The 2018 Albany Power 100: 50-1

The New York State Capitol
The New York State Capitol
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The New York State Capitol.
Power 100

The 2018 Albany Power 100: 50-1

The most powerful people in Albany.
Kathryn Wylde
Kathryn Wylde
Kathryn Wylde
President and CEO
Partnership for New York City
No change

Albany’s always hearing Kathryn Wylde’s thoughts as the premier voice for New York City’s business community – and a major driver of the state’s tax base. Whether it’s pushing for congestion pricing or praising Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s federal tax workarounds, Wylde’s support is a bellwether for the monied class. But she isn’t just a Billionaires’ Row socialite – she splits time between Bay Ridge and Puerto Rico, and serves on Cuomo’s Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee.

50
50
Rick Cotton
Rick Cotton
Rick Cotton
Executive Director
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
New to list

Rick Cotton’s to-do list keeps growing. There’s the multibillion-dollar refurbishments of the lackluster LaGuardia, Newark and JFK airports without closing any of them. A $3.5 billion infusion to overhaul the dilapidated midtown Manhattan bus terminal. A $10 billion revamp of the George Washington, Goethals and Bayonne bridges. And there’s construction of the $13 billion trans-Hudson rail tunnel, whenever Congress gets around to funding that. Hope the Port Authority executive director gets some executive time for himself.

49
N/A
Geoffrey Berman
Geoffrey Berman
Geoffrey Berman
U.S. Attorney
Southern District of New York
New to list

Preet Bharara’s replacement was never nominated by the president or confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But that hasn’t stopped Geoffrey Berman, who is ensconced as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York after federal judges unanimously voted him into the seat. Don’t think he escaped President Donald Trump’s radar. Federal prosecutors signed off on an FBI raid of Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s home and office. Berman recused himself from the explosive investigation and has avoided the press.

48
N/A
Heather Briccetti
Heather Briccetti
Heather Briccetti
President and CEO
The Business Council of New York State Inc.
No change

The onetime government lawyer turned lobbyist has been president of the influential Business Council of New York State, representing about 2,400 companies, since 2011. She is among the most prominent voices for business interests in the state, no doubt having established connections during her time working as counsel to the state Senate majority and Assembly. Heather Briccetti has been a cautiously supportive voice for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, even as he’s advanced worker-friendly legislation and a untested payroll tax option.

47
47
Bill Thompson
Bill Thompson
Bill Thompson
Chairman
CUNY Board of Trustees
No change

With City University of New York Chancellor James Milliken set to step down this month, Bill Thompson has a big opportunity to mold the storied urban higher education system. Appointed chairman of the CUNY board in 2016, Thompson brought decades of experience – and a proud family name as the son of a state senator – to the job. The whole state depends on CUNY as an educator and middle-class driver, and it’s Thompson’s job to steer it through tough times.

46
46
Daniel Donohue
Daniel Donohue
Danny Donohue
President
Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000
No change

If you thought Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration was tough on public sector workers, wait until the U.S. Supreme Court makes its ruling in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. Danny Donohue and his Civil Service Employees Association is sweating what could be a devastating decision that could reduce union revenue. At least Cuomo signed legislation saying unions wouldn’t be obligated to provide benefits to public employees that don’t pay dues, which helps the CSEA if the court rules against them.

45
45
Gary La Barbera
Gary La Barbera
Gary LaBarbera
President
Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York
No change

The president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York keeps his 100,000 construction workers safe and fairly compensated. A union lifer, Gary LaBarbera has ties to other labor umbrella groups and sits on the Port Authority board as a voice for workers – and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Squeezed by private developers, LaBarbera’s been loving the governor’s public building boom. And as the man negotiating those contracts, Albany has to keep LaBarbera happy to get anything built.

44
44
Richard Kauffman
Richard Kauffman
Richard Kauffman
New York Chairman of Energy and Finance
No change

As the federal government scales back its clean energy goals, states are taking the lead on renewable energy resources like wind and solar – and New York has had a head start with Richard Kauffman driving the state’s energy policies. But Kauffman’s portfolio goes much further, with groundbreaking efforts underway to revamp the entire energy grid. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo runs for a third term, look for him to tout his ambitious renewable targets – and Kauffman’s efforts to meet them.

43
43
Ken Lovett
Ken Lovett
Ken Lovett
Albany Bureau Chief
Daily News
Down 10

Few Albany reporters have a byline more potent than the publication they work for – but one is Ken Lovett, who has every New York politico waiting with bated breath for his Monday morning scoops. This year, however, Lovett became the news when he was arrested by the New York State Police for using his cellphone – as many do – in the state Senate lobby. As if to underscore Lovett’s influence, the governor showed up to free him after the Senate declined to press charges.

42
32
Ruben Diaz Jr.
Ruben Diaz Jr.
Rubén Díaz Jr.
Bronx Borough President
Down 10

They may as well have held this year's state budget talks in the Bronx. Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. is tight with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and has kept the peace with state Sen. Jeff Klein, two Bronxites among the “four men in the room.” It shows when he brings home the bacalao – like funding for Metro-North Railroad stations and the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment. Díaz is also close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which could pave the way for a 2021 mayoral run.

41
31
Mario Cilento
Mario Cilento
Mario Cilento
President
New York State AFL-CIO
Up 2

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t always been the strongest ally of labor unions, but in recent years he has had their backs – which is good for the energetic Mario Cilento. He attended the meeting in which the state Senate Democrats and the breakaway IDC agreed to reunite, killed the state constitutional convention, has seen more unionized workers in the state and has won legislative victories, including efforts to brace for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could be unfavorable to unions.

40
42
Kevin Law
Kevin Law
Kevin Law
President and CEO
Long Island Association
No change

A tunnel connecting Long Island’s North Shore to Connecticut may never happen, but there are plenty of other reasons why Kevin Law is optimistic about the island’s future. Who can blame him? The Hamptons are the region’s premiere vacation destination, the Long Island Rail Road is adding double tracks and new stations, and the Islanders are returning to Nassau County (and so might more horse racing). Plus, having the ear of the governor means Long Island’s concerns are heard.

39
39
Joseph Lhota
Joseph Lhota
Joseph Lhota
Chairman
Metropolitan Transportation Authority
New to list

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s June 2017 appointment of Joseph Lhota as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority got the governor not just a competent and respected manager, but an attack dog who battled Bill de Blasio in the 2013 mayoral race. Lhota proved himself adept at both aspects, turning New York City commuters’ “summer of hell” into a not-so-bad “summer of heck” and providing Cuomo political cover by blaming the mayor for his slowness in funding the MTA’s subway turnaround plan.

38
N/A
Patrick Brown and David Weinraub
Patrick Brown and David Weinraub
Patrick Brown & David Weinraub
Principals
Brown & Weinraub
No change

Brown & Weinraub has quietly been climbing the ranks of Albany’s top lobbying firms, coming in a close second to Kasirer on the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ annual lobbying report, earning nearly $11.2 million last year. That’s more than a $2 million increase from what the firm made in 2016. Leading the charge are co-founders Patrick Brown and David Weinraub, both Albany veterans who served under Gov. Mario Cuomo and now serve high-profile clients like Airbnb and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

37
37
Jennifer Cunningham
Jennifer Cunningham
Jennifer Cunningham
Partner
SKDKnickerbocker
No change

New York’s secret political weapon is only a secret if you aren’t in politics. The SKDKnickerbocker partner and cerebellum of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's brain trust, Jennifer Cunningham has her work cut out for her with the governor facing a real re-election fight against Cynthia Nixon. While she is a savvy communications consultant, there weren’t any good responses when she was faced with the abuse allegations against Eric Schneiderman, Cunningham’s former spouse and a client who abruptly resigned as state attorney general.

36
36
Andrew Zambelli
Andrew Zambelli
Drew Zambelli
Democratic Pollster
Up 14

If you want to know which way the political winds are shifting in New York, Drew Zambelli is the guy to call. The veteran pollster is among the best in the business, which is why he is one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s trusted advisers. He does everything from assessing the popularity of policy proposals being considered by the governor to identifying Cuomo’s strengths and weaknesses on the campaign trail as the governor seeks a third term.

35
49
Donna Frescatore
Donna Frescatore
Donna Frescatore
State Medicaid Director
New to list

New York’s health care system has been in upheaval, with efforts by Republicans in Washington, D.C., to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and threats from the Trump administration to slash health care spending. Then came the departure of Jason Helgerson, the state’s respected Medicaid director. But by replacing him with Donna Frescatore, who previously ran the state’s online health insurance exchange and actually had served as Medicaid director before, the state won’t miss a beat.

34
N/A
John Banks
John Banks
John Banks
President
Real Estate Board of New York
Down 13

The Real Estate Board of New York president may have his work cut out for him this fall if Democrats get the upper hand in the state Senate. Deep-pocketed developers are closely following debates over the elimination of vacancy decontrol, a vacancy tax and reforms allowing more density in residential neighborhoods. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an ally, is favored to win re-election but losing the Republican-controlled state Senate, which REBNY works with closely, could make for a challenging time.

33
20
Marc Molinaro
Marc Molinaro
Marcus Molinaro
Dutchess County Executive and Gubernatorial Candidate
Up 66

The state Republican Party spent months struggling to find a candidate to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb jumped in and left just as quickly. State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan thought about it for a second. John DeFrancisco ultimately abandoned his bid. George Pataki wasn’t walking through that door. Leave it to Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, a fresh face who probably has as good of a shot as any of them. His campaign theme? Nicer governance.

32
98
Michael Gianaris
Michael Gianaris
Michael Gianaris
Chairman
New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee
Up 57

A year ago, it seemed unlikely that the state Senate’s mainline Democrats would reunite with the Independent Democratic Conference, with insiders often citing a feud between state Sen. Michael Gianaris and IDC leader Jeff Klein. But Gianaris welcomed back Klein and gave up his deputy seat for the good of the party. Gianaris now must follow through by picking up a seat or two in the state Senate this fall – which could essentially make New York a one-party state.

31
88
Jeff Klein
Jeff Klein
Jeffrey Klein
State Senate Deputy Minority Leader
Down 23

The once defiant and powerful Independent Democratic Conference leader, who gained stature and rebuffed criticism as an ally of state Senate Republicans, has morphed into a dependable, mainline Democratic deputy leader, albeit with a diminished staff and perks. But why? Kumbaya rhetoric aside, it’s unclear what exactly precipitated the move beyond the governor’s call for unity. Klein also came under scrutiny for an allegation of sexual misconduct, but he denied the episode and hasn’t faced any consequences – so far.

30
7
Hector Figuero
Hector Figuero
Héctor Figueroa
President
32BJ SEIU
Up 51

The union leader is one of the governor’s staunchest allies. Héctor Figueroa scored a victory when the Port Authority recommended raising airport workers’ wages to $19 an hour by 2023. Then he helped bring the Independent Democratic Conference back into the fold. Next, he turned heads by pulling his union out of the Working Families Party at Cuomo’s behest after the party endorsed Cynthia Nixon for governor. Cuomo will count on unions like 32BJ SEIU this fall.

29
80
Betty Rosa
Betty Rosa
Betty Rosa
Chancellor
state Board of Regents
No change

The state Board of Regents chancellor sailed through her legislative reappointment in March, but many challenges remain before the end of the school year. Betty Rosa is grappling with how the state should revamp school security and counseling resources in the wake of the Parkland massacre. The governor’s race could provide momentum for changes that Rosa would like to see. Cynthia Nixon will put the debate over equity in education funding and decoupling teacher evaluations from student performance front and center.

28
28
Michael Mulgrove
Michael Mulgrove
Michael Mulgrew
President
United Federation of Teachers
No change

We’re a long way from 2015, when the United Federation of Teachers ran ads criticizing Gov. Andrew Cuomo for supporting charter schools. Michael Mulgrew is now a fierce ally of Cuomo, who recently joined the UFT president at an anti-gun violence “die-in” and has taken steps to soften the blow of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected to weaken public sector unions. If Mulgrew can get his 200,000 members to help Cuomo defeat Cynthia Nixon, he’ll rise even higher.

27
27
MaryEllen Elia
MaryEllen Elia
MaryEllen Elia
Commissioner
state Education Department
No change

Testing glitches aside, MaryEllen Elia’s reign atop the state Education Department has been largely free of controversy. The opt-out movement has died down, charter school growth has slowed and lawmakers just added $1 billion in education funding. But the end of the school year will bring unexpected quarrels. Lawmakers are again considering a plan to overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system and a debate about school segregation on the Upper West Side may have broader policy implications.

26
26
Simcha Felder
Simcha Felder
Simcha Felder
State Senator
Up 54

State Sen. Simcha Felder was once a little-known political quantity in the quirky calculus of state Senate politics. But now, since the evaporation of the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, he has grown more powerful and less obscure as the single card-carrying Democrat to remain aligned with the Republicans’ one-seat majority. The Brooklyn state senator is feeling the heat as every true-blue Democrat, including a primary challenger, wants to overturn the last vestige of state Republican power.

25
79
Kirsten Gillibrand
Kirsten Gillibrand
Kirsten Gillibrand
U.S. Senator
No change

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio feud over political matters large and small, New York’s junior senator has captured the national spotlight both men crave. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been at the forefront of the #MeToo movement, absorbing the president’s tweet tempests and the ire of ex-Clinton campaign surrogates while building goodwill among leftist activists and legislative colleagues. She has denied interest in running for president, but she’s playing her cards right for a 2020 bid.

24
24
Suri Kasirer
Suri Kasirer
Suri Kasirer
Founder and President
Kasirer LLC
No change

Suri Kasirer has long been a force to be reckoned with in New York City, which has directly translated to influence in Albany. She founded her New York City-based lobbying firm Kasirer LLC in 1997, and has since built it into one of the pre-eminent firms in the state. The firm raked in nearly $11.5 million last year, making it the top state lobbyist for the second straight year in the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ annual lobbying report.

23
23
Kenneth Raske
Kenneth Raske
Kenneth Raske
President
Greater New York Hospital Association
Up 16

The health care industry has been under siege since President Donald Trump vowed to repeal Obamacare. That hasn’t deterred Kenneth Raske, who has battled efforts to repeal the law and cut Medicare, while also helping his medical centers understand the complexities of the Affordable Care Act. More recently, the Greater New York Hospital Association president rallied lawmakers to allow the $2 billion sale of Fidelis Care to a for-profit company and to create a health care fund in the state budget.

22
38
Neal Kwatra
Neal Kwatra
Neal Kwatra
Founder and CEO
Metropolitan Public Strategies
No change

Neal Kwatra’s Metropolitan Public Strategies firm is a go-to consultancy for influential Democrats. Most recently, he guided Corey Johnson into the New York City Council speaker’s office. Kwatra has key allies in Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, all while leading a push against Airbnb for his old bosses at the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council. The firm also recently expanded to Florida and is developing a reputation as a boutique digital political shop.

21
21
Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor
Up 10

Shouldn’t the easily re-elected mayor of the state’s dominant city be higher on this list? Unfortunately for Bill de Blasio, Albany continues to impose itself on New York City, increasing its oversight on the city’s schools and NYCHA, and squeezing more money out of the city to fund fixes at the MTA. Yet Cuomo’s leftward shift – uniting state Senate Democrats and proposing to ban plastic bags – is a plus for the mayor, even if Cynthia Nixon gets the credit.

20
30
Howard Zemsky
Howard Zemsky
Howard Zemsky
President and CEO
Empire State Development
Down 7

If the governor wins a third term thanks to upstate and Western New York, Howard Zemsky should deserve some credit. The Empire State Development Corp. president and CEO gave out $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2018, on top of the billions of dollars the state spent the previous fiscal year. The Buffalo Billion initiative added another $400 million, Moynihan Train Hall collected $700 million and there’s enough left over for the regional economic development councils.

19
12
Cathy Calhoun
Cathy Calhoun
Cathy Calhoun
Director of State Operations
New to list

In November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Cathy Calhoun as his director of state operations, which made the executive chamber almost entirely full of women. Calhoun has the enviable but demanding job of managing all state agencies and deploying resources whenever an emergency occurs. It can be a herculean task, even in calm times, but Calhoun is known for being levelheaded behind the scenes, particularly on transportation and infrastructure issues. A major challenge, though, is resolving New York City’s subway crisis.

18
N/A
Bill Mulrow
Bill Mulrow
Bill Mulrow
Chairman
Cuomo 2018
No change

No one is sitting on a bigger stack of campaign cash than Bill Mulrow. With $30 million in the bank, Mulrow, an investment banker who served in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, will likely be doling out dollars to the best political operatives money can buy in order for the governor keep his perch atop Albany’s power structure. Given the unexpected primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon, and the GOP gearing up for November, the job is only going to get more interesting.

17
17
Catharine Young
Catharine Young
Catharine Young
Chairwoman
New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee
Up 36

This Western New York state senator heads both the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee and the state Senate Finance Committee, the first woman to hold that key position. Wearing two hats as party war chest booster and state Senate purse string holder, Catharine Young is involved in scores of causes and recently sponsored the state Senate’s anti-sexual harassment measures. As election season heats up, the pressure will be on her to maintain the GOP's last hold on statewide power.

16
52
Peter Ward
Peter Ward
Peter Ward
President
New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council
No change

Peter Ward protects hotel workers and the hospitality industry like Michael Oher protects the quarterback in “The Blind Side.” Ward’s presence at the state Senate Democrats’ reconciliation meeting this spring is a signal that Albany strongly favors the industry over hospitality startups. Airbnb failed to slip a short-term vacation rental tax into the state budget, thanks to Ward’s efforts. Fighting off a fast-rising threat doesn’t take all of his energy – Ward also supports labor on the MTA board.

15
15
George Gresham
George Gresham
George Gresham
President
1199SEIU
No change

When George Gresham wants something, state lawmakers usually listen. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration added a new health care shortfall fund, coming from the sale of Fidelis Care, thanks to a $2.8 million lobbying push from Gresham’s 1199SEIU. The union has endorsed the governor’s re-election campaign and pressured lawmakers to protect the state’s most vulnerable residents’ access to health care. New York is one of the only states requiring low-cost health plans by law to those who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

14
14
Andrea Stewart Cousins
Andrea Stewart Cousins
Andrea Stewart-Cousins
State Senate Minority Leader
Up 54

The state Senate minority leader’s stock has been rising since the IDC disbanded, with the once-wayward Jeff Klein now serving under her instead of leading a power-sharing coalition with Republicans. If state Sen. Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, would actually join with the party, she would be the first woman, and first African-American woman, to become state Senate majority leader. With indications of a “blue wave” in November, the dream may not be far off.

13
67
Joe Crowley
Joe Crowley
Joseph Crowley
Chairman
House Democratic Caucus
Up 60

Rep. Joseph Crowley’s influence in the state often is so subtle it’s overlooked. The veteran Queens congressman had been climbing the rungs of congressional leadership and is potentially in position to become the next House speaker while also consolidating power back home. He helped anoint New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and pushed for a truce among warring state Senate Democrats. Neither happens without him – and the same could be said for winning back the House.

12
72
Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon
Gubernatorial Candidate
New to list

Can a New York City actress and activist actually topple one of the most powerful Democrats in the country? We’ll find out in mere months when Cynthia Nixon faces Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. Her surprising entry in the race has upended a staid year in state politics, attracting national media attention and nudging Cuomo to the left on an array of fronts. The race is even being touted as a proxy for the soul of the Democratic Party.

11
N/A
Barbara Underwood
Barbara Underwood
Barbara Underwood
Acting state Attorney General
New to list

Following Eric Schneiderman’s shocking downfall, Barbara Underwood is running the influential state attorney general’s office for now – and New Yorkers are learning about one of their more accomplished public servants who’s gone under the radar. A trial attorney who has argued 20 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, Underwood has been No. 2 in the attorney general’s office for more than a decade. A consensus has emerged to keep her in the post through the end of the year.

10
N/A
Robert Mujica
Robert Mujica
Robert Mujica
State Budget Director
Up 2

The governor's maestro who balances the budget survived another punishing round of negotiations, pulling 12-hour days to get it done – and done on time once again. Robert Mujica has held just about every job there is crunching state budget numbers, having risen to the top of the food chain with a potent combination of Excel mastery and political savvy. As the budget marathon ebbs in Albany, he said he hopes to escape to the woods to train for running actual marathons.

9
11
Alphonso David
Alphonso David
Alphonso David
Counsel to the Governor
Up 2

Alphonso David is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s not-so-secret weapon. The governor’s counsel has acquitted himself well in public forums and policy breakfasts as a surrogate who can explain the governor’s agenda and handle tough questions. David has arguably done that better than Cuomo himself, giving advisers no qualms about touting the legal eagle as a possible future state attorney general. For now, David is at the forefront of expanding voting rights, banning plastic bags and stamping out sexual harassment in the workplace.

8
10
Melissa deRosa
Melissa deRosa
Melissa DeRosa
Secretary to the Governor
Up 2

Melissa DeRosa has had a swift climb in a town that sees either decadeslong slogs to power or unanticipated falls from grace. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made history last year when he named her the state’s first female secretary to the governor, a top job previously held by Bill Mulrow and Larry Schwartz. DeRosa has emerged as a trusted adviser to the governor and a policy powerhouse in her own right on immigration and civil rights. Could a run for office be in her future?

7
9
Thomas Dinapoli
Thomas Dinapoli
Thomas DiNapoli
State Comptroller
Up 2

Money is power and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has the power of the pension purse strings – all $209 billion. He has opposed divestment, preferring to pressure corporate boards from within, and he has taken stands against all-male boards and sexual misconduct allegations. His audits also can make headlines and counter inefficiencies – or worse – in state government. Losing Eric Schneiderman, a political ally, will hurt, but the good-natured DiNapoli may just team up with the next state attorney general.

6
8
John Flanagan
John Flanagan
John Flanagan
State Senate Majority Leader
No change

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan is arguably New York’s most important Republican, as his narrow majority in the state Senate is the only thing preventing one-party rule in the state. He is facing renewed efforts to overthrow his conference, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo backing Democratic candidates and former ally Jeff Klein dismantling the Independent Democratic Conference. But Flanagan has kept state Sen. Simcha Felder on his side, and his conference could surprise pundits at the polls this fall.

5
5
Charles Schumer
Charles Schumer
Charles Schumer
U.S. Senator
Down 2

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is the most influential Democrat in Washington, D.C., but back home he’s a runner-up.

In Albany, New York’s senior senator plays second fiddle to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose responsibilities grant him far more power over everything from the state budget to setting policies to overseeing the agencies and offices that keep state government running.

In Washington, Schumer has been limited by his minority status. While much was made of his proven ability to schmooze and work across the aisle to cut deals, he has been outplayed by another fellow New Yorker. President Donald Trump hasn’t been the most effective president, but he has moved forward with much of his agenda – stifling immigration, scaling back environmental and financial regulations, tearing up his predecessor’s foreign policy – over the protests of Schumer and the rest of the loyal opposition.

One early victory, for which Schumer deserved some credit, was the Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace Obamacare despite controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. But since then, Schumer has fallen short on a number of major changes that could hurt New York. On tax policy, the senator was unable to block the cap on the state and local tax deduction, which Democrats fear will hurt the state’s long-term financial health.

On infrastructure, the Trump administration appears to be hindering the critical long-delayed Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River simply because Schumer wants it. And cries for gun control from Schumer and other Democrats have ultimately fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

If there’s any silver lining for Schumer, it’s the hope that Democrats could take back the U.S. Senate in the midterm elections, which could make Schumer majority leader – and put Trump on the defensive.

4
2
Carl Heastie
Carl Heastie
Carl Heastie
Assembly Speaker
Up 1

After the recent fall of Eric Schneiderman, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie became the most popular person in Albany. No, the soft-spoken Bronxite is not competing for Mr. Congeniality, but the attorney general vacancy is a reminder that the numbers are on his side. Namely, 104 Assembly Democrats, all under his leadership, which will let him control the selection process for the state’s top prosecutor – although he may be pressured into appointing acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood as a nonpolitical placeholder.

Heastie first won statewide power in 2015 after the downfall of another top leader, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. But Heastie is no victim of circumstance. He built up power in the Bronx for years and earned the respect of his colleagues who supported him for the top post. He has continued to cultivate relationships as speaker, taking an annual tour to far-flung districts around the state and listening to colleagues in a way his predecessor never did. He has also worked with the governor to shift leftward, turning causes like Raise the Age, a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave into law. His power is limited by the Republican-controlled state Senate and the often more moderate governor, but Heastie has smartly framed himself as the one man representing New York City’s interests in budget negotiations – and he can’t be blamed if Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan outvote him. Outside of the state Capitol, Heastie is an electoral force, playing the role of a backroom dealer and gatekeeper rather than a spotlight-hogging political boss. Heastie has ensured that the Bronx Democrats remain powerful, while working strategically with Rep. Joseph Crowley’s Queens political machine to extend his reach. In a few years, he will face another test of his power: whether he can get his ally Rubén Díaz Jr. into the New York City mayor’s office.

3
4
Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Donald Trump
President
Up 1

The Manhattan businessman flirted with a run for New York governor in 2014 before declining, with the conventional wisdom saying he would have gotten crushed. Instead, he went on to mount an unlikely but ultimately successful campaign for president.

Trump had been on the state’s political margins for years, donating to candidates, fighting for tax abatements and paying fines for illegal lobbying against casinos. But well into his second year in the White House, it seems that about half of Albany’s time is spent reacting to Trump.

Forget “the Cynthia effect” pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the left. What about “the Trump effect,” making New York bluer than it’s ever been? Would the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference – branded by progressives as “Trump Democrats” – have rejoined the mainline Democrats if the president hadn’t remade the Republican brand in his image?

Would five state Senate Republicans be declining to run for re-election if they weren’t worried about a “blue wave” in November? Would Westchester and Nassau counties both be led by Democratic executives if Trump weren’t president? Would a record number of women be running for office in New York?

And that’s not even considering the state budget. Cuomo exerted serious political capital in his attempt to save New Yorkers money by creating workarounds for the new cap on state and local tax deductions. Other issues, such as Medicaid funding, transportation funding and the state DREAM Act, wouldn’t have felt quite so important with a Democrat in the White House. But here is New York, still adjusting to a world led by a New Yorker for the first time in generations. And Trump did it all without ever visiting – or probably even thinking about – his home state’s capital.

2
3
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo
Governor
No change

There are many reasons why Gov. Andrew Cuomo has enjoyed a long reign as the most powerful politician in the state.

He has the experience, having cut his teeth in Albany under his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and having served in the administration of Bill Clinton before getting elected state attorney general and using the office as a springboard to the governorship.

He has the political savvy, playing the state Senate Republicans, the erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference and the Assembly Democrats off each other while positioning himself as the man in the middle cutting deals.
He has prodded state lawmakers into backing his priorities, most notably persuading four Republican state senators to vote for same-sex marriage in 2011 – even though all of them would leave office in short order.

But an overlooked aspect of his power is his resilience.

Since he took office, a number of top elected officials have gone down in scandal: Democrats Sheldon Silver, Vito Lopez, Malcolm Smith and John Sampson; and Republicans Dean Skelos, Thomas Libous and George Maziarz. Eric Schneiderman resigned as state attorney general due to allegations of physical and emotional abuse, and though state Senate Deputy Minority Leader Jeff Klein is holding on in the face of a sexual misconduct allegation, he too has been weakened. Even some Cuomo aides and associates – Joseph Percoco was found guilty, while Alain Kaloyeros’ trial is looming – haven’t been immune.

So while Cuomo hasn’t exactly cleaned up Albany, he has survived it.
Throughout it all, he has shown a gift for testing the political winds and adapting accordingly.

Early on, when the state faced a major budget shortfall, he worked with fiscal conservatives to keep spending in check and to impose a property tax cap. He coordinated with industry players to balance health care spending. And he insisted on timely budget deals, avoiding the delays that plagued past governors.

Over time, as voters clamored for progressive measures, he banned hydraulic fracturing, pushed through a $15 minimum wage and enacted a sweeping paid family leave law. Now, in response to the policies of President Donald Trump, he has positioned himself as New York’s liberal champion on taxes, the environment, immigration and more. He is also responding to a primary challenge from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon by backing a plastic bag ban, brokering an end to the IDC and rallying around Democrats seeking to win a majority in the state Senate.

Always eager to amass more power, he is now seeking to back a candidate for state attorney general.

If he wins big in September and November – both personally and for his fellow Democrats – he’ll be emboldened as he eyes a bid to take down Trump in 2020.

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