Organizer, New York Civil Liberties Union
When Iman Abid got her start in politics, she was working on local campaigns. But over time the experience proved frustrating: When a candidate lost, it seemed the work of the campaign would just dissipate.
Now, as an organizer for the New York Civil Liberties Union, Abid sees the opposite happen. Even when a fight for a specific piece of legislation is lost, so much is gained for communities in need – and for the organization’s long-term momentum, she said.
“One of the most important things to me has always been the educational component – really being able to educate a community of people as to what is going on in their government, what is going on in their community,” she says. “With a candidate you just win or lose and that’s the end of it.”
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Abid – then in fourth grade – had friends stop speaking to her and saw her parents face discrimination. Now the Rochester Institute of Technology graduate is working to fight profiling, educate New York immigrants about their rights and improve law enforcement accountability.
“There still aren’t very many Muslim people in the field that I work in,” she says. “I take a lot of pride in the fact that as a Muslim woman, I get the opportunity to empower my own community, empower people who look like me and give them the opportunity to also raise their voices."
Finance Director, State Senate Independent Democratic Conference
Sarah Bangs is no stranger to Albany politics – she started in 2008 and has been involved ever since.
“What drives me is the ability to drive members to make policy changes that will have impacts on people in the state,” Bangs says. “I’ve always been interested in policies and a number of different issue areas and I think this job helps me help other (people) enact good policies.” Bangs graduated from Saint Michael's College in Vermont and then went on to Albany Law School. She also worked as a policy director in the office of state Sen. David Carlucci – one of the original members of the Independent Democratic Conference – before her current job working directly for the IDC.
“I’ve done a number of things. I’ve worked as a counselor on central staff, then I went to a member’s office – that’s how I started,” she says. “I was asked by the IDC finance office and worked myself up to finance director, so I see myself continuing doing this kind of work. Earlier this year, the conference made waves by introducing its own one-house budget resolution, a sign of the IDC’s growing size and ambitions, and which Bangs helped draft. With the most recent budget agreement, Bangs thinks there’s a lot that the IDC can be proud of and chief among them was the Raise the Age legislation, which raised the age of criminal responsibility in the state to 18.
Jamaal T. Bailey
After only his first legislative session, Jamaal T. Bailey’s built a reputation for taking other lawmakers to court. Luckily for everyone involved, it’s the basketball court.
Bailey used to join in Assembly basketball games 13 years ago as an intern for then-Assemblyman Carl Heastie. After attending law school, working at a small Bronx law firm and then in Heastie’s district office, Bailey was elected to a North Bronx state Senate seat. So it’s back to Albany, and back to the gym. And he’s brought others with him, playing with Democrats, members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference and even Republicans.
“Basketball helps to bring people together,” says the former high school basketball player. “You can have people that might not agree in the chamber, but we agree on the court.”
That bipartisan spirit is one of the things Bailey is most proud of in his first months in office. “People underestimate the power of saying hello to people,” he says.
Bailey thinks that helped him become a part of the effort to get Raise the Age legislation in the budget, and hopes it will help one of his first bills supporting worker-owned businesses and cooperatives gain steam.
At 34, he’s the youngest state senator, but he stresses his youth doesn’t help much on the basketball court. “There’s a reason why we’re legislators and not professional athletes,” he says. “I don’t think the age matters. We all try hard."
Mobility Manager, Capital District Transportation Authority
As executive vice president of the New York State Young Democrats, Lauren Bailey is passionate about getting more young people involved with political campaigns and electing more millennials.
“Why is it so hard to get young people engaged?” Bailey says. “We look at the political landscape and we see it as a realm that is for old people in suits.”
It’s a perception that, in some ways, doesn’t match the reality. Bailey points out that it is often young people who are working on the ground to motivate voters, writing legislation and implementing policy.
“There’s nothing sexy about local office, but that’s where it starts, isn’t it? And if we’re not putting that in people’s minds that they can run for local seats and local positions, we’re going to continue having the same issue,” she says.
But, at least for now, Bailey doesn’t envision running for office herself. In her time working as chief of staff for state Assemblyman John McDonald, she enjoyed talking policy but often found herself feeling disconnected from the people most impacted by the laws, she says.
Now, as mobility manager for the Capital District Transportation Authority, she feels deep satisfaction working on the ground, helping turn policy into reality.
“I like doing the day-to-day implementation,” she says. “As frustrating as minutiae can be, I really enjoy being the problem-solver and taking a piece of policy or a decision and making it work.”
Managing Partner, Relentless Awareness LLC
When Joe Bonilla was developing a new public relations, public affairs, events and design agency, he and his business partner were brainstorming what to call the firm.
“We were looking in the thesaurus, and we were looking for different names, and everybody has a name with communications or agency or whatever, so we thought, we have to be a little bit different here,” Bonilla recalls. “So we wanted to evoke that we’re going to be nonstop in our approach, but we want to say that we’ll do any sort of outreach, whether it’s on the ground, or through traditional or digital means."
They latched onto “relentless” and “awareness” – and they’ve been Relentless Awareness ever since.
Since its 2012 launch, the organization has grown into a six-member team with more than 35 clients, including elected officials, manufacturers and hospitality companies. Among Bonilla’s successful campaigns were for upstate ride-hailing services and promoting the local craft beverage industry.
“One of the bills we’re working on right now is to allow movie theaters to be able to serve alcohol,” Bonilla says. “We’re working on building a coalition of craft beverage producers across the state of New York, tied in with theaters operators across the state.” Bonilla’s first job out of college was at a tech PR firm, but he hated it. But he loved communications, and he built on his University at Albany degree in public policy with a focus in community engagement.
“I always wanted to be part of the public conversation and help folks,” Bonilla says.
Associate Executive Director, Upstate, Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies
Kathleen Brady-Stepien started her career working working with children as a clubhouse director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo. She loved it.
“It’s so great to work with children because they have their whole lives ahead of them,” she says. “You have the chance to influence them positively and to support them in their future goals.”
When Brady-Stepien realized that some of her charges needed more help than she was trained to provide, she enrolled in graduate school to become a social worker. There she saw she could bring a unique viewpoint to policy work aimed at helping children.
“The body of knowledge that you’re able to get through the social work field helps you to think about policy in a different way,” she says. “It just helps you think about how different systems interact with one another, and how systemic factors ... really interplay and act, unfortunately, as barriers to women, children and families.”
Now, Brady-Stepien fights for policies that will help the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies’ member nonprofit organizations, which provide support to foster care and child welfare programs.
“I don’t think that I would be able to do this role without having experience on the microlevel because as I’m doing advocacy and walking the halls of the Capitol and visiting members of the Legislature, I’m able to draw on my own stories and my own experience from working directly with kids,” she says.
Deputy Secretary for Transportation, Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
It’s not often that you hear someone wax poetic about infrastructure, but Ali Chaudhry is the exception.
Chaudhry remembers so clearly the feeling when he arrived in the United States for the first time at the age of 18: He was utterly floored.
“I grew up in Pakistan, halfway around the world, and infrastructure of this scale was something I’d never seen before. The scale of the interstate system, the highway system, the airport infrastructure, mass transit, the subways, I’d never seen anything like that growing up,” he says. “Still to this day, I can’t help but be fascinated by our infrastructure and in awe.”
Now, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary for transportation, Chaudhry oversees operations and policy at all transportation state agencies and public authorities. He works daily to shape strategy for repairing New York City’s aging subway system. He has played a key role in the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, which he describes as currently the nation’s largest infrastructure project.
Far from being a dry topic, infrastructure is at the core of American success and liberty, he says.
“Travel and mobility is the ultimate form of freedom. To be able to just get up and go where you want to go without an obstruction – whether it’s financial obstruction, or security obstruction, or just lack of infrastructure – I think most people don’t realize how empowering that is for residents every day,” he says.
Saleem M. Cheeks
Counselor, Public Affairs, Eric Mower + Associates
It was early on in his career when Saleem M. Cheeks got hooked on the fast pace and constant change of working in communications in the upper echelon of government.
It’s been years since he was deputy press secretary and spokesman for Gov. George Pataki, but Cheeks’ work life is still marked by diverse challenges and a sometimes frenzied pace. As a public affairs specialist at Eric Mower + Associates, he tackles everything from crisis communications and reputation management to media relations and community outreach.
“Having a job doing the same thing day in and day out would not work for me,” says Cheeks, who has been in his position for more than a decade.
The way he sees it, working as a generalist with a portfolio that's always changing keeps him fresh.
“Each new challenge that comes at you is an opportunity to grow, to learn new skills and to push yourself,” says Cheeks. “Being stagnant, being complacent, is not something I’m comfortable with.”
For the past nine years, Cheeks has put those same skills to use on behalf of charter schools. He has served as a trustee on three different school boards and advocated on behalf of educational innovators. In addition, he has been appointed by four governors to SUNY Oswego’s College Council.
“The transformative power of education to change lives and the trajectory of individuals … can’t be overstated,” he says. “It is a powerful thing to expand access to good-quality education.”
Reporter, The Buffalo News and PolitiFact New York
Dan Clark knew he wanted to be a journalist from first day of college because of the 2008 election. After graduating from the University at Albany as a journalism major in 2014, he got a job with “Capital Tonight,” but when PolitiFact announced it would be partnering with The Buffalo News last year, Clark jumped at the opportunity.
“When the PolitiFact job opened up, I was skeptical at first, but I looked into it and I think the service they provide no one else does,” he says. “The normal journalism you see everywhere else is just a ‘he said, she said’ kind of thing. What we do is make a definitive ruling on (whether) what somebody said is true or not.”
While TV news often requires a quick response, Clark enjoys that he can take the time to flesh out issues and stories in his new job. Clark is also the only openly gay man in the Capitol’s Legislative Correspondents Association. He recently married Will Brunelle, who formerly worked at Politico New York and now works for SKDKnickerbocker.
While Clark didn’t plan to cover the state Capitol, he enjoys it now. “Without us, people wouldn’t know how to vote. They wouldn’t know how to feel about certain issues. They wouldn’t be as informed as they are now,” he says. “That’s what drives me forward. When people say to me, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that happened to be a fact or is this way,’ encourages me, because I know I’m making a difference."
Grassroots and Policy Coordinator, New York State Network for Youth Success
As a teenager, Sara Cooper could see all too clearly the ways she’d had it rough. Her mom was working multiple jobs while raising her alone. Cooper herself was a survivor of abuse. So it was memorable when the high schooler’s mother told her she should take note of how fortunate she was.
“My mom told me that I was lucky I had a roof over my head, and that she was working a few jobs to make ends meet, and that I had a family who loved me,” Cooper remembers now. “She told me to think about people who had experiences much worse than I had growing up. And a lightbulb went off for me.”
A few weeks later, Cooper traveled to New Orleans to volunteer. Years after Hurricane Katrina, the suffering brought on by the storm – and by what she viewed as the government’s failure to do its job – was still very real for the children and families she met there. Her mother’s words rang in her head, and Cooper resolved to work to help kids in need.
At the age of 24, Cooper has already made good on that promise. She's the grassroots and policy coordinator for the New York State Network for Youth Success, where she advocates for after-school and summer programs that help kids facing hardships similar to what she encountered as a child.
“I want a world where kids have access to programs that help them succeed,” she says.
Special Counsel to state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan
When James Curran arrived at Albany Law School, he quickly realized that the monotony of billable hours and personal injury cases wasn’t for him. He had always been a politics junkie, and he realized that a law degree could be his ticket into government.
When he landed an internship at the Assembly Office of the Minority Counsel and saw the passion with which lawmakers fought for their districts against difficult odds, he felt he had found his place.
“Watching minority members fight for change in their districts, and even the little adjustments they were able to make to bills, always impressed me,” he says.
Curran has a preference for what he calls “back bench work,” and he now works behind the scenes as special counsel to state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. Curran is charged with resolving differences between members and cementing policy agreements.
“I like the competing interests,” he says. “I like the policy work of it as well, hearing both sides of an argument and trying to craft legislation (so that) everyone walks away a little unhappy.”
The work couldn’t be done properly without the expertise of Albany’s lobbyists, Curran says. “Every single need that you could possibly imagine has an association or organization that speaks for it,” he says. “They’re able to articulate what it's like in the field, and I think it helps avoid the unexpected consequences of legislation that sometimes you hear horror stories about.”
Carmen De La Rosa
While some go to Albany to cozy up to power and money, much of Carmen De La Rosa’s first session in Albany has been spent working with some of the least powerful people in the state: prisoners.
“I represent a community that is made up of minorities, working-class individuals mostly,” she says. “And as a woman of color, I know the impacts of the criminal justice system in communities like mine.”
That’s why she chose to join the Assembly Correction Committee, and why one of her very first bills was about providing free transportation to those visiting loved ones in state prisons. And with Raise the Age legislation passing in the budget this year, De La Rosa has been learning a lot about criminal justice in the state.
“I love the fact that I’ve come in in a moment when this issue was back in the forefront of the conversation,” she says.
De La Rosa grew up in Upper Manhattan and got into politics as an undergrad at Fordham University. After graduation, she worked in Manhattan for Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell before joining New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez’s office, but over her decade in politics, she never imagined herself as an elected official until an Assembly seat opened up. “I actually decided that I could be a voice for the people in my community,” she says, proudly identifying as a Dominican-born woman, mother of a 3-year-old.“If there were other people in government that were doing this work, why not bring my perspective into the fold?"
New York Assistant State Director, National Federation of Independent Business
After starting her career as a confidential assistant and legislative aide to Gov. George Pataki, Erin DeSantis took a break from government to become the first employee of a small public relations firm. In that role, she helped grow the firm’s account revenue eightfold in one year – and she got a close-up view of what it takes for a small business to succeed.
Now, as assistant state director for the National Federation of Independent Business in New York, DeSantis works every day with small business owners helping them to succeed.
“They are stewards of the community; they’re a backbone of the economy, and they just constantly face an uphill battle trying to keep up with regulations and mandates and navigate state government,” she says.
DeSantis loves that her work is so diverse, and she is proud that she has helped the organization grow. She spends her time surveying members about their needs, writing bill memos, drafting comments on proposed regulations and addressing inquiries from prospective members. She spends a great deal of time on the phone with members talking to them about their worries and concerns.
“I do a lot of listening and a lot of therapy,” she says. “Our membership is so diverse that I can be talking to a farmer about dairy prices … one minute and the next minute I can be helping an employer find the advocate for business at the worker’s compensation board."
Director of New York State Governmental Affairs, Housing Works
In the home where Jillian Faison grew up, public service was a deeply held value. Her father worked in state government to ensure that recently released prisoners had help rebuilding their lives. Her mother was a special education administrator who started her own diaper cooperative for families whose disabled children would always need diapers.
At school, Faison saw the ways in which special education students were labeled and dismissed. But at home, her mother always focused on the humanity and worth of every child.
“Both my parents started at the front line,” she says. “Their passion certainly was something that … rubbed off.”
Faison now uses her background in activism and law to spark broad change through shifts in public policy. As an assistant county attorney for Albany County, she created a program to help juvenile offenders pay restitution to the victims of their crimes. As a senior legislative representative for the United Federation of Teachers, she helped to win paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage.
Now, Faison is the director of New York state governmental affairs for Housing Works, where she works to secure the implementation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic blueprint to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the state by 2020.
“The more that I work in public policy, the more that I see the opportunity to effectuate change,” she says. “The late nights and the crazy hours sometimes translate into wonderful, earth-shattering changes that really help people."
David M. Frank
Executive Director, Charter School Office, State Department of Education
In the second half of the state legislative session, one of the hottest topics was raising the cap on charter schools in New York City.
But while Albany lawmakers waged a political battle over the number of charters, David Frank continued to focus on policies to improve the quality of existing charter schools.
“In that role, we create innovative models for at-risk students, we work with the schools we authorize to share effective practices to connect schools with one another,” Frank says. “We’re also the regulator, so we’re providing monitoring and oversight. We’re ensuring schools are complying with education law. We’re ensuring schools are providing opportunities for English language learners and students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students.”
And for charter schools that don’t perform or are out of compliance, it’s Frank’s job to shut them down.
Frank, who has been in the role for a little over a year, got his professional start serving students with disabilities in Pittsburgh. The Queens native returned home and took a job at the New York City Charter School Center, where he helped develop a single online application for all city charter schools. He then transitioned into government work, joining the New York City Department of Education, including implementing a law on rental assistance for charters.
“I’ve always worked with at-risk students, students with disabilities,” Frank says. “I’ve been trying to create high-quality public education options for all students, even if they have a disability or are newly arrived immigrants to the country."
Policy Analyst, Empire Center for Public Policy
When Ken Girardin was hired at the Empire Center for Public Policy in 2014, he was brought on to do communications and marketing work.
“That lasted for about a week,” Girardin recalls. E.J. McMahon, the research director of the fiscally conservative budget watchdog group, quickly broadened his role. “I think when E.J. found out I could read policy material without having to sound out the words, he sort of hijacked me and started having me more and more work on analysis.”
Girardin has worked on energy policy and examined Start-Up New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial economic development program that created only a few hundred jobs despite an investment of more than $50 million.
“Having been at the forefront telling people that Start-Up New York was imploding was pretty rewarding,” he says, “because I was able to tell people what was going to happen, and then demonstrate that it happened eight months later."
The work is liberating for Girardin, who previously managed campaigns and worked for state lawmakers and grew tired of dealing with shades of gray.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he says. “I think I have one of the best jobs in Albany because I get to go and give an honest take on policy without having to worry, oh gosh, how will this make my boss work, or how will this hurt somebody at the polls in the fall."
Alexandra M. Greene
Senior Policy Advisor, Empire State Development
Alexandra Greene didn’t grow up on the right side or wrong side of the tracks. “For me, as a black woman from Schenectady, New York, I like to say that I grew up on the tracks,” she says. “I’ve seen what it’s like, experienced what it’s like not to have, and to have.”
Among the opportunities she had was attending high school at a Connecticut boarding school, enrolling as an undergraduate at Boston College, and earning a law degree at the University of Connecticut and a graduate degree in education at Columbia University.
“It really was in law school where I saw that there was a need for effective and efficient government,” she says. “So how do we best get resources to everyday people and families? … A lot of times we see, whether it’s bureaucracy, whether it’s poor decisions on the implementation side, you need to keep that pipeline clear.”
In 2013, she joined the Cuomo administration and has focused on economic development, worker protection and minority- and women-owned business enterprises. But as she rises in her professional career, she never forgets that many of her peers from Schenectady had fewer options.
“It’s personal in figuring how we can best deliver resources and services to marginalized communities,” she says. “So how can we open the door for the voiceless, the vulnerable, the marginalized folks, have-nots and more importantly keep that door open so folks have the opportunity to not just live but be successful – like I did.”
Director of Communications and Strategy, Millennium Pipeline Co.
When Michelle Hook was 12 years old, she got the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of a local TV newsroom. She saw the lights, the cameras, the journalists making phone calls and the frenzied preparations. Then, at deadline, she saw it all smoothly come together into a polished newscast. She was – for lack of a better word – hooked.
Hook spent years as a news anchor and reporter. After leaving to work in media relations, she became deputy press secretary for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Then, as deputy communications director for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, she oversaw communications for eight agencies – which included coordinating the response to the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape.
Now the director of communications and strategy for the Millennium Pipeline Co., Hook has worked in a wide variety of roles, but the fast pace, occasional frenzy and driving deadlines have been a constant. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I work better on deadline,” Hook says. "That’s just how I’ve been trained.”
After all these years, she still loves being part of the news world – and putting her instincts and knowledge to work.
“It’s understanding news cycles. It’s understanding what resonates with reporters, what the headline’s going to be, what the red flags are that you need to watch out for when pitching a story or prepping someone for an interview,” she says. “There’s no exact science to it. A lot of it is just your gut and your experience in the industry."
Kyle H. Ishmael
Executive Director, New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus
Kyle H. Ishmael didn’t set out to become the executive director of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. He first started practicing family law in the Bronx before joining the New York City Office of Child Support Enforcement, where as director of employment services he helped noncustodial parents find employment so they could pay child support.
“It really kind of married some very important issues to me, like economic security and access to justice,” he says. “I also just have a personal passion helping people find jobs.”
Ishmael took a job with the caucus after realizing that it confronts many of the issues he feels passionately about.
“The work of my life has always been fighting for underserved communities, marginalized communities. Again, being a lawyer I’m always looking at providing increased access to justice for people,” he says. “Even within our group of 56 members, there’s a lot of diversity and that’s one of the first things I learned coming on to the job."
As a man of color who is also bisexual, Ishmael cares about these issues personally. His current position was the first opportunity he had to line up his professional passions with his personal interests.
“I see issues that impact my community, so it’s great to know that when I go to work every day (on issues) that are particular to the members I work with, but also to ... my community as well,” he says. “That definitely keeps me going and that’s exciting."
Deputy Director and General Counsel, Human Services Council of New York
Though she calls herself a “procurement nerd,” it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Michelle Jackson would become one of the nonprofit sector’s go-to resources on policy issues. While studying at Suffolk University Law School, she dreaded classes on contracts and instead visualized chaining herself to protest a law, or shouting on the steps at City Hall.
But when the San Francisco Bay Area native arrived at the Human Services Council of New York in 2008, she learned that while most see nonprofits as people feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, the sector hinges on back-office administrative staff.
“A lot of my job is being one of the few people who lives and breathes government contracting and nonprofit procurement, which is just a ridiculous thing you would have said to me nine years ago,” says Jackson, now a deputy director and general counsel at HSC, which represents more than 170 nonprofits statewide.
Jackson works across the city and state to advocate for the needs of human services organizations, especially on improving regulations and obtaining sustainable funding. Among her achievements has been the launch of the HHS Accelerator, an effort to streamline New York City procurement.
She’s also seen nonprofits beginning to talk more about progressive issues and even wading into the fray as activists, such as during the recent Fight for $15 campaign in which nonprofits took on a vocal role to increase the minimum wage. “We can’t stay out of the poverty conversation and serve people who are in poverty,” she says.
Staff Attorney, New York’s Utility Project
Lisabeth Jorgensen took a recent weekend away in Portland, Maine, as a learning opportunity.
“It happened to be the open commercial waterfront day!” she says. So she spent her day walking up and down the piers, looking at lobster traps and smelling a fish auction up close. “It was definitely an interesting look!”
Jorgensen’s natural curiosity shines through her career path. She graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and worked as an actor and theater producer for years before becoming an executive assistant at a private equity firm. She liked the job, but curiosity got the best of her and she made the decision to go to law school at age 29. A stint in city government reviewing small businesses’ minority- and women-owned business enterprise appeals led her to government and policy work, which eventually brought her to New York's Utility Project, a program of the Public Utility Law Project of New York.
“What was most important to me was to work in an organization that would allow me to do legal work that would directly affect the public,” she says.
She’s currently leading a legal fight trying to keep energy service companies from overcharging vulnerable customers. Jorgensen’s also fed her curiosity by managing the organization's consumer help line for those struggling to deal with energy bills and other problems with utilities. “These callers are typically emotionally distressed, generally feeling helpless,” she says. “It’s very satisfying to provide the caller with a workable solution.”
Nicholas A. Langworthy
Chairman, Erie County Republican Committee
Nicholas A. Langworthy glows with exuberance in the picture, his hands held up in triumph. Above it is The Buffalo News headline from Nov. 6, 2013: “GOP Dominates Erie County.” That front page hangs on the Erie County Republican Committee chairman’s office wall as a reminder of his proudest moment – helping elect a Republican majority in the Erie County legislature. That success may seem like small ball to man who has become a national figure, named to the executive committee on President Donald Trump’s transition team and serving alongside Trump’s children and associates.
But local politics is a big deal to this Western New Yorker. “Last year was such a national-focused year, it’s really refreshing to get back to basics,” he says. “My focus is the 154 elections across Erie County, ranging from countywide offices like controller and clerk and sheriff, right down to town and village boards.”
Langworthy has gotten results since taking over seven years ago, taking the county legislature and electing a Republican county clerk for the first time in years, despite a Democratic enrollment advantage.
“On paper, we shouldn’t win anything, but have been able to overcome those odds with good candidates and great campaigns and get the job done,” he says.
But Langworthy hasn’t gotten tired of all the winning. Though he’s heir apparent to state GOP Chairman Ed Cox, Langworthy is focusing on Erie County’s economic revival.
“I won’t be ready to spike the football until we start to see people moving here for opportunity,” he says. “That’s not happening yet.”
Vice President of Governmental Affairs, New York Credit Union Association
Somewhere in Michael Lieberman’s family photo albums is a picture of him, as an infant, holding a copy of the American Bar Association’s magazine.
With a dad who worked as an attorney for the state of New Jersey and a preschool class filled with other lawyers’ kids, Lieberman always knew he was headed to law school, but it wasn’t until he got an internship with a lobbying firm that he realized he had found his career path.
“As an attorney, I view this as an alternative practice of law,” he says. “It allows me to use my legal training and skills in a different context. I like the excitement of it. I like the gamesmanship, the strategy. I also like the camaraderie.”
Lieberman is passionate about helping the state’s credit unions and nonprofit cooperatives that he says help communities but struggle under regulatory burdens intended for larger institutions. In some ways, Lieberman’s work in Albany is similar to courtroom law, he says. At meetings with lawmakers, he still marshals all his skills to make a clear and convincing argument, and to explain and take apart the arguments of his opponents. And he spends endless hours in preparation, just as he would for court.
“I pride myself on being substantively prepared for every meeting that I attend,” he says. “You have to be able to think on your feet and you have to be able to engage in a dialogue.”
Legislative Director, Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates and The Riddell Group LLC
Cory Loomis balances two jobs – as full-time legislative director for Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates and part-time legislative associate for The Riddell Group – but he has built a similar reputation at both.
“I usually get pointed to as being the wonk for my firms,” he says. “I’m kind of the behind-the-scenes guy.”
Loomis is, indeed, a wonk at heart. He loves working on research papers and delving into the nitty-gritty details of issues impacting his firms’ clients, which span a variety of fields including higher education, health care and labor.
“When you start putting pieces together and you see the argument come together or the issue fleshing out, to me I find that very exciting,” he says. “When something’s intellectually engaging, and I can see a pragmatic use for it or a practical use for it, then I feel like I’m really doing my job well.”
Loomis says his favorite part is studying opponents’ arguments and playing devil’s advocate in brainstorming sessions to flesh out arguments and shape strategy. The approach circumvents confirmation bias, says the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy graduate.
“It’s all about keeping ourselves flexible and not narrow-minded,” he says. “It helps us come up with more creative solutions or middle ground. It helps us see what levers to pull and when to pull them, rather than just going with one mindset."
Assistant Commissioner of Public Affairs, State Department of Environmental Conservation
Growing up, Sean Mahar spent a lot of time hiking in the forests and fields behind his parents’ house on Saratoga Lake, where he frequently swam.
“The environment and nature has always been a part of me,” Mahar says. “I really set out to try to make sure I was doing everything I could with a career that worked to protect the environment.”
Mahar has done that. He majored in environmental studies at Siena College and then began working at Audubon New York, where he stayed for more than a decade. After starting out as a grass-roots coordinator and legislative associate, he eventually became the organization’s director of government relations, helping to pass statewide conservation measures. In 2015, he began working inside the government as assistant commissioner of public affairs for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Mahar says he is enjoying telling the story of the work the agency is doing around the state. Under his guidance, the agency’s social media efforts have been growing, and the agency has been profiling workers – from the environmental engineers who respond to chemical or petroleum spills to the forest health technicians who combat invasive species. Mahar is also focusing on efforts to educate New Yorkers about how to be better conservationists at home.
“Our water, our air, our land is really important, and we share this planet with all other living things, and people should be very cognizant of that,” he says.
Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, State Attorney General's Office
Growing up, Joe Malczewski watched his father put in long hours and profound effort to run the family’s hardware store in Buffalo. He saw the way his father built relationships and treated others. It made an impression.
“My father has led by example throughout his entire life,” Malczewski says. “The way that he treated everyone with respect even if it was the first time meeting them showed me how to operate at a really young age.”
It was through his father’s run for town supervisor that Malczewski got his first taste of political campaigning. Not yet in high school, he rollerbladed door to door handing out campaign materials. Years later, working on the campaign of a candidate for the office of Erie County executive, he started to see that he had found his calling.
Now, as the deputy director of intergovernmental affairs for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Malczewski oversees efforts in the western part of the state. He played a key role in laying the groundwork for the eventual passage of the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, and he worked on local efforts to ban microbeads in personal care products.
“I believe that life’s about the impact that we have on other people. That’s the way that I try to operate. And I work in an arena that allows me to help people on a very consistent basis,” Malczewski says. “That’s why I got into government and politics.”
Alexandra C. Moore
Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, The Roffe Group
In college, Alexandra C. Moore was a chemistry major until a particularly difficult class prompted her to switch her focus to political science. Now, as the director of legislative and regulatory affairs for The Roffe Group, her fascination with science and interest in politics have come together to transform her role.
After starting out working at the front desk about a decade ago, Moore has worked her way up through the organization, adding new responsibilities and taking a deep dive into the complex economic and scientific topics she needs to understand to represent the firm’s energy clients.
“I’ve really become a little bit of an energy nerd,” she says. “I really do enjoy trying to understand the energy system as a whole, whether it be at the (New York Independent System Operator) and how energy is sold on a day-to-day market or the policy behind why we should be pushing for a clean energy market.”
Moore, who’s also the group’s compliance officer, says that perhaps the most challenging part of her lobbying work is to convince stakeholders to prioritize long-term results.
“Everyone is so concerned, rightfully so, with the direct impact on the ratepayers, and it’s harder to see the long-term effects of things,” she says. “Trying to convince everybody that this is what’s good for New York as a whole and for your children and your grandchildren … it’s not always the most pressing issue for them."
Water and Natural Resources Associate, Environmental Advocates of New York
Liz Moran had always cared passionately about the environment. As a very little girl, she was obsessed with the animated movie “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.” At around the age of 6, she convinced a friend to go with her around town picking up trash from the street in honor of Earth Day.
But as Moran grew up, she thought she would become a scientist. Then, while studying at the University at Albany, she joined the school’s New York Public Interest Research Group chapter and got to participate in a student lobbying day. Working with Laura Haight, then the group’s senior environmental associate, Moran was awestruck.
“Watching her as she engaged with legislators just seemed so empowering to me,” she says. “It felt like a way through the inside to influence change.”
Now, as the water and natural resources associate for the Environmental Advocates of New York, Moran is collaborating with the residents of Hoosick Falls, who have been dealing with their own water contamination issues.
Just like when she was a kid on Earth Day, Moran is committed not only to the issue but also to sharing her passion and bringing others onboard to join the fight.
“I clearly find it empowering to connect with another person and show them why something is so important to work on, and maybe even connect it back to them, so they can draw from their own experience and understand why it’s so important,” she says.
Daniel C. Oh
Managing Partner, Capital Companies NY
Daniel C. Oh was always fascinated by real estate. While attending the University at Albany, he got his sales license. After he graduated, he worked doing high-end residential and commercial appraisals in New York City and the Hamptons.
Once he started looking around for an investment property, he quickly realized that there was tremendous opportunity back in his old university stomping grounds. Oh founded Capital Companies NY and began purchasing and renovating properties in Albany, Cohoes and Troy. His investment in more than 100 units in the area has helped spark a revitalization in downtown Albany and beyond.
“A lot of these cities are very well built, and they have beautiful buildings,” says Oh, explaining that he is taking advantage of a cultural shift. “People (are) going back to cities. … In Albany, Troy, Cohoes, it’s possible to have that kind of city-style living and walkability without the crazy overhead of living in New York City and Chicago.”
Oh, who now lives in downtown Albany in a loft building that he renovated, is happy to see the impact his development is having on the capital area, but he says he’s no activist.
“That’s not my main driver. I can’t say I have purely altruistic motivations,” he says. “I like to be somewhere middle of the road. I want to make money, but if I can make some money and do some good, I will compromise some money to do some good any day."
Lilian Vieira Pascone
Chief of Staff, New York Department of State
Lilian Vieira Pascone entered law school with a plan. She had lived in China for years and gained proficiency in Mandarin, and she wanted to go into corporate law, possibly returning to Asia.
But as she approached her graduation from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, Pascone realized her heart wasn’t in it. She wanted to engage in the world around her – and help change that world for the better.
Pascone became a voting rights fellow at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, where she used her language skills to educate voters about their rights, trained people to monitor polling places and helped with voter hotlines. She moved on to become the legislative and budget director for then-New York City Councilman Mark Weprin and eventually the chief of staff for the New York Department of State, where she oversees high-profile initiatives such as the Liberty Defense Project, which provides legal representation to immigrants facing deportation.
“Working in politics is just fascinating,” Pascone says. “I like that you’re constantly balancing competing interests, but at the same time finding a way to get to a yes. So you have this very practical skill set that you’re using, it’s intellectually stimulating – all of the writing, the drafting, the policy work – and then it’s all tied together by knowing that everything you’re doing is to help people. … It’s a field where it’s impossible to be bored."
When Ed Ra ran for an open Assembly seat in 2010 at just 28 years old, he saw an opportunity to be a new political voice in his district.
“I grew up around government and politics,” Ra says, noting that his father was involved with the town council. “Particularly in the Legislature, there’s an opportunity to work on issues you really care about. For me, things like affordability on Long Island.”
While serving as the ranking minority member of the Assembly Education Committee from 2013-16, Ra also focused on reforming the controversial Common Core educational standards.
Ra went to Loyola University in Maryland, where he met his wife. He majored in computer science and was in student government. Afterward, he attended St. John’s University School of Law and is licensed to practice law in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
After college, Ra served as deputy town attorney for the town of Hempstead and was an aide at the state attorney general's office. So what’s next for the assemblyman?
“To me, it’s always going to be a question that if there are other offices that end up being an opportunity and I see an opportunity to go work on things I care about. I wouldn’t hesitate to jump on some other position,” he says. “But I’m very happy working in the Assembly and I have another year in this session and I hope to finish up this session strong."
Esteban “Steve” Ramos
Special Assistant to the Commissioner, State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services
Esteban "Steve" Ramos got into more than his share of trouble as a kid growing up in a public housing complex in Upper Manhattan. When he earned his GED and enrolled at LaGuardia Community College, a book assignment changed his life.
Reading “Savage Inequalities,” Jonathan Kozol’s searing analysis of inequities in the United States’ public school system, Ramos felt he had to take action.
“I was angry, but I didn’t lose hope,” he says. “Someone with extra help, encouragement, guidance and support, they can make it over that barrier. … I was an example of someone who can get through that.”
Ramos spent more than a decade working in different roles for Fresh Youth Initiatives, a Washington Heights youth development organization, ultimately becoming its executive director and expanding the group’s budget and reach.
When he moved into government work as an Empire State Fellow with the state Office of Children and Family Services’ Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth, Ramos helped create a college living unit within the Brookwood Secure Center, and he helped make it possible for girls in a nearby facility to access the same classes offered to the boys.
“By working with the youth, you’re impacting families. By impacting families, you’re impacting a community. That was very powerful,” says Ramos, now special assistant to the commissioner at the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. "Now I can take these experiences and impact lives on a state level."
Senior Associate General Counsel, UnitedHealthcare
Coming out of law school, Kelly Ryan had intended to delve into the world of international development and post-conflict reconstruction. Instead, she ended up building a career focused on state health policy, working both inside and outside of government.
“I ended up in diplomacy one way or the other,” jokes Ryan, now the senior associate general counsel for United Healthcare. “It’s very much the same kind of skill set: finding out what people care about, expanding the pie, and making everybody feel good with the resolution.” As a former counsel to state Sen. Martin Golden, Ryan says she learned how much reputation matters.
“As a staffer, I think you recognize pretty quickly that you have to rely on people who are experts in their industry, and I think you also recognize pretty quickly who you can and can’t rely on,” says Ryan, who explains that she works hard to place herself in the former bucket.
“People know I’m a straight shooter and I’ll tell them what I can, and I try not to play games,” she says. “You don’t get stuff done if people don’t trust what you’re saying or don’t think that you’re being genuine.”
Even in the politically fraught realm of health care policy, Ryan believes most players have the interests of New Yorkers at heart.
“Assuming that kind of positive intent across the board, I think, is the right way to approach work in and with government,” she says.
Government Relations Director, American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association
Soon after Kristin Salvi graduated from college, her father was injured by a suicide bomber and rushed to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Salvi saw the impact that nurses there had on her father, as his medical team discovered that the bombing had saved his life by revealing a large, undetected stomach tumor that would have suffocated him from the inside.
It was a dramatic experience, and it left Salvi determined to become a nurse herself. Her mother urged her to slow down and give her first degree a chance: Salvi had been working as a legislative assistant for state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and she’d been inspired by the experience of helping constituents with health-related concerns.
Salvi realized that she could bring both her passions together: She became a grass-roots organizer and then assistant director of governmental affairs for the New York State Nurses Association. Recently, as government relations director for the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, she played a major role in winning $200 million in funding for the 750-mile Empire State Trail.
Choosing to stay in the world of government and health advocacy was the right fit, Salvi says now.
“I thrive on the downtown, everyday lobbying, the hustle and bustle of budget season; I just love the legislative session,” she says. “I just think that I’m better suited to do that. … I don’t know how my bedside manner would be."
Director of Political and Governmental Affairs, Laborers' Eastern Region Organizing Fund
As director of political and governmental affairs for the Laborers' Eastern Region Organizing Fund, Edgar Santana works behind the scenes on behalf of the 40,000 members of the construction laborers organization across the New York City area, New Jersey, Delaware and Puerto Rico.
The regional organizing fund has been working on behalf of the Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York and Long Island to increase safety for construction workers, and supported the successful push to renew 421-a, which offers tax abatements aimed at spurring affordable housing. It is also backing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to increase infrastructure spending.
A history buff, Santana got involved in government and politics after realizing the roles they’ve played throughout everyday life. “I realized that if I really wanted to be helpful to people, and impactful in a way that helps a lot of people, that government is the way to do it,” he says.
He has served on the New York State Democratic Committee and on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. In 2015, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano named Santana as a trustee on the city’s Board of Education. When he speaks to students, he encourages them to be civically minded – and not just in presidential elections.
“Focus on your local government, your local politics and get engaged there,” he says. “Because a lot of stuff happens at the local level, a lot of stuff happens at the state level, and that impacts your life.”
State Government Reporter, Gotham Gazette
The thing Rachel Silberstein most likes about journalism is telling the truth.
“That was the aspect that always drove me to be a journalist,” she says. “And politics is one area where a lot of it is spin, so there’s a lot of opportunity to tell the truth and just cut to the bottom of it and cut to the facts.”
Silberstein has always been something of a contrarian, she says, and she relishes the opportunity to hold public officials accountable for their words and actions. Since joining Gotham Gazette in December as a state government reporter, she has worked hard to push the boundaries of her beat, authoring stories on conflicts of interest in Queens Surrogate's Court, and drawing attention to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s failure to make his ethics reform proposals a reality.
As larger newspapers are scaling back their state government coverage, Silberstein is all too aware that important stories are going uncovered. It makes the work she’s doing even more vital, she says.
“There’s so much stuff to write about and so few of us that we can’t possibly cover every committee meeting or thing that happens,” she says.
“Corruption grows in the darkness,” Silberstein adds. ”Politicians are very powerful and handle a lot of money, a lot of taxpayer dollars, and very few people are writing about what’s happening with it, so it’s very cool to be in a position to hold them accountable."
Associate State Director, AARP New York
As a teenager, Joe Stelling had always been aware of social justice issues, but they seemed pretty abstract. Then one day, after driving his brother to a job interview at the New York Public Interest Research Group, he got to hear some activists talking about the issues the group was tackling. It didn’t take long for Stelling to pick up a clipboard and start knocking on doors.
“It was sort of the lightbulb going off,” Stelling says. He realized: “Civic engagement is the vehicle to make a difference.”
Stelling spent the next 15 years working with NYPIRG, ultimately becoming the group’s environmental campaign organizer. Then in 2015, he joined AARP New York as associate state director. It’s a different group of activists, but it is the same work that he loves.
“I’m working with older New Yorkers. They have terrific attitudes and they want to make a difference, and I really feed off of that,” he says. “It’s great to see the passion in community members and to help channel that, and help them be effective in advancing important issues.”
Stelling is particularly proud of the work he’s done helping to secure the passage of new paid family leave legislation and the CARE Act, which helps to support family caregivers.
“They’re about helping real people with the issues that we confront on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “Everybody is either a caregiver or a recipient of care … at one point or another."
Manager of Operations and Outreach, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York
When Phoebe Stonbely had the chance to help launch a new organization straight out of college, she jumped at it. After nearly seven years as the manager of operations and outreach for the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, she has been a vital part of the group’s growth to more than 5,000 members.
Stonbely had the unique opportunity to help craft her role with the organization. As a result, she handles a wide variety of responsibilities, including payroll, benefits, budgeting, press, event planning and social media. But one of the best parts of the job, she says, is working with her colleagues.
“When we work together here, we sit down, we brainstorm. We work really cohesively, and we play off of each other’s skills,” she says. “There’s a lot of flexibility within our work environment.”
Stonbely was a marketing major at the University at Albany, and she feels she has built a role for herself that makes use of her background.
“When you’re lobbying for issues, a lot of that is marketing as well. It’s trying to make individuals understand your issue and become part of your fight, part of your mission,” she says.
It’s all part of the skill set that drew her to marketing as a student, she says. “I like interaction. I like talking to people and engaging,” she says. “It’s gathering the right information to communicate with people."
Northeast Director, Young Invincibles
Kevin Stump’s arrival at SUNY Plattsburgh was just before the economic downturn. He saw firsthand the impact of government budget cutbacks, and learned quickly that as a member of student government he could make a real difference for his fellow students.
Stump successfully fought to protect the school’s general education requirements from changes driven by budget issues. Ultimately, he transformed his love of activism into a self-designed major in community organization and advocacy.
Now, he is still fighting for the state's young people. As the northeast director of Young Invincibles, a nonprofit representing young people on policy matters, he helped win the inclusion of the new Empire State Apprenticeship Program in this year’s budget. The program aims to give young people the skills they need to take over the unfilled jobs left behind by the state’s aging manufacturing workers.
“I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” Stump says of his work. “When we get it right, we’re able to help more people. We’re able to maximize human kindness through systems change.” Stump is the only on-the-ground Albany staffer for Young Invincibles, and he is responsible for fundraising, policy analysis as well as research design and execution.
“Young people are the greatest investment and the greatest asset that any society has,” Stump says. “Today’s generation is worse off than their parents. … It’s a reversal of the American story, and it’s all hands on deck to make sure that we get back to an America that provides economic opportunity to all."
Program and Policy Director, League of Women Voters of New York State
At a time of deeply partisan politics nationwide, Jennifer Wilson has both experience on both sides of the aisle. She interned with then-Assemblyman Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, and after graduating from the College of Staten Island and completing graduate studies at the University at Albany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, she went to work for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
“We had so much fun together even though I disagreed with him on pretty much everything,” Wilson says of Borelli. “It’s so funny I went from this ultra-conservative to Chuck Schumer. But after working for (Schumer for two years) I was kind of done with the whole public office, constituent work and being behind the scenes and wanted to transition into nonprofits.”
Wilson then joined the League of Women Voters of New York State, where she delves into the many issues the nonprofit seeks to address.
“The stuff we work on is all stuff that would help people and would make people’s lives better – whether it’s voting and helping people vote better or making our government more transparent,” she says. “If I’m bored of something, I’ll just working on something else.”
She’s excited for her future at the League of Women Voters, even though longtime legislative director Barbara Bartoletti is retiring. “I’m a fresh face and I’m trying to modernize everything and get us more active on social media and stuff, and (the organization) is turning 100, as well, so I definitely hope to be here a while,” she says.