The new lieutenant governor and former congresswoman was picked to be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate last year at the same time he launched the Women’s Equality Party. Hochul travels all around the state spreading the governor’s messages on the budget and his legislative agenda. As far as political power goes, she doesn’t have much. However, she’s only one tragic event from being the most powerful person in the state.
Partner, The Parkside Group
Stavisky is one of the savvy operatives who meld the roles of political consultant and lobbyist, a combination that troubles some but undoubtedly increases his influence. He barely made this list after his part in last fall’s dismal showing by the state Senate Democrats, who failed to retake the majority. Stavisky’s Parkside Group, the conference’s go-to consultant, is optimistic that their fortunes will turn in 2016, and the clouds hanging over Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos could bolster their chances.
President, Empire Center for Public Policy
McMahon is probably one of the most trusted voices on fiscal conservatism at the state Capitol—or, at the very least, the most quoted one. He is often one of the first calls by the Albany press corps for all things budget-related, and his regular news columns tend to drive the conversation in state government. McMahon’s writing and research focuses on improving the state’s economic competitiveness and promotes greater accountability and fiscal responsibility in state government.
Chairman, Erie County Republican Committee
As Erie County’s Republican leader, Langworthy has scored a string of notable victories. His candidates wrested control of the County Legislature from the Democrats for the first time in a quarter-century in the 2013 election. His power extends outside of Western New York. Last year he helped convince the GOP-controlled state Senate to move forward with medical marijuana legislation. He's also the first name mentioned when people talk about the next head of the state committee.
Chairman, New York State Republican Committee
You have to hand it to him: Cox has the rare ability to generate publicity for the Republican Party in a state where, at the end of the day, Democrats rule the roost. But his party’s perennial inability to attract candidates for every statewide election—never mind a serious contender for governor—keeps Cox relegated to the bottom of the list. Still, state Senate Republicans hung on to their majority in the 2014 elections, and several congressional seats turned red this past autumn as well.
New York City Comptroller
Stringer is more powerful on the city level, but maintains strong Albany ties from his Assembly years. He plays a critical role as the custodian of New York City’s huge pension funds, which provides a platform for prodding corporations to improve their practices. He has been on the rise since dropping his New York City mayoral bid; elected as comptroller, he has capitalized on that consolation prize by becoming an effective counterweight to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
One of the most generous campaign contributors in New York is the billionaire centenarian Leonard Litwin, and Runes is Litwin’s chief lobbyist. Litwin heads Glenwood Management, a real estate development firm known for its luxury towers in Manhattan—and for exploiting the LLC loophole to divert hundreds of millions of dollars to political candidates. Glenwood Management has been linked to the investigations into both Assemblyman Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, however, which could erode Runes’ clout.
Chief Judge, Court of Appeals
The end of Lippman’s tenure as the tremendously influential head of New York’s highest court is fast approaching: He turns 70 in May, the age at which he must retire, the law says. Upon his exit, two of his principal initiatives—raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and the retirement age for judges to 80—will have gone unachieved. But since raising the age at which youths are tried as adults continues to be a priority for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lippman may yet see the day when his top priority becomes reality.
President, Rochester Business Alliance
The former lieutenant governor served as a loyal soldier during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first term and left on a good note. Now, as president of the Rochester Business Alliance, he leads one of the state’s most prominent business groups and maintains strong ties to many Albany powerhouses. Duffy no longer has to deal with the physical and mental toll of elected office and still gets to serve as a trusted ally and local spokesperson as needed.
Bronx Power Broker
He's known by many as “The Fixer.” Others dislike him so much they swap his last name for “Slime.” Yet every political insider has a story about Stanley Schlein. Most of them are about the brilliance of this master political lawyer who bends electoral and criminal law without breaking it. Schlein has access to politicians and he uses it. He is personally responsible for Carl Heastie’s unexpected rise to the Speaker’s Office. He's a behind-the-scenes wheeler-dealer who is for the first time on this list.
Chairwoman, Senate Housing Committee
Young, a state senator hailing from Western New York, is a rising star in the Republican conference. While running the Senate Republicans’ campaign efforts this past fall, she fought back a powerful coalition pushing for a Democratic takeover and impressively won an outright majority for her conference. Now she is widely seen as one of a few contenders to head the conference, should Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos be tripped up by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s latest corruption investigation.
Chairman, Senate Education Committee
With education a hot-button issue in Albany this year, the Republican senator has served as a trusted and reliable go-between for the state Department of Education, the teachers union and the Cuomo administration. As federal investigators circle state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Flanagan’s name has been mentioned as a potential replacement if the leadership position opens up. Though that possibility remains uncertain, observers have suggested he would be a good candidate for statewide office.
Columnist, New York Post; Radio Host
A few years ago Dicker hosted the go-to radio show for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the veteran Albany journalist was slated to write the governor’s biography. The two don’t see eye to eye now, but Dicker remains a formidable presence. His show is still essential listening for Albany insiders and his Monday morning scoops in the Post still make waves—and make eyeballs roll, at times. As the governor’s power has grown, Dicker has served as a small but significant counterweight.
Senate Democratic Leader
Stewart-Cousins made the state Senate Democrats respectable again, a shift highlighted by scandals plaguing Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats. But her calls to join the state budget talks, while garnering media attention, fell on deaf ears in the capital. Senate Democrats hope the 2016 elections—with Hillary Clinton likely at the top of the ballot—will be Stewart-Cousins’ ticket to the majority leader’s seat. But there’s no guarantee that will happen, and it’s still over a year and a half away.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Archbishop of New York
Many Catholics in the state look to Cardinal Dolan for religious guidance, but his authority on legislative matters is less persuasive. Despite his high-profile advocacy for the Education Investment Tax Credit, a measure to incentivize donations to private and public schools, it again failed to garner sufficient support. Meanwhile, the church’s financial struggles have led to the closing of more schools and parishes. And with a less doctrinaire pope in Rome, Dolan also has reduced clout in the Vatican.
Consultant to Carl Heastie
Patrick who? Is the reaction most people have when the name Patrick Jenkins is mentioned in the same sentence as Speaker Carl Heastie. In fact, Jenkins is one of the legislative leader’s most trusted advisers, and their friendship dates back to when both were just getting started in politics. Jenkins, who has extensive government and political experience, also has close ties with the State Trial Lawyers. Even though his future is, to a degree, tied to the fortunes of Speaker Heastie, he's bound to be a huge outside lobbyist with a lot of influence in coming years.
Treasurer, Cuomo Campaign
Sirota’s official connection to Gov. Andrew Cuomo is as his campaign treasurer, but as a lifelong friend of the Cuomo family, he is permanently embedded in the governor’s inner circle. He has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Cuomo’s two successful gubernatorial campaigns, and has served on a variety of city and state commissions and agencies. But the investor and consultant largely stays out of the public eye, instead wielding his influence behind the scenes.
Mayor of Syracuse
Miner’s influence took a hit after she resigned as co-chair of the state Democratic Party. But the straight-shooting Syracuse mayor still turns heads when she speaks up, often calling out her formerly close ally Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Whether she is taking on local municipal unions or calling on the governor to invest in infrastructure upstate and ease state-mandated spending, Miner’s willingness to take the sensitive conversations public grabs attention from Buffalo to Brooklyn.
Mary Beth Labate
State Budget Director
Robert Megna’s tenure as budget director is a hard act to follow, considering that he played a part in expanding gubernatorial control over spending and then helped Gov. Andrew Cuomo pass four straight on-time budgets. Labate, who took the reins earlier this year, has already overseen a late budget—if only by a few hours. Still, it’s a powerful role, she’d had solid experience as first deputy budget director since 2012, and Megna is always a quick phone call away.
President, Sunshine, Sachs & Associates
A public relations superstar, Sunshine is also one of the top crisis manager specialists in New York and, some say, the nation. His list of clients has included Ben Affleck, Barbra Streisand and Michael Jackson. His one client not officially listed anywhere is Gov. Andrew Cuomo. According to two highly placed sources—one of whom is an insider—Cuomo on numerous occasions has called upon Sunshine for advice on how to deal with the liberal media, in particular The New York Times.
Chairman, Queens County Democratic Party
Crowley’s stewardship of the Queens Democratic Party makes him an automatic power broker in Albany. Due to sheer size, the Queens delegation is not a force to overlook. Its history of remaining united in leadership votes has engendered further respect. Crowley allies claim he had a hand in propelling Carl Heastie to the Assembly speakership. Regardless of how directly involved he was, Crowley’s control of the Queens bloc remains secure.
CEO, Island Capital Group
A former adversary of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Farkas was the governor-to-be’s boss for a few years, paying him more than $1 million in 2004 and 2005 before Cuomo ran for attorney general in 2006. Farkas was the finance chair of that campaign and has remained a top donor to the governor through the years, also lending Cuomo his private jet from time to time as an “in-kind” donation—legal under state election law—including for his 2014 trip to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Chair, Assembly Housing Committee; Chair, Manhattan Democratic Party
Before Sheldon Silver stepped down as speaker of the Assembly, Wright was seen as a serious contender to replace him. But when the position opened, Wright stepped aside as his colleagues rallied around the Bronx’s Carl Heastie. Bronx Democrats may return the favor by backing Wright’s bid to succeed his longtime ally, Rep. Charles Rangel. For now, the Harlem assemblyman still leads the Manhattan Democrats and will play a pivotal role in upcoming negotiations over rent regulations.
President and CEO, Associated General Contractors of New York State
Elmendorf runs one of the state’s most influential construction trade groups, and has been an effective advocate for their priorities. He served as a top aide to Gov. George Pataki and as state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, and has capitalized on those experiences at Associated General Contractors, which he joined in 2011. One recent victory was the renewal of design-build legislation, which was included in the state budget.
Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Mayor Bill de Blasio
Wolfe can’t seem to catch a break. Last year, she secured pre-K funding for de Blasio in Albany, but not the tax he wanted to fund it with. This year, de Blasio took a more subdued approach and made an array of requests, including that Albany permanently give him control over the city’s public school system, strengthen rent regulation legislation and budget more for public housing. It’s clear Wolfe will be busy. Whether or not she’s successful remains to be seen.
CEO, Tonio Burgos & Associates
With the passing of Mario Cuomo at the beginning of the year, some may think Burgos’ relationship and access to the current governor have diminished. Quite the contrary, he’s moving up to No. 75. Burgos is a trusted confidant that Andrew Cuomo goes to for advice, to oversee a project or take on a task that nobody should ever know about. While it’s true Burgos’ firm isn’t the biggest moneymaker in Albany, it's his decades of connections that get things done for his clients and political allies.
Founder and CEO, Success Academy Charter Schools
As one of the most prominent public faces of charter schools, Moskowitz shored up key support for the sector. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ensured pre-K funding was contingent on New York City continuing to allocate space in traditional public school campuses for Success Academy schools. He called for expanding the number of charter schools authorized in New York and phasing out regional distinctions that have limited Success Academy and other charter schools’ growth in the city.
Herman "Denny" Farrell Jr.
Chair, Assembly Ways and Means Committee
Farrell is one of the longest-serving Democrats in the state Assembly and holds one of its most senior positions as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which plays an important role in the annual state budget process. For a brief period Farrell was set to be part of a five-member leadership group that would take over for the embattled Sheldon Silver, but the conference quickly coalesced around a single, permanent replacement in Carl Heastie.
President-Elect, Real Estate Board of New York
The former Con Edison vice president of government relations has a long history advocating for energy policy in New York City government. As president-elect of the Real Estate Board of New York, he will soon have to ply his skills in Albany as well—since so much negotiation on housing and development policy plays out in the state Capitol. He has big shoes to fill, stepping in for Steven Spinola after his three decades leading the powerful organization.
Chairman and CEO, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates a vast network of subways, buses and commuter railroads that keeps the downstate economy rolling. The challenge for Prendergast is to somehow rally support in the state Legislature and Executive Chamber for funding to cover the upcoming five-year capital plan’s shortfall, pegged at $15 billion or more. Congestion pricing in Manhattan could give Prendergast the cash he needs, but such a scheme faces staunch opposition.
Chairman, Senate Finance Committee
DeFrancisco is not one of the three—or four—men in the room, but he is a Senate point person on the budget. He presides over budget hearings and oversees the Senate Republicans’ budget team. He also puts a positive spin on budget developments in the press and deflects attention while the details are being hammered out. And he is invaluable to the members of his conference, sharing his insights into the intricacies of the spending plan.
Chief Investment Officer, State Common Retirement Fund
Tasked with overseeing $176.8 billion in state pension assets, Fuller has a huge responsibility. More than 3,000 state and local government employers participate in the state’s fund, which has more than a million members and beneficiaries and ranks as the third largest in the country. So her investment approach, honed while working for huge institutional investors as a senior portfolio manager at AllianceBernstein, impacts quite a few New Yorkers. So far she’s maintained the fund’s strong performance.
Moya may not be the most flashy member of the Democratic conference, but he has quietly increased his influence—primarily thanks to his close ties to the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has dubbed the most powerful lobby in the state. Moya has also carved himself a niche as a top advocate for immigrant issues as the chief sponsor of the DREAM Act since its inception.
Chairman, Brooklyn Democratic Party
When Seddio became leader of the Brooklyn Democrats, critics said he was too close to his disgraced predecessor, Vito Lopez. But he has charted his own course, siding with Mayor Bill de Blasio in backing Melissa Mark-Viverito as speaker of the New York City Council and Carl Heastie as speaker of the Assembly. Whether he got anything in return is unclear, but making powerful friends can’t hurt his own status as a power broker.
Chairman, Assembly and Senate Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force
The Bronx assemblyman had a breakout year. In February, Crespo was named chairman of the Assembly and Senate Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force. Then in March he assumed the Bronx Democratic Party chairmanship, taking over for former party boss Carl Heastie who stepped down when he became Assembly speaker. A no-nonsense straight shooter, even if he remains under Heastie’s tutelage, it’s clear he has the ear of key officials.
Ruben Diaz Jr.
Bronx Borough President
The Bronx Borough president has built alliances across diverging Democratic bases and is a trusted adviser on Latino issues. Diaz served as co-chairman of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign and played a role in fellow Bronx Democratic Party stalwart Carl Heastie’s ascension to Assembly speaker. He also remains close to Bill de Blasio and the progressive wing. This legacy may come in handy for a Bronxite long believed to harbor ambitions of assuming a higher office.
Commissioner, Department of Taxation
Moving from the head of the Empire State Development Corp. to the head of the Department of Taxation may seem to some as a lateral move, or even a demotion. We beg to differ. Considering his history as the head of the Business Council of New York State, Adams’ decision to stay in the administration suggests he may have been repositioned for some upcoming policy push—possibly as the chief salesman for a tax plan in the works.
Chairman of Energy and Finance for New York
New York is undertaking an ambitious effort to overhaul how electricity is delivered, and Kauffman is the man behind it. Recruited from the U.S. Energy Department in 2013, he now oversees much of the state’s fractured electricity apparatus and has taken steps to make the various energy agencies work together. He launched a green bank aimed at spurring private investment in cleaner energy and an initiative to encourage distributed and renewable energy.
Onondaga County Executive
The Onondaga county executive is one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top Republican supporters, and her loyalty has been rewarded on many occasions. Mahoney has served on various commissions and panels for Cuomo, and this year was named chairwoman of the state Thruway Authority as the embattled agency deals with budget shortfalls and an attorney general probe into possible criminal activity. Cuomo’s trust in her to handle the mess is a sign of the influence she can wield in the administration.
Founder, Park Strategies; Former U.S. Senator
Without a doubt, the former U.S. senator still knows the nuts and bolts of the business of politics. D'Amato's wealth of knowledge and strong bipartisan political connections continue to make his Park Strategies group a major player, and each year it’s one of the state’s top lobbying firms by compensation. The success of the company is spurred by the strategic acumen of the Republican with the most access to Andrew Cuomo.
Metro Editor, New York Times
No news outlet has been better than The New York Times when it comes to breaking news regarding public corruption in the state government. This year the paper was first to break the news of the investigation and arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver and to officially report the probe into Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son. It’s a team effort at the Grey Lady, but as the metro editor, we credit Jamieson for the paper’s collective good work.
King is a top-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives—made even more influential with the U.S. Senate now also controlled by Republicans. He’s one of the most vocal and powerful Republicans in blue New York State and has friendly ties with the governor. Although his name isn’t being floated—yet—as a potential GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2018, he’s still the go-to person if you want something done. His political future is wide open.
Executive Director, New York State Nurses Association
As the state undertakes the restructuring of hospitals from the $8 billion Medicaid waiver, Furillo has made sure to influence the process so nurses are given a fair shake. Under Furillo’s leadership, the union has become a powerful political force. In 2013, the union endorsed its first mayoral candidate ever: Bill de Blasio. Furillo has successfully campaigned to keep hospitals open and last year won a big fight to protect nursing jobs at failing hospitals.
As SUNY chancellor, Zimpher leads a university system with 88,000 faculty members and 64 campuses statewide. She has a solid working relationship with the governor, allowing her to implement changes without major pushback. Zimpher also gained national attention for her achievements in higher education. Under her leadership, the state launched NYSUNY 2020 and NYCUNY 2020, two grant programs to promote academics and provide incentives for capital development.
President, Real Estate Board of New York
Spinola is on his way out after nearly three decades as president of the Real Estate Board of New York, which he built into the political powerhouse it is today. He will eventually be handing the reins to President-elect John Banks, but Spinola hasn’t left yet. He still will play a major role in the upcoming negotiations in Albany over rent regulations and other key measures affecting the influential real estate industry, including its cherished but controversial 421-a tax credit program.
Partner, Bolton-St. Johns
Bolton-St. Johns spent a respectable $3.4 million in the Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ 2014 mid-year reports, making it one of the top lobbying firms in the state. As a partner at the firm, Giske has close relationships with Democratic members in the Legislature, especially in the Assembly, and the governor. Not only an Albany player, she has also helped lead the New York City office and is a key player in city politics as well.
Secretary, Assembly Ways and Means Committee
Several of Sheldon Silver’s top staffers stayed on after he was ousted as leader, but new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has started bringing in his own team—with Washington perhaps the most notable promotion so far. Washington, who began his career on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, brings plenty of experience to the key position and ended up being an integral player this year in the recently concluded round of state budget negotiations.
President and CEO, Long Island Association
Long before he was tapped to run the state Gaming Commission's Casino Siting Board, Law was a clear player in state politics. As president and CEO of the Long Island Association, he has powerful business interests behind him, as well as those he accumulated during his time at the Long Island Power Authority. With the state opening up casino bids once again, Law will be able to yield considerable power over the decision.
CORRECTION: An earlier version listed Law is the chair of the state Gaming Commission and not the chair of the Commission's Casino Siting Board.
Columnist, New York Daily News
Hammond’s weekly column in the New York Daily News is a must-read for political insiders—especially for those in the Cuomo administration and members of the state Legislature. Readers at the state Capitol enjoy his wit and criticism of the sometimes absurd nature of Albany politics, while also hoping they are not featured in one of his columns. Hammond’s column stands above the rest due to his institutional knowledge and thoughtful opinions.
Bureau Chief, The Buffalo News
Precious is a legendary reporter and a staple at the state Capitol who has the uncanny knack of uncovering stories in the budget and state government process that are overlooked by many. He might also have the Albany record of largest number of Twitter followers in the shortest period of time when he joined last year. The bureau chief is also in the process of writing a book on the state’s gambling expansion.
Communications Director for the Governor
The title of strategic adviser was added to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s communications director this year, and sources tell us she plays a role developing the administration’s strategy and policy. A part of Cuomo's inner circle—though maybe not on the deepest rung—she is also a former top aide to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. She is one of the most visible women in the male-dominated Cuomo hierarchy.
President, United Federation of Teachers
It turns out the president of UFT is not the puppeteer he thought he would be. NYSUT President Karen Magee was largely thought to be put in place by Mulgrew for him to control, but Magee ended up more of a loose cannon than expected. Still, he isn’t without his own support and has a good friend in Mayor Bill de Blasio, which could make things difficult for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reforms.
Partner, Mercury Public Affairs
As a partner of the powerful Mercury Public Affairs group, McKeon is one of the most powerful government relationship experts in Albany. His background, which includes positions with Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki, helped him accumulate many strong relationships with powerful people in the state. When he founded Republicans for Cuomo in 2010, he also fostered a strong relationship with the governor, which has helped him become known as someone who earned his stripes as an adviser and pundit.
President, New York State United Teachers
Magee has raised a high-profile movement against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to tie teacher evaluations to state tests and other education reforms. Although a bulk of the reforms ended up in the state budget, the teachers union has continued to push back by convincing parents to opt their children out of the tests. Magee made her union the top thorn in the governor’s side from a labor standpoint, and polls show the public is on her side.
President, Public Employees Federation
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s relationship with labor has been tense at best, and Kent has not shown any indications she’ll back down. The group was largely unhappy with the previous contract agreement in 2011. As president of a union with 59,000 members, Kent refused to support Cuomo in the 2014 general election and endorsed his primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout. PEF’s four-year contract expired in March and political observers will watch the outcome of the negotiations closely this year.
Managing Albany Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig
Greenberg Traurig, LLP moved down on the Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ mid-year 2014 reports, with just under $2.5 million, but that kind of money still makes it a top lobbying firm in the state. As managing shareholder of the Albany office, Iselin oversees the firm’s impressive number of clients with business before the state Legislature and the executive branch. Iselin and the firm are often involved in the backroom dealings of Albany politics.
Founder and President, Kasirer Consulting
Kasirer Consulting has been a top lobbying firm in New York City for a decade, but the firm has also been a major player on the state level. It ranked No. 2 in 2013 and took in more than $3.7 million in the first half of 2014. Kasirer also has ties to the Cuomo family, having been a member of Mario Cuomo’s executive staff during his time as governor.
President, Greater New York Hospitals Association
Hospitals are big business in New York and health care spending makes up a substantial portion of the state budget, so the Cuomo administration’s effort to overhaul the state’s medical delivery system could pose a threat to entrenched players. But Raske has been at the table with the governor’s team all along. With more than two decades experience he has made sure hospitals have a voice, along with the help of other organizations like HANYS.
Executive Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
At least Foye’s tenure at the Port Authority hasn’t been boring. The executive director has been busy dealing with the Bridgegate scandal fallout, out-of-control overtime spending and subpoenas regarding the awarding of a contract to a company owned in part by the Dallas Cowboys. He’s toughed it all out and doesn’t seem too damaged from the scandals so far. Though with the new position of CEO being created, it’s unclear how the power structure will end up.
State Medicaid Director
As state Medicaid director, Helgerson undertook the momentous task of implementing the reforms with the $8 billion federal Medicaid waiver. He will oversee the state’s efforts to reduce hospitalizations by promoting preventive health care. Former state Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah’s resignation last year also makes him the go-to person for health issues in the state.
News and Public Affairs Director, WCNY
For people at the state Capitol, 11 a.m. is synonymous with “The Capitol Pressroom” radio show. Arbetter always guarantees a great lineup of Albany insiders who discuss the hottest legislative topics. After the fallout of the Moreland Commission debacle, Arbetter’s show became Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s favorite medium to discuss topics or issues he wants without subjecting himself to the full Albany press corps. Luckily, when she has him on the show, Arbetter gets in a few hardball questions.
Chancellor, State Board of Regents
Tisch remains a powerhouse when it comes to state education policy, but the chancellor lost a couple key allies this year and has taken a lot of heat from the rollout of the Common Core standards and the new education reforms. Still, she is able to triangulate different interests to achieve her goals and—unlike many—is known to be willing to stand up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
President and CEO, Business Council of New York State
One of Cuomo’s biggest boosters since he took office has been the business community, and as the face of the Business Council, Briccetti has been an outspoken advocate for the governor’s on-time budgets that limit spending increases to below inflation, while also holding the administration in line if they back positions dubbed “anti-business.” With a career working with both the Senate and Assembly, as well as the Attorney General’s Office, she has ties to every branch of government.
Albany Bureau Chief, New York Daily News
The Daily News bureau chief heads up a powerful Albany staff and gets more scoops and breaks more stories than most in the Capitol press corps. Lovett’s weekly column is a must-read for Albany observers, and legislators keep their fingers crossed they will not be featured in it. Lovett played a big role in breaking many of the Moreland Commission stories last spring. He’s sure to take great pride in being a thorn in the Cuomo administration’s side.
Counsel to the Governor
While the extent of his power is questioned by some within state government, there's no doubt that as counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, David interacts with the governor nearly as often as anyone on this list. He's also the top African-American member of the administration and has been with Cuomo since his time as attorney general. David’s under-the-radar approach reflects his dislike for drawing unnecessary attention to himself or his accomplishments—just as his boss likes it.
Host, “Capital Tonight"
Benjamin’s expertise during live interviews ensures she always asks the hard questions and provokes substantive answers. Anyone who has a position of power in Albany has been a guest on the cable news show. Benjamin is also editor of the State of Politics blog, which is often ahead of many other daily Albany blogs and an open tab on many computers around the Capitol.
President and CEO, Partnership for New York City
As head of the Partnership for New York City and a former member of the controversial Committee to Save New York, Wylde has substantial influence with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She has been a prominent voice advocating for education reform and state economic development policies and programs. She has supported much of Cuomo's agenda and policy initiatives and her push for mayoral control has made her a recent ally of Bill de Blasio.
President, Building and Construction Trades Council
As president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, LaBarbera heads a coalition that represents 100,000 city workers and the intersection of business, real estate and labor—three of the most potent forces in state politics. He is a major labor leader whose influence and power is enhanced as a top official on both the New York City Central Labor Council and the New York State AFL-CIO.
Assembly Majority Leader
The majority leader firmly holds his position of power in the Assembly and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Morelle is well-liked by his Democratic conference and the Cuomo administration and is a big player in New York State politics—despite the fact he’s probably never going to be speaker. The former Monroe County Democratic chairman can also tout that, unlike his Senate Republican counterpart, he’s federal-investigation-free!
CEO, Metropolitan Public Strategies
After impressive stints with the Hotel Trades Council and in Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, Kwatra has thrived as a political consultant. He founded Metropolitan Public Strategies in 2013, notched successes with the legalization of casino gambling and helped Gov. Andrew Cuomo win a second term last fall. With ties to two of the state’s most powerful men—and a reputation for playing hardball—Kwatra is on the rise.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader
Libous is still the second-highest-ranking official in the state Senate, but that’s about the only good thing going for him. He was indicted on charges of lying to the FBI, his son was convicted of tax fraud, a colleague took over the conference’s re-election efforts, and he continues to struggle with health issues. He had a productive relationship with the governor, who notably attended the wedding of Libous’ son, although that won’t help the senator in court.
President, Hotels Trades Council
Placing a wager on Ward was a sure bet, as he moved up a few slots this year. The New York Hotel and Motel Trade Council’s importance in the labor movement is growing, thanks to the contracts it nailed down with the winning casino bidders. That means adding to the ranks of the union that has already demonstrated the muscle to win labor bouts. The union is also flexing its muscle in the fight against Airbnb, rallying elected officials against the home-sharing site.
President and CEO, Empire State Development
Zemsky is one of the reasons Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets to tout the economic success of Buffalo at virtually every public appearance he makes. As a development giant, Zemsky has become an insanely powerful figure and insiders say he is one of the governor’s most trusted advisers on Western New York. His work has paid off and he was tapped by Cuomo to become head of the Empire State Development Corporation. Go Buffalo Billion!
Founder and Chairman, Related Companies
Ross is one of New York’s real estate titans, affording him an enviable position in the state’s political hierarchy. He founded Related Companies in 1972, building it into a $20 billion company. He has dipped into his fortune to bankroll powerful politicians, including contributing tens of thousands of dollars to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and is chairman emeritus at the influential Real Estate Board of New York. His reach also extends beyond the state, including his ownership of the Miami Dolphins.
Public-employee unions are no friends of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, especially after he created a less generous pension tier in 2012. But Donohue, the longtime president of the nearly 300,000-member Civil Service Employees Association, has toned down his criticism lately. CSEA hasn’t embraced Cuomo, but Donohue has left the harshest attacks to the New York State United Teachers and the Public Employees Federation. Whether that strategy benefits his members won’t be clear until next year, when CSEA’s contract is up for renewal.
Venture Capitalist; Investment Banker
Langone once called Gov. Andrew Cuomo one of his favorite governors, and it’s highly likely the governor has similarly positive feelings for the billionaire founder of Home Depot. Although he is a Republican, Langone worked with Cuomo to lobby for federal aid after Superstorm Sandy and was at the forefront of a group of GOP donors who backed the governor’s re-election bid. The GOP support—including $50,000 from Langone—helped Cuomo sideline Rob Astorino, his Republican rival.
Former Secretary to the Governor
Plenty of former staffers are on call whenever Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs advice or assistance, but Cohen is indispensable. He joined Cuomo as chief of staff in the Attorney General’s Office and stayed on as a top adviser as his boss settled in as governor. Now at a white-collar law firm, Cohen was sought out once again when the governor’s Moreland Commission on Public Corruption backfired and put as much scrutiny on the governor as the Legislature.
President, New York State AFL-CIO
As the leader of a powerful labor coalition boasting 2.5 million members, Cilento is a highly visible spokesman on a number of hot-button political issues in New York. Last year the state AFL-CIO, which represents both public and private-sector unions, demonstrated its unity in declining to endorse Gov. Andrew Cuomo for re-election in the Democratic primary. However, Cilento’s calls this year for another minimum-wage hike and against the governor’s education reforms have not met with much success.
Regional Managing Partner, Wilson Elser
Wilson Elser has firmly established itself as the state’s top lobbying firm, and that’s largely thanks to Shapiro, who runs the show in Albany. Shapiro, a state government veteran, launched the government relations practice, which raked in $10.38 million in lobbying fees in 2013—nearly $4 million more than the runner-up. Shapiro’s success is built on large contracts—from groups like the New York Bankers Association—as well as smaller contracts in industries spanning health care, energy, telecommunications and more.
Chairman, ABNY; CEO, Rudin Management Company
Rudin is one of the top leaders in the city's powerful Real Estate industry. He is friendly with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and has lavished campaign contributions on the governor and elected officials from both parties. He is a key member of the Real Estate Board of New York, which is gearing up for a battle over rent regulations and real estate tax incentives. And the Association for a Better York, which Rudin chairs, holds must-attend events featuring top politicians and policymakers.
State Senator, Independent Democratic Conference Leader
Klein may not be the state Senate co-leader anymore, but he still wrangled a seat at the table with other legislative leaders for the state budget negotiations—which is more than Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins can say. As leader of the IDC, he still wields some power and helped secure $100 million for the New York City Housing Authority in the budget. Klein now also has a Bronx colleague in the Assembly with the new speaker, Carl Heastie.
Managing Director, SKDKnickerbocker
Cunningham is one well-connected woman. She is one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closest political advisers, has a child with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and is close with essentially everyone important in New York State. Outside of her personal relationships, she’s more than made a name for herself for her advocacy on behalf of 1199 SEIU. As a political consultant, she can play an active role in politics without being legally required to declare herself a lobbyist.
Gillibrand is a young, fresh face in the U.S. Senate and a very vocal advocate for women’s issues and LGBT rights in the military. She is always a huge fundraiser and is a sought-after endorsement. Her position gives her a powerful national voice, but generally she does not get too involved with New York State politics. Her political power also took a hit this year when the U.S. Senate switched to a Republican majority.
Superintendent, State Department of Financial Services
Lawsky has received a lot of recognition from the revenue he’s helped generate for the state from bank settlements. One of the biggest issues in this year’s budget process was debating how to best spend that extra cash. Not only has he upped his profile within the state, but his dealings with Wall Street have made him a national figure. If reports that he’ll be leaving his position for the private sector this year are true, his success will create a lucrative future for him, too.
Acting Executive Director, Thruway Authority
Other Cuomo veterans have moved on, but Megna is staying put. As budget director, he broadened the executive’s power under Gov. David Paterson and helped Gov. Andrew Cuomo pass four—or five, depending on who’s counting—on-time budgets. The Thruway is facing serious challenges, from a budget gap to funding the new Tappan Zee Bridge to recent management issues, and that’s why Megna was trusted to take over. Plus, he still is the go-to guy on the state budget.
Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor
As mayor of New York City, de Blasio wields considerable power. However, he has repeatedly found himself outmatched in Albany. He lost the battle for a Democratic majority in the state Senate and his proposal to up the minimum wage was a non-starter at the state Capitol. But things aren’t all grim. His relationships with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie could prove to be the leverage he needs to win the next round with the governor.
President of 1199 SEIU
As president of New York City’s largest labor union, Gresham is one of the few labor leaders who enjoys an amicable relationship with
Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The union scored a big win back in 2011 when several policies it pushed were recommended by Cuomo’s Medicaid task force. In return, 1199 SEIU has continued to support Cuomo for re-election and his push to raise the minimum wage. Under the Cuomo administration, the future looks bright for this union.
President and Co-CEO, Tishman Speyer
Real estate is king in New York State. As president and co-CEO of Tishman Speyer alone, Speyer would have a powerful voice in Albany. However, he also boasts about having been a friend of Gov. Andrew Cuomo for decades—a friendship cushioned with large fundraising donations. He also was reportedly a key player and go-between for the governor and the state Republican Committee during the 2014 elections, a role sure to curry him favors.
Counsel to Assembly Speaker
Yates was one of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s top aides, but he outlasted Silver’s reign and continued on in his vital role after Carl Heastie was elected as speaker. Yates is still responsible for essentially running the day to day operations in the Assembly and is the chief budget negotiator for the Democratic conference. That said, it is unknown whether Heastie will decide to clean house once session is over and he becomes more confident in his position.
Chief of Staff to Senate Republicans
Mujica has become a hot commodity and respected Albany insider as the state Senate Republicans’ top budget negotiator and the conference’s chief of staff and senior policy adviser. He played a key role in working with the Cuomo administration to cultivate Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s much-touted five on-time budgets and spending caps. His skills didn’t go unnoticed, as there were reports Cuomo tried to poach Mujica from the Senate Republicans to replace Larry Shwartz as secretary to the governor.
Director of State Operations
Another new face in the administration, Malatras dove into his new position during the negotiations over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education reforms in the budget when he exchanged a series of public letters with the acting commissioner for the state Education Department and state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Malatras is a proven commodity to the governor, serving as the deputy secretary for policy management, and before that working on Cuomo’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign and with him at the state Attorney General’s Office. He is replacing Howard Glaser, one of the key players who left the administration last year.
Malatras will now be Cuomo’s go-to guy on policy, and his closest advisor when it comes to new administration appointments. Malatras also worked as chief of staff to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, experience that will make him an even more valuable teammate as education disputes rage on.
Secretary to the Governor
The former senior managing director at Blackstone Group LP has some large shoes to fill as he steps into the role left empty by Larry Schwartz, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s right-hand man since he took office in 2011. Schwartz left the administration for the private sector during federal investigations into his involvement with the shuttering of the Moreland Commission. Mulrow is no stranger to politics and government. He was a senior adviser during Mario Cuomo’s 1990 re-election campaign and has been appointed to two different posts in the governor’s administration. He was also rumored to be Eliot Spitzer's first choice as comptroller when Tom DiNapoli was picked by the legislature to replace Alan Hevesi following his resignation.
Mulrow brings credible private-sector knowledge with his history as an investment banker and financial advisor. To those who debate whether Cuomo’s political aspirations reach to the White House, Mulrow’s appointment is also seen as an effort to craft a more national message for the governor. Observers are waiting to see how Mulrow’s apparently amicable personality will blend with the administration that was infamously described by Steven Cohen as operating at two speeds: “get along and kill.”
State Attorney General
The state Attorney General’s Office has a powerful reach, with more than 650 assistant attorneys general. It's also a public platform and bully pulpit to pressure businesses and advocate for change. Schneiderman's predecessors didn't hesitate to utilize the office's advantages, but the current attorney general has not been as quick to grab the spotlight, and in turn has been overshadowed by some of the state's other watchdogs. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has emerged from the recent scandals in Albany as a crusader against corruption, leading many to question Schneiderman’s involvement with the notorious Moreland Commission.
Meanwhile, Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky has overshadowed the attorney general with recent bank settlements filling state coffers. Schneiderman has recently made more of a public effort to call for more ethics reforms and was a loud voice in the ethics negotiations during the budget process this year. Despite this, Schneiderman is a champion to many on the left, thanks in part to his national role investigating Wall Street banks, and could still emerge as a progressive alternative for governor in 2018.
Very few people would hesitate to call DiNapoli a nice guy. Whether or not that works for or against him, it certainly puts him in stark contrast with the governor, who doesn’t exactly have the same reputation. The state comptroller accumulated the most votes last fall of any statewide candidate. His is the least controversial of the three statewide offices when it comes to special interests and he has been untainted by the series of corruption scandals in Albany, including that of his predecessor Alan Hevesi, which led to his rise to power.
DiNapoli's tenure as state comptroller has been seen as largely successful through his efforts with the state pension funds, audits and investments—which have yielded him lots of corporate influence. Many members of the Assembly have close ties to him from his time as a legislator. On top of that, he’s being talked about as a possible progressive alternative to Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a candidate for governor. It’s too early to tell what will happen in 2018, but if DiNapoli manages to utilize his ties to labor he could mount a serious primary challenge.
Executive Deputy Secretary to the Governor
Percoco is one of the last of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s old guard. With Howard Glaser and Larry Schwartz gone from the administration, Percoco is Cuomo’s closest confidant left—a position that gives him a lot of power and influence in Albany. His loyalty dates back to Cuomo’s time at HUD and he has stuck by Cuomo through thick and thin. He’s not involved in the detailed hammering out of the budget and other legislative priorities; he’s happier to stay behind the scenes and is involved in the final decisions on any major policy or political move.
He has the reputation of being the governor’s “problem solver,” and applies pressure wherever needed. This role was apparent during the fallout from the shuttering of the Moreland Commission, when reports surfaced that Percoco allegedly told prosecutors to defend Cuomo from federal inquiries. Percoco also played a key role in applying pressure in 2011 when Cuomo successfully sought to pass marriage equality. Albany insiders dread a call from this guy.
The new Assembly speaker is still in his honeymoon period. Quiet and thoughtful, Heastie strikes many as the type of person you don’t want to play poker (or negotiate legislation) with because he is so hard to read. He held his own in his first round of budget talks, helping maneuver several concessions from the governor’s budget plan and ultimately winning praise from his conference.
But he also had to endure criticism from the governor in the form of a quote from an anonymous source that suggested former Speaker Sheldon Silver was still in control of the chamber. It hit enough of a nerve to make the conference ask for an apology from the governor, but Heastie has played down the line, saying all that matters is what the 104 members of the conference think.
For now, his conference is behind him, even as Heastie battles bad press about a home his mother bought with embezzled money that he was allowed to hold on to. Assuming he can avoid legal troubles, Heastie will likely be the conference leader for years to come, and work his way up this list.
Senate Majority Leader
He’s got 99 problems but losing power ain’t one—at least right now.
The Senate majority leader is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office along with his son for some questionable dealings between the state and the company his son worked for, but at this point he remains the most powerful Republican in the state. As the head of the state Senate GOP conference, he’s the one person standing in the way of progressive initiatives. With many key laws set to expire at the end of the year, from rent regulation to development tax credits to mayoral control of schools, Skelos and his conference are in a unique bargaining position and can demand pretty much anything reasonable in return for extending legislation.
One key to Skelos’ power is the unity of the Republican conference, which has always been unbreakable in public—even when there are private squabbles. The ability of the majority leader to deliver on promises made during negotiations with the Assembly and governor makes him a formidable force—but any potential replacement would wield similar power.
U.S. Attorney for THE Southern District of New York
The arrest of Sheldon Silver on corruption charges is arguably the most impactful event to take place in the state Capitol in years—and that is saying something, when you consider everything that has happened in Albany. For more than two decades, Silver was the one constant through budget negotiations and backroom dealings to pass any legislation. He represented his conference so well that many members were quick to leap to his defense even after the criminal complaint was released.
Just by charging Silver with corruption, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has created an earthquake in Albany’s political tectonic plates, and the ground has yet to settle. The aftershocks may very well include charges against Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who admits Bharara is investigating him and his son, and has questioned several staffers and Nassau County officials in his probe.
What’s clear is that the traditional power structure of the state is starting to crumble, and no one has had more of an impact on that than Bharara, which is why he is No. 3 on our list.
There are few politicians with the energy and determination of Charles Schumer. Every year, he travels to all 62 counties in the state. At any event he attends, he shakes pretty much everyone’s hand. He’s mastered the art of capturing easy press by holding news conferences on weekends, when outlets are scrambling for content.
But where the Brooklyn Democrat has exerted his efforts with the most precision and grace has been in the Democratic conference of the U.S. Senate—where he is poised to be the next leader. And if the 2016 elections go well for Democrats, Schumer could find himself one of the most powerful politicians in the country.
With early polls and demographics suggesting this scenario is likely, Schumer has moved up to the No. 2 spot—though it’s not the only reason he is so high on the list.
In New York, he has maintained an unmatched level of popularity among voters—usually with approval ratings above 60 percent and landslide victories in all of his elections. He has also bred a legion of ex-staffers who have infiltrated all levels of government in New York. His former aides are now state senators, Assembly members, staffers to other statewide officials, lobbyists, advocates, and even the current U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Schumer is famous for keeping in touch with his former employees and helping them out where he can, which has earned him many chits that can be cashed in to influence state policy and politics as he desires.
Schumer is not without his detractors. Some on the left don’t trust him, arguing he is too close to Wall Street and big business. But he has been able to mostly insulate the attacks from the left through his socially progressive positions, attention to local issues and hard work. On the right, he is labeled a tax-and-spend liberal, though his close ties to Wall Street generally deflect that criticism. He has been able to position himself as a moderate in the eyes of many, helping him advance through the ranks of power—while insulating him from serious political challenges back at home.
Cuomo may be battered and bruised as he deals with the fallout of his agreement to disband the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption as part of the 2014 budget negotiations. He’s also seen a large turnover in staff over the past six months. But these are minor setbacks, considering he has four more years in office—allowing him to continue to shape the state both with policy and visible projects that will endure long after he leaves.
That’s why Cuomo remains No. 1 on our list.
In his first four years in office, Cuomo was able to move the levers of government in Albany to accomplish much of his 2010 campaign agenda. His ability to get things done cannot be denied—even if critics blast the effectiveness of legislation he champions or disagree with what he is doing. Cuomo uses all the tools available to him to get a desired outcome—threats, political pressure, alliances, or kindness (in the form of career advancements for those loyal to him).
If this year’s budget process is any guide, there is no reason to think this pattern won’t repeat itself in the years to come. Cuomo did receive criticism in the press this year for not getting a lot of what he proposed—specifically on education and ethics—but that’s not really new. He generally lays out overly ambitious agendas that get beat back by the Legislature, but ultimately he prevails, and uses the power of his office to tout those successes across the state.
Throughout his time in office, his approval rating has remained high—above 50 percent favorability in public polls—and there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to continue slowly moving the state in a fiscally prudent (some say conservative) and socially progressive (some say not progressive enough) direction.
The one thing that could derail Cuomo’s next four years in office is the Moreland Commission fallout. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara has made it clear that he has questions about why the commission was disbanded following an ethics deal reached by lawmakers and the governor last year. Anyone reading the tealeaves gets the impression that Bharara will not let up on the governor any time soon.