Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Influentials


Real power doesn’t always show its face in New York City.

Behind the scenes in government, business, labor and the nonprofit world, the forces that propel the city are often marshaled by people who rarely rise to public prominence. While politicians, top executives and other leaders may be the faces outsiders see of major initiatives, insiders know better.

City Hall’s second annual list of 20 influential non-elected officials profiles those people with deep contacts, long institutional memories and sterling reputations for getting things done.

In these pages, you’ll meet the people who can build skyscrapers and rezone neighborhoods, who can steer elections and guide City Hall, who can mobilize tens of thousands of people and millions of dollars, who can quietly build a consensus before most New Yorkers even know what’s at issue.

We recognize them to honor their ability to drive the agenda in a city as complicated as New York—and to provide a guide to New Yorkers who want to know how the city really works.

(Johns Note: Scroll down to read about Steve McInnis, Political Director, New York City District Council of Carpenters.)

Photos by Andrew Schwartz and Dan Burnstein

Elizabeth BergerElizabeth Berger
President, Alliance for Downtown New York

Like a beat cop, Elizabeth Berger stalks the streets of lower Manhattan, talking to residents and elected officials, taking the temperature of the neighborhood.

“I just want to understand what’s going on,” said Berger, who has presided over the Alliance for Downtown New York since 2007 and lives two blocks from the office. “The community that I care about the most is the one in which I live.”

ADNY is a business-improvement district that provides lower Manhattan with sanitation and public transportation services, tourism programs, homeless outreach, economic development strategies—and most important, relentless belief in the vibrancy of an area devastated after the fall of the World Trade Center 10 years ago.

“There is no average day on this job,” Berger said.
On a typical day this month she worked on both an art project to mitigate the impact of some local construction and the operational plans for opening the World Trade Center Memorial—not only for guests but for the downtown residents whose daily lives intersect with the site.

In the almost four years Berger has been president, she pushed for a faster opening of the Fulton Street Transit Center, routed funds from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to beautify streets and helped sell the prospect of business downtown to companies looking to relocate.

Though she is the public face of the alliance, most of Berger’s work is behind the scenes, generating narratives of the area to reporters and businesses that shape its public perception and its future.
“I’m very interested in the life of cities, and the notion of what makes the urban experience work,” said Berger, who developed her own urban-studies major at Yale and was an aide to former Mayor Ed Koch.

“This has been an extraordinary opportunity to put ideas and relationships and everything I’ve learned along the way into practice.”

Michael MillerMichael Miller
CEO, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York

Michael Miller’s job as head of the Jewish Community Relations Council puts him at the head of an umbrella group of 60 diverse Jewish organizations across the city. But what Miller actually does on a day-to-day basis is a little more difficult to explain than if he had become, say, a doctor or a lawyer.

“This is not a very easy profession to describe,” Miller said, after almost three decades on the job. “Community relations is an undefined field.”

Much of Miller’s work involves formulating an effective, unified response to crises for the Jewish community here and in Israel. (The time difference between New York and Israel is one reason why Miller’s days often begin at 5 a.m.)
Whether he’s responding to a controversy, dispelling inaccurate rumors floating among member organizations about a possible terrorist threat, working with the police, or helping ease tensions between the Jewish community and other religious or ethnic groups, Miller is constantly on the phone or working behind the scenes.

But the organization, which is not taxpayer-funded and runs entirely on private philanthropy, is about more than just crisis management.

Miller is a point person for elected officials taking trips to Israel. He is also quietly working to try and ensure that the Jewish community will still have a strong voice after the next round of legislative redistricting, which could significantly alter several heavily Jewish congressional and State Senate districts.

In mid-May, after a foiled plot to bomb a synagogue in Manhattan, Miller was at the press conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg responding to the threat. Miller says that his job has grown more complex as the amount of information available has increased.

“It used to be that you could just read the ‘A’ section of The New York Times and that would be it for the day,” Miller said. “Now, you don’t know what’s going to be coming at you.”

James WhelanJames Whelan
Senior Vice President for Public Affairs, Real Estate Board of New York

New York City bears the imprint of James Whelan’s career: a resurgent Union Square Park, renovations throughout downtown Brooklyn and the master plan for an enormous development in Willets Point, Queens.

Yet the man behind them—and other major city projects in recent years—is largely unknown outside of the offices in the city and Albany where he directs his efforts.

“I don’t often surface publicly,” explained Whelan, who still lives in Queens, where he was born and raised.

He specializes in bringing complex projects to fruition by coordinating public- and private-sector efforts, drawing on his experiences in government, nonprofits and the business world. In his first major development, he ran the 14th Street–Union Square Local Development Corp. as it turned its namesake park into a destination again—paving the way for the area’s resurgence.

“It was [my] first real demonstration of the ability for advocacy to really improve an area,” he recalled. “Fourteenth Street was down and out. There was nothing going on, on the perimeter of the park. You didn’t go into Union Square Park. You didn’t want to go into the area.”

His résumé later grew to include experience at influential nonprofits like the Downtown Brooklyn Council, in the City Hall bull pen as the chief of staff to former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and as a senior vice president at Muss Development.

“The fact that he lived in both worlds—meaning government and the private sector—permits him to be more influential,” said his boss, REBNY President Steven Spinola. “It lets him understand how someone sitting in City Hall or the governor’s office will react to something. He sees things from a much broader point of view.”

Today Whelan represents the interests of the city’s real estate industry, which is dominated by families who know that the value of their holdings is tied up in the long-term health of New York City.
“What’s important is ensuring the health and growth of the city,” Whelan said. “We have a particular point of view, but it’s one that’s good for the city.”

Jesse MaysrJesse Masyr
Partner, Masyr & Wachtel, LLP

When developers want to get big projects done in New York City, they dial up Jesse Masyr.

Masyr is known as the city’s preeminent land-use lawyer, shepherding large and complex developments through a thicket of red tape for the Related Companies and other big developers. The Brooklyn IKEA in Red Hook, the Target at the Bronx Terminal Market and a slew of other projects across the city owe their existence in large part to Masyr’s expertise.

Masyr cut his chops as Manhattan Deputy Borough President from 1978 to 1982, serving as the borough’s representative on the Board of Estimate. All land-use decisions went through the board until it was eliminated in 1989, and Masyr says that gave developers an easier time pushing projects to completion.

“Going through the City Council, there are many more people you have to deal with now,” Masyr said. “With the Board of Estimate, if you wanted to do a project in Staten Island, all you needed was the Staten Island borough president in your favor.”

Each development is unique, he said. At some, local elected officials are concerned about traffic. At others, like Thor Equities’ planned BJ’s Wholesale Club at Coney Island, the big issue is local job creation.

Of course, local elected officials cannot always be satisfied, as shown by Masyr and Related’s high-profile defeat at the Kingsbridge Armory development in the Bronx over officials’ insistence on the creation of so-called “living wage” jobs.

As both the liaison to elected officials for developers and the person who represents them at contentious land-use hearings, Masyr says he catches more than his fair share of heat from local community groups that oppose big projects. And the heat won’t be off any time soon, as he helps lead discussions between Walmart and Related over a potential first store in New York City at the Gateway II development in Brooklyn.

“I don’t see myself as a behind-the-scenes person at all,” Masyr said. “On most of these projects, I’m the one who stands up and is the face of it.”

John Banks IIIJohn Banks III
Vice President for Government Relations, Con Edison

When electric and gas bills go up, New Yorkers blame Con Edison.
But John Banks, Con Ed’s vice president for government relations, spends much of his time persuading lawmakers to block measures that would raise costs for the company’s customers even higher.
This year, for example, Banks helped defeat a bill requiring utilities to supply more energy from solar power, arguing it would be too costly for its customers. He beat back a prevailing wage measure on the same grounds.

“We tried very hard to protect customers from hidden and unwanted costs that have nothing to do with the delivery of the energy that they use,” Banks said. “The bottom line is, there are things that are done legislatively that have a tremendous impact on a customer’s bill, but people don’t see the connection between the public policy decisions and their bills.”
Banks, who joined Con Ed in 2002, manages the company’s interaction with government not just in Albany but also in New York City and Washington, D.C. He got his start in the Koch administration, joined the City Council’s finance division in 1990 and rose to become deputy director of finance there, burnishing his fiscal credentials.

His reach extends beyond Con Ed to the MTA, where he sits on the board. He also served as vice chair of last year’s Charter Revision Commission.

While much of his job is meeting with lawmakers, Banks said he’s happy to stay behind the scenes and avoid the sometimes harsh spotlight elected officials must endure.

“I’m very much not interested in being the public persona of whatever public policy issue I’m working on,” Banks said. “As a staff person, all you have to do is work hard and give your honest policy perception of what is being discussed. Then that’s it. It’s up to the elected official to go out and do the really hard work.”

Michelle AdamsMichelle Adams
Managing Director of Public Affairs, Tishman Speyer

Like a dedicated gardener, Michelle Adams knows how to tend to the branches growing around her.

“My mantra in life is, always nurture and care for your network,” she said. “Stay close to your friends and keep track of everybody, because we’re all going to circle around each other.”

That has indeed been the case for Adams, who has leveraged her relationships in government, real estate, business and advocacy to make quite an impression on the city.

She attended New York University’s Wagner school, where she counts Mitchell Moss, the school’s director (and a fellow influential nonelected), as an early mentor. Her career has taken her from the Union Square BID to the Grand Central Partnership, followed by a stint at the Association for a Better New York, where she served as that group’s director from 2002 to 2010.

She now manages Tishman Speyer’s communications and philanthropy portfolios, a multifaceted task that includes helping manage the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and the Cuomo-endorsed Committee to Save New York.

With contentious issues like tax increases, rent regulations and decreased government spending swirling around, Adams says it’s important to keep a cool head and put the city’s interests first.
“At the core, everybody wants what’s best for New York City, which is for us to be the capital of the world,” she said. “A lot of times we all have to collectively set our own agendas aside, and we’ve got to do the collective good.”

Steve McInnisSteve McInnis
Political Director, New York City District Council of Carpenters

In 1998 the New York City District Council of Carpenters was rocked by scandal when its former president was convicted of stealing $50,000 from a fund earmarked for unemployed carpenters.

In the shake-up that followed, a onetime union carpenter named Steve McInnis was given a cubicle and a phone, and was told to bring the union back from political oblivion.

“I learned as I went, and we sharpened our skills over the years,” McInnis said. “I was pretty much thrown in the deep end, and learned how to swim.”

The carpenters have since emerged as a small but potent political force. Over the past decade, McInnis has instituted classes to train organizing “captains.” Members also have an incentive to get involved in politics because the council waives its $500 annual fee for anyone who gets involved in political or volunteer activities.

This has helped give the organization more clout. And elected officials cannot take their support for granted, because the carpenters are known to be pragmatic and less ideological than some of their union brethren.

“We certainly let elected officials know that we have members in their community,” McInnis said.
He handles not only political but also legislative duties both in the city and Albany, and if there’s a political event going on in the five boroughs, McInnis is more likely than not to be there backslapping and looking for potential building opportunities.

The carpenters’ rising political influence has translated into more work for members. In 2004 they were part of a project labor agreement with the School Construction Authority that saved the city $250 million, and they later signed similar pacts with 13 other city agencies.

Earlier this year they joined a labor agreement with Walmart; if and when the retail giant opens its first New York City location, the stores will be built by union labor.

With private-construction investment dropping off sharply during the recession, and many developers mulling a move to nonunion labor, McInnis said he always has to be fighting for public sector opportunities for his members.

“The focus on the public sector has kept the roof from falling in,” McInnis said. “You always have to be on the lookout for emerging markets.”

David WeinerDavid Weiner
Deputy Chancellor for Talent, Labor and Innovation, Department of Education

In 2002 David Weiner sat in his office at the San Francisco elementary school he ran, reading about the radical changes to New York City’s education system being made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

“I said, ‘I have to be a part of that,’ ” Weiner recalled.

Today Weiner is in charge of recruiting new talent to come work at the Department of Education.

“Me going out and recruiting people around the country—it’s an easy sell,” he said.

But more than recruitment, Weiner’s role as chief labor negotiator at the DOE makes him a crucial figure in the city’s education system. The deal struck between the city and the United Federation of Teachers this year not only saved thousands of teachers from being fired but also locked in several important reforms, saved the city money and allowed the mayor to avoid the public relations nightmare of mass teacher layoffs.
“No one was more excited than myself that there were not layoffs,” he said.

Weiner also oversees the controversial iZone program that seeks to increase the amount of technology in public school classrooms. Critics worry the multimillion-dollar program will diminish the role of teachers in the classroom, but Weiner sees it as an opportunity to “personalize learning through technology.”

The project is an important touchstone in the mayor’s education legacy. But like all things Bloomberg does in the schools, it is the subject of much debate and disagreement, a fact that Weiner has come to live with, and accept.

“People arguing back and forth, to me it’s a positive,” Weiner said. “It just shows how passionate people are for their children, for improving education.”

Marcia ByrstynMarcia Bystryn
President, New York League of Conservation Voters

Marcia Bystryn is not your typical environmentalist.
Instead of standing on the sidelines pursuing an idealist’s beliefs, the president of the New York League of Conservation Voters is pushing an environmental agenda through the pragmatic and messy world of politics.

She doesn’t shy away from spending campaign cash to have a voice in the political arena, and she’s willing to work with all sides—businesses and environmentalists, Republicans and Democrats—to achieve her objectives.

“We set policy agendas; we endorse candidates; we have a PAC which we use to support campaigns of individuals we like and to challenge individuals we don’t like,” Bystryn said.

Her pragmatism has made her a favorite of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who appointed her to the Water Board and works closely with her on his PlaNYC sustainability agenda. That fits with her tactics of tackling environmental goals through practical applications like energy policy and solid-waste disposal.

“I think the league has played a role in moving energy policy into the forefront of the broader environmental community’s agenda,” Bystryn said. “Shifting from a strictly traditional conservation perspective, an environmental agenda—particularly in an urban area—has got to be much broader. Transportation and other infrastructure issues are part and parcel to that.”

Part of her approach is a result of her diverse background: She started out with a Ph.D. in the sociology of art; worked at what is now the Century Foundation, a policy-oriented think tank; developed a recycling program for the city; and worked on corporate environmental policy and business development at the Port Authority.

“Here in New York City, our number one agenda over the next two years is to ensure that everyone running for office in 2013 feels compelled by their constituents to run a sustainability agenda,” Bystryn said.

Bradley TuskBradley Tusk
Founder and President, Tusk Strategies

After running the biggest and most expensive political operation in New York City history, what’s a campaign manager to do?
For Bradley Tusk, who ran Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 reelection effort, the answer was to keep campaigning. He hung out a shingle the next year and began taking on clients who needed that same mix of effort behind the scenes and in front of the cameras to accomplish a major lift.

“I run a business that runs campaigns,” Tusk said. “So if someone has a big, complex goal that requires multifaceted efforts, our job is to put together the plan and see it through to completion.”
Barely a year after starting his firm Tusk Strategies, his client list spans the country—advising companies like Walmart and Genting New York on how to break into the New York market, as well as pushing to lift the cap on city charter schools and supporting former Mayor Ed Koch’s New York Uprising reform effort.

Tusk, who cut his political teeth in Sen. Charles Schumer’s press shop and was a first-term advisor to Bloomberg, later became a deputy governor in Illinois under disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich—but came out with his reputation intact. After a stint at Lehman Brothers, he crafted a Bloomberg strategy in 2009 that successfully created an image of inevitability even while insiders feared an upset.
The firm just expanded to new offices in the Flatiron district and now has six people on staff, but Tusk said his secret is to remain deeply involved in the mechanics of the business—typically sending and receiving 100 emails by 7 a.m.

“Every day I start out with a very, very long to-do list,” Tusk said. “And the day isn’t complete until I have finished every task on the to-do list and returned every phone call on my call list. And then I make the next day’s to-do list.”

Tim TompkinsTim Tompkins
President, Times Square Alliance

For Tim Tompkins, the way to get things done is to get the right message across.

“The truth is that we actually have very little formal control over Times Square,” said Tompkins, whose job it is to improve the iconic neighborhood. “It’s more that we are able to get things done through advocacy, use of data and focused communication.”
Communicating those needs requires Tompkins to delve into everything from tourism and transportation to public safety and sanitation.

Times Square is known for its flashy signs and the glitzy retail shops that attract tourists from across the globe, but Tompkins’ job also covers 20 percent of Manhattan’s hotel rooms, 30 million square feet of office space, and 40 Broadway theaters.

“It’s the micro of making sure that the streets are clean to the macro of what is the image and the brand of Times Square, and what contributes to that,” Tompkins said.
Next up are plans to permanently rebuild the plazas created when five blocks of Broadway were closed to traffic in 2009, a sustained public art program and more emphasis on tourism to promote economic development.

Tompkins learned the ins and outs of New York City on the staff of major charter-revision commissions in the late 1980s, which helped him understand and sympathize with city government’s challenges.
His résumé also includes stints at the Economic Development Corporation and as director of Partnership for Parks, which taught him invaluable lessons about public-space management and the process of dealing with many constituents in a community.

Still, Tompkins modestly deflects the idea that he’s an influential player in New York City, attributing any power he has to the global appeal of the neighborhood he works to promote.

“It’s really the power of Times Square’s image around the world, and its power over people’s imaginations, that gives me any influence,” he said. “I think anybody in this position would have a platform to be able to do things.”

Maria Torres-SpringerMaria Torres-Springer
Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff, Economic Development Corp.

For Maria Torres-Springer, economic development is like motherhood.

“You just have to realize, day in and day out, this work is a full-contact sport,” she said. “You just have to never be complacent, never be afraid for a fight—and you have to have the right people on your team.”

That outlook should serve Torres-Springer well as she spearheads the city’s effort to build a new science and engineering campus within the five boroughs, a key initiative in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s third term.

As some of the world’s top-flight engineering schools fight over the right to headline the project, Torres-Springer will have to tap into those maternal skills to play each side off the other successfully, ensuring the city gets the biggest bang for its buck.

Torres-Springer came to her position the hard way. The child of impoverished immigrants in California, she was the first in her family to go to college, attending both Yale and Harvard. She worked in the affordable-housing field and consulted on real estate issues for Ernst & Young before registering online for a job in the Bloomberg administration. Her talent caught the eye of then Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who promoted her to senior policy advisor.

From there, she jumped to the city Economic Development Corp., where president and CEO Seth Pinsky said her business acumen, combined with an instinct for politics, has made her a driving force.
“She’s not a bulldog,” Pinsky said. “She is able to be effective with a personality that people really like.”

In addition to the applied-sciences school, Torres-Springer also oversees six departments at EDC, including the Center for Economic Transformation, the agency’s industry transformation team and the economic research group.

“What I try to do is ensure that we have the right talent working on all our projects, that they’re resourced appropriately, that I ‘block and tackle’ all the internal and external issues that the projects confront, and that I get out of the way and let the really talented people do their job,” she said.

Mitchell MossMitchell Moss
Professor of Urban Policy and Planning, Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University

New York City rewards the rambler who revels in the riotous diversity of all five boroughs—but Mitchell Moss is the rare rambler who brings those experiences to the halls of power.
The director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management has become an expert in urban affairs and an informal advisor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as well as to other civic leaders whose decisions guide the future of the city.

“I never leave the five boroughs,” said Moss, who reads six newspapers a day by 6:30 a.m. “My idea of a vacation is to go to sit by the East River in Red Hook.”

A proud graduate of Forest Hills High School in Queens, Moss has remained deeply involved in the street-level details of how New York City works—or doesn’t work—even as he has become acquainted with every governor since Nelson Rockefeller and every mayor since Robert Wagner.

“I’m going to be very direct and honest, and I’m not looking for a job,” he explained. “So many of those people stroke them. I don’t take their time. I’m quick.”

Moss first met Bloomberg in the 1990s when he was studying high-tech companies in New York City, never imagining the entrepreneur would someday become mayor. He admires Bloomberg and is prone to sudden exclamations about New York’s booming neighborhoods, but maintains a clear-eyed perspective.

“I have hundreds of micro-social encounters a day,” Moss said. “I rely on everything from my Nicaraguan shoe repairman to my Albanian doorman. I’m trying to help him get his kids into a school in the Bronx—and learning what a mess it is.”

Tokumbo ShobowaleTokumbo Shobowale
Chief of Staff, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel

When he became deputy mayor for economic development last year, Robert Steel chose Tokumbo Shobowale as the insider to help him navigate the complexities of New York City government.
Shobowale, who had been the chief operating officer of the New York City Economic Development Corporation under Steel’s predecessor, was eager to partner with an outsider known as more of a big-picture guy.

“It has been really welcome to work with Bob, in the sense that that’s my own internal bias, to take the large-picture view,” said Shobowale, whose work as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company had given him plenty of experience in the role of an outsider. “I do have the institutional memory, but it’s good to have the new deputy mayor as someone who takes the big picture.”

Shobowale’s duties are a bit like “air traffic control,”: helping Steel coordinate with businesses and agencies to promote private investment across the city. That means keeping tabs on everything from small-business assistance to tourism to public housing.

“He’s had a long, successful career at EDC,  and I know that he’s just been so helpful to Bob, who came from the private sector,” Scott Millstein, executive director of the Coro New York Leadership Center, said of Shobowale. “He’s just such a smart and well-respected guy.”

The job is a perfect fit for Shobowale, who loves New York City, especially having firsthand knowledge of the ways the city is changing. What fascinates him is the life of the city’s residents and businesses, and the ways they interact and thrive with the city only providing the infrastructure.
“It’s like building the stage, not performing the show,” Shobowale said of his work.

Abby Jo SigalAbby Jo Sigal
New York City Director, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.

Abby Jo Sigal’s job is to put low-income New Yorkers in housing they can afford—and she’s getting it done by bringing all the right people together.

“It takes the public agencies talking to the private sector talking to the nonprofits talking to folks working on the ground with residents and the people that are facing the challenges,” Sigal said. “A good part is just bringing the right people together at the table.”

Since 2007 Sigal has managed Enterprise’s New York office and guided its 50-person staff as it helps build and preserve about 3,000 affordable homes a year.

Enterprise’s groundbreaking work sometimes goes unnoticed, but Sigal’s position has been a springboard for two predecessors who have gone on to more prominent roles: Jim Himes is now a U.S. Congressman representing Connecticut, and Rafael Cestero served as the city’s Housing Preservation and Development commissioner until early this year.

“Not that I aspire necessarily to do either, but it’s definitely a good place,” Sigal said.  “Enterprise is a very good platform, because we bring a lot to the table and we are very entrepreneurial in how we solve problems.”

Sigal, who has extensive experience in real estate finance and community development, works very closely with HPD, the country’s largest municipal developer of affordable housing, as well as the Housing Development Corporation and the Housing Authority.

She appreciates working in New York City, which has a long bipartisan record of investing in public housing for the poor.

“I think New Yorkers realize that New York is a better place because we not only care about revitalizing Times Square, we also care about what happens in the South Bronx and central Brooklyn,” Sigal said. “I think I have one of the best jobs there is to have. I really get an opportunity to make New York a great place.”

Andrew RasiejAndrew Rasiej
Founder, Personal Democracy Forum

Andrew Rasiej envisions New York City as a Wi-Fi utopia, where people from across the socioeconomic spectrum can log on, surf and interact, anywhere, anytime.

Getting to that point will take a lot of work, but Rasiej feels he’s up to the task. Just take his NY Tech Meetup, a monthly get-together for technologists, government officials, venture capitalists and others of the nerdy persuasion, to discuss the latest in apps, opportunities and platforms.

A recent meet-up featured two of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s top economic development deputies pitching the city’s plan to build a new science and engineering campus within the five boroughs.

As the city gets more tech-friendly, Rasiej’s job as a liaison between government and the technology sector becomes more crucial, and more high-profile.

“My role is getting easier,” he said. “In the past, I really had to stretch to explain this. It’s become clear now, with the evidence that surrounds us, that this is something that needs to be taken advantage of by the city.”

Six years ago Rasiej ran for public advocate on a pro-technology platform. Since then he has been busy running the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference on the intersection of politics and technology that regularly features big names from both worlds.

The city’s embrace of technology has him optimistic about the future. And while his run for office was likely a one-time effort, Rasiej expects to continue to play a prominent role in promoting tech and politics in the city.

“New York has only blue sky in front of it,” he said.

Ralph TragaleRalph Tragale
Assistant Director of Aviation Public Affairs, Port Authority

As the Port Authority’s top public affairs official for aviation, Ralph Tragale knows as much as anyone about the infrastructure supporting the country’s busiest airspace.

And as a member the Port Authority’s senior staff, he gets to help shape the policies that guide everyone from local residents to federal officials and lawmakers—making him a vital connector between disparate groups across two states.

“I’m involved from the onset on construction projects, on policy issues, on financial issues, on business issues,” Tragale said. “So it allows me to not only have a good understanding of the issues, but it allows me an opportunity to have the input into how we shape issues and how we pursue them both internally and externally.”
Tragale’s main job is to ensure that the authority moves its 100 million annual airline passengers – and 2 million tons of cargo – efficiently through its five airports.

Since aviation brings in the most cash to the Port Authority, Tragale also must ensure the revenue stream continues to grow to keep the authority solvent and make life easier for Chris Ward, his boss and close friend.

Tragale said growing up in New York City and moving to New Jersey as an adult gives him a unique perspective on the political winds that determine the Port Authority’s policies, which are largely decided in Albany and Trenton.

The Port Authority’s reach doesn’t end there. Almost a decade ago, Tragale and a few other officials recognized the need to salvage steel debris from the World Trade Center site, and he secured a hangar at JFK International Airport to store it. Now it is being distributed for 9/11 memorials all across the country in honor of the 10th anniversary.

“A lot of people are very appreciative of the steel and they see the Port Authority as the ones that gave it to them,” Tragale said. “I’m very happy that I had a hand in that from the beginning.”

Alan FishmanAlan Fishman
Chairman, Brooklyn Community Foundation

Alan Fishman started out as a banker. He ended up becoming a guiding force for a resurgent Brooklyn.

“It all sort of came together,” Fishman said. “The definition of a community banker who’s any good is [one who knows how to] to build the community. That’s the only way you get progress.”

Fishman serves as chairman of some of the borough’s most prominent institutions—the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation—and is on the boards of many other nonprofit groups in the city.

His wide range of interests has let him build connections across the borough and help guide a strategy for developing its economy, its culture and its charitable world. While still working full-time in the financial world, he is helping BAM plan its 150th anniversary and is actively helping the Navy Yard become an economic engine for the city.

“None of these things get better unless the community gets better,” Fishman said. “It’s not an easy thing to focus on a borough in a city.”

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Fishman spent a long career in Manhattan’s banking world before he became president of Brooklyn’s Independence Community Bank in 2001.

The bank specialized in serving the borough’s diverse ethnic and demographic groups, and Fishman found himself getting deeply involved with Independence’s charitable foundation, which worked in those communities as well.

When Independence was sold to Sovereign Bank, the charitable arm became the Brooklyn Community Foundation—and Fishman stayed involved in its efforts.

He does this all while still staying active in the financial and real estate world, where he is board chairman of several mortgage banking and finance companies. Amid such a wide web, Fishman hopes he can make connections that help the borough grow and thrive.

“You provide a broader perspective,” Fishman said. “The community matters. The neighborhood matters. People’s feelings about that matter.”

Eric EveEric Eve
First Deputy Comptroller, New York City Comptroller’s Office

Eric Eve has spent more than a decade outside of government since he worked as a personal assistant to President Bill Clinton, but it was the Clintonian aspect of city Comptroller John Liu that convinced him to return to the public sector.

“[Liu] exhibited an excitement and energy about public service that I had not seen in a long time,” said Eve, who sees similarities between Liu’s charisma and that of the former president.

Eve, son of former Assemblyman Arthur Eve and little brother to Leecia Eve, the senior vice president at the Empire State Development Corporation, spent his post-Clinton years at Citigroup and Verizon, before coming to the comptroller’s office, where he oversees pension management, audits and accounting.

His days begin early and end late. He manages the comptroller’s leadership team, reacts to media and manages each element of Liu’s vision for the city’s fiscal health.

“I don’t spend much time outside of the office,” said Eve, who heads back to his home in Park Slope each night.

Eve was enticed out of the private sector not only by Liu, but also by the prospect of the work itself, which differed from Albany and Washington in the immediacy of its impact.

“This is the first time that I’ve actually worked for municipal government,” Eve said.  “It is clearly where the rubber meets the road.”

And while his father may have run for public office, Eve said he has no plans to do so.
“God bless those who can run for office and successfully serve in very high profile roles,” Eve said. “I am most comfortable behind the scenes, helping people like John Liu and Bill Clinton and others excel.”

Ademola OyefesoAdemola Oyefeso
Political and Legislative Director, Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union

Ademola Oyefeso fell into labor politics by accident when he worked at the Transit Workers Union, but he also fell in love.

“The thing about working in labor is, everything you do, you can see the direct effect,” Oyefeso said, from his office in midtown Manhattan. “It makes the good things feel even more so, because you can see the result. It gave me the opportunity to feel like I was working for the people.”

He entered politics more than a decade ago, working for both the New York Public Interest Research Group and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign. But he traces his real entrance into New York politics to a conversation he had with Peter Kauffman, then a Hillary Clinton campaign aide, and later a spokesman for Gov. David Paterson. The two fought over who went to the better high school: Kauffman attended Stuyvesant in downtown Manhattan, and Oyefeso went to Brooklyn Tech. But moreover, Kauffman got Oyefeso interested in local politics.

Oyefeso spends most of his days working on the RWDSU’s living wage campaign, talking with legislators and ensuring their bills hew as closely as possible to the union’s priorities. He said a discussion of the living wage issue happens every day he’s on the job.

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum was recently nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to one of the 10 regional economic development councils. Oyefeso’s job is, in part, to ensure that the process doesn’t just benefit business owners, but also workers and organized labor.

“For me, being behind the scenes is comfortable,” he said. “It’s freeing. I can speak freely.”


  1. Ahh there my friends is where the PLA's started
    It all comes out in the wash. Our political director was
    The mastermind of you making less money
    We are being destroyed from within


  3. Shut down WTC. That will get their attention also.

  4. It's a very interesting blog... and your work!!

    Director Cv

  5. Classic - more Prima-Facie evidence for the BLUE CARD VACATION WAGE EXTORTION.


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