Being a grandparent can be a great gig.
Grandparents get to accompany their grandkids on trips to museums, zoos, amusement parks and even on overseas adventures. Unlike parents, they can coddle the youngsters – giving them gifts, taking them out for ice cream, sneaking them cookies when nobody’s looking – and then cut out if there’s a tantrum or meltdown.
Yet, grandparenting often comes with significant responsibilities as well. Many grandparents play a critical role in raising their grandkids, helping their own grown children survive chaotic workweeks while also imparting life lessons and passing down family and faith traditions.
The individuals highlighted in this feature take it a step further: The wisdom and experience that comes with being a grandparent informs and inspires the work they do to make the world a better place, for their children and grandchildren and for many generations to come. These grandparents are bringing their perspectives to a wide range of policy matters, from combating climate change to expanding child care to protecting workers rights.
We’re pleased to introduce City & State’s Glorious Grandparents in Government – and their grandkids too.
Don’t call New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams grandma – she’s “Nona.” That’s Speaker Nona for everyone except her 11 grandchildren.
“I promised that I would not be called grandma,” Adams says with a laugh. “I feel like Nona, that is a cool way of being called grandma.”
Adams’ grandchildren range in age from two months to 16 years old. She was in the room when her oldest grandchildren were born, an experience she called “indescribable” and “surreal,” noting that she felt like she was witnessing a miracle.
Adams says that being a grandmother has impacted her legislative focus, with a stake in every stage of life in the city. She noted that she and the first female-majority City Council have passed such legislation as doula care and better treatment for maternal and children’s health.
“The phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is so true,” Adams says. “Being a grandparent contributes to how I manage, how I legislate.”
Adams enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, making them laugh, taking them on museum outings and puppeteering. She jokes that grandparents can have all the fun and then send the grandchildren home to their parents.
“Nona is so much fun to be around,” Adams says.
She says her grown children ask who she is now, since Adams as Nona is different from Adams as a mom.
“I tell them I am your children’s Nona,” Adams says. “We get all of the fun. My grandchildren keep me young.”
– John Celock
Barbara Brown didn’t know that becoming a grandparent would change her life.
She had children at a young age, and when her oldest daughter had a child nearly six years ago, she found herself co-parenting a grandson at the age of 37.
“We share responsibilities in raising him, making sure he has good manners, respect and discipline,” Brown says of her grandson, Jace, who’s 5. “It also made me choose a young grandparent’s name. I have him call me GiGi.”
Brown maintains a full schedule as the public affairs coordinator for Assembly Member Taylor Darling while parenting her six other children, including a 3-year-old. Brown will look after both tykes some nights.
“I see how she struggles when school is in session, and she has to work in Manhattan,” Brown says of her daughter. “Sometimes flexible work arrangements can really be helpful. If she had the opportunity to work from home for some days, child care costs would come down.”
Brown often organizes kid-friendly family activities and theme park trips. They’ve been to Splish Splash, Sesame Place and Dorney Park, as well as the fair in Nassau County.
The experience of raising an intergenerational family has brought her daughter closer too.
“She’s able to learn and appreciate the things of being a young mother,” Brown says. “She became more forgiving of me about the decisions I made when I was young. She became more understanding.”
– Aaron Short
Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez was overjoyed when her first grandchild arrived.
Work kept her busy, but she got home every day by 7:30 p.m. to look after him. He had her undivided attention – and no screen time.
“I put him to bed every night for the first year of his life,” she recalls. “I did it for my daughter-in-law to give her time to rest, but it really was for me.”
She also devoted time to her second grandson, but was more lenient about popping in a DVD while babysitting.
“When my son and I were coming back (from the hospital), I told him how proud I was of him as a dad,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Well I had a good teacher.’”
Cortés-Vázquez has spent much of her career advocating for working mothers and children. As New York City’s aging commissioner, she has promoted age-inclusive policies that consider young people’s needs too, which she attributes to her close relationships with her extended family.
“I believe in intergenerational programming,” she says. “I know in my life what it means to have children as well as my cousins and grandnieces around, and I know what that would do for every other family.”
Her grandsons, Michael, 32, and Mark, 27, live in Rochester now. She visits frequently and once scheduled a stopover at Michael’s school when she was a member of the state Board of Regents.
“Distance has not made a difference in our lives,” she says. “Intimacy and closeness is there for all times.”
When Sid Davidoff became a grandfather, he wanted to give his grandchildren opportunities he never had.
Davidoff and his wife, Linda Stasi, have taken grandsons Marco, 16, Dean, 14, Reed, 10, to the Dominican Republic, Alaska and Africa. They’ve been to zoos too, but seeing animals in the wild is very different.
“I wanted to let them see the world before it changes drastically and see their first elephant and their first whale,” Davidoff says. “When you see giraffes walking through the road, you see it through their eyes too.”
The Davidoff Hutcher & Citron co-founder never had children of his own, but the experience has been thrilling. His stepdaughter lives in the same complex, making it easy to take the kids to school, basketball practice or art class when their parents are away.
“They show up for breakfast if they want pancakes,” he says. “Work has always been first with me no matter what happens, but I’m scheduling somewhat around their schedule too.”
He has brought them to his office and even to City Hall, where he and Linda were married.
“It was the first marriage that de Blasio performed, and all three grandkids were over his desk with crayons and ran around City Hall,” he says.
But Davidoff doesn’t necessarily see the trio following in his footsteps.
“Each one is going to be very different,” the former City Hall aide says. “They will have an incredible education and whatever is available out there in this world, they’re going to have their choice.”
Maria DeJesus knew having a grandchild would be a blessing, but she didn’t know how transformative it would be.
“It personally and spiritually, morally changes your perspective to always look at that child with immense and deep love,” she says. “Everything that you can do with him is a blessing.”
The nonprofit official appreciates spending time with her grandson, Jozea Mateo, 7, without having the same responsibilities as a parent. They live together with her son in Queens, where they attend church, get ice cream and enjoy the neighborhood.
“As a parent, you have a schedule, but you don’t have a book to teach them how to treat your child,” she says. “It’s something that comes more naturally with the grandchild.”
Sometimes DeJesus still has to teach life lessons. When her grandson came home from school and said he had a bad day at school, she discovered the teacher had put the class on timeout because they weren’t listening.
“I said, ‘It wasn’t punishment, it was for you to learn,’” she says. “You should socialize when you have the time, not when you’re being taught lessons. You have to pay attention.”
DeJesus’ grandson has visited Grand St. Settlement several times and is beginning to understand her work is about helping people. She would enjoy it if he gave back to his community too, no matter what career he chooses.
“He likes helping people. He’s a very humble guy,” she says. “I can see him being a teacher or a career where he shares knowledge.”
John Durso has spent years fighting to raise wages and improve working conditions. Having grandchildren underscored that it’s his responsibility to ensure that Long Island becomes a better place as they grow up.
“There’s only a finite time we have to effectuate change,” Durso says. “Whatever influence I have, I want to bring affordable housing here and good jobs here, not just my grandchildren but people in the community.”
The Long Island labor leader, who represents grocery store, retail and health care workers, has seven grandchildren: Jack, 13, Nicole, 11, Charli, 9, Taylor, 8, Hannah, 7, Dean, 6, and Connor, 5. Since most are in the tri-state area, Durso and his wife help with babysitting and split youth sports viewing duties. In the summer, Durso’s family gathered at Lake George for swimming and barbecue sessions.
Their time together helps Durso appreciate how his grandchildren are growing up.
“It’s such a satisfying feeling to see that you’ve played a part in the next part of their life,” he says. “You see the relationships they have with their parents too.”
Durso will encourage his grandchildren to get involved in public service when they’re older, but for now, he wants them to understand the importance of labor to the community.
“During COVID, people in supermarkets and health care took care of us,” he says. “They couldn’t afford to stay home, they had to be out there taking care of the public. It was the labor movement that held things together during tough and trying days.”
When Beth Finkel became a grandparent a decade ago, she felt both fulfilled personally and thrilled for her own children.
“My husband says that grandchildren are the dividends for not killing your kids while they’re growing up,” she says. “My job is to be supportive and loving and admiring. The grandchildren always know their grandparents were wild about them.”
In her other job, the AARP New York director has advanced policies in the state related to grandparenting and foster care. Finkel helped change a state law about 15 years ago so that grandparents and extended family members would be notified if a child were removed from their parents.
“You had grandparents living in Brooklyn and children living in Buffalo, and they wouldn’t know their children were going into foster care,” she says. “Had they known, they would have raised their hands and taken those children in.”
When she isn’t helping the state’s seniors, Finkel finds time to babysit her five grandchildren – Ashley, 11, Evan, 8, Henry, 10, Hannah, 9, Hazel, 2 – and often attends their innumerable basketball, baseball and gymnastics competitions. It’s easy to keep tabs on them since they all live in Manhattan.
“We try to show up to everything we’re invited to,” Finkel says.
Finkel has found herself reflecting on multiple generations of her family while she has been caring for the youngest generation.
“I have great role models,” she says. “And seeing my children as parents was an incredible pleasure.”
When Gov. Kathy Hochul became New York’s first female elected governor, it was a milestone that women of all ages could celebrate – including her young granddaughter.
“That was an amazing day, and I was so proud Sofia could be there as I took the oath of office,” Hochul says of her swearing-in ceremony in January. “Even though she was just a toddler at the time, I hope that memory sticks with her.”
Hochul doesn’t see Sofia as often as she would like, though she and her parents do get to Albany every few months. A swing and sandbox have been installed at the Executive Mansion, and Sofia was a special guest at the annual Easter Egg Roll.
Hochul says she understands how circumstances have improved for working parents, but also how much still needs to change. She says her experiences as a mother and a grandmother inform her efforts to make New York better for families – “whether that’s making housing more affordable, improving the continuum of care for mental health, making record investments in our public schools or expanding paid family leave.” The governor, who had to put her career on hold when she had kids, also touted new investments in child care in the state.
“What ultimately matters to parents and grandparents is ensuring we leave the world safer, healthier and cleaner for the next generation,” Hochul says. “As governor, that’s my responsibility to the people of New York, and as a grandma it’s my responsibility to Sofia.”
– Jon Lentz
The farther John Khani travels to meet his grandchild, the closer they become.
When his daughter gave birth to his grandson, Darius Luca, 15 months ago in Brazil, he flew to visit. Then they came to New York during Christmas, giving Khani an opportunity to introduce him to Central Park and other sights. Khani relies on FaceTime to watch his grandson’s development in the meantime.
“There’s no choice in terms of making the world a little closer,” he says. “The physical distance can create issues if you can’t physically be there more than a few times a year.”
A lifelong educator, Khani has long sought to improve New York’s public schools. One former student became a deputy chancellor of the Department of Education. Another plays for the New York Liberty.
“If you look at your students as your kids, both sides work out better,” he says. “The child will do better, and you’ll feel better about your kids making it.”
When he was a principals union leader, he fought for a universal food program that ensures each child receives breakfast and lunch at school.
“It’s as simple as mom and apple pie,” he says. “How can we not be in favor of getting nutrition for our kids?”
Another grandchild is on the way next year. Khani hopes both absorb the values he has learned.
“I want them to believe in fairness, equity, justice, liberty and democracy,” he says, “but if you don’t have all of them, you have none of them.”
Being a judge and being a grandparent have at least one thing in common – you need a lot of patience.
Jeffrey Lebowitz treats grandparenting his 17-month-old grandson, Aaron Moses, as another opportunity at parenting, only one in which he is more forgiving of himself and his offspring.
“When you’re a parent, you’re younger and trying to make your mark, so I felt I didn’t spend as much time as I should have,” he says. “Now I’m getting another chance to try to make up for that.”
Lebowitz spent two decades on the bench in state courts before joining Abrams Fensterman. He endeavored to be a fair judge and to understand defendants’ backgrounds, whether in criminal proceedings or medical malpractice cases.
“I can’t say how many people I met on the street thanked me for giving them another chance,” he says. “Being a judge can have its ups and downs, but when people acknowledge you tried to help them, that’s one of the better moments.”
These days, Lebowitz babysits his grandson, watching baseball and football games with him and playing in Forest Hills, where they both live.
Lebowitz took his daughter to court when she was growing up. His daughter and son-in-law are both lawyers, but he’d rather his grandson pursue a career path further down the No. 7 train.
“I’ve already got him playing with the Mets,” he says. “I got him a bat, and I have a picture of him in his Mets hat and jersey. He looks like he’s in a windup.”
Much of Frank Marino’s grandparenting responsibilities revolve around two family activities – swimming and eating.
During the summer, Marino and his wife, Pat, welcome their children and grandchildren – Tessa Grace, 16, John Luke, 14, James Francis, 13, Juliana, 12, Colette, 10, and Chloe, 9 – for pool parties at their Suffolk County house. When the weather cools, the Marinos host Sunday dinners at their home in Westchester County twice a month, with a spread of cheeses and Italian meats, a pasta course and a meat course. The meals can last more than five hours.
“It’s a long day,” he says. “We’ve gotten to a point where we overdo it, but the kids tend to love that.”
The public relations guru is used to hosting his extended family. Two of his kids stayed with him briefly when their children were born. Now, they live in Westchester, making it convenient for Marino to take grandkids to theater rehearsals and basketball practice.
He’s become more protective of his grandchildren than his children. “You didn’t see as much in the world when you’re younger, but as you grow older, you worry more,” he says. “We don’t take anything for granted.”
Marino doesn’t have to explain his profession since his grandkids have an intuitive understanding of digital media. His oldest grandson even started a TikTok account, amassing 20,000 followers.
“This whole generation has become communicators of sorts since the earliest age,” he says. “This age group is tuned into social issues, climate change and equal rights, and they’ll be voting soon.”
Edna Wells Handy Peeples cherishes being a grandparent in a large intergenerational family.
“I see my role being a backstop, so there will be no backsliding,” she says. “I want them to be part of the larger social community and ensure that they become people who care.”
The management consultant, One Brooklyn Health board member and former New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services commissioner has sought to instill an understanding of her family’s history and faith through all five grandchildren: Shamar, 32, Kayla, 28, Maya, 26, Makayla, 14, Jessica, 8, and Jason, 4.
That means Sunday trips to Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, where she extolls the values of volunteerism while serving as an usher, the pervasiveness of hunger and racial inequities that lead to homelessness.
“We saw a group of men standing on the street near church, and my granddaughter wanted to know what they’re doing,” she recalls. “We started talking about the barriers to work and being part of the opportunity to provide work for people.”
This summer, she also accompanied her grandchildren to several events marking the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, whose artists are now the community’s elders.
“What they said was this is me, ‘If I want to wear my hair like this, this is me. If you don’t dig it, that's your problem,’” she recounts. “I was under the shadow of the 1950s and ’60s, but I tell my grandchildren whatever you want to be, give expression to your creativity, do it.”
The experience of becoming a grandparent was not what Laurie Petersen expected.
There weren’t many boys in Petersen’s family, so when her daughter had a grandson, Parker, and moved in with her for a few years, she had to figure out “boy things.” That included a lot of building, reading science books and the “Magic Tree House” series, and playing video games like Minecraft.
“I learned that boys are as easy to relate to as girls as babies,” Petersen says. “I definitely took on the role of becoming a teacher of how the world works, and there are so many things to do with a kid in the city that are free.”
The nonprofit official has exposed her 8-year-old grandson to different cultures. Parker now lives in New Jersey, but she takes him to book fairs, open streets programs and art exhibits when he visits. They even attended a march for abortion rights in Brooklyn.
“That was super powerful, and he was carrying a poster,” she says. “Whether he totally understood what was going on, I was able to help him understand that everyone has a right to their own bodies.”
Petersen can envision her grandson entering politics or doing something to benefit the welfare of animals. Whatever he does, she hopes he remembers the lessons she’s imparted.
“I had him sit with me through John Lewis’ funeral,” she recalls. “I was trying to plant seeds so that someday he’ll remember he watched that with his grandma.”
When Vincent Pitta’s daughter went into labor at Richmond Community Medical Center three years ago, he held his breath.
It was a troubled delivery. His daughter was taken to Mount Sinai because the baby’s umbilical cord cut off oxygen. Thankfully, everything turned out OK.
“It was a frightful couple of days, but by the time we got her home, I was floating on air,” Pitta recalls. “I have to thank God for everything.”
The Staten Island lobbyist runs one of New York City’s premier government affairs shops with deep ties to the Adams administration and a client roster predominated by organized labor, including unions for police officers, prison guards and ferry workers. Being a grandparent has reinvigorated Pitta to help working people while he still can.
“My principal job is to get union members the best working conditions and benefits as possible so they can not only survive but thrive and do good,” he says.
Pitta has two grandchildren now, Josephine Rae, 3, and Juliette Mary, 2 months, who live about a mile away. He FaceTimes with them three times a day and takes them to the zoo, the beach and pools, as well as his office.
He has started to plot a succession plan so he can spend even more time with them (his son is in the practice).
“It’s been wonderful and life changing for me,” he says. “I’ve always valued family, this is something very, very important and has made me value family even more.”
When Patrick Purcell was younger, he would take his kids with him to picket lines, rallies and labor marches – including efforts to keep Walmart out of New York City when he was at the grocery workers union.
But he won’t bring his granddaughter, Amelia, along just yet. She’s only 3.
“She’s a little young for that right now,” Purcell says. “It’s more about me doing things with her and being in her world than having her in my world, and trying to be positive.”
Purcell has forged a bond with Amelia by reading books, drawing together, and taking her to the aquarium and the zoo. He won’t miss her weekend soccer practices. This summer, their family spent a week at North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
“You just want to have as close a relationship as you can with them, and I just cherish it, it means the absolute world to me,” he says. “As you get older, you realize you don’t have time to miss it, you have to be there. It’s not about tomorrow, it’s about today.”
Purcell thinks about tomorrow too. With another grandchild on the way, he’s concerned about the impact of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on abortion and health care.
“She does have a right to her life and her privacy, and I want to make sure that’s there for her,” he says. “For some things, I don’t think I’ll be here – but my granddaughter will, and that gets you in the game of fighting for what’s right.”
MarySol Rodriguez’s mother had more than 60 grandchildren, and when she finally had her own, she fully understood her mother’s unconditional love for them.
“My mother’s grandchildren were her whole world,” she says. “My mother used to say you love your children, but you love your grandchildren more. It brings a different joy to my heart and soul.”
The veteran political adviser lives in the same Bronx cooperative as her daughter and her granddaughter Nova, 1. She takes her for one day a weekend, and when she isn’t jetting up to Albany or running a boroughwide political campaign (she advised Adolfo Carrión Jr. and Ruben Diaz Jr.), she can pick up her granddaughter on a whim.
Rodriguez has slipped into the role of family matriarch and hosts gatherings for her extended relatives on the holidays. Last year, her children threw a surprise 60th birthday for her as she found out that she was going to be a grandmother. This year, the family got together to celebrate her granddaughter’s first birthday with a huge blowout.
“The theme was ‘Numberblocks,’ a cartoon show on Netflix about numbers,” she says. “She loves the music to it. Maybe she’ll become a finance person.”
Rodriguez has found herself thinking about the world she wants to leave behind for her grandchild.
“It’s a journey that adds on layers of more awareness to how much you really want to impact the lives of Black and Latino communities,” she says.
In 2021, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer finally achieved his dream of becoming majority leader. A few years prior, another enduring wish came true for the Brooklyn politician: becoming a grandfather.
In November 2018, Schumer’s daughter Jessica welcomed a son, Noah Melvin Schumer-Shapiro. In June 2022, Jessica gave birth to Eleanor Alys – named after Eleanor Roosevelt, another legendary New York Democrat.
In February, Schumer’s other daughter, Alison, and her wife welcomed a son, Henry. Before Henry was born, Schumer said that passing the Respect for Marriage Act meant his grandchild would “live in a world that will respect and honor their mothers’ marriage.”
Indeed, having grandchildren has brought into focus how important it is to make the world a better place – whether it’s combating climate change through the Inflation Reduction Act or shaping Schumer’s approach to artificial intelligence.
“I enjoy babysitting them, family dinners, going to the park, the botanical gardens, to street fairs, and I enjoy playing tee ball with Noah now that he’s old enough,” says Schumer, who babysits at least once a month – but otherwise “can go home when they cry!”
Schumer has said that he sees himself as a “grandpa” more than the Yiddish “zayde,” but it’s not entirely up to him.
“I have a 4-year-old, and he calls me ‘Grandpa Da,’” Schumer said on ABC’s “The View” this year. “I think he thinks it’s short for Da Da. But that’s what he has been calling me all along but I guess it stuck.”
Every Friday night, Stuart Shorenstein welcomes his two grandchildren, Odin, 11, and Malina, 9, to their Upper West Side home for takeout, Scrabble and a sleepover.
The weekly bonding experience thrills Shorenstein, and it also gives their parents a night off. And it helps his daughter realize all the things Shorenstein and his wife did for her when she was a baby.
“It’s a great assistance to our daughter and son-in-law who haven’t been through it,” he says.
“Their lives are as chaotic as ours were at their age. We had a lot of help from our parents when our daughter was born too.”
The Cozen O’Connor executive has embraced his new responsibilities, like taking his grandson to soccer games and his granddaughter to gymnastics, arts classes and piano recitals.
“We’re the cheering section as they discover their talents,” he says. “Whether these are passing fads or future careers, I don’t know. I would be very happy if she were an artist and delighted if our grandson were a star soccer player.”
Shorenstein makes sure his grandchildren see the world beyond New York. They’ve traveled to Israel, France and Portugal together. This summer, they’re visiting cities in Japan.
The trips have brought them closer together and helped Shorenstein impart his family’s traditions and values.
“It’s life’s ultimate goal to pass the legacy of your life onto generations to come,” he says. “We don’t live forever, but we have a family that can continue our traditions, values and name.”
Before Frank Williams Jr. became a grandfather six years ago, he spent his career working with children in Westchester County who don’t have father figures in their lives. Being a grandparent made him closer to his young clients.
“When a child says to me he hasn’t seen his father or grandfather, there’s a sense of empathy and sensitivity with these young men,” Williams says. “Having someone who is a teacher and instructor who can provide mentorship from a male perspective and understand the challenges in how to navigate life is critical.”
Williams, who has two daughters, embraced the opportunity to become a father again when his grandson, John Derryhill, was born. He wrestles with him and takes him to the park and to martial arts classes. Williams wants to impart the values of his parents, who were active in the Civil Rights movement, and his grandfather, a farmer in the Jim Crow South.
“I’m trying to give my grandson the same thing they gave me – discipline, kindness, compassion, love for people and a work ethic,” he says. “I want him to know that people come in all colors and backgrounds, and they’re no different from him.”
Williams even co-founded Grandpas United, a New York-based organization that matches retirees with young people in need of a mentor. Over 100 grandfathers in White Plains participate in the program.
“Grandpas are living longer, and many have a legacy through the Civil Rights period and Vietnam War that they can share with these kids,” Williams says.
When Stephen Younger’s first grandson was born six years ago, he and his wife decided to get an apartment nearby in Maryland. When his youngest grandchild was born in Nashville last year, they got another rental there.
Younger credits his wife’s fondness for a grandmother who lived upstairs from her for their real estate decisions.
“She wanted that relationship where she would go to you naturally as opposed to grandparents that came and visited,” he says. “We would not be as much a part of their lives if we didn’t have a place right by them.”
Younger now keeps close with his grandchildren – Frank, 6, Mac, 4, Thea, 2, and James, 10 months – anywhere. During the COVID-19 pandemic, his offspring sequestered together Younger and his wife, giving the commercial litigator a new appreciation on child care.
“I understand the demands on parents after I had the luxury of not having to focus on it as much as when we had kids,” says Younger, whose wife stayed home with their kids.
Now, Younger works Fridays in Maryland so he can spend a three-day weekend with three of his grandkids, watching movies, playing puzzles or going to the zoo. In the summer, he welcomes the Younger crew to Maine, where they check the lobster traps or hit the town pool.
He knows he can spoil them in a way he can’t spoil his own kids.
“Sometimes you spoil them with kindness,” he says. “I have much more tolerance with them. Every time I spend with them is special.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Stuart Shorenstein's title at Cozen O'Connor, the article has been updated with the correct title. This article has also been updated with the name of MarySol Rodriguez' firm.
NEXT STORY: The 2023 NYC Labor Power 100