Partisan attacks. Sordid scandals. Gridlock and dysfunction at every turn.
It’s enough to make constituents give up on government.
But dig a little deeper, and you’ll encounter a younger generation of advocates, entrepreneurs as well as elected and appointed officials using the levers of government as they strive to form a better society.
The annual New York City 40 Under 40 puts a spotlight on a remarkable cohort of these Rising Stars from across the five boroughs who are putting their heart and soul into an array of causes. These idealistic individuals – selected from hundreds of nominations – include lawmakers shaking up the status quo, attorneys giving a voice to the voiceless and activists rising up to combat climate change, inequality and other pressing societal ills. Apart from their records of achievement, they share one unifying characteristic – all of them are under the age of 40.
We’re pleased to introduce the 2023 New York City Rising Stars.
Profiles written by Amanda Salazar and Erica Scalise
Dev Awasthi’s lobbying job at the top government relations firm Kasirer isn’t exactly what the general public might think.
“It isn’t all waiting in the lobby like the typical lobbyist does and hounding them and bothering them,” he says. “A lot of the time, the job is relationship building and finding those mutual relationships.”
Awasthi represents such clients as Mount Sinai and NewYork-Presbyterian, the Hotel Association of New York City and Google Cloud, assisting them on legislative engagement and building connections.
For example, when a massive fire in a Bronx apartment building killed 19 people in 2022, the surviving residents needed places to stay. The local New York City Council member contacted Awasthi, who in turn connected them with the Hotel Association of New York City. The survivors were immediately housed at hotels.
“A lot of these companies just don’t know who to reach out to or who to communicate with or how to get in front of someone with a great idea or product that can help drive the city forward,” Awasthi says, “and so that’s a lot of what my job is.”
He started at Kasirer as a legal fellow during the coronavirus pandemic, then was hired part time, then full time – and has since received three more promotions.
Awasthi previously held a number of city government and campaign roles. He was a staffer for Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign and Barry Grodenchik’s City Council campaign, Grodenchik’s deputy chief of staff and a community liaison for then-City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
– Amanda Salazar
Many young professionals bounce around between employers and fields during the early years of their careers. Betty Campiz is not one of those people.
Campiz has been working at Ponce Bank since she was hired as a teller at the Latino-founded financial institution in 2010, right after graduating from Fairfield University, where she studied international business.
“This was meant to be kind of my interim while I found the ‘ideal’ job, and they quickly saw that I had a lot of hunger for growth and that I was looking to accomplish so much more,” she says. “And because I was exposed to great leaders within this organization, I was given opportunities for growth, which kept me here.”
Throughout her several positions with the bank, Campiz has worked on many important projects. The one she’s proudest of was creating a contact center to service customers, and during the same period she helped spearhead a major sales program that cultivated a sales culture and generated new deposit products.
As senior vice president at the Bronx-based bank, Campiz now implements innovative systems and technologies for clients and staff.
For the past four years, she has been integrating cloud-based Salesforce software. She has been working with several platforms from Salesforce, including CRM Analytics and Financial Services Cloud.
“Our primary mission is to really help the underserved,” Campiz says. “That was what this bank was founded on, so it makes me really feel very proud that I get to take that mission to the next level.”
Louis Cholden-Brown became the United Federation of Teachers’ special counsel in July after years in city government.
Cholden-Brown was a community board member while completing two bachelor’s degrees, one at Columbia University in urban studies and the other from the Jewish Theological Seminary in modern Jewish studies.
He studied for his Fordham University law degree during the evenings while focusing on worker rights for then-New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. After graduating, he became Johnson’s counsel. Then, he served as New York City Comptroller Brad Lander’s special counsel for policy and innovation.
“My biggest orientation has always been establishing the city and the city’s powers as a bastion of progressivism, and that always means fighting and innovating for an aggressive view of what we can do to uplift people,” says Cholden-Brown, who’s also a district leader. “I think that my goal at this point really remains to continue to educate people and to collaborate on seeing that throughout the city.”
At UFT, Cholden-Brown furthers the union’s political and legislative agenda while supporting its members.
“I think it’s important for people to appreciate how the members that we represent in our schools, our hospitals, or elsewhere are really caregivers, community providers,” he says. “All of these are institutions that extend beyond just the workplace for the teachers and nurses and others, but obviously play a very important role in our city as places of education, as places of health, as community institutions, as well, for parents and loved ones.”
It was in law school that Kerry Cooperman became committed to “supporting vulnerable communities and victims of injustice” – an imperative that still fuels his work today.
Cooperman is Stroock’s director of pro bono, leading the law firm’s national pro bono legal service program. As a litigator and as co-leader of Stroock’s nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations practice, he has also worked on real estate and financial services cases, representing developers, landlords, commercial tenants and banks.
Cooperman’s pro bono and nonprofit work touches on education, immigration, tenants rights, domestic violence, anti-racism and LGBTQ+ rights. He carries out the mission via partnerships with community organizations and by providing support to Stroock attorneys representing clients for free.
“These are cases on behalf of economically disadvantaged and otherwise underserved individuals, families, organizations and communities, largely in the cities in which Stroock has offices, but also in other locations domestically and even internationally,” he says.
His own pro bono expertise is in special education, which he started working on while in law school at the University of Maryland and New York University.
At Stroock, he’s proud of his work with the Refugee Assistance Task Force to support Afghan families fleeing the country after the Taliban’s takeover a couple years ago. The task force found people safe places to stay and temporary immigration and permanent immigration status.
“I want to continue to explore, find, seize and create opportunities to have a positive impact on underserved individuals, families and communities in my law practice,” Cooperman says.
From working on numerous white-collar cases to the trials and convictions of the 2016 Chelsea bomber and the 2017 Times Square bomber, Shawn G. Crowley has forged a remarkable career taking on high-profile cases. But the powerhouse attorney says she’s never done looking for the next biggest thing.
Most recently, Crowley represented E. Jean Carroll in her sexual assault and defamation trial against former President Donald Trump, resulting in a $5 million jury verdict in Carroll’s favor.
“I’m pretty proud of this case,” she says. “Not just because it’s the first time Trump has been found guilty in court, but because we were able to help a woman, who was really seriously injured 25 years ago, get justice from one of the most powerful and scary people.”
Crowley says that at Kaplan Hecker & Fink, she knows she’ll be supported taking on ambitious and creative cases.
Her time clerking for a judge in the Southern District of New York led her in this direction. She gained experience working on major terrorism cases, including the trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and two Al Qaeda members who were part of an embassy bombing in the 1990s.
This led her to apply to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she became a national security terrorism prosecutor and, eventually, co-chief of both the Narcotics Unit as well as the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.
“It’s really never too late in your career to try to tackle something new,” Crowley says of her diverse case profile.
– Erica Scalise
Michael Czaczkes has long been deeply interested in public policy and efforts to support underrepresented populations in New York City.
At the Vera Institute of Justice, he does just that, driving media strategy and overseeing message development and media relations for the criminal justice advocacy organization.
“What’s extremely rewarding is the ability to be working on policy changes that can impact millions of people,” he says.
The institute is now advocating for the passage of federal legislation that mandates the government provide lawyers to anyone in a deportation proceeding who can’t afford their own representation. Last year, Vera was able to secure more funding for legal services for immigrants facing deportation in New York state. While Czaczkes doesn’t work directly on these policies, he helps make Vera’s stances known to the public.
Previously, Czaczkes was a senior vice president at The Hayes Initiative, where he collaborated with the National September 11th Memorial and Museum on the memorial for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“The goal is to continue to be able to support and work with organizations, professionals and elected officials who are doing work and helping to create change, whether it’s being on their staff, whether it’s working on a political campaign, whether it’s being a consultant,” Czaczkes says. “I think one of the things that gets me to work every day is actually caring about the issues that I’m working on and being able to start seeing change.”
Conservation, biodiversity preservation, STEM education and reducing single-use plastics – all of these matters are just part of an average day’s work for Christopher Durosinmi, who is the director of government and community affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The organization runs New York City’s five zoos, and it also does a lot of national and international work surrounding conservation of species in the wild and reducing climate change.
Durosinmi is in charge of the organization’s policy, fundraising and community engagement.
“The work that we’re doing – whether it’s reducing single-use plastics, delving into offshore wind, workforce development – it really gives a real opportunity for us to prevent the negative impacts of climate change,” he says. “A lot of the solution is awareness, access and opportunity.”
Prior to working for the Wildlife Conservation Society, Durosinmi was a Brooklyn community coordinator at the New York City Department of Education during the rollout of the Pre-K for All initiative.
He got his start in the public sector while in high school, as a City Council aide. He then ended up working for the city comptroller and council speaker before spending six years as a liaison in the state Senate.
His work at WCS is still linked to politics, as he works on policy agendas and interacts with lawmakers and public agencies.
“I’ve been in politics so long and it keeps me going – policy, politics and, most importantly, the capacity and ability to help people,” Durosinmi says. “I’m very open as to where that will lead me.”
One time, Simon Elkharrat walked through Times Square with his wife and stumbled across a building he was working on. He stopped their walk and explained all the details of the building to her.
“It was boring to her, but for me to be able to really see and feel the things that you’re working on, it makes my enjoyment of what I do just so much greater,” he says.
Elkharrat is a commercial real estate lawyer who represents owners, developers, financial institutions and institutional investors in matters regarding financings, acquisitions, dispositions, leasing, joint ventures and development.
“It’s always amazing to just be a part of the ever-changing skyline of New York City,” Elkharrat says. “Being able to work on a bunch of different transactions that I’ve worked on over time in New York that’s really made or will make New York just the ever evolving city that it is.”
His contributions to the skyline are all across Manhattan, including work with Brookfield at the Grace Building, 225 Liberty St. and One New York Plaza.
Before coming to Fried Frank, Elkharrat was an undergraduate student at New York University and a law student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. While in law school, he was a summer associate at Fried Frank – and he’s been there ever since.
“This is really not a reflection of me, it’s a reflection of the group around me and the support that I have,” Elkharrat says of being recognized for his accomplishments.
Steven Ettannani is improving connectivity for New Yorkers, after years of working in the public sector.
He got his start right after graduating from Wake Forest University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Ettannani became an intern for then-Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, which turned into a nearly six-year career in her office. He held several roles on her staff, culminating as McCarthy’s legislative director.
From there, he became a senior legislative adviser in the New York City Office of Federal Affairs, advocating for the city in Washington, D.C. He then spent more than seven years at the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, where he handled policy and community affairs.
In his current role, Ettannani represents Charter before external stakeholders, including regulatory bodies and elected officials.
“Now at Charter, I’m always thinking about that end user and how we can help them – whether it’s a constituent, a consumer, a subscriber, a future subscriber – and how we can raise them up and make sure that they have all the services that they need,” he says.
His crowning achievement at Charter is growing Big Apple Connect with the Adams administration to provide free basic cable and Wi-Fi to public housing developments. When he started, only four complexes were part of the program. Now, more than 119 are.
“I always will see myself, years from now, in a position where I’m advocating for New Yorkers and for individuals that may not necessarily always have a voice,” Ettannani says.
In his 20s, Favio Germán served in the Peace Corps, volunteering as a rural health volunteer in Paraguay. He worked with community members to build modern bathrooms, family gardens and a community health post, improving residents’ quality of life.
“I saw the impact of having and working with local community groups and working with people,” he says.
Germán has always been focused on his community. As a teenager in the Bronx, he joined neighborhood organizations. As a student at SUNY Old Westbury, he was active in the campus community through a fraternity. But the Peace Corps put him on a path to community-based work.
After returning to New York, Germán earned a master’s degree in nonprofit management from New York University and then worked at Public Works Partners as a consultant for community impact strategies.
He later found a new opportunity: driving community engagement for Attentive Energy, an offshore wind project that will power homes in New York and New Jersey
The work consists of engaging residents on environmental justice, identifying what jobs are needed for the project, finding partners to train locals to do this kind of work, and figuring out how to reach residents with information about the project and the jobs available. He also works with small businesses, governmental agencies and politicians.
“Our climate needs new sources of energy – we can’t keep going down this unsustainable path,” Germán says. “So, I think that clean energy, and offshore wind specifically, is going to provide a lot of solutions that we need for our future.”
KPMG is endeavoring to build bridges and grow relationships with New York City-certified minority- and women-owned business enterprises. Under Lily Gilbert, who started a program focused on that goal two years ago, diverse partnerships are stronger than ever.
“Our mission is really to think about how we can be more strategic and make sure that we’re doing our part in being diverse and supporting the city,” says Gilbert, who has connected more than 50 MWBEs to KPMG teams. “I’m thinking about how beneficial this program could be nationally.”
She says she has achieved such successes thanks to companywide mentorship and support in her core belief of putting policy into practice.
Gilbert started in the company’s health care space before switching to KPMG’s state and local group, which presented her the opportunity to apply skills developed during her time working on a series of successful Medicaid projects.
Now, her engagement and business development efforts keep her days packed. Gilbert recently worked closely with City & State to co-sponsor a Diversity Summit dedicated to fostering partnerships between state and local government and MWBEs.
A turning point in Gilbert’s career was when she took three months off from the firm to travel through South America and recharge through KPMG’s sabbatical program.
“I wanted to figure out what my path was going to be and reached out to the female leaders at KPMG,” she says. “Sometimes you need to make key decisions to help yourself grow.”
As a mental health counselor, Barry Granek is passionate about unlocking people’s fullest potential as he strives to empower New York City’s most vulnerable residents.
Granek’s beginnings in behavioral care started in supportive employment at St. Luke’s House, where he managed a caseload of 16 people with chronic mental illness and helped clients maintain employment at an 80% success rate.
Next, Granek dove into the clinic and treatment side of mental health care – and he quickly realized how closely regulated the industry is.
“It was really difficult to see my ideas through,” he says of a system he found rigid.
In search of a more innovative approach offering flexible support and proper patient care time, Granek – after holding several positions and working out of a private practice – took a job as senior director of Pathway Home programs at Coordinated Behavioral Care Inc.
After managing 15 Pathway Home programs, he moved into a new role as vice president for systems of care over one year ago. He now manages access to the care team by providing strategic clinical and operational support.Everything Granek does is in service of giving patients from all backgrounds the resources needed to thrive in society.
“I think seeing mental health as more than just the absence of a disease incorporates so much more,” he says. “People do not belong in the hospital, they belong in the community. We not only help people stay in the community, but we help them develop a life that has meaning.”
Nasreen Hussain knows how a career can take an unexpected turn – or two.
Hussain was a workhorse in broadcast television, with stops at News 12, FiOS1 News, Fox 5 and CNBC, until a search for more conventional work hours led her to higher education. Then, an internship at Pace University quickly landed her a position as a student engagement and retention specialist and eventual assistant director for student success at the school. She had settled in, but COVID-19 had other plans.
“Pace let a slew of people go in the height of the pandemic and I lost full-time work,” she recalls. “I applied to between 400 and 500 jobs. I started thinking about PR, Googled boutique firms and landed here.”
Now at Anat, which she joined in 2022, Hussain’s media and communications background lends itself to a job that often requires adaptability and crisis management. Hussain drafts press releases, statements supporting legislation and testimony before the New York City Council. She also manages and produces events, such as the city’s mental health film festival that she helped get off the ground.
Hussain says she’s grateful to have landed at such a supportive PR firm, having come from outside of the industry.
“I work with a phenomenal group of people,” she says. “There are people who’ve been at the firm for years and everyone is always willing to help everyone so the potential growth and learning for all of us is what I most look forward to in the day-to-day.”
Isaac Kastenbaum envisions a world in which all individuals have access to high-quality primary care – and his career has been focused on achieving that objective.
After graduating from Boston University, Kastenbaum took a job at a nonprofit for community health worker programs. His goal at the time was to bridge his interests in information technology, economics, public health and medicine.
He has since gone on to serve as director of business development at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and in various roles at NewYork-Presbyterian, including director of population health and network development. At NewYork-Presbyterian, he managed the hospital’s participation in an initiative that aims to restructure the health care delivery system by reinvesting in Medicaid and reducing avoidable hospital visits.
Then came the opportunity for his next move.
“I worked with Primary Care Development Corp. while at NewYork-Presbyterian and always admired their work,” Kastenbaum says. “It just seemed like a great extension after spending the past 15 years trying to build primary care work.”
Under Kastenbaum, PCDC completed 75 technical assistance projects to improve small health care companies. He spends his days connecting with provider organizations across the country to help solve quality care issues, assist on technical assistance projects and foster new program development.
He’s most looking forward to a new Medicaid waiver slated to improve financial health. “This will lead to billions of dollars in support of primary care practices to improve community care and services,” he says.
Lloyd Lesperance-Banks got his first taste of politics interning on Rafael Espinal’s New York City Council campaign.
Lesperance-Banks had already worked for a small nonprofit that centered on Black immigration policy and had an internship at The Black Institute at the height of the 2014 migrant crisis. But it was his time working alongside Espinal, particularly on the East New York rezoning, that really opened his eyes.
“I was able to meet with developers and really push the agenda on affordable housing,” he says of his work alongside Espinal and the lawmaker’s then-chief of staff, whose role Lesperance-Banks eventually assumed.
“I’m really most proud of the work we did in East New York, especially after it passed,” he says. “The beauty was that I could see the people who were in this neighborhood before actually using the parks and seeing the schools get better and not feel that people were displaced.”
He also pushed urban agriculture policies and helped create the city’s Office of Nightlife during his tenure. He helped pass New York City’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act as well, establishing protections for freelance workers, including the right to a written contract, timely and full payment, and retaliation protection.
Lesperance-Banks then followed Espinal to the Freelancers Union, where he managed the daily operations of a 500,000-member organization and handled member engagement and programming.
Now as a vice president at Bolton-St. Johns, Lesperance-Banks works with myriad clients, focusing on policy, budget, pushing workforce development and affordable housing.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy who served in Afghanistan, Jason Loughran was part of a detachment that received a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism.
“I had a single mom who raised me and we didn’t really have the financial means to do quite a lot,” Loughran says. “The military was the only organization that was not only going to give me a great job, but provide me with the opportunity to afford college.”
Following his military service, Loughran went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College and worked as an adjudication specialist for the state.
Six years and several adminstrative positions later, Loughran currently serves as senior adviser of intergovernmental affairs at the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services. His days center around engaging stakeholders nationwide to improve quality of life for veterans through legislation and program partnerships. Currently, he’s advocating for improved veteran access to home ownership.
During the coronavirus pandemic, he created Mission: VetCheck, an outreach program that offered supportive check-in calls to veterans. The award-winning volunteer service reached over 30,000 households, with resources to support eviction prevention and mental health and wellness.
Loughran says he does this work because he knows no veteran’s transition is truly over.
“For people who’ve served, there are so many days where you’re scared and you can’t help but wonder what your life might be like when you’re done with service,” he says. “I want to encourage folks to make room for veterans.”
“You’re catching me at an interesting time,” says Regina Loveridge, who’s celebrating 20 years with Jewish Association Serving the Aging this year.
Loveridge started with JASA as a clerk and court typist at 19 while still a full-time student. Her diligence and commitment to supporting its clients, particularly older adults on a fixed income, made her a rising star who earned promotions to property manager and eventually lead construction project manager.
Loveridge has coordinated 600 tenant-in-place unit renovations, implemented an enhanced network infrastructure, replaced aging building systems and spearheaded property design upgrade initiatives for the long-term preservation of JASA’s affordable senior housing.
Now as director of housing operations, Loveridge manages 11 affordable housing properties with over 2,400 older adults and residents with disabilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
“We just did this huge scope of work to reinvest into our own properties and into our client base to give them the best version of affordable housing we can provide which has been really special,” she says. “It’s easy to manage buildings and let them get run down, but we want people to have the best living experience and for me that’s been really positive.”
With the opportunity to expand JASA’s portfolio in the coming months, Loveridge is most excited about working with housing developers to create new spaces that speak to the organization’s key mission.
“We really do impact people’s lives,” Loveridge says. It’s about making that human-to-human connection.”
When most children were running around the playground after school, young Stephan Marshall was out on the campaign trail.
“My hunger for politics started in my youth at 11 years old,” recalls Marshall, who worked on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s mayoral campaign while in middle school. “I was sort of looked at as the youth campaign manager unofficially,” he says, chuckling.
As he grew up, Marshall stayed active in social justice movements and went on to become Sharpton’s executive travel aide and eventually his senior adviser – a role he still holds and is deeply passionate about.
“We just had the 60th anniversary for the March on Washington, which I was one of the organizers for. We’re keeping the pressure on as it relates to the response to affirmative action and institutions and states all over the country banning Black studies,” Marshall says. “The country needs to remember, but to know that we cannot go back. The word progressive has been misused. Progressive for who?”With over two decades of social justice work and strategy under his belt, Marshall came to Connective Strategies in 2022 to provide leadership and advise clients on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Having traveled the country to provide aid and deliver resources to the grieving families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner and other victims, Marshall maintains that his focus is to preserve and protect the rights of those disproportionality affected by conscious and unconscious bias.
Rachel McCullough became an organizer out of college, both with Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and in the domestic worker movement.
“I think politically, spiritually and otherwise, I was very clear that New York was my home and I wanted to fight for this city and the people of this city,” says McCullough, a third-generation New Yorker.
McCullough cut her teeth as an organizer on the campaign for the state Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights and has been involved in myriad campaigns to expand democracy, redistribute wealth and hold the police accountable.
She also founded the organization’s electoral arm, The Jewish Vote, which aided in the election of New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, Rep. Jamaal Bowman and dozens of other progressive elected officials.
“A lot of the work that I’m most proud of have been those efforts to elect progressive, insurgent Democrats,” she says.
In addition to spending the past 12 years at Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, McCullough is also the campaign director of New York Caring Majority, a movement of seniors, people with disabilities and caregivers seeking to improve long-term care and the quality of home care jobs.
McCullough spends a lot of her time day-to-day providing leadership development, supervising, training and mentorship.
“This is not work that anyone should engage in out there on their own,” she says. “Find your political home and lock arms with likeminded people who will become some of your best friends and fight like hell.”
When it comes to being chief of staff at a powerful governmental organization employing over 500 staffers, no two days are ever the same for Jennifer Montalvo. At the New York City Economic Development Corp., Montalvo oversees external affairs and public engagement as a chief strategist for President and CEO Andrew Kimball.
“We have over 100 projects that we’re doing at any given moment,” she says. “We really have a great rhythm and there’s never a dull moment.”
Montalvo started her career in the state Department of Health, working as a special assistant to the director of the office of rural health before managing events for the New York Council of Nonprofits in Albany.
Her experience upstate led her to the city, where she worked as a legislative policy analyst under former Speakers Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito. Over the course of her four years at the City Council, she drafted more than 35 resolutions that impacted over a million residents and worked to enact the passage of key legislation, including the IDNYC program, which created a municipal ID card for all New York City residents. She later served as senior deputy director in the Office of Intergovernmental Relations for the New York City Housing Authority.
“I always say this to folks – a great way if you’re trying to break into this space if you’re new to the industry is going to campaign,” Montalvo says. “It’s various campaigns that have really helped me shape my career and skill set.”
As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Rosy Mota grew up understanding how government policies and bias can have detrimental effects on marginalized communities.
Working out of her hometown of Houston as an organizer for Enroll America, Mota educated residents and trained health care workers about the federal Affordable Care Act as an option in Texas’ health care marketplace.
“This is really where I was first able to get a lot of experience speaking with communities and breaking down complex information into simple terms and being able to build coalitions to see how working together builds a big impact,” Mota says.
After working briefly for the Houston Health Department, Mota enrolled at Baruch College for her master’s degree in public education. She joined the school’s urban fellows program and began working at an HIV clinic in Coney Island, helping link HIV-positive patients to proper care.
That’s how Mota was introduced to the Latino Commission on AIDS. She came on as the organization’s director of community health education, managing a variety of local initiatives and building a national HIV health policy agenda before stepping up as the organization’s COVID-19 response director.
“A lot of it is also being able to create and keep trust in the community,” she says. “This is my goal – to bring the most up-to-date information so that people know they can count on us.”
Mota is currently planning the second National Hispanic/Latinx Health Leadership Summit, where Hispanic-serving organizations will convene to collaborate on a health policy agenda for 2024.
Stephanie Olcese once had ambitions of becoming a doctor or social services worker, but eventually she found politics to be the best route toward making systematic change.
“My family was not very political growing up and it was really a whole new world for me,” she says. “I did a lot of internships, from the CUNY Model Senate, to interning under Congressman Gregory Meeks and then Borough President Melinda Katz, all before graduating.”
After college, Olcese joined the staff of then-state Sen. Jose Peralta, where she first gained exposure to nonprofits, delivering constituent services and working directly with the community.
In 2017, she joined the New York City Council as a budget and legislative coordinator, a role in which she oversaw the allocation of $2 million in operating funds and $5 million in capital funding to nonprofit organizations and city agencies.
Olcese is particularly proud of her work with hundreds of nonprofits and engaging directly with communities during this stage of her career.
“I was one of the very few who spoke about why small-business services are important to communities, especially those in the Bronx, and we were able to increase funding in that specific initiative,” she says.
Now at The Parkside Group, Olcese spends her days making sure nonprofits are well equipped and their funding is secured as smoothly as possible.
“They’re all amazing and provide services to communities that need it the most,” she says, “so I really just want to make sure they’re set up for success.”
Watching his mother dedicate her life to civil service, Gregory Palmer was fascinated by politics at a young age.
“I was really focused on studying economic inequality in college, particularly in my senior thesis,” he says.
After interning for professional golfer Suzy Whaley, Palmer took a job as staff assistant to his local representative in Congress, Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut.
But he felt the pull of nearby New York City, where he joined the public affairs firm Geto & de Milly. Palmer says his first year as a junior associate was “somewhat of a crash course” in New York City and state politics and a lesson in thriving under fast-paced conditions.
“Considering we’re a boutique-sized firm, everyone working here is, in a sense, a jack of all trades, so my work responsibilities are pretty wide ranging,” he says. “It comes down to taking in a lot of information and analyzing the angles that are inherent in such a diverse city.”
Palmer’s work has been instrumental in bringing affordable housing to the South Street Seaport and Gowanus. His work on behalf of nonprofit clients ranges from health care policy to post-prison reentry to LGBTQ+ advocacy.
As an avid soccer fan, he’s also working to bring the first soccer stadium to the city.
“We’ve been working on a terrific site at Willets Point,” Palmer says. “I’ve spent the past few years getting to know the team and ins and outs of the proposal to really help get this plan off the ground.”
On Nov. 8, 2022, Steven Raga made history as the first Filipino American elected to a state-level position in New York.
As a lifelong Queens resident, Raga recalls working with nonprofit organizations in Woodside’s Little Manila neighborhood but never seeing any elected officials turn up.
“This is something I always remember. We poured our heart and soul into community events and people didn’t come,” he says. “So now that I’m in this position, I make it my point to show up to all of the organizations that are contributing.”He has served as executive director for the nonprofit Woodside on the Move, as Northeast regional manager for policy and advocacy for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, as chief of staff for Assembly Member Brian Barnwell and as senior strategist for multicultural leadership at AARP. He has also earned multiple academic degrees.
Raga was active in taking a stand against anti-Asian hate crimes as well, hosting and speaking at rallies across New York City during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since taking office, Raga has been working around the clock to represent the district, with a long-term goal of creating more leaders in his community.
“It’s nonstop, all day long. I’m waking up at 6 a.m. and going to sleep at 3 a.m.,” he says. But it’s a labor of love for the lawmaker, who’s planning the first health fair for the district and an outdoor barrio fiesta for October’s Filipino American History Month.
Maria J. Ramirez’s immigrant upbringing has been integral to her professional career. Born in Ecuador and brought to the U.S. at age 5, Ramirez has strived to integrate identity into her work.
At the start of her career in corporate communications, she helped plan the Latin Grammys with entertainment and culture agency Rogers & Cowan PMK. Ahead of the event, she developed a suite of materials in Spanish, including press releases and media alerts for the consumer and entertainment industry.
“I’m proud to raise awareness and develop conversation about what the emerging majority looks like in this country,” she says. “I’m always making sure DEI has a seat at the table.”
Ramirez carried this enthusiasm with her through myriad firms, helping to coordinate, plan events and execute for clients including Dove Beauty, L’Oréal Paris, Nestle and PepsiCo.
While working as a public relations supervisor at Alison Brod Marketing and Communications, the firm launched a multicultural division and hired Ramirez as its supervisor.
“I’ve been able to form strategic business decisions because of this cultural relevancy,” she says. “Appreciating cultural nuances is something that I always advocate for.”
After several agency positions, she was tapped to lead in-house communications with Fidelis Care, a position she held for seven years before heading to Healthfirst, a leading New York health insurance company.
Now, Ramirez says she’s focused on how data is driving corporate communications and the impact of artificial intelligence technology on the health care industry, especially concerning its impact on improving health outcomes.
Tanaisha Ramos isn’t the top adviser at City Hall, but she works for someone who is.
Being in proximity to the political power – she reports to Ingrid Lewis-Martin, perhaps New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ most trusted ally – is quite the change for someone who toiled away in medical billing jobs during and after college.
“I was pregnant and so I started CUNY online,” she recalls. “I liked working in medical billing for a while, and it paid the bills but it was mentally dreadful.”
Ramos eventually transitioned to a hospital job with different responsibilities, but still found herself yearning to make a life change.
A pivot into politics led her to Lewis-Martin, where she started off as executive assistant to the chief adviser to the mayor.
“Change can be scary but often it leaves you in a better place,” Ramos says. “Politics was new to me so every day is still really different and I learn a lot. I still recall the day Ingrid told me she was going to promote me. I’ve really appreciated her coaching me every step along the way.”
Now as deputy chief of staff, Ramos goes wherever Lewis-Martin needs her. Often working seven days a week, Ramos has learned the value of punctuality and adapting to changing circumstances.
“Whether I’m taking notes, in meetings, working ahead of events or preparing Ingrid for the next day, there’s always something new happening,” she says. “I’m enjoying the new journey and I actually like coming to work now.”
It takes more than a hack to make a good flack. Slingshot Strategies’ Sam Raskin knows this all too well. From his stints at Politico, Gotham Gazette, Gothamist, Curbed, the New York Post and Patch, Raskin understands the inner workings of local politics.
Now, as adviser to some of the city and state’s top electeds and advocacy groups, Raskin is expanding his horizons as a political communicator.
“It’s really great to work for a place where we’re active locally and nationally,” he says. “I get to do a lot of work on stuff that I’m passionate about and would be following anyway through reporting. Getting to work on the only winning, competitive New York congressional race with Pat Ryan was a really meaningful win.”
Between strategizing, writing and working on press releases, Raskin’s days are varied with myriad clients, including advocacy groups, nonprofits, think tanks, polling firms and political campaigns.
He leads communications for some of the state’s top urbanist groups, including Open Plans and Open New York, which he helped shepherd from a one-person organization to the state’s leading pro-housing group.
This election cycle, he’s a strategist on Zak Malamed’s congressional campaign. Malamed raised more from donors than any other Democrat in the field during the second quarter.
“Read the news obsessively,” Raskin says of anyone trying to break into political consulting.
“It’s about having a leg up and being able to say which outlet is going to take a story and not wasting your time chasing it down.”
When the New York City hospital system was struggling to stay afloat during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Rebecca Ryan rose to the occasion, securing critical funding from all levels of government.
Ryan, who analyzes macroeconomic trends and reimbursement issues for the Greater New York Hospital Association’s member hospitals, has been instrumental in assessing COVID-19’s financial impact as well as working to secure federal reimbursement funding for the hardest hit facilities.
Ryan says she was first drawn to health care when studying public policy in college.
“I think I always saw myself working in government and as I learned more about the best ways to make an impact, I naturally transitioned into the work I do today,” she says. “Our members are constantly reaching out to us on a regular basis with a variety of issues. It’s a challenging job but it definitely never gets old.”
When Ryan is not doing advocacy work, including measuring impacts and developing policy alternatives, she’s educating member hospitals on federal policy changes and where there may be opportunities to seek additional funding.
She is also GNYHA’s staff expert on federal inpatient prospective payment system and outpatient prospective payment system rules and works to ensure that New York City hospitals are protected financially during the annual rulemaking regulatory process.
“The core of what we do is problem solving,” she says, “and the people I work with care deeply about this and have an incredible depth of knowledge.”
When Daphany Rose Sanchez describes her journey toward becoming the founder of a clean energy consulting firm, she says her identity lies at the core of its foundation.
As a Latina born and raised in low-income housing in New York City, Sanchez saw firsthand the effects of government neglect – as well as efforts to create a more equitable and sustainable living environment.
“I started my career working in equity housing and wanted to make sure that other people didn’t have to go through what I went through,” she says. “I began asking myself how I could make housing better and then my parents lost their home to Hurricane Sandy – a home they bought in a place that was redlined.”
Working with the United Nations’ environmental affairs team, nonprofit education and training organization Solar One, the advocacy group Make the Road New York and the consulting firm ICF International, she remained committed to reimagining and redefining how sustainable energy initiatives engage with communities of color.
Sanchez is now connecting communities with the resources to retrofit their homes for climate resiliency and to lower energy costs. She’s also raising awareness about the connection between workforce development and clean energy and creating career opportunities that build generational wealth.
“When I built Kinetic Communities Consulting, I wanted to make sure we’re not only working with the community but we’re part of the community,” she says. “Every single person on my team is someone who comes from these neighborhoods and knows these ins and outs.”
Jessica Schumer started at Amazon just before COVID-19 hit. As the nation struggled to adapt to the pandemic, she realized the breadth and depth of her employer’s mission.
“People don’t always see the whole picture of what goes on at Amazon,” she says. “Sixty percent of the products come from small businesses, so I’m really focused on making sure that stakeholders are educated about the work we do.”
In a key public policy position for the tech giant over the past four years, Schumer helped launch over 10 new operational facilities across New York City.
Schumer, who was born into politics as the daughter of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and government and nonprofit veteran Iris Weinshall, served in the Obama administration as an economic policy adviser. A return to New York and a brief stint at the Robin Hood Foundation was followed by a position as policy director for vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Next, she served as executive director of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector.
At Amazon, Schumer also helped launch innovative sustainable delivery solutions, including e-bikes, and prepared the company for the launch of its new Midtown office at the former Lord & Taylor Building.
“I’m proud of how I’ve been able to work toward the same issue – improving people’s lives, whether it’s instituting national policy or making sure the working mom can get her diapers in two days,” Schumer says. “I love working for organizations and companies that have that impact on people’s lives.”
As a self-described community service kid, Haley Scott says it wasn’t until she took a semester off of college to work on a local congressional campaign that she really saw politics as a path to giving back.
“I volunteered on the campaign as an intern for Seth Moulton, who was running in my home district in Massachusetts, and ended up working as field organizer and then deputy finance director,” she says. “This is when I realized just how much could be accomplished doing this work.”
Scott went on to serve as chief communications officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She then joined the PR firm BerlinRosen, where she worked on 15 political races across the country before being hired as the political chief of staff at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A return to BerlinRosen for a year and a half as vice president led her to then-congressional candidate Dan Goldman.
“I didn’t realize that he was lead counsel in Trump’s first impeachment,” Scott says. “Pretty quickly, Dan and I realized we worked really well together and the day after the primary, he asked me to be his chief.”
Now Goldman’s chief of staff, Scott is focused on doing strategic planning and making sure he is achieving his goals, serving as an intermediary between the lawmaker and all of the touchpoints on Capitol Hill.
“I’m really proud of the team we’ve built,” she says. “It reflects our district, its diversity and the principles Dan has and lives by.”
Misha Sharp wants New Yorkers to be able to afford a trip to the hospital.
As assistant director of the Service Employees International Union health fund for New York City’s Local 32BJ chapter, she pushes policies that aim to lower hospital costs and make a more accountable health care marketplace for all New Yorkers, regardless of whether they’re unionized. Currently, the fund is working on a campaign to make hospitals more affordable.
“I think a lot of people think about health care cost containment as purely a negative, versus health care cost containment as really allowing us to kind of invest in other things,” she says. “So, when we really maintain those costs, we can invest in other things. It’s just kind of about rebalancing a system where a lot of it has gone to hospital prices and hospital costs.”
Sharp has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and human biology and a master’s degree in epidemiology. She previously worked at the United Hospital Fund of New York’s Medicaid Institute as a senior research analyst.
“A lot of the 32BJ work that really attracted me is, you know, at some point in your life, you’re going to get sick or you’re going to get ill and when you do, we better make sure care is affordable and accessible for you no matter who you are,” Sharp says. “I think working within the Medicaid program and with 32BJ’s health insurance, health funds and in policy has really allowed me to do that.”
The Real Estate Board of New York is in the middle of major policy debates in New York lately, from how to create more affordable housing to how to protect tenants.
With Sam Spokony’s help, REBNY has garnered media coverage of its research on New York City’s housing supply crisis, introduced new data and analytics for its communications to members, expanded in-house content creation to boost new initiatives like the REBNY Fellows program, and overhauled its website and digital presence.
His previous experience as a local reporter for The Villager, Downtown Express and Chelsea Now and as a spokesperson with the New York City Council laid a foundation for his work on behalf of the real estate industry.
While working as the communications director for then-Council Member Margaret Chin, Spokony knew he wanted to write again. So when a job at Marathon Strategies opened up, he seized the opportunity.
“That was a very exciting place to be,” he says of the PR firm. “In that experience I went from being a relatively junior, early career communications professional to someone with a lot more experience dealing with New York City business and real estate clients.”
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Spokony became chief communications officer for REBNY. He has helped serve an increasingly diverse membership and aims to reach as many people to help advance REBNY’s priorities.
“I’m just really proud of the work that we do to constantly push out new data, new information and policy solutions,” he says.
For David Tanis, being a good worker is a lot like being a good friend.
“You really have to go into this work knowing that not everything has to be transactional,” he advises. “Be authentic, true and organic. Focus on building real relationships. It matters so much more.”
Tanis built his career on these precepts. After working as a supervisor for HeartShare Human Services of New York, a brief stint in consulting prompted him to think about launching his own organization.
“Through working with several nonprofits, I got bit by the nonprofit bug that was geared toward youth economic development,” he says.
In 2015, Tanis founded a social impact organization, the Showing Hearts Foundation, which created exposure-based education programs for underserved teens as well as a network of volunteer initiatives serving New York City communities. Working hand in hand with local elected officials, community stakeholders and corporate partners, the foundation achieved many of its goals.
Now an associate at the lobbying powerhouse Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates, Tanis is actively honing his skills as a community builder and cultivating relationships with elected officials and other stakeholders across New York in advance of his clients’ goals.
He represents a wide range of clients and is looking forward to the next legislative session, when he can help nonprofits and transportation companies address their more immediate needs.
“It's most rewarding to be a bridge for electeds,” he says. “It’s about helping them achieve a common goal.”
Studying at a City University of New York school didn’t just prepare Gerri Thomas for a successful professional career – the public higher education system ended up becoming a key part of her professional career.
“CUNY really has always been near and dear to my heart,” she says. “We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what our passions are and what we like. Finding that sweet spot that’s been developed and forged from opportunities that challenge me in a meaningful way has really allowed me to grow and take me to where I am today.”
After graduating from the College of Staten Island, a CUNY institution, Thomas began working as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She went on to spend the majority of her early career years on the leadership team of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, where she cultivated community engagement skills and forged integral relationships as the organization’s chief communications officer.
All roads led Thomas back to CUNY, however, where she became chief of staff in the office of the executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer in 2019. Thomas helps manage operations – developing policy, aiding in staff and talent management, maintaining properties – for a sprawling CUNY system comprising over 300 buildings, half of which are over 50 years old.
“This is a big year for us,” she says of the university system, which has fully phased out its coronavirus guidelines for the first time since 2020.
A self-described Harlem girl, Odetty Tineo understands the value of advocating for change in the city where she grew up.
“Women of color have really led me into these jobs,” she says of her work across multiple unions.
Tineo came up in the labor movement. She interned with 32BJ SEIU’s Youth Brigade in college and fell hard for the work, returning as a coordinator and eventually serving as a lead organizer for nearly five years.
In her time at the labor union, she assisted on a variety of projects across several states. She recounts the vibrancy of movements like the Philadelphia airport strike and seeing people who looked like her, for the first time, engaged in this work.
She later held key roles at the New York State Nurses Association, where she became the organization’s downstate political director and helped nurses win a major victory in the battle for more favorable staffing levels.
Now as political and legislative director of District Council 37, she helped secure the first major labor contract agreement reached under the Adams administration, which set an $18 minimum wage and locked in future raises. She has also contributed to major electoral victories, including Chris Banks’ primary victory over New York City Council Member Charles Barron.
“I’m looking forward to making labor and union accessible to people,” Tineo says. “You can work for the city and have a pension, health care, benefits and wage increases – I’m working to close this knowledge gap in the city.”
Inna Vernikov is a rising star in a resurgent Republican Party that’s making inroads in New York City’s outer boroughs.
The first-term lawmaker is one of six members of the New York City Council’s GOP caucus – the minority party’s largest contingent in years. The Jewish Ukrainian American politician flipped her Brooklyn seat while taking bold stances.
“We came here as refugees when I was 12,” Vernikov says. “It wasn’t until I started watching the Benghazi scandal play out that I really became interested in politics. I wanted to volunteer for Mitt Romney, who was running for office at the time.”
Following law school, Vernikov joined the state Senate campaign of David Storobin, was special assistant to then-Assembly Member Dov Hikind, and registered voters on the street with the United Jewish Voters Alliance while running her own immigration and divorce law practice.
As the movement to defund the police expanded throughout the city, she was propelled into local politics, running on her platform on lowering crime, reversing vaccine mandates and combating antisemitism.
She now spends much of her time in her district office, engaging with constituents and community groups and strategizing with her colleagues in the right-of-center Common Sense Caucus.
“I don’t think I can ever do anything without my team,” she says of the hard-fought contest. “I think we brought a lot of attention to the fight against vaccine mandates. Very shortly after our meetings in the Common Sense Caucus, mandates were canceled for city workers about a month later.”
Editor’s note: Vernikov was selected for this list weeks before her arrest on a firearm possession charge. While we do not condone the alleged criminal activity, we have opted to keep her on this list due to her past political and advocacy accomplishments.
Jordan Wright has the right stuff.
He’s got politics in his blood. He’s engaged in his community. And he just helped engineer a remarkable political breakthrough.
“I’ve been involved in politics my whole life,” says the 28-year-old, who comes from a long line of public servants. His grandfather and uncle were judges, his grandmother was an assistant principal in Harlem and his father is Manhattan Democratic Party boss Keith Wright.
Though the younger Wright worked on campaigns from a young age, he never imagined he’d help elect one of the young men convicted – and later exonerated – for the attack of a female jogger in Central Park.
“It means a lot to me to be in this position,” Wright says. “We used to go to Central Park all hours of the day and night. My parents didn’t tell me the story of the Central Park Five until I was chased by police. After I found out about that, I watched ‘When They See Us’ and it was an incredibly full circle moment for me.”
Wright’s passion for public service turned heads. One thing led to another and Wright assumed the role as campaign manager for New York City Council Democratic nominee Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five.
“This was not just for Harlem or New York, but for America,” Wright says. “The fact that you can come from the deepest bowels of society and become an elected official, which to me is one of the highest honors that a person can achieve.”
Growing up watching her mom volunteer on campaigns, Megan Wylie knew from a young age that she wanted to work in politics. From forays in high school to being an associate on then-New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s campaign, Wylie was bitten by the political bug early on.
A fellowship at the state Division of Human Rights and a year working at the lobbying firm Kasirer prepared her to help transform the carpenters union into a powerhouse.
“I’m so lucky I ended up here,” Wylie says. “They really made it clear, when we were shaping up our political department, that they trusted us and trusted the members. It’s been incredible to see what we’ve become in the 3 1/2 years I’ve worked here.”
From working on elections to lobbying for the passage of critical legislation, Wylie has increased the carpenters union’s influence during the New York City Council’s legislative and land use processes.
This past year, she helped lead the endorsement and training process for over 5,000 members, and got nearly 1,000 members on the ground for races won by Lynn Schulman, Marjorie Velázquez and Chris Banks.
She recently played a crucial role in lobbying to pass the Wage Theft Accountability Act, a bill that will make stealing wages a felony larceny crime.
“I think this is going to make people actually accountable,” she says of the measure. “The amount of people who told us it wasn’t going to get passed, but we just never gave up.”
When New York City Council districts were redrawn last year, a new Asian American-majority seat was added in southern Brooklyn. Democratic nominee Susan Zhuang is a strong contender to be its first occupant, although she’ll have to get through a tough general election in November first.
Zhuang, who has served as chief of staff to Assembly Member William Colton, left China to attend college in the U.S. when she was 20. After working on Wall Street, Zhuang was approached by a friend who encouraged her to bring a small box of tea to Colton, who was looking for an intern at the time.
“I thought to myself, I have no experience working in a government office, but maybe I can help some people here,” she recalls.
She joined the team and was eventually named chief of staff. She advocated for small businesses, fought for an increase in public safety for the community and defended fair access to public education and social services, especially for underrepresented families. She has also been vocal in opposing antisemitism.
On the campaign trail, Zhuang has focused on similar issues.
“I feel my election will make a lot of immigrant families in the Asian communities look forward to more things,” Zhuang says. “I’m someone who was not born here, who didn’t grow up here, who won a primary election. No one thought I could win in the beginning. I’m proud I help close to 5,000 people every year in the office.”
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