Program Director, New York Public Interest Research Group
Megan Ahearn credits her grandmother for teaching her the importance of community service and hard work, values that encouraged her to seek a career in advocacy.
“Growing up, my grandmother was definitely my inspiration and the matriarch of our family,” she says.
In her first job after college, Ahearn knocked on doors for the New York Public Interest Research Group in a campaign to reduce mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants. She loved being away from a desk and talking to people face-to-face about issues that were important to them. After working in various positions at NYPIRG, she now coordinates with students and advocacy groups for various events and campaigns. She also trains staff and young activists in advocacy work. In her professional life, she considers the people she works with to be her inspiration.
“The folks that have been victimized, whether it’s in health care or environmental injustice, and are not only dealing with the issues they’ve been dealt, but also finding the courage to speak out on top of that – it’s so inspiring to see and so empowering to see communities stand up,” Ahearn says. She is proud of participating in the campaign against hydraulic fracturing, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned in 2014. But Ahearn also loves sharing her passion for advocacy with students, especially since she discovered her love for nonprofit work at a young age. “Having those civic moments of enlightenment is really rewarding,” she says about helping young people find their calling.
CEO and Founder, Bronx Element Strategies
When Elias Alcantara landed an internship at the White House, he thought he would be there for five months. Instead, he stayed almost five years.
By the time President Barack Obama left office, Alcantara had been promoted to senior associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, where he served as the president’s liaison to mayors and other local elected officials. He worked to engage local officials on the president’s agenda and established strategic partnerships with local leaders.
Now, Alcantara is back in his native Bronx, determined to build on the work he began at the White House, even without the institutional support of the federal government. In February, he launched Bronx Element Strategies, or BESt, a social impact and justice strategy consulting firm working with clients on social justice initiatives
“November changed the world and the country in many ways,” Alcantara says. “Part of what I’m doing, as a number of these organizations feel a renewed sense of responsibility to continue to work on issues affecting communities across the country, is helping them think through what that strategy looks like."
Alcantara is particularly dedicated to criminal justice reform. For example, he is working with private and philanthropic organizations to build trust between citizens and law enforcement.
“I’m part of a collective of individuals that are now doing amazing work across the country … the White House without the White House,” he says. “We’re still seeing some progress.”
Associate Director of Advocacy, Success Academy Charter Schools
As a child, Maron Alemu commuted 45 minutes each way to a private school on the northern shore of Long Island that she attended on scholarship.
That scholarship gave her so many advantages that the kids she was growing up with didn’t have. From a young age, she could see: It wasn’t fair.
“Education will always be the gateway for information,” she says. “People, regardless of ZIP code, should have the same access as people of the highest socio-economic status.”
Alemu set out to work in education policy. It seemed an obvious choice; her father, an immigrant from Ethiopia, had always said to her: “Jobs come and go. Money comes and goes. But the one thing people cannot take away from you is your education. That is something you must dedicate your life to.”
After starting out as a tutor at a charter school, Alemu eventually became the associate director of advocacy for Success Academy Charter Schools. She is working with school leadership teams to launch advocacy programs in individual schools – equipping administrators and parents with the tools they need to make their voices heard.
Helping parents engage in the political process – many of them for the first time – is thrilling, she says.
“When parents who have reason to distrust the public school system or have reason to feel dissatisfied with our public government, then feel empowered to be active agents of change … we’ve affected generations of change,” she says.
Director of Development, Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City
Fundraising comes naturally to Daniele Baierlein.
In 2000, when she was volunteering for then-Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign in Missouri, she saw a need for office supplies. So she put a fundraising thermometer up on the wall and started asking for cash. Pretty soon, she was buying pens and commandeering funds for pizza.
“I wasn’t shy. I’m not a shy person,” Baierlein recalls.
Her impromptu efforts were so successful that another volunteer suggested that she should go into fundraising after the campaign ended. The idea stuck, and pretty soon she was raising dollars for the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum.
As a fundraising manager at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Baierlein trained campaign staffers across the Northeast to raise funds, helping to put 11 new Democrats in Congress and ultimately making Nancy Pelosi the speaker of the House – all while putting herself through law school part-time. She takes great pride in that accomplishment.
Now, as director of development for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, she is putting the same skills to use in support of the city’s immigrants, young job seekers and residents who are facing mental health challenges. Fundraising, she says, takes research, organization, personality and skill as a writer.
And, of course, it takes building relationships.
“That’s something I pride myself on, not just getting to know people, but really having those meaningful relationships,” she says.
Communications Associate, Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz
At the age of 23, Melissa Barosy’s career is just getting started. But she already knows that her future will be in politics and communications.
“I love the mix of the two,” she says.
While many of Barosy’s peers are more experienced than she is, they may find it difficult to keep up with her. When she enrolled in a full-time master’s degree program at Quinnipiac University, she opted to work full-time as well, and completed the academic program in a year.
Now, as a communications associate at Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz, she works with a variety of clients and relishes taking deep dives into everything from New York City Council endorsements to policies impacting self-storage businesses. She also handles media training for the firm’s clients – preparing them for interviews with members of the press.
“Every day is never the same,” Barosy says. “It can go from just getting background memos and information for our lobbying clients, to writing press releases and handling social media strategies and working on designing pamphlets.”
Barosy realized she had found her calling during a school internship in the communications office of the Washington, D.C., mayor.
“(I loved) how fast-paced it is. And the crisis communications aspect of it, and just being able to be quick on your feet and quick in thinking with problem-solving,” she says. “I loved the adrenaline of that, and also the issues always interested me.”
Stephanie Campanha Wheaton
Special Assistant to New York City Public Advocate Letitia James
After graduating from college, Stephanie Campanha Wheaton applied for a position in the financial sector, and told her interviewer that her goal in life was helping others.
“She was like, ‘Oh, this is the wrong field for you,’” Campanha Wheaton recalls. She has since found her calling in the public sphere. Campanha Wheaton worked for state Sen. Tony Avella and New York City Councilman David Greenfield before joining the city public advocate’s office, where she feels she can make a difference.
The daughter of Brazilian immigrants, she is proud of the public advocate’s work in local communities. She serves as Letitia James’ right-hand woman, and is only ever “a text away” to get whatever she needs. She was instrumental in ensuring that James spoke at the Women’s March on New York City in January, a bit of last-minute scheduling magic that is her proudest accomplishment.
She also believes in James’ vision for the city: “I get to go to these events, and people are always really happy to see her because there’s always a story about someone that her office has helped, and I think it’s really amazing and it’s great to see what we do in action.”
In her spare time, Campanha Wheaton serves as the treasurer for the state Young Democrats and the secretary for the Brooklyn Young Democrats.
“It’s really amazing to work with other young people who care and giving a voice to people who are typically not given a seat at the table,” she says.
Political Director, Associated Musicians of Greater New York, American Federation of Musicians Local 802
Christopher Carroll came from a family of artists and performers. His mother was an actress; his father was a musician; his grandfather was an art historian; and his grandmother was a puppeteer. He had been a trumpet player and teacher for years.
It was expected that Carroll would pursue a career as a musician, but as his graduation from the Bard College Conservatory of Music approached, he realized that one of the people he most respected was a friend who had cultivated a diverse life – pursuing interests from nephrology to road biking to house building. Carroll knew he didn’t want a one-note life.
He decided to put his trumpet in its case and dive into the world of politics. He joined Bill de Blasio’s campaign, then the mayor’s transition team. As a public affairs associate with the city Economic Development Corp., he got a crash course in the complexity and breadth of the forces driving New York.
Now, as the political director for the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, he is able to combine his passions. Carroll helped advocate for the creation of a city Office of Nightlife, and he is always pushing for higher pay for the city’s musicians.
It’s essential work that helps to protect New York City’s legacy as an artistic hub, Carroll says.
“The arts are an incredible part of our society,” he says. “They’re a manifestation of our priorities and our values and our common heritage, and they dictate and symbolize our identity.”
Andrea J. Catsimatidis
Executive, Red Apple Group; Chairwoman, Manhattan Republican Party
Just two weeks after being named chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party, Andrea Catsimatidis was nowhere near the borough where she’s always lived. She was in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, representing Red Apple Group, the lucrative holding company founded by her father, John Catsimatidis, who ran for mayor in 2013. The trip was all business, but politics wasn’t far from her mind. “As a business person, you always want to have an interest in the climate, because when business does well, people do well,” she says.
Catsimatidis is taking on a big job in a borough that doesn’t have a single Republican lawmaker. She plans to raise money and recruit candidates, of course – “the best and brightest” – but she also wants "to show people more what the values of being a Republican are all about.” She said people in Manhattan often shut down when they hear “Republican.”
“Unfortunately that’s the stigma that we have to live with,” Catsimatidis says. “But I’m hoping to change that.”
And she’s done it before, as president of the New York University College Republicans.
“I really helped to change the stigma of what a Republican was on campus to the point that when I left, then people wanted to say they were in the Republican club,” she says.
But it’s not just about belonging.
“America was built on a two-party system, and when we don’t have that, it’s not good for anybody,” she says. “So I want to make sure that I at least help give people a choice.”
Sherry S. Chan
Chief Actuary for New York City
Sherry Chan knows that few people understand what she does. Some think New York City’s chief actuary works on car actuators. In fact, it’s a lot more complicated than that – but she makes it sound simple.
“I assess risk and put a price tag on risk,” she says.
Charged with safeguarding $180 billion in retirement benefits for about 750,000 New Yorkers – including police officers, firefighters and educators – she does the in-depth calculations to ensure that the money is there when city workers need it. She successfully fought to increase the amount of money going into the city’s funds to adjust for people living longer after they retire.
But that doesn’t mean she’s got her nose in a calculator all day.
“I can talk!” she says with a laugh. Communicating the importance of her work is a key part of her job, she says. “That’s something I want to teach my staff. It’s not just about the numbers.”
Chan sees her work as her way to give back to city workers. As a first-generation Asian-American, she grew up “public school proud” in an immigrant family in the city.
But while you won’t see her chasing people down the street with a gun, or running into a burning building, she’s doing her part.
“You do that work and you don’t worry about when you can’t work anymore or carry 100 pounds of equipment up a burning flight of stairs, I’ll be sure that I’m taking care of you,” she says.
Kizzy M. Charles- Guzmán
Deputy Director, New York City Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency
Kizzy Charles-Guzmán is in charge of keeping New York City cool – literally.
She heads up the city’s efforts to help neighborhoods adapt to an increasingly hotter climate – everything from planting trees to repainting rooftops to reducing the amount of glass on buildings.
She developed the citywide heat resiliency strategy, Cool Neighborhoods NYC, examining health and climate data to see which neighborhoods disproportionately experience heat deaths or illnesses and which may experience them in the future, and calling for policies and investments to help those communities.
But as deputy director of social and economic resiliency in the mayor’s office, she takes it a step deeper and focuses on the ways in which climate change disproportionately affects the health of poorer communities and communities of color.
“I’m trying to address environmental injustices and fix systemic decisions that make people sick,” Charles-Guzmán says.
Her academic work led her to pursue environmental issues through a racial lens. While she spent time in the nonprofit sector, she quickly learned where she belonged.
“I’m actually a bureaucrat at heart!” she says with a laugh. “A creative bureaucrat!”
Through her government work, she is aiming to truly impact the way that the city plans and builds for a warmer future. In particular, she says architects’ love affair with glass may lead to the city becoming a greenhouse. Someday, Charles-Guzmán would like to see heat mitigation building standards.
“I’m an advocate for environmental health and I think that that is critical to addressing inequality,” she says.
Assistant Vice President of Communications, Real Estate Board of New York
Nicole Chin-Lyn never has a dull moment at work.
“The things I do are so diverse and expansive, I don’t get bored,” she laughs. “I don’t think I have time to be bored!”
It’s a challenge to find ways to convey what Real Estate Board of New York members are doing and their impact on New York City, she says. “You read the headlines, you read what’s going on in the market, but who are the players and how can we all be a part of making our city a better place to be, to work, to live in?”
As assistant vice president of communications for the real estate lobbying giant, she helps organize events, field calls with its 17,000 members and work with public officials to push for change.
“Real estate is such a big part of the natural thread work of New York City, something that will consistently be present and important,” she says. It undergirds the social fabric as well and helps it to “be a well-functioning city that continues to attract people and make it the home you know with a lot of cultural diversity.”
She also volunteers for a community arts program in Harlem, which she feels is part of the same effort to help her city thrive.
“To be involved in my community – on and off the clock – I think that’s important for any New Yorker, if you really want to be involved in your city and be a player,” she says.
Senior Vice President, Hornblower Cruises & Events
If you’ve taken the new ferry around New York City, Cameron Clark helped make it happen.
Clark oversaw the development and now the operation of New York City Ferry, which runs four routes connecting Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens along the East River, with more routes planned for next summer. It costs $2.75 – the same as a subway ride – with beer, rosé and charging stations, plus Wi-Fi is on the way.
“I play on boats! That’s the best job in the world,” Clark says with a laugh. His love affair with the sea began at the California State University Maritime Academy, which led him to crew on cargo ships as a young officer sailing across the open ocean for months on end.
“It’s an awesome job,” Clark says, while admitting that he had somewhat less glamorous duties like cleaning toilets and fixing giant boilers. “But you don’t get to put your creativity to work.”
He saw an opportunity to do that at Hornblower, the company behind NYC Ferry. Starting there 13 years ago, he’s held virtually every job in the company from a lowly assistant to senior vice president of New York operations.
Presiding over the largest expansion of city ferry service in 100 years, Clark is proud of the team he’s been able to assemble and the work they’ve done so far.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “There is so much here that I’m going to stay focused on and make better.”
Director of Infrastructure Studies, Citizens Budget Commission
Jamison Dague was born and raised in Ohio, but he has a New York state of mind.
As a research associate and director of infrastructure studies at the Citizens Budget Commission, he covers agencies with big capital infrastructure budgets, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“I am not the expert to tell you how to re-route the bus system, but I keep an eye on the budget – are they spending farepayer, taxpayer, and tollpayer funds appropriately as they intend to or as transparent as possible,” Dague says. “I’m on a constant watchdog role.”
Dague has been at the Citizens Budget Commission for four years and has been the director of infrastructure studies for two years.
The 32-year-old researcher got his start in politics in the Ohio Legislature. He also worked for then-Ohio Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy for a year, which put him on the path to his current role.
“I’ve always been interested in politics to an extent, but policies more,” he says. “I like the ability to be in a place and fulfill a role where there is no predisposed outcome.”
He credits his role at CBC in addressing issues like the challenges the transit system encountered this summer. “CBC has been a voice on how to move forward and to address challenges a company like MTA faces,” he says. “I’m fortunate that I’m still contributing and I’m valuable to what we do here at CBC.”
Managing Director, Northside Research + Consulting
Jonathan Davis is the managing director of Northside Research + Consulting, a small firm he founded in 2012. While the title doesn’t explain much, what he does is easy to explain.
“I’m an opposition researcher,” Davis says. “I’m hired to win political and public affairs campaigns, civil litigation, basically every conceivable kind of fight. Compelling opposition research makes a big difference. It can change the outcome of any campaign.”
Not that the behind-the-scenes work he does is easy. It requires an understanding of policy issues as well as the intricacies of the courts and financial systems. He’s dredged up everything from Environmental Protection Agency violations to E-ZPass records to expose hypocrisy or even corruption.
“(It means) thinking like a budget analyst and a tabloid editor at the same time,” he says. “You’re looking for a needle in a haystack, but you’re simultaneously trying to build larger narratives and themes.”
The New York City native can’t tout past successes, citing nondisclosure agreements with clients, but he has worked for New York City Council candidates, boroughwide officials and people running for state and federal office. What he will say is he’s learned a lot about his trade over the past decade, including in the research department of a major labor union and as a press secretary who had to quickly knock down or kill stories.
“The devil is in the details,” he says. “I’m extremely neurotic and detail oriented and competitive, and I want the research that I provide for campaigns and clients to reflect that.”
Chief of Staff to the Director of State Operations, Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Kate Dineen helps manage dozens of state agencies on daily basis, ensures the governor’s priority programs are carried out and troubleshoots when problems arise.
“It’s a very dynamic, exciting role,” she says. “No two days are the same, and that’s what I love about the job.”
One of the most recent projects she has had a direct role in is the response to Hurricane Maria and the devastation it wrought in Puerto Rico. “We have such strong ties with Puerto Rico,” Dineen says. “We have such a massive Puerto Rican population here in New York, it’s the lifeblood for many of our communities, so this is a personal issue for us.”
The Massachusetts native studied English in college, then did communications work for an environmental nonprofit. Introduced to policy issues like conservation and renewable energy, she went on to earn a master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then worked on carbon sequestration for the Australian government.
Back in the U.S., she handled environmental, infrastructure and economic development issues for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and after Superstorm Sandy she became the senator’s point person on storm response. She later joined the Cuomo administration and worked her way up to her current post.
“It really started in that environmental policy realm, got a lot of experience in emergency response and rebuilding and resiliency,” she says, “and now my portfolio is much more expansive, dealing with a broad array of different state agencies, policy initiatives and operational challenges.”
Senior Adviser and Director of the New York City Mayor's Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises
When Jonnel Doris first encountered minority- and women-owned businesses seeking government support, it seemed odd. After all, shouldn’t everyone have the same opportunities?
But the more Doris learned, the more he became distressed by the inequity facing these small business owners.
“MWBEs pay more money to get loans, they pay more money for insurance, they pay premiums on surety bonds,” he says. “The system itself is inherently discriminatory against these types of businesses.”
Helping these small enterprises became a mission for Doris. After a series of positions in government and the energy sector, he became the chief diversity officer for the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, where he supervised the allocation of $4.4 billion in recovery funds.
He is now the senior adviser and director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises, where he has helped increase the city’s yearly contracts with MWBEs by roughly $300 million. He is particularly proud of helping to pass legislation in Albany to reform the regulations controlling the city’s discretionary purchasing.
For Doris, the work comes out of the same values he was raised with by his civil servant parents, who immigrated with him from Guyana when he was 8 years old.
“You can’t look at your life and say it’s a success while others around you are not successful,” he says. “That’s all I’m doing, is trying to give others the same thing that was afforded to me.”
Associate Director of Governmental Affairs, Council of School Supervisors & Administrators
Gabriel Gallucci thinks frequently of how lucky he is. At 3 months old, he was adopted into an amazing, caring family.
“My role in this world, in this life, is to pay it forward,” he says. “I just feel super blessed with the love that I was given, and I really want to give that back to the next generation.”
As the associate director of government affairs for the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, Gallucci has been focused on creating possibilities for kids all around New York City – most recently with a successful push for a Free School Lunch for All initiative in the city’s public schools.
“I want to make sure that everybody has an equal opportunity to education and equity, and (the) pursuit of happiness,” Gallucci says. “I feel like this is my duty … giving those kids the opportunity that I was blessed with in my life.”
With a master’s degree in mental health counseling, Gallucci had never envisioned himself making a difference through politics. But when he began working on then-President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, he began to see how he could put the same skills to use making broad-based change.
Gallucci knows he is a good listener. He understands what makes people tick. He builds relationships with empathy.
“Being able to connect with people in a real way, and just being genuine and honest with folks, I think helps me build those relationships and build trust,” he says.
Managing Director of Communications, Red Horse Strategies
Jon Greenfield joined Red Horse Strategies last year, and he’s already made his mark while helping advise some two dozen New York City Council campaigns this year.
“We just came off of probably one of the most aggressive and active suite of City Council campaigns that Red Horse has ever done, and possibly really among any firm in the city,” Greenfield says. “That’s part of what we do as a firm, and what I do with communications, is managing all of those different campaigns and advising them as best I can to craft their message and make sure that it resonates with voters.”
Two candidates – Carlina Rivera and Diana Ayala – stood out, he said, since they are running in districts confronting problems with housing affordability and access to services for seniors and working families – the “microcosm issues that you see writ large across the entire city.”
Greenfield, who’s now focused on state Sen. George Latimer’s effort to unseat Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, took a roundabout path into politics. The Syracuse native and lifelong news junkie spent five years in Madrid, where he taught, studied and worked for the Club of Madrid, an organization that spearheads good governance missions around the world. When he returned to the U.S., he gained valuable experience with then-Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder.
“We were in a district that was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy, and in some ways, in some cases, still is, and press was a major component in that process,” Greenfield says.
Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, State Attorney General’s Office
At each step of Kenya Handy-Hilliard’s career, working in city, state and federal government, she has seen the impact that politics and policy can have on the lives of everyday people.
She saw it as an intern in the office of Rep. Charles Rangel, as elected officials grappled with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And she saw it as a legislative assistant in the office of Rep. Yvette Clarke, where she worked to bring New York City stakeholders to Washington to testify in front of the Congressional Black Caucus about the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics.
Now, as the deputy director of intergovernmental affairs for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, she is the contact person for elected officials hoping to help constituents facing challenges like fraud.
The work has been thrilling – and at times perplexing.
“I’ve learned a lot about how disaffected people are with government – and vice versa, how governments are disaffected with people,” she says. These days, Handy-Hilliard spends a great deal of time trying to figure out how to bridge that divide.
In the early days of her career, she hoped to eventually run for Congress. Now, she’d rather find another way – perhaps through teaching or a political action committee – to bring citizens and government closer together.
“I really want to focus on galvanizing people and their economic power,” she says. “Because in politics, and just in general, money talks.”
Vice President for Government Affairs, Bolton-St. Johns
Monica Hanley has seen firsthand the inner workings of government at some of its highest levels.
She served in various roles in the office of then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton before following her to the State Department, where she worked closely with the then-secretary of state and traveled to more than 80 countries. In 2014, Hanley became the director of executive office operations and special assistant to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, helping to build an interdepartmental communications system from scratch for his new administration.
Throughout it all, Hanley says she stuck to two guiding principles: present solutions instead of problems, and always ask, “Why?”
“People get caught up in either the feeling or the movement or their own work,” she says. “If you don’t ask each other ‘Why do you need to do this? Why is this the best way to do it?’ then it may not be the best route at the end of the day.”
As vice president for government affairs at Bolton-St. Johns, Hanley now lobbies on behalf of clients in areas like housing and waste management. She has enjoyed learning how to be an advocate, she says.
“Everything in the history of American politics is a lobby,” she says. “From issues of gay rights to women’s rights, everything needed the campaign effort but also people who understood how lawmakers work, how the specific jurisdiction works, in order to change things in the right way.”
Michael David Fredrick Hardaway
Director of Communications and Senior Adviser for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries
Although he currently serves as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ communications director and senior adviser, Michael Hardaway didn’t always intend to go into politics.
“The plan was graduate, go to Wall Street, make a bunch of money,” Hardaway says. His calculus changed when he met an aspiring U.S. Senate candidate at his weekend job, and offered to volunteer for his campaign. “My instincts said, this is a guy whom you should be working with,” Hardaway says about this fateful encounter.
That candidate was Barack Obama. Hardaway leveraged his volunteer service into an internship with the then-senator’s office later in college. He next worked for the 2008 Obama campaign, helped coordinate the presidential transition and became a fundraiser during the first term. Having met several athletes in this role, Hardaway used those connections to represent professional athletes in a public relations capacity.
After four years, he heard from a friend serving as Jeffries’ chief of staff. As soon as he met Jeffries, and saw his authenticity, Hardaway knew he had found his new calling.
Hardaway enjoys the field of political communications, affectionately calling it “the wild west.” He appreciates the ability to craft a message based on an important issue and have it be seen in the news.
“Especially with Congressman Jeffries, someone who prides himself on fighting for the voiceless – it’s incredibly rewarding to have things that you work on or you fight for, and they get resolved – and you are partly responsible,” Hardaway says.
Dylan C. Hewitt
Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer
Dylan Hewitt fondly remembers organizing a high school marathon dance to raise funds for the impoverished communities in his hometown in the Adirondacks.
“It was really the beginning of my career in public service, and showed just how people can come together and help those less fortunate,” says Hewitt, who now pursues his passion as the director of intergovernmental affairs for New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Hewitt, who studied public policy at the University of Pennsylvania, is committed to fostering productive relationships with local, state and federal officials.
“I would describe myself as the chief coalition officer, building partnerships on behalf of the comptroller’s office, and communicating our legislative priorities,” he says.
Prior to his current position, Hewitt worked for Hillary Clinton as national advance manager for Hillary for America. “Over a year and a half, I traveled to 35 states, engaged with community leaders and the press corps,” he says. “It was the most challenging and fulfilling time, and I would have repeated it all over again, regardless of what the result of the election came to be.”
A self-described “lifelong public servant,” Hewitt is focused on serving the needs of minorities, LGBT New Yorkers and the disadvantaged.
“I’m a proud, progressive New Yorker and my years of community organizing taught me to dance through life,” he says. “So when I see assaults on our health care system, amongst other issues, I remind myself of my duty to the public.”
Jeremy M. John
Director of Political Action, District Council 37
Everyone in New York City politics knows about District Council 37, the city’s biggest union and – thanks in part to their green and yellow color scheme – one of its most visible. But Jeremy John, director of political action for DC 37, says the municipal employee union’s voice is only getting louder. Just look the New York City Council primaries.
John touted the power of union turnout, helping Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Adrienne Adams and Diana Ayala win their races, and helping Marjorie Velazquez run a close race in the Bronx against Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, who ran the best-funded City Council campaign in history.
“The female voice is strong within our union,” John says. And it was a huge influence in his own career, as the husband of a union member and with his mother being a United Federation of Teachers member.
“I’m raising my kids to be active in a union because of what it’s done for my mom," he says. “It allowed me to be here right now.”
John went to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice with the intention of becoming an FBI agent, but ended up getting an internship with then-state Sen. David Paterson. He got hooked on politics – and is proud of what he’s done since.
“This year, we achieved our greatest success in recent history, which is universal free lunch for all New York City kids,” John says. “I’m a New York City kid. I grew up in public schools. For me, this is one of my big milestones.”
City Hall Bureau Chief, New York Daily News
Some reporters try to be invisible outside of their writing. No background, no bias – the voice from nowhere. But Jillian Jorgensen is not one of those reporters.
“There’s like a handful of weird personality traits about me that everyone knows,” Jorgensen says. “My Springsteen fandom, my sincere and deeply held love of pizza and the fact that I’m from Staten Island.”
The love of Bruce Springsteen is real – Jorgensen has lyrics from “Thunder Road” tattooed on her back. And she’s so serious about pizza that she took a hiatus from political reporting last year to be a food and drink editor for amNewYork. It was a good gig, she says, “but it’s also a really great job to get paid to be nosy and hassle the mayor and I missed that. So I came back!”
In March, Jorgensen joined the Daily News, which she grew up reading and wanting to write for. The newspaper fits her personality, she says, with its “tabloid fun and occasional snark.” But, she added, “I’m proud of the way the News holds city government’s feet to the fire. We are tough, but fair.”
Jorgensen tried Washington reporting early in her career, but was drawn back to her hometown and the chance to write about “regular people.”
“I’m proud to show up every day and try to explain to people what’s going on in their city government and what their city leaders are doing and why those things matter to them,” she says.
In government, there’s an endless number of behind-the-scenes players. Among them is Anaita Kasad.
Leading a 35-person team of consultants serving city and state agencies along the Eastern Seaboard at PwC, the brand name for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Kasad frequently has the chance to apply a fresh point of view to the work of the people who keep New York City running.
“Especially in government, people are just very used to the way things are and don’t really question it a lot of the time,” she says. “So I think coming in with an outsider’s perspective looking at the data and really creating a fact base to make recommendations off of can really open eyes.”
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Kasad worked with New York City and the state to improve their response to the storm and to help get aid into the hands of residents as quickly as possible. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, her team has also taken a deep dive into New York City’s efforts to address homelessness. They’ve focused on the experience of people entering and exiting the homeless shelter system while working to find ways to improve efficiency.
It’s work that makes Kasad proud.
“What I love about doing government work, especially in the city of New York, is just the social impact it has,” she says. “I can directly see the impact of my work on bettering the community I live in.”
Chief of Staff to New York City Councilman Mark Levine
Aya Keefe has worked in global and national affairs at the Clinton Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but her true passion is effecting change on a local level. As an Israeli immigrant, she knows firsthand the challenges that migrants face, and sees local government as a means to helping underrepresented individuals in the community.
“I went through a very painful immigration process,” she says, even though she already spoke English. “I was looking around me, and there were people everywhere that were going through the exact same challenges as I was, but weren’t even able to speak English, and it was painful to see how little support they could have.”
This drive to help others inspired her to work in public service, and still motivates her as chief of staff to New York City Councilman Mark Levine. Keefe has known Levine since 2008, and the two worked to found the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan. After he was elected in 2013, Keefe says “there was no doubt in my mind that I want to go with him.”
As chief of staff, Keefe is most proud of her role in helping to pass Levine’s right to counsel bill this summer, which provides universal access to legal representation for low-income tenants.
“It’s been the most amazing accomplishment and the most amazing journey to be a part of,” she says.
Senior Director, Nicholas & Lence Communications
Joshua Knoller speaks in a fast-paced patter common among people in the top-speed, tight-deadline world of New York City public relations. But anyone who runs into him at a cocktail party may be more surprised by the questions he asks than by how he asks them.
His small talk topic of choice? Transportation.
My “first question isn’t always, ‘Oh, so what are you doing this weekend?’ The question is, ‘How are you getting there?’” he says.
Traffic and transit are topics that hold endless fascination for Knoller, who worked for Sam Schwartz Engineering for years – even writing and editing the “Gridlock Sam” column that appeared in the Daily News. It was a job he wanted so badly that he ditched an out-of-town job interview midtrip when he heard he was being called in for it.
Now, as a senior director for Nicholas & Lence Communications, he works with a bevy of transportation and tourism clients, delivering messages that help change how New Yorkers get from point A to point B.
It is work that makes a difference, Knoller feels.
“I truly believe that the projects we’re involved with – from the New York Wheel, to Spin, which is a dockless bike-share company, to New York City Ferry, to the Ark at JFK – they really are making a huge impact, from economic development, to quality local jobs, and giving people something that they can ultimately use,” he says.
Fred A. Kreizman
Senior Vice President, Capalino+Company
Fred A. Kreizman grew up with a deep appreciation for New York City.
His grandparents had escaped the Holocaust. His parents, observant Jews, had exchanged the restrictions of the former Soviet Union for the freedom and opportunity of New York.
“Being able to practice your religion, being able to live your life freely and enjoy everything this country has to offer … New York City has always been a beacon of hope,” Kreizman says. “Being able to give back to the New York City government gives me a great feeling of pride.”
Much of Kreizman’s career has been spent giving back to his community from inside city government. He spent more than a decade in the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, eventually rising to become deputy commissioner for citywide outreach. He is most proud, he says, that his work helped provide governmental access to all citizens, regardless of their background or connections.
“It didn’t make a difference who you were, you knew there was a pathway into City Hall,” he says.
Now, as a senior vice president at Capalino+Company, he is helping a different constituency understand government and access its services. He says his work not only helps business owners; it also brings more diversity and services to the city’s residents.
“You’re kind of reshaping the city to benefit the people in it,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to do something for the city that I love so much.”
Executive Director, Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector
When Ya-Ting Liu was earning her master’s degree in urban planning, the emphasis was on finding the facts and analyzing the data.
But after graduation, she got a job that involved building support for then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal and learned that major urban projects are as much about politics and people.
“Being on the ground and part of the coalition and the campaign that was trying to make this sort of policy proposal happen, it was such a completely eye-opening and formative experience,” Liu says of the 2007 effort, which ultimately failed. “It was the first time I learned that at the end of the day, it’s messy. It’s not just about data.”
She’s kept that hard-earned lesson in mind during a decade in advocacy, including working on the federal transportation bill at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and on plastic bag fee legislation for the New York League of Conservation Voters.
Now, as executive director of Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, which is promoting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar proposal, she’s seeking to prevent the pitfalls that plagued the mayor’s predecessor.
“One of the beauties about the BQX is that it’s something that the city of New York itself is really taking the lead on without having to rely on a lot of jurisdictions or layers of government,” Liu says. “It really allows the city to take control of its own transit destiny in a similar way that it has expanded ferry service.”
Op-Ed Editor, New York Post
For Seth Mandel, the most difficult part of beginning his position as op-ed editor for the New York Post was not writing for a prestigious paper, or the challenges of working in a 24/7 news cycle – it was coming up with snarky titles worthy of the iconic tabloid.
“I’ve never really been in the position where I had to write headlines day in and day out,” he says. “It was like, how am I going to write snappy headlines?”
Fortunately, Mandel is now able to write them with ease. He also solicits, assigns, edits and writes opinion pieces as well as pens the occasional editorial. Mandel has been writing opinion pieces for much of his career, including a stint at Commentary magazine, and he considers it to be be more intellectually engaging than the process of writing straight news items.
“Writing opinion pieces challenges what you think, it challenges your instincts,” he says.
At the Post, Mandel gets to utilize his skills as a writer in a collaborative atmosphere. Having previously worked for a magazine, he says he now enjoys the hustle and bustle of the daily paper’s newsroom.
“I’ve done a lot of different kind of writing, and I’ve loved a lot of different jobs I’ve had, but I think the atmosphere of a newsroom was something that I really didn’t realize I had missed as much as I did until I got back to it,” Mandel says.
Vice President of Real Estate, Kasirer
Genevieve Michel prides herself on being able to cut through the complications and noise surrounding New York City real estate development to produce results.
“I like that it’s tangible. I think that so often when we talk about issues in the city, it feels very abstract,” she says. “In New York … land is our greatest resource and we have so little of it.”
In her prior role as chief of staff to New York City Councilman Dan Garodnick, Michel worked on major real estate projects, including the sale of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village and an office tower project that will result in a developer paying for $220 million in infrastructure improvements to Grand Central Terminal.
Now, as vice president of real estate for Kasirer, Michel is sitting on the other side of the table. She helps developers navigate the city approval process and advises them on community relations.
Ultimately, she spends her days answering many of the same questions she did in her previous position: What do communities need? What benefits can developers offer to help communities meet those needs?
“No project is going to be approved in the city that doesn’t have a really robust community benefit program,” she says. “We spend a lot of time trying to think through how can we put together a project that’s going to be politically feasible and therefore really delivers for the community that it’s serving.”
Vice President of Public Affairs, SKDKnickerbocker
Danielle Moodie-Mills knew she wanted to impact national education policy, so she took what seemed to her like an obvious step: She became an elementary school teacher.
“I don’t think that you should work on anything that you don’t have a direct connection to,” says Moodie-Mills, who left her teaching job to work on education issues for Rep. Yvette Clarke. “You can create analysis and have reports ... but to see it firsthand and have an understanding and have actual names of children and their families connected to statistics – to me – matters.”
Moodie-Mills has continued pursuing her passions. She worked on federal education issues for then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and with the National Wildlife Federation she pushed to give more children access to nature and time outdoors. Confronted with the reality that she would need to travel to Connecticut – then one of the few places where gay marriage was legal – to marry her fiancée, she was inspired to launch an initiative with the Center for American Progress that worked at the intersection of racial justice and LGBT equality.
Now, as vice president of public affairs for SKDKnickerbocker, she advises organizations and corporations that are reconsidering their strategy and messaging in a wildly shifting political climate.
“I have always felt that if you have a platform, you should use it for the betterment of people,” she says. “It’s a calling for me to want to see a world where everyone has an equal say and opportunity to live their best lives.”
Adam J. Nashban
Partner, Nashban Mansur LLC
Adam Nashban’s job is to help progressive political candidates raise the money they need to run a viable campaign.
But as he puts it, it’s not just about the money – it’s about building relationships.
“It’s also having the wherewithal to make sure that we’re not just connecting our clients with someone who we think can raise money,” says Nashban, who co-founded Nashban Mansur LLC in 2015. “It’s making a connection where they both believe in and want to see that same thing occur in government and in the world.”
Nashban, who has been working on campaigns since 2001, has helped some of New York City’s top Democrats, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, state Sen. Liz Krueger and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Earlier this year, he notched a major victory when Eric Gonzalez won the Democratic primary for Brooklyn district attorney.
“I’ve rarely seen a six-way race where one person comes away with more than 50 percent of the vote, which we were really, really happy about,” he says.
Nashban’s progressive roots run deep. He grew up Wisconsin, which has a strong progressive movement, and his mother, who protested the Vietnam War, would take him to campaign rallies and protests.
“We never called it progressive,” he says. “It was just how you should treat other human beings. We’re all created equal, we’re all the same, and that’s how we should act in the world, and that aligns with a progressive mentality and it grew from there.”
Christopher B. Ortiz
Assistant Vice President for Innovation & Broadband, Empire State Development
Growing up in a mixed-income area of the Bronx, Christopher B. Ortiz learned early about inequality.
“East Gun Hill Road: It’s a lot of immigrant communities, pockets of lower-income people, pockets of more middle-income people,” he says. “I had a very supportive family and I saw the difference that made to me, relative to peers that I grew up with. And I always wanted to be able to give back.”
Ortiz knew early on that he wanted a career in public service. After completing law school, he joined a corporate firm for a few years to begin paying off his school debt. Then he set his sights on government, joining the Empire State Fellows Program and ultimately becoming the assistant vice president for innovation and broadband at Empire State Development.
Based in New York City, Ortiz is now working to bring broadband to the farthest reaches of northern New York state. He has already helped to award more than $260 million to broadband partners whose work is slated to extend the reach of broadband coverage to 98 percent of the state’s residents.
Ortiz expects that soon every New York resident will have access to broadband. It’s essential work, he says.
“I had always wanted to learn to help communities grow,” Ortiz says. “(And) broadband access is a prerequisite to economic success.”
Associate, Constantinople & Vallone Consulting LLC
As a kid, Jake Potent was utterly obsessed with two TV shows: “The West Wing” and “Spin City.” Following the stories of the officials on both series, he got a glimpse of the power that government could wield to address real issues in people’s lives. He was hooked.
“I just thought: Here are these people trying to solve problems. It’s always something different. It’s always something new. And here are people getting in a room together doing their best and trying to … really achieve something,” he says.
That vision of can-do teamwork has shaped Potent’s career: He has spent much of his professional life getting into rooms with smart and impassioned people to solve problems. Potent has held communications positions with the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee and the Assembly Department of Communications and Information Services, and he was also the director of communications for then-state Sen. Adriano Espaillat.
These days, as an associate with Constantinople & Vallone Consulting LLC, Potent helps shape New York City government relations strategy for a diverse array of clients.
What has surprised him most about his profession, Potent says, is how accessible everyone is.
“If you’re willing to work hard, and you’re willing to listen to people, and you’re willing to meet people and put effort into it … people are really willing to bring you in and teach you,” he says. “I’ve had some amazing mentors.”
Vice President of Government Affairs, The Parkside Group
As a third-grade teacher in the Bronx, Safiya Raheem worked hard to create exciting lesson plans that would capture the interest of her students. She couldn’t figure out why, no matter how interesting the activity, one boy always seemed to be tuned out.
So she asked him: What do you wonder about? What are you curious about?
“It was so heartbreaking,” she recalls. “He wondered if he was going to have dinner that night. He wondered if he was going to go to sleep because his parents had been fighting so much about money. … When a child’s basic needs aren’t being met, how do you make ‘why birds fly’ interesting if they don’t even know if they’re going to eat?”
The experience drove home for Raheem just how profound an impact social services can have on a student’s education.
Now, as a vice president of government affairs at The Parkside Group, she works to bring social services to children around New York City. It is, she says, her dream job.
Raheem says she finds herself using many of the same skills that she did with her 8-year-old students.
“I see a good chunk of my job as being an effective communicator,” she says. Now, instead of making birds matter to kids, she’s presenting information to public officials.
“I can attribute (my) success to a really deep understanding of my client’s needs, but also the needs of the elected officials and the communities that they serve,” she says.
Community Activist, Democratic Nominee for New York City Council District 2
Carlina Rivera is widely expected to be the next New York City councilwoman for the 2nd District after winning the Democratic primary in September. The Lower East Side native already has some ideas for how she’ll meet constituents. “I ride my bike all over the city,” she says. “It’s the best way to get around the district.”
Rivera knows the district well, having worked as the legislative director for the current city councilwoman, Rosie Mendez, served on a community board and worked for the nonprofit Good Old Lower East Side.
“When you go to these workshops and these marches and these rallies, and specifically these local meetings, this movement, the social justice work, is almost always 60 percent women,” Rivera says, adding that strong women in her life, including mentors like Mendez and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, pushed her to run for office.
“It’s daunting,” she says, “but knowing that I had a lifetime of people around me who were wanting to support me pushed me to finally do it.”
Rivera is proud of her district’s small businesses and fun reputation. Her husband even owns a coffee shop in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. But she also understands the value of the district’s great resources of public housing, having grown up in federally subsidized housing herself. Once in the council, Rivera plans to join the Progressive Caucus.
“I know a lot of the members and they seem like they’re going to be great colleagues,” she says. “And some of them like to bike too.”
Vice President of Economic Development, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
As a college student, Varun Sanyal got an internship with the Philadelphia City Council. He saw firsthand how public policy could transform people’s lives. The experience helped inspire him to combine his interests in public policy and urban planning.
“Cities are always evolving. There are always cycles. But smart growth and sustainable planning are key to the vitality of cities,” he says. “That led me to really get the legislative experience (and) the land use experience … and utilize that skill set by working directly for entities that are on the ground in the community.”
Previously, as a legislative and land use analyst for the New York City Council, Sanyal worked to ensure that affordable housing for families was included in development projects. As a project manager for the Staten Island Economic Development Corp., he advocated for equitable transportation options.
Now, as vice president of economic development for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, he works directly with the small businesses that help drive the borough’s economy. He is particularly proud of having brought member manufacturers on trade missions around the world.
For Sanyal, his work is driven by a desire to give back to his community. A belief in civic engagement was an early gift from his father, a public school teacher.
“Really helping the residents of New York City – economic development does that, through various avenues, whether it’s job creation, development, or small-business assistance,” he says.
Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Tony Sclafani has spent his career working for New York City institutions, often taking on the tough jobs.
“The way I see my career is that I tend to gravitate toward challenging environments where the deck might be stacked against you,” Sclafani says. “And someone like me has to figure out how to reshape the image or maybe restack the deck.”
After a stint as a police reporter for the Daily News, Sclafani became a spokesman for the New York City Fire Department and eventually chief spokesman for the city Department of Buildings. Every step of the way, he was on deadline and under pressure.
“I think I’m at my best when things are at their worst,” he says. “When the chips are down, I tend to work harder and work better. … I like when the stakes are high.”
Now, as chief communications officer for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Sclafani is working to tell a new story about a complex that once earned the nickname “Darth Vader” – both for its black glass and for killing scores of unsuspecting birds that flew into the panes.
Like the neighborhood around it, Javits has been transformed. It has a green roof housing dozens of bird species and even bees that are producing the center’s own honey. Bird deaths are down more than 90 percent.
The attention that has accompanied that renewal is long overdue, Sclafani says.
“This is one of New York state’s greatest economic assets,” he says.
Deputy Director of Enforcement, New York City Conflicts of Interest Board
Government ethics is a hot topic right now, and that makes Jeffrey Tremblay pretty happy.
“I think it’s great that people are paying attention to these conflict of interest issues,” he says. But that could have a downside. “My dread is that somehow, like everything else in American society today, it becomes partisan,” he continues. “These sort of general rules about benefiting yourself and other people and abusing the office for your own personal gain seems like something we can all agree on.”
Tremblay loves his job with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board, holding city employees accountable if they violate the ethics law. “There’s a tremendous amount of variety in the work both because the law can be quite nuanced and also because it’s a law that applies to all 300,000-plus city employees,” he says. “So we’re dealing with lots of different types of public servants, from teachers to sanitation workers to police officers to council members.”
Outside of his job, Tremblay likes backpacking in the great outdoors and watching football at the biggest college stadium in the country – University of Michigan’s “The Big House” – but on the job, it’s all about the little things. He recalls a case where an assistant principal was changing his son’s failing grades to passing.
“It was a way of realizing how these seemingly small things can really permeate the culture,” Tremblay says. “And if they’re allowed to go unchecked, people can lose faith in the way government works.”