNapoli is using his audit power to pursue priorities like post-pandemic changes to state oversight of nursing homes, state management of group homes during the pandemic and local governments’ climate change expenditures. DiNapoli’s audits encompass smaller-scale cases as well, like whether the fiscal practices of several upstate school districts were causing avoidable property tax hikes.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris is one of the savviest and most influential lawmakers in Albany. The deputy majority leader, who hails from Astoria, helped make history this year with the defeat of Hector LaSalle’s nomination for state chief judge. Combining a strong political background, a demonstrated interest in the intricacies of policy and the ability to adapt to the state’s evolving politics, Gianaris is also young enough that he still has time to move up – if the right office opens up.
Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, arguably upstate’s most powerful legislator, has shown she knows how to get things done in Albany, even if it puts her at odds with the Capital’s other powerful woman from Buffalo. Peoples-Stokes authored the state’s marijuana law and has been closely monitoring its implementation. She succeeded in keeping the Humboldt Parkway reconnection project on the state’s agenda and getting it federally funded. She pushed the Grieving Families Act, a priority for her district (that was vetoed by Gov. Kathy Hochul), and opposed Hochul’s push to ban menthol cigarettes.
After steering the state’s schools through both COVID-19 and the ongoing recovery efforts from pandemic-related distance learning, Betty Rosa has set her attention on a project that will remake the state’s education system: potential changes to the state's high school graduation requirements. A commission formed by Rosa is set to provide a final report to the state Board of Regents by next year on the issue, including potential changes to the Regents exam requirement or alternative paths to graduation, including career and technical programs. She also saw the governor and lawmakers boost education spending by $3 billion in the latest state budget.
As one news outlet put it, the “state budget’s biggest winner may be Mayor Eric Adams,” who secured funding for the New York City Housing Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and additional aid to handle the influx of asylum-seekers in the city. Adams, who governs a city of nearly 8.5 million people, also supported changes that give judges more discretion in setting bail, though he didn’t get what he wanted on housing or procurement policy. It doesn’t hurt that Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul, a fellow moderate Democrat, enjoy a far healthier relationship than their predecessors did.
The chief budget writers in the state Legislature, state Sen. Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Helene Weinstein reminded Gov. Kathy Hochul that while the governor may wield plenty of power in the budget process, lawmakers cannot be ignored in crafting a spending plan. The reform-minded Krueger, who chairs the state Senate Finance Committee, helped push housing issues out of the budget, saying lawmakers could take up the issue later in the legislative session. Weinstein, the veteran lawmaker who chairs the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, has pushed back against the governor’s decision to veto her Grieving Families Act, which would modernize the state’s wrongful death statute.
George Gresham, who has been at the helm of 1199SEIU since 2007, was reelected to a sixth term as president of the influential labor union. When Gresham was sworn in last summer, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and state Attorney General Letitia James were among the dignitaries on hand. Gresham, whose union represents nearly half a million health care workers, is a longtime advocate for increased health care funding, including a successful push this year for higher Medicaid reimbursement rates at New York hospitals and nursing homes.
The leader of the state’s hospital lobby for almost four decades, Kenneth Raske has the experience and the encyclopedic knowledge to advocate effectively on behalf of the health care industry. Raske, a longtime ally of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, is among the most effective power players in Albany. The new state budget boosts the Medicaid reimbursement rate by 7.5%, above Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed 5% bump, but still short of what the association argued was necessary to prevent some hospitals from going under.
For over two decades, Michael Dowling has led New York’s largest health care provider, Northwell Health. Dowling’s leadership capabilities were put to the test in 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, an experience he describes in a book, “Leading Through a Pandemic: The Inside Story of Humanity, Innovation, and Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Crisis.” Dowling has not been afraid to address political issues, calling gun violence a public health emergency and acknowledging the impacts of climate change. Last year, he topped Modern Healthcare’s 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare list.
Gov. Kathy Hochul installed Dr. James V. McDonald as New York’s acting health commissioner at the start of the year, and in late March, she nominated him to fill the post in a permanent capacity. McDonald, the brother of Assembly Member John T. McDonald III, will now have to be confirmed by the state Senate. The acting health commissioner, who succeeded Dr. Mary Bassett in the role, previously served in the department as medical director in the Office of Public Health and also worked for the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Of the three branches of government in New York, the judiciary has traditionally garnered the least attention – but that wasn’t the case this year, thanks to a divisive intraparty dispute over who should lead the state’s court system. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nomination of Hector LaSalle prompted an outcry from progressives and labor leaders, and LaSalle was blocked after a protracted standoff. That paved the way for Rowan Wilson – a sitting member of the state Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court – to be confirmed as the state’s first Black chief judge.
Early on following her predecessor’s downfall, Gov. Kathy Hochul came under scrutiny for keeping in place a few key holdovers from the Cuomo era. One of the last to leave was Robert Mujica, who served as state budget director. He was replaced this year by another Cuomo veteran, Robert Megna. But Megna’s not exactly a Cuomo loyalist – in fact, the budget wonk got his start under then-Gov. David Paterson, with whom he helped strengthen the governor’s hand in budget negotiations with state lawmakers. Now if he can only help Hochul get an on-time budget next year.
Michael Mulgrew and his influential labor union came out as winners in this year’s budget after their efforts to reduce Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 100 proposed new charter schools to a more teachers union-friendly number of 14 proved successful. Mulgrew is now focused on negotiating a new contract with New York City Mayor Eric Adams – and one flashpoint is sure to be the union’s insistence that teachers’ pay should match the rate of inflation.
Janno Lieber knows how to play the Albany game: This year’s state budget includes a $1.1 billion budget increase for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He set the stage last November when he went to Puerto Rico for the Somos conference, where he advocated for his agency’s priorities. Lieber, who also scored a free bus pilot program in the budget, recently unveiled a subway safety plan and completed the East Side Access plan. While Lieber got a funding boost from Albany, the MTA still moved forward with a proposed fare hike.
Rick Cotton has one of the busiest to-do lists in government. Cotton, who has completed new terminals at LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark airports, is now working on JFK’s $18 billion vision plan, the renovation of Terminal One, and is also in the middle of redesigning midtown Manhattan’s commuter bus terminal. He launched an ambitious climate plan and recently negotiated new contracts with the Port Authority’s unions – all while New York area ports have overtaken Southern California’s as the nation’s busiest seaports.
One of New York’s top labor leaders and the chief of the state’s umbrella group for public and private sector unions, Mario Cilento is coming off a year in which he was part of the push to put Gov. Kathy Hochul over the finish line in her successful bid for a full term. Cilento is advocating for a series of worker initiatives in Albany this year, including the pending Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act and the Temperature Extreme Mitigation Program. Cilento has also expressed support for unionization efforts by state legislative staffers.
Rich Maroko in 2020 took the reins of a union representing 40,000 members in the local hotel and gambling industries. He has since been at the center of flashpoints like the housing of migrant refugees in New York City hotels and the growth of the state’s casino industry as New York awards more full-fledged licenses. Maroko’s influence extends into transportation, with his seat on the New Jersey Transit board giving him an influential voice on regional transit policy.
Labor leaders are among the most influential figures in the political arena in New York, and few are as powerful as Gary LaBarbera. LaBarbera is the longtime leader of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, whose 15 labor unions represent 100,000 workers. In 2021, he also took the reins of its state counterpart, the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, which has 200,000 members. An outspoken advocate for increased construction activity, he has been an ally of both Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
One of the biggest buckets of spending in the state budget each year is allocated to schools, making the chairs of the legislative committees overseeing education critical posts. State Sen. Shelley Mayer of Westchester chairs the Education Committee, while Assembly Member Michael Benedetto of the Bronx is her Assembly counterpart. State Sen. John Liu, the veteran Queens politician who chairs the New York City Education Committee, joined Mayer and Benedetto in a successful push to fully fund Foundation Aid. Mayer and Liu also blocked Gov. Kathy Hochul’s efforts to drop regional limits on charter schools across the state, instead allowing just 14 “zombie” charter schools within New York City to be reassigned.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal came up short in his 2021 bid for Manhattan borough president, but he’s now more powerful than ever. By helping to derail Hector LaSalle’s state chief judge nomination, Hoylman-Sigal has influenced the direction of the state’s highest court and the future of the state judiciary. Hoylman-Sigal has called on the NHL and the NBA to sanction Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan for the use of facial recognition to deny entry to attorneys involved in legal actions against him.
The first Black chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Lester Young has been working to address issues in the state’s schools following pandemic-related educational disruptions. Young has opposed efforts in some states to change the teaching of American history, including limiting the teaching of African American history and the harmful effects of racism, saying that New York would not be making any curriculum changes. Young was a longtime teacher, principal and superintendent in Brooklyn and served as a state associate education commissioner before being elected to the Board of Regents.
The leader of the nation’s largest urban university system, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez has been focused on issues including the budget, antisemitism on campus and diversity. Matos Rodríguez showed early support for Gov. Kathy Hochul’s higher education budget proposals, including her since-killed tuition hike, and praised Hochul for backing increased funding for community college maintenance. Matos Rodríguez, who has faced criticisms over his response to a wave of antisemitism on CUNY campuses, recently outlined CUNY’s Black, Race and Ethnic Studies Initiative.
Last summer, Stacy Lynch was appointed as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s chief of staff, making her one of the half-dozen members of the inner circle of the most powerful politician in state government. Lynch, who previously was chief of staff to the lieutenant governor and deputy director of intergovernmental affairs in the de Blasio administration, grew up around politics as the daughter of the legendary Democratic consultant Bill Lynch. Other members of Hochul’s inner circle are Micah Lasher, the governor’s director of policy, and Deputy Chief of Staff Melissa Bochenski.
Kathryn Wylde, New York City’s chief business advocate, is staying focused on New York City’s post-pandemic economic recovery. Wylde has called for state officials to emphasize affordable housing, saying it is key to economic growth. She has pressed Gov. Kathy Hochul to address taxes and crime – two key issues for post-coronavirus growth. Wylde is part of the group behind the new We Love NYC campaign, saying it is intended to get New Yorkers enthusiastic about the city again.
Adrienne Harris, the state’s top banking regulator, found herself at the center of this year’s banking meltdown when she issued orders to shut down Signature Bank. She said the move was made necessary due to a lack of confidence in bank leadership and because of cryptocurrency issues – and the future of crypto is chief among her vast to-do list. Harris, a former White House economic adviser, assumed the state banking regulator seat on the federal Financial Stability Oversight Council earlier this year.
Since she was nominated to become the state’s economic development chief almost two years ago, Hope Knight has been pushing an agenda that includes workforce development, small-business investments and support for minority- and women-owned business enterprises. A former president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corp., Knight has been focused on initiatives like the new Micron plant outside Syracuse, a $150 million mid-Hudson region infrastructure fund, broadband expansion and $40 million for Niagara Falls projects, including those focused on heritage tourism, the waterfront and agritourism.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx progressive, has chaired the state Senate Health Committee since Democrats took control of the chamber in 2019. This year, his counterpart on health care legislation was Assembly Member Amy Paulin, a prolific lawmaker from Westchester who succeeded Richard Gottfried in the influential post. Rivera once again failed to get the single-payer health care measure he has championed for years into the state budget, but he did help to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates and extend coverage for doulas. Paulin, who successfully spearheaded legislation to expand contraception access, was also among the suburban lawmakers who helped scuttle the governor’s housing plan this year.
Organized labor is one of the most powerful forces in New York politics, and getting to chair one of the labor committees in the state Legislature – and forge connections with influential labor leaders who can deliver votes at the ballot box – is a plum assignment. State Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Latoya Joyner have made the most of their tenures leading the labor committees in each house, pushing for minimum wage hikes tied to inflation, shoring up unemployment insurance and advocating for other worker protections. Ramos has also been opposing Mets owner Steve Cohen’s push to build a casino next to his baseball stadium.
It’s easy to get lost in the crowd in the 150-member Assembly, but certain lawmakers know how to make an impact – whether it’s through building up seniority, forging alliances, drafting major legislation or simply picking the right fights. Assembly Member Ron Kim raised his profile by taking on then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo over nursing home deaths during the coronavirus pandemic – a political fight he survived – and has continued to take on the establishment. Another trailblazing younger lawmaker, Assembly Member Catalina Cruz has notched a number of policy accomplishments – establishing the $50 million Nourish New York program to combat food insecurity, helping to create a relief fund for the remnants of Hurricane Ida for undocumented immigrants – and is sponsoring the pending Clean Slate Act, which would seal certain criminal records. Also on the criminal justice front, Assembly Member Latrice Walker, the original sponsor of the state’s bail reform law, the past two years went on hunger strikes to protect the law from changes during budget negotiations – albeit unsuccessfully. Among the chamber’s longtime legislators is Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz, a well-connected member of the Bronx Democratic machine who chairs the Assembly Codes Committee, and Assembly Member John T. McDonald III, an Albany-area pharmacist who chairs the Assembly Governmental Operations Committee and is among the most influential upstate lawmakers.
A year ago, John King was touring Maryland in hopes of moving to Annapolis as the state’s next governor. Today, as chancellor of the SUNY system, he’s in Albany, touring campuses. A former U.S. education secretary and state education commissioner, King now faces his toughest challenge: running the perennially cash-starved institution. King defended Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed tuition hike, which was later killed by lawmakers. King, who is the system’s fifth chancellor since 2016, has advocates hoping he’s in it for the long haul.
Melinda Person’s advocacy efforts for public education stretch back to 1998, when she first became a sixth grade teacher in Boston. Person, who joined NYSUT in 2006 and climbed to the ranks of executive officer in 2019, was recently elected president following former President Andy Pallotta’s retirement from the role. Person now leads nearly 700,000 members of NYSUT’s 1,200 locals. Among her goals are advocating for fair compensation and better working conditions for all NYSUT members.
Evan Stavisky has been one of the key behind-the-scenes players in the push to expand gambling in New York. Lobbying on behalf of DraftKings and FanDuel, Stavisky has helped pave the way for the state’s online gambling laws, in part by helping define a state-by-state strategy on the issue and explaining the complex ways of Albany to out-of-state lobbyists. The son of state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, he serves as a key adviser to Senate Democrats’ campaign efforts – helping the party secure and maintain a supermajority in the chamber.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh has led the housing committee in the state Senate since 2019, when Democrats took control of the chamber, and has ushered through legislation to convert hotels into affordable housing, to temporarily pause evictions and foreclosures during the coronavirus pandemic and to create stronger tenant protections. Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, a fellow Manhattanite, took over as chair of the Assembly Housing Committee this year. The duo will be working with Gov. Kathy Hochul and other lawmakers to find a path forward after the governor’s sweeping housing plan dropped out of the budget this year.
As the leader of one of Albany’s top lobbying firms, David Weinraub knows how to navigate Albany and get results for his clients. By pivoting his strategy – more recently advocating for economic development to better dovetail with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s focus on jobs – Weinraub has shown once again why his firm has remained successful. The firm’s client roster includes Yahoo, Seneca Holdings, the American Petroleum Institute, Las Vegas Sands, Costco, Catskill Regional Off-Track Betting and Livingston County.
Presiding over a powerhouse Albany lobbying firm, Giorgio DeRosa and Emily Giske continue to deliver for clients in the halls of the state Capitol. DeRosa has been involved in some of the state’s top issues, including gambling, energy and medical marijuana. Giske, a vice chair of the state Democratic Party, has played a key role in recruiting more women to run for state office. Bolton-St. Johns’ recent client list included Genting New York LLC, Guardian Life Insurance, General Dynamics, the Jockeys’ Guild and Verizon.
James Whelan has had a roller coaster few years navigating the changes wrought by the pandemic, especially the effects of hybrid and remote work on New York’s real estate industry. He is proposing to convert midtown Manhattan offices into housing to fill the spaces. Whelan and the rest of the real estate industry came up short in this year’s state budget, as housing issues were largely removed from the budget plate to be dealt with at another time.
One of the top lobbyists in New York City and state, Suri Kasirer’s eponymous firm ranked second in state lobbying revenues for 2022 at $17.2 million while taking the top spot on the New York City lobbying list. Her firm’s client list includes A-list corporations, iconic city institutions and a who’s who of real estate, including The Walt Disney Co., Lincoln Center, the Shakespeare Festival and Columbia University. Mickey Mouse is likely to fare better in Albany with Kasirer by his side than he has in Tallahassee.
As part of the leadership team at Greenberg Traurig, Harold Iselin and Samir NeJame help their clients navigate the complex regulatory landscape of Albany. Iselin regularly advises clients on the intricacies of health care regulation, while NeJame is focused on local government, tourism and real estate issues. The firm’s client roster has included the Health System Owned Specialty Pharmacy Alliance, Brookfield Properties, KPMG, the New York Botanical Garden, the Billion Oyster Project, Rochester and Wells Fargo.
The New York State Nurses Association has made its mark as one of the more progressive labor unions in the state, although it has also been strategic in cultivating ties with moderates like Gov. Kathy Hochul. The 42,000-member NYSNA, which bolstered its resources last year by teaming up with National Nurses United, hasn’t been afraid to take to the streets or go on strike, winning better working conditions for members at major hospital systems in the state and rallying for higher pay in New York City’s public hospital network. Pat Kane has served as executive director since 2020, and Nancy Hagans was elected president in 2021.
A well-connected player in New York government, Charlie King has run for state attorney general and lieutenant governor, led the state Democratic Party and advised such luminaries as then-Rep. Charlie Rangel, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. He’s one of dozens of political experts at Mercury, which is based in New York but has offices across the country and overseas. Jake Dilemani is one of the firm’s top political pros, with expertise in running advocacy campaigns on behalf of such organizations as the Environmental Defense Fund, while Jan Feuerstadt heads up a lobbying operation that consistently ranks in the top 10 in the state, with clients in casinos, cannabis, education, health care and other sectors.
David O’Rourke got the final state budget to include plans that will transform the downstate horse racing industry via $455 million to renovate Long Island’s Belmont Park. O’Rourke said the renovation will allow both for Belmont to become a year-round track and for the closure of Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. O’Rourke also received commitments for the Breeders’ Cup to return to Belmont after renovations were complete. Long Island officials estimated a $1 billion immediate economic impact and a nine-figure annual impact from the improvements.
There will be three full-scale casino licenses awarded this year – and Robert DeSalvio wants one of them for Resorts World New York City in Queens. Resorts World Genting, which has retained a powerhouse team of lobbyists this year, would use the license to expand its offerings, including adding live table games. DeSalvio and his team have garnered praise locally for being good neighbors, including from state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr., who not only represents the area around the casino but chairs the chamber’s gambling committee.
When political players have a tough issue or campaign they must navigate, they often call Neal Kwatra. The longtime labor strategist has helped governors, mayors and other candidates seeking office. The focus of Kwatra’s Metropolitan Public Strategies lately has been increasingly in climate action-related work and specifically on the state’s growing offshore wind sector. Since 2020, Kwatra has been helping global renewable energy giant Ørsted become a key player in New York’s growing offshore wind industry.
As the leader of Albany’s top pro-business organization, Heather Briccetti Mulligan has been pushing lawmakers to make New York more affordable and to build more housing, noting that many businesses need those two issues addressed to better recruit and retain employees who might otherwise choose to live somewhere else. Mulligan has also been advocating for a solution to climate change that embraces multiple forms of energy without increasing costs to New Yorkers.
J. Anthony Jordan, the district attorney of Washington County, is the president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, where he and the organization have voiced support for the rolling back of a bail reform provision – a move that gives judges more freedom to exercise sentencing discretion. DAASNY has come under fire recently for its lack of support for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has faced a litany of attacks over his office’s prosecution of a case against former President Donald Trump.
A former guard at the Empire State Plaza ice rink, Rick Ostroff now roams the Capitol’s halls as one of the state’s top lobbyists. An alum of former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s Executive Chamber, Ostroff has focused his eponymous firm on pandemic-related relief for businesses and industries in recent years. His firm’s clients include Lyft, Jim Beam, the Coalition of New York State Health Homes, FedEx, the Upstate New York Chapter of American Fire Sprinkler Association and Binghamton University.
The Democratic Socialists of America has faced some headwinds over the past couple of years, but the growing contingent of DSA-backed lawmakers has made headway shaping policy in Albany. In 2022, state Sen. Jabari Brisport pushed successfully for increased funding for child care, and this year, state Sen. Julia Salazar – the first DSA member in the state Legislature – had been building support for the closely watched “good cause” eviction bill. Some DSA victories included Assembly Member Emily Gallagher’s legislation banning gas hookups in new buildings and Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani’s securing of pilot program funding for five free bus routes in New York City, while also adding two new members; state Sen. Kristen Gonzalez and Assembly Member Sarahana Shrestha.
Lisa Marrello, David Poleto and Gregory Serio are among the leaders of this lobbying firm founded by former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, and they’re old hands when it comes to Albany. Marrello, who began her career in the state Legislature, works with clients like the New York State Association of Professional Driving Schools, the Westchester County Association, and the Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State. Poleto, who served in former Gov. George Pataki’s Executive Chamber, represents such clients as Airlines for America, the Automobile Dealers Association of New York and Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Serio joined the firm in 2005 after serving as the state’s insurance superintendent.
Mike Elmendorf is on a crusade to eliminate potholes across the state. As the longtime head of Associated General Contractors of New York State, Elmendorf has been pushing for more state assistance for maintaining and repairing local roads and bridges, noting federal reports that rank New York roads and bridges low nationwide and the economic impact of functioning infrastructure. His advocacy has proven effective: Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers agreed to local transportation dollars – always a politically popular subject – in the budget.
Sean Doolan leads one of Albany’s preeminent law and lobbying firms, with over 30 years of experience in government relations, as a general counsel and in administrative law. He represents an array of clients with diverse interests, such as health plans, health care providers, insurers, technology companies and other general corporate interests. Over the past several years, Doolan has been lead counsel on a host of the most complex and intricate health care, insurance and transactional measures, successfully negotiating and navigating approval through state government.
Redistricting handed state Sen. Andrew Gounardes an overhauled district, giving him a slice of Brooklyn that stretches from Bay Ridge to Brooklyn Heights. The change did not throw the Bay Ridge native off his game. After dispatching Brownstone Brooklyn mainstay David Yassky in last year’s Democratic primary, Gounardes remains one of Albany’s most prolific lawmakers. Gounardes, the state Senate Budget and Revenue Committee chair, is pushing an expansion of the state’s child tax credit and the New Deal for CUNY, an effort to grow state investment in public higher education.
The influential labor leader Dennis Trainor has been the top regional official for the Communications Workers of America District 1 since 2015. Trainor represents 140,000 workers in a range of industries, including not just telecommunications but also media, airlines, manufacturing, government and health care. His union was one of several that pushed successfully to block state chief judge nominee Hector LaSalle. He’s also a trustee on the board of the New York Power Authority, which is being empowered by new state legislation to drive more publicly owned renewable energy development.
Governors come and governors go, but one constant in Albany is Global Strategy Group. GSG has a long history of advising many of New York’s most prominent Democratic politicians, from former Govs. Eliot Spitzer to David Paterson to Andrew Cuomo to, most recently, Gov. Kathy Hochul. Among Hochul’s closest advisers is pollster Jefrey Pollock, who co-founded the firm in 1995 along with CEO Jon Silvan and Jeffrey Plaut. The firm today has a national reach, providing polling, research and communications services to Democratic candidates and incumbents across the country.
As a seasoned union activist with over 35 years of experience, labor leader Mary Sullivan has shown continued commitment to advocating for fair union contracts in the public sector. Since her election to the union’s presidency in 2020, Sullivan has pushed for stronger member relations, encouraging members to become more engaged and communicative as a whole, echoing the union’s member-centered values. In 2022, the Civil Service Employees Association successfully negotiated a five-year contract with the state that included incremental raises to members.
Wayne Spence is in the middle of his third three-year term heading up the New York State Public Employees Federation, a 50,000-member public sector union representing professional, scientific and technical employees. On his watch, PEF has launched a “Fund Our Future” campaign, seeking to tie the minimum wage to inflation and reform the civil service system. Spence, who emigrated from Jamaica as a child, has worked in state government as a parole officer.
Camille Joseph-Goldman, the leader of Charter Communications’ government affairs work in New York, New Jersey and New England, works on legislative and regulatory affairs for the telecommunications company, which has 2 million customers in New York. Joseph-Goldman came to the job after stints as a deputy New York City comptroller, as a top aide to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and as national African American vote deputy director for then-President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Patrick B. Jenkins has built a lobbying powerhouse with a focus on a number of the most debated issues in Albany, from real estate to online sports betting. A close ally of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Jenkins’ client list includes some of the most powerful businesses in the state. Among them: New York City Football Club, DraftKings, MLB, NBA, Helicopters Tourism and Jobs Council, development companies and Resorts World New York City. Earlier this month, Jenkins joined the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s board.
As the former chief of staff for the state Senate Democratic majority, Shontell Smith brings a wide range of legal and public policy skills to her current position as an executive vice president at Tusk Strategies. An attorney by trade, Smith manages public policy campaigns for Tusk’s extensive client base. She spearheads advocacy, public relations and cross-firm partnerships for clients, and she is among the highest-ranking executives at the firm.
Terry and Kim Pegula didn’t land Patrick Mahomes, but they got something better: a governor from Buffalo. The Bills owners got the new stadium they wanted, with Gov. Kathy Hochul committing $600 million and an additional $250 million from Erie County. The funds are coming from the Seneca Nation casino revenue, a decision the Seneca Nation opposed. The new stadium will replace Highmark Stadium in suburban Orchard Park, ending dreams of a new stadium in downtown Buffalo, which would have cost an additional $1 billion.
James Mahoney was part of the coalition of labor leaders that played a role in defeating Hector LaSalle’s nomination for state chief judge – the first gubernatorial nominee to the Court of Appeals to be denied confirmation by the state Senate. Mahoney was clear in showing his anger at Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to pick the controversial LaSalle, noting that organized labor played a key role in helping her win a full term last year.
A veteran of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s lieutenant governor office, Bryan Lesswing moved with Hochul to the governor’s office to serve as her senior adviser on communications issues. A longtime Democratic communications hand, Lesswing’s previous stops include the New Hampshire and Maryland Democratic parties, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Emily’s List, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and congressional campaigns in Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia.
New York is not known as a Second Amendment bastion, but there is no denying that Tom King has had an impact in the state. King was the driving force behind last year’s successful U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit to overturn the state’s century-old concealed carry law. King, who has advocated against new laws passed in response to that ruling, has criticized Gov. Kathy Hochul, saying she changes her views on guns – she received an A rating from the NRA while in Congress – to suit her audience.
Morgan Hook leads Albany efforts for one of the state’s top communications firms. Hook has found himself at the center of SKDK’s Albany efforts, including a $2.6 million media contract for the Greater New York Hospital Association – the largest client payment to a lobbyist in 2021. Other SKDK clients have included the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association and New Yorkers United for Justice. Hook previously led communications for SUNY and was communications director for former Gov. David Paterson.
As partner and chair of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron’s state government relations group, Steve Malito advocates for his firm’s clients with the Executive Chamber, the state Legislature and state agencies. Malito represents nonprofits, universities, social services agencies and trade associations as well as clients in banking, insurance and transportation. Since becoming chair of his firm’s cannabis group, Malito has provided legal assistance on licensing and regulatory compliance to key players in New York’s emerging cannabis market. He recently joined the board of governors at the Touro Law Center.
Robert Rodriguez presides over a catch-all agency that tackles local government, downtowns, consumer protection, professional licensing, cemeteries, coastal issues and boxing regulation. Rodriguez, a former East Harlem Assembly member, has been focused on economic development and has promoted his department’s role with a new Albany community market; downtown revitalization in Cortland, Far Rockaway, Johnson City, Geneva and Penn Yan; Lake Ontario waterfront grants; and consumer fraud protection. He also created a partnership between the state Department of State and seven universities to confront climate change and climate justice.
As an advocate for its 2.6 million members in New York, AARP is a powerhouse in Albany that’s able to draw attention to and generate support for its ambitious policy agenda. Beth Finkel is the longtime state director of the organization, which has championed legislation protecting hospital patients, residents of assisted living facilities and victims of predatory lending. Lately, Finkel and her team have been focused on prescription drug costs, adequate pay for home care workers, nursing home oversight and utility rates.
Dickinson & Avella, a top-tier lobbying firm in Albany, works with clients in a wide range of sectors, including technology, criminal justice, voting and elections, sports and entertainment, and finance. In recent years, the firm has also focused on two areas of significant growth in New York thanks to legislative and regulatory changes: cannabis and casinos. The firm is led by Michael Avella, a former state Senate counsel when Republicans were in power, and Christina Dickinson, who served as deputy counsel for the state Senate Democratic conference.
Jay Jacobs now faces perhaps the toughest test of his long political career: showing that last year’s Republican gains were just a fluke and not the state going from deep blue to having a tinge of purple. Jacobs has faced criticisms from progressives over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s closer than expected victory over former Rep. Lee Zeldin in last year’s gubernatorial race and GOP wins in a number of pivotal congressional seats. There’s no love lost between Jacobs and progressives, with the far left wanting Jacobs out and Jacobs firing back. For now, at least, the governor still has Jacobs’ back.
The state Legislature not only has people of color leading each chamber, but it has steadily grown more diverse overall in recent years. And nonwhite lawmakers have caucuses that they can join to celebrate and champion various demographic groups. Assembly Member Karines Reyes, who is Afro Latina, took the reins from Assembly Member Maritza Davila this year as chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, which is known for holding the popular Somos conferences. Assembly Member Michaelle Solages, who is Haitian American, has since 2020 led the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, which hosts an annual conference in Albany. The Asian Pacific American Task Force, formed in 2017, is co-chaired by Assembly Members Grace Lee – the Legislature’s first Korean American woman – and Zohran Mamdani, who grew up in Uganda and was the first South Asian man in the Assembly.
A key player in New York’s health policy battles is the New York Health Plan Association, which represents managed health care plans, prepaid health service plans and managed long-term care plans in the state. As the association’s leader since 2018, Eric Linzer has long opposed efforts to implement single-payer health care in the state – while supporting other efforts to expand coverage. This year, he teamed up with labor unions and business groups to successfully oppose the Hochul administration’s “pay and pursue” proposal that would have required insurers to immediately pay hospitals before reviewing charges.
As the leaders of New York’s efforts to launch legal cannabis sales statewide, Tremaine Wright and Chris Alexander are presiding over one of the most-watched and most-lobbied industries in the state. The mayor’s office estimates that New York City will see $1.3 billion in sales and 24,000 jobs created in 2023 from legal marijuana. While the state’s cannabis agency has awarded licenses for legal sales, unlicensed marijuana stores have popped up across the city, sending local officials scrambling to address the issue.
Kivvit, the advertising, communications and public affairs firm that’s a powerhouse in New York, announced in May that it is merging with Subject Matter, a Washington, D.C., government relations and advocacy operation, which will be rebranded for now as Subject Matter+Kivvit. The combined firm will have more than 200 employees and offices in Washington, New York, Chicago, New Jersey and Miami. In New York, the firm will continue to rely on the expertise and experience of Tom Meara, who has spent nearly a decade at the firm, including the last three and a half years as managing director.
Susan Arbetter is an award-winning journalist and the host of Spectrum News’ “Capital Tonight,” a nightly news and analysis program covering state politics and policy. Arbetter’s previous experience as the host of WCNY’s monthly show, “Connect NY,” and “The Capitol Pressroom” led to her induction into the Women’s Press Club of New York State Hall of Fame for her contributions to upstate news coverage. Arbetter recently covered the legislative buzz surrounding the state budget, including $1 billion of additional funding designated to address growing concerns regarding the ongoing mental health crisis.
Zack Fink is an Albany-based reporter for Spectrum News NY1, where he covers the statehouse beat and is known for his ability to get scoops and for sharing timely updates on Twitter. With a career spanning over a decade in political journalism, Fink has covered some of Albany’s most significant political events and is now among the most senior reporters in the state Capitol. He is also a co-host of NY1’s “Off Topic/On Politics” podcast, where he dishes on who’s who and what’s what in Albany.
As the secretary for policy and legislative affairs for the Assembly, Jennifer Best brings nearly two decades of state government experience to the table. Since obtaining her master’s degree in public policy at the University at Albany, Best has worked her way up from a committee assistant to her current role. Her legislative analyst skills have been instrumental in the chamber and were key to her recent promotion from deputy secretary to secretary. Eric Katz, who serves in the key role as counsel to the majority, leads the Democratic conference staff and has seen his responsibilities grow following the departure of Shontell Smith.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers failed to reach a deal on some hot-button issues this session, but a compromise was reached on a measure paving the way for the New York Power Authority to spur more renewable energy development. State Sen. Kevin Parker, who chairs the state Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, and Assembly Member Robert Carroll, a fellow Brooklynite, saw their Build Public Renewables Act watered down in the state budget but achieved some of the goals activists sought in shifting renewable energy production away from the private sector.
John Cordo’s impact can be felt from the halls of the state Capitol in Albany to southern Queens. He helped to secure Genting New York LLC’s license to build Resorts World New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. With Resorts World Genting bidding now for a full casino license, Cordo remains heavily engaged in state casino policy. Cordo’s client roster includes the American Kennel Club, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, DirecTV, Uber and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
Tonio Burgos is a veteran government affairs professional who’s well connected in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. His consulting and lobbying firm Tonio Burgos and Associates – now called TBA – has worked for such clients as Amtrak, the Greater New York Hospital Association and Clean Path New York, a major renewable energy project. The Mario Cuomo administration alum has also been a supporter of Gov. Kathy Hochul. TBA’s new Albany director is Timothy Nichols, while Kristen Walsh, who has worked for three U.S. senators from New York, is the firm’s New York president.
CMW Strategies has long been led by the New York City-based Michael Woloz, but his hire of Anthony “Skip” Piscitelli in 2019 solidified its status as a lobbying firm on the rise in Albany. Piscitelli brings more than three decades of experience in city and state government to his work at CMW Strategies, including as director of state legislative affairs for two New York City mayors and a decade at onetime lobbying powerhouse Wilson Elser. Among Piscitelli’s recent clients are Verizon, the Building Trades Employers Association and the Trucking Association of New York.
Matthew Cohen wants you to know that Long Island’s business community is in better shape now than it was a year ago. With many pandemic restrictions gone, he said, new state economic programs, the growth of the offshore wind industry and the East Side Access project will help continue to grow the region’s economy. Cohen praised Gov. Kathy Hochul’s commitment of state funds to renovate Belmont Park, saying it will generate $1 billion in immediate economic impact and a nine-figure ongoing annual impact for Long Island.
Last year, Antonio Delgado traded one capitol for another when he became lieutenant governor – one of two state second-in-commands who are former members of Congress (Denny Heck of Washington is the other). Delgado’s portfolio includes regional economic development, chairing the Hate and Bias Prevention Unit and traveling the state – but as the Times Union noted this month, Delgado is “not a big factor in Hochul’s battles.” As to whether taking his current role can lead to becoming the state’s chief executive: Only three of his predecessors in the past century won an election after serving as lieutenant governor.
Jack O’Donnell, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, is a top consultant in Western New York and in Albany. His firm, which represents corporations, nonprofits, biotech startups and unions, hired Kasirer alum Kara Hughes last year and counts labor expert Michael Cinquanti, former state Senate aide Alec Lewis and Schumer veteran Jim Moore among its staffers. O’Donnell is an expert on impeachment – his book “Bitten By The Tiger” is about William Sulzer, the only New York governor to be impeached – making him a go-to expert when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced the prospect of impeachment.
Since its launch in 2022, the national consulting firm Actum has established itself as a player in Albany. Founded by Mercury veterans Michael McKeon and Rachel Noerdlinger, Actum has helped build support for revising criminal justice reforms, including a successful effort to allow more discretion in imposing bail, and positioned the 5 Borough Housing Movement into a key voice in the housing debate. The firm has hired a number of Mercury alums, including Stefan Friedman, John Tomlin, and Chapin Fay, while also bringing on big names like former Rep. Tom Suozzi and former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. as co-chairs. City & State advisory board member Andrew Kirtzman also joined Actum recently.
Christopher Duryea is the founder of Statewide Public Affairs, a prominent lobbying firm in Albany and across the state. Duryea, who brings more than two decades of experience in New York government, including his tenure as a partner at a Partner at Marsh, Duryea & Associates and as vice president at the Cable Telecommunications Association of New York as well as experience working in the state Assembly and on campaigns for elected office. Among the clients he has served are Comcast, the New York State Restaurant Association and Cresco Labs.
New York civil rights icon Hazel Dukes has received a number of accolades this year, with Hempstead bestowing her with a lifetime achievement award and Roslyn Heights naming a street after her in recognition of her work to end housing discrimination on Long Island. An early supporter of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s bid for a first full term, Dukes presided over Hochul’s inauguration in Albany. She recently lambasted the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to delay the Standard General-Tegna merger.
The go-to lobbyist for the New York State Trial Lawyers Association – traditionally one of the most powerful interests in Albany – is Kenneth Riddett. Riddett, who launched his firm in 2007, was previously counsel to the state Senate Republican conference and a town justice in Guilderland. Among his other recent lobbying clients are major sports leagues – the NBA, MLB and the PGA Tour – as well as DraftKings and FanDuel.
Ed Cox obviously learned a thing or two about political comebacks from his late father-in-law, Richard Nixon. Just four years after being shown the door by the state GOP following a decade as its chair, Cox replaced his successor, Rep. Nick Langworthy, after Langworthy was elected to Congress. Now the real work begins for Cox: All eyes will be on him to see if 2022’s GOP wins were a fluke or if the party has statewide legs after all.
Since 2016, Cathleen Sims has worked in New York City’s largest charter school system, Success Academy Charter Schools, where she is now managing director of policy and external affairs. Sims engaged with state leaders in an effort to expand Success Academy in New York, despite having faced pushback from teachers unions and parents over proposed expansions of co-location schools in an effort to remain under the existing cap on charter schools. Ultimately, Gov. Kathy Hochul approved for 14 city charter schools in the state budget – which Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz deemed “a travesty.”
After two terms of a mayor staunchly opposed to charter schools, James Merriman now has a friend in New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has said he supports the schools. Perhaps more important, however, is the backing of Gov. Kathy Hochul, who had proposed allowing more than 100 additional charter schools in New York City. While the governor only came away with an agreement to add 14 charter schools, Merriman applauded her for making “all of our public schools stronger and better able to meet the complex needs of our students and families.”
The leader of efforts to connect union labor and contractors on projects, Patrick Purcell has his hands full finding projects to connect union labor too. The executive director of the New York State Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, Purcell has shown his support for last year’s successfully passed $4.2 billion environmental bond measure, noting the plan will create new union jobs to build green infrastructure. The measure contained prevailing wage requirements as well as apprenticeship requirements.
As New York’s largest dual gas and electricity provider, National Grid serves 1.9 million gas customers in the New York City area and Long Island, and another 1.6 million electricity customers and 600,000 gas customers in upstate New York. The company made a major pivot recently as it came out in support of an electrification mandate on new buildings. Navigating such policy matters in Albany is Kimberly Ireland, who has worked for National Grid for nearly a decade.
Chris Bombardier launched his own boutique operation, Catalyst Government Relations, over a year ago after holding key roles at a number of high-powered firms, including Mercury, Ostroff Associates and Patricia Lynch Associates. Bombardier’s firm, which has over 20 clients, is growing but aims to remain small and focused while capitalizing on connections in Albany and delivering for top-tier clients while navigating tough issues. Among its recent clients are Charter Communications, Silverstein Properties and Grubhub.
One of the biggest state budget battles this year centered on recent criminal justice reforms, specifically regarding the use of bail and the discovery process in court proceedings. The Legal Aid Society was in the thick of both fights, losing in its bid to block further revisions watering down a 2019 law that limited the use of bail but blocking changes to discovery sought by district attorneys. Public defenders, including Legal Aid’s Kalle Condliffe, were outspoken about the legislative proposals, both behind the scenes and in the press.
Jeffrey B. Schwartz has led the Albany office of the law firm Phillips Lytle LLP since 2021, when he succeeded Richard Honen in the role. A well-known attorney and dealmaker in the Capital Region, Schwartz has been focused on expanding the firm’s footprint in Albany while also continuing his work with startups, tech firms and emerging growth companies. Schwartz is also a member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Upstate New York/Vermont chapter.
New York’s state ethics body has a new name, a new governing structure and a new chair – Frederick Davie. Davie, who’s also the senior strategic adviser to the president at Union Theological Seminary, joined the state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government in August, became interim chair in September and was elected permanent chair in March. He presides over an 11-member commission that is responsible for state lobbying oversight.
Despite initial hopes that Republicans might at least win back enough seats to prevent state Senate Democrats from holding on to a supermajority, the party remains mired in what might be called a superminority in both houses. Democrats – whose supermajorities could allow for a veto override – have further consolidated power by limiting parliamentary maneuvers. State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt and Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay have their bully pulpits, but not much else. For example, Senate Republicans took legal action that pressured Democrats to hold a full Senate floor vote on state chief judge nominee Hector LaSalle – but Democrats still rejected the nomination.