There is no word that has been used more in politics this year than “change.” With that in mind, in compiling our third annual list of Rising Stars, we looked to highlight 40 new up-and-coming forces in city politics and government who had not been featured on either previous list.
That is no knock against the people who have appeared on previous lists, many of whom continue their meteoric rises through the echelons of power, whether in elected office or appointed positions. This certainly goes for the many elected officials who were on previous lists—people like Dan Garodnick, Eric Gioia, Mike Gianaris, Ruben Diaz, Jr. and Joel Rivera, who are all still under 40 and still full of promise to continue on the rise. But in this watershed year in national politics and with an even greater revolution in city politics on the horizon for 2009, we set out to create an entirely new group of Rising Stars.
The rest of the criteria, however, remained the same. Based on the nominations that flooded in, our editorial board chose this year’s list based on a decision of who had had the most impressive accomplishments over the past year and who seemed to have the most promising things ahead for them in the year to come and beyond.
Not surprisingly, many of those picked are people for whom this year has already been transformative, and will likely continue to be, and many as well are people for whom next year is sure to be a busy one. Decisions were made solely on the merit of the nominees themselves and their personal accomplishments in their positions.
This is an impressive group: 40 young leaders from across the city working in government, politics and advocacy and truly shaping the present and future of New York. We asked them about how they had gotten to where they are, what motivates them, what they feel distinguishes them. We asked them about their passions, their interests, their goals—in the long term, and in the next five years.
Then we asked them to pick karaoke songs which they felt personify them.
The first hundred or so nominations for this year’s list arrived within a week of when we published last year’s. We expect the same to happen this year, and invite the phone calls and emails telling us who we might have missed.
Looking back over the 2006 and 2007 Rising Stars, we were gratified to see how often our instincts were correct: many of those featured have already risen to new heights or seem set to in next year’s elections. The 2008 Rising Stars featured over the next 12 pages easily stand up next to those who have come before, and truly help make up the next generation of political leaders of New York.
Profiles by Rachel Breitman, James Caldwell, Edward-Isaac Dovere, Sal Gentile, Andrew J. Hawkins and Dan Rivoli. Photos by Andrew Schwartz.
Finance director, Michael McMahon for Congress
Karaoke Song: “Don’t Stop Believing,” by Journey
When Council Member Mike McMahon (D-Staten Island) announced his bid for Congress on May 29, he only had three months to raise enough money to get his campaign together.
He was able to do that—his first filing showed he raised $500,000 in a month—thanks in large part to his finance director, Deb Solomon.
After his announcement, Solomon immediately set up about 20 low-dollar house party fundraisers. Though McMahon is included in the national Democratic Party’s Red-to-Blue program, which drew national attention and money to his campaign, his war chest was flush with small donations from the district.
If McMahon prevails in November, Solomon plans to stay on his team. The Long Island native has already moved to Staten Island and adapted to her new home.
“The people are overwhelmingly warm and friendly,” she said. “And you can’t complain about all the great pizza places.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I worked for a New York member of Congress. It definitely prepared me for this position.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I would be working as a fundraiser for a nonprofit. Something that interests me a lot is working with the pro-Israel community.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Executive director of a nonprofit.”
Chief of Staff, Deputy Mayor for Administration Ed Skyler; Special Advisor to the Mayor
Karaoke Song: “My Way,” by Frank Sinatra
Hailing originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, and after attending Harvard, Cas Holloway got his introduction to New York City through its parks—and its parks policy. Working in the marketing office and then as chief of staff to then-Commissioner Henry Stern at the Parks Department, he met his future boss, Ed Skyler. Holloway ventured to Chicago for law school, and went onto a clerkship under Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, with whom he has formed a close personal friendship (Jacobs recently presided over his wedding).
When Skyler was promoted to deputy mayor in 2005, he offered Holloway an opportunity he suspected might come along some day, though not so soon: the chance to return to city government. But, as the mayor likes to remind him, time is ticking: he has just over 500 days left.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I’ve always conceived of my career as having a strong involvement in the public sector, in government—but also not limiting myself to that sphere, because I think it’s tremendously important to have balance.”
If you weren’t in politics, what would you be doing? “My identical twin brother is a screenwriter in Los Angeles. … In an alternate universe, I definitely could have gravitated towards writing, either on that side of things—fiction, screenwriting—or journalism, a more creative application of my skills.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “I could see myself being a prosecutor or in the public sector, or being in private law practice.”
Vice President, Sheinkopf Communications
Karaoke Song: “Gangster Paradise,” by Coolio
Jordana Ingber works in message development. Her clients include corporations and campaigns. Her employer does political work, and she is, at least marginally, political.
But ask her what she really loves about her job, and she answers as bluntly as the plainspoken guru for whom she works.
“It’s the going to war,” she said. “It’s fighting a battle for something you feel invested in and, hopefully, and oftentimes, you believe in.”
Her passion, in college and after, was never really politics. She has always been much more interested in crisis communications. But it is the intense speed of working with Hank Sheinkopf which drives her in her capacity as his “one-woman media production wing.” Most recently, she produced ads for a presidential race in the Dominican Republican, though she does not speak Spanish herself.
“That was slightly confusing,” she said, “but rewarding.”
She added: “How many 25-year-olds can say that they produced media for a presidential candidate in a foreign nation?”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I did intern for Hank, so it’s technically how I ended up here.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d be an overqualified trophy wife.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Mrs. George Clooney.”
Speechwriter, New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr.
Karaoke Song: “Touch the Sky,” by Kanye West
Greg Bell had his first taste of New York City politics as an intern in Charlie Rangel’s office on 125th Street at 21 years old. Years later, the Upper West Side native finagled his way onto William Thompson’s 2005 campaign as a press aide. The author of In the Black: the History of African Americans on Wall Street, which he published at just 25 years old, the young wordsmith found he could mix his passions for writing and economics. He continued to weave history into literature as a contributor to The African American National Biography and African American Lives. Now his daily writing focuses on more prosaic matters, from balancing the city’s budget to economic development in underserved communities.
But while he is interested in being involved in his current boss’s political future, he expects to stay behind the scenes himself, he said, though he has considered one day following in the footsteps of his father, Travers Bell, who ran Daniels & Bell, the first black-owned member firm on Wall Street, by working at the stock exchange.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “It’s a challenge to get people to understand how business can work for them. That’s my challenge.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I thought about being a journalist. I think there is something about the immediacy of working on daily papers. Maybe I have a little Bob Woodward in me.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Member of the New York Stock Exchange.”
Commissioner, Community Assistance Unit
Karaoke Song: “In the spirit of public service, I would never subject the world to my voice.”
Nazli Parvizi never really imagined herself working in public policy. After graduating with a degree in anthropology from Barnard, she took a job at the Social Science Research Council, an academic think tank.
“When I got to the think tank, it was a wonderful job—but of course it was academic and didn’t pay much,” she said. “And I noticed that we were getting amazing dignitaries and some of the best academics from around the world, and feeding them these bad midtown sandwiches.”
The situation was unacceptable to Parvizi, a well-practiced chef who started cooking at age 14 to support herself. She asked the council’s director if she could supply the food and soon founded her own catering business, a venture that survives today (though she no longer works there). She has since moved from food to public policy, working as the director of the mayor’s Volunteer Center and, now, as the commissioner of the Community Assistance Unit.
She relishes the ground-level work.
“Academics is not for me. I need to be more hands-on,” she said of her work with the city’s diverse ethnic communities. “I’m not interested in writing a book about it. I’m interested in offering them solutions.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Going from the Volunteer Center to the CAU gave me an understanding of how to deal with different communities and people of all walks of life.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “Public health.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “It’s going to say Nazli Parvizi. My titles and jobs have never made me who I am.”
Press Secretary, Sen. Charles Schumer
Karaoke Song: “Thunder Road,” by Bruce Springsteen
While many in politics can only claim to have public service in their blood, Joshua Vlasto can actually prove it. Vlasto’s father was former Gov. Hugh Carey’s press secretary and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum’s (D) communications director, while his mother worked for both Carey and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
“I come from a long line where the in-house religion was New York politics,” he said.
Naturally, Vlasto ended up in Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D) office as an assistant to the legislative director right out of college, he said. And like most current and former Schumer aides, Vlasto’s opinion of Schumer is anything but subtle.
“He’s the best,” he said. “He is the best at everything.”
During his four years working for the senior senator, Vlasto said he is most proud of his efforts to win federal benefits for the families of the two auxiliary police officers killed in Greenwich Village last year. Shining a spotlight on the issue, Vlasto said, proved to be the best way to get results.
But while a host of Schumer veterans have gone on to make it big in politics, Vlasto said he is only focused on next Sunday’s press conference.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I’ve had five different jobs working for Chuck. Each one has built on the other because he values hard work, and every day I try to work as hard as possible.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “The clean-up hitter for the New York Mets.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Mayor of Maui.”
Deputy Chief of Staff, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
Karaoke Song: “Still Rock n’ Roll to Me,” by Billy Joel
Jim Quent is a self-described behind-the-scenes kind of guy. As Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s (D-Manhattan) deputy chief of staff, Quent is often out of the limelight, helping develop Silver’s policy positions behind closed doors.
But Quent got his start not as a backroom fixer, but as an elected official. As a student at SUNY-Albany, Quent was elected to student government, eventually rising to vice chair.
Quent parlayed his love for politics into a job as a legislative assistant in the Assembly. Before joining Silver’s staff, Quent made the rounds as a legislative researcher, a coordinator, a communications staffer and a lobbyist. He also worked for Thomas DiNapoli’s 2001 Nassau county executive campaign and Carl McCall’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
The differences between student government and state government are stark, he said.
“You’re worried about parking spaces when you’re at student council,” he said, unlike state government, where “you’re worried about creating new classrooms and jobs and giving people health coverage.”
Quent declined to name a specific accomplishment he was proud of while working for Silver, saying everything the speaker accomplishes is a product of a team effort.
“It’s not about personal accomplishments for me,” he said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Every job I’ve had has culminated in this job I have now. I’ve worn a lot of hats in the position I’m in.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d probably be in some type of financial position. The world of finance and business.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “I would like it to say something about making a difference.”
Community Organizer, Housing Conservation Coordinators; Board of Directors member, ACT NOW
Karaoke Song: “Don’t Turn Around,” by Ace of Base
By day, John Raskin is a community organizer for Housing Conservation Coordinators, a non-profit affordable housing advocacy group.
By night (and weekends), he and the rest of the people in ACT NOW canvass and make phone calls on behalf of Democratic candidates throughout the state and country.
Though he stressed the nonpartisan nature of his housing advocacy, Raskin, a Manhattanite on the West Side, was pushed to publicly condemn national GOP figures who mocked Sen. Barack Obama’s (D) time as a community organizer during the Republican National Convention. He has since started a blog detailing the responsibilities of community organizers.
Even before his profession was attacked in front of the national media, Raskin often found partisan politics seeping into his advocacy, as he feels Democrats more often support similar issues as Housing Conservation Coordinators.
“If I’m successful in the partisan stuff,” Raskin said, “it makes my day job easier.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “We’re building on previous successes.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d probably be writing. I don’t get to write in this job and it’s something I miss.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “John Raskin, experienced organizer.”
Director of Political and Governmental Affairs, Sheinkopf Communications
Karaoke Song: “American Pie,” by Don McLean
With a boss like the oft-quoted Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, Austin Shafran is on the fast track to learning how to get his message heard in the city’s political arena.
Recently, he has been using that training to generate attention for efforts to get more federal funding for the city’s Housing Authority. The issue is deeply important to his clients in the labor movement, but Shafran said his own personal interest in it also drives him.
“I can go to sleep and think I did a little something to change it,” Shafran said.
He said his advocacy as a political consultant is an extension of what he did as a legislative aide to Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens) and director of communications for Council Member David Weprin (D-Queens).
Only a year into his consulting position at Sheinkopf Communications, Shafran is becoming his own brand as a political commentator for News 12 and a columnist at the Queens Courier.
With a background in the public and private sector, Shafran said he can see his career progress in either world, “wherever I think I can help the most people.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “The combativeness of City Hall prepared me for the life of a political consultant.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “Definitely playing for the Yankees.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “The most important thing: my name.”
Chief of Staff, Council Member Gale Brewer
Karaoke Song: “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” by McFadden and Whitehead
In 2003, out of college and out of a job, Shula Warren read a speech that had been delivered by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in which he stressed volunteering as a great way to get started in any field. After reflecting on Reich’s thoughts, Warren called the offices of Senators Charles Schumer (D) and Hillary Clinton (D).
The next day, Schumer’s office called back. She joined the New York City staff first as a volunteer, eventually working her way to scheduling the senator’s events. When an opening as Gale Brewer’s scheduler opened, she applied and was hired.
She was promoted to several positions before becoming Brewer’s chief of staff, the six-staffer, 25-summer intern group known as the Brew Crew. With Brewer co-chairing the Council’s Manhattan delegation, there are even more personalities for Warren to wrangle, especially around budget time.
Having studied diplomacy in college helps, she said.
“All the positions for Gale’s office, I had to draw upon my interest in diplomacy and my skills in consensus building,” Warren said. “I like to think it’s really one and the same, just different locations.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “The various roles I’ve filled in Gale’s office and learning from her example have reinforced for me how good policy cannot be created in a vacuum.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “Food-travel writer. To understand people’s relationship with food, you have to go to where they are.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “I’d be really fortunate to stay in my position now.”
Democratic Nominee for State Senate, 21st District
Karaoke Song: \”The Gambler\”, by Kenny Rogers
Daniel Squadron, whose State Senate bid was endorsed by some of the biggest bold-faced names in the state, may very well be one of the most exciting new faces in New York politics.
But his idea of a good time sounds like a bummer.
The day Squadron turned 10, in 1989, was the day the Berlin Wall fell. It is one of the first memories he has of being riveted by a political event.
“I remember at the time being incredibly moved,” he said. “I made everyone watch it while we had birthday cake.”
Squadron grew up in a thoroughly political family. His father, Howard Squadron, was an influential New York attorney and political heavyweight, friendly with mayoral and presidential administrations.
“Government and politics were part of life,” he said of his family. They were “considered to be a real priority.”
He majored in American Studies at Yale, and worked for Andrew Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign. He then went on to work for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D), and like so many of the senator’s disciples, has gone on to carve out his own political career—with high-profile support from Schumer, among others.
Now that his wide-margin upset is complete, and he has toppled one of Albany’s most entrenched incumbents, Squadron is focused on setting an agenda for his first term.
“First thing is to sit down with folks across the community,” he said, “and work out a few priorities for the coming years.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I learned a lot about how to be an active representative, and about issues like education and the life of the city.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I guess I’d be writing about it. It’s hard for me to imagine not being involved in some way. I owned a bar and restaurant for a year, with I think the greatest cheeseburger in the city.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Hopefully, ‘State Senator for the 21st State Senate district.’”
City Council Member
Karaoke Song: “New York, New York,” by Frank Sinatra
Anthony Como needed just a few more credits to graduate with a major in political science from Queens College, so an advisor suggested an internship. After a few interviews, Como was invited to work at the office of State Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Queens).
Within six months, Maltese offered Como a full-time position on his staff. Eventually, he became Maltese’s chief of staff. The experience was inspirational and taught him a love for public service, Como said.
But this year is when things began to really move. He won the special election to replace disgraced Council Member Dennis Gallagher, narrowly defeating Democrat Elizabeth Crowley.
This November, Como will face Crowley again—and, if he wins, possibly in another rematch next year, too.
When he is in need of advice, Como continues to turn to Maltese, who is facing his own close race this year.
“I make no qualms about it,” Como said of his fellow Queens Republican. “He’s been like a second father.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Being a former prosecutor and chief counsel to the senator taught me how to best deliver—and know—what my district needs and how to provide for them. I’ve been in public service all my life.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “If it wasn’t for politics, I’d still be a prosecutor. Being a prosecutor in the Queens County D.A.’s office—it’s one of the best offices I’ve ever worked for. He’s a great D.A. Love the camaraderie. Love the feel of the public service aspect.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Hopefully, it’ll still say ‘Councilman.’”
Director of Community Affairs, Sen. Hillary Clinton
Karaoke Song: “Just a Girl,” by No Doubt
Though there was not much need to win over support for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D) presidential campaign on her home turf, as Clinton’s state political director, Robin Chappelle was charged with holding everything together even as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) surged in popularity in the presidential primaries.
Winning the New York primary was never really in question, but mobilizing Clinton’s many local supporters to help out in the other primaries took some work. Chappelle organized phone banks calling other voters throughout the state, as well as bus trips to Ohio and Texas. She also coordinated the trips many of the local elected officials and other political activists took to other states, to knock on doors and campaign on Clinton’s behalf, keeping careful records all along.
“We know exactly what everybody did,” she joked.
Chappelle took some time off after the end of the primaries, but returned to New York splitting her time between Clinton’s political office, which she continues to staff in these quieter times, and Clinton’s government office, where she is the director of community affairs. The task right now, she said, is keeping up the energy and visibility even without a campaign to motivate them.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “The key to each of those jobs was really making contacts and building those relationships.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d probably be a marine biologist. I love the ocean.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Probably chief of staff of something.”
Assistant Political Director, SEIU Local 32BJ
Karaoke Song: “Danny California,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Coming from a family of nurses, Camille Rivera was a pre-med student at Queens College. Then, coming out of a biology class one day, she stopped at a table the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) had set up for voter registration and political advocacy. She took some fliers and went to a general interest meeting.
“At that meeting, I realized that politics and becoming a community organizer was my path,” Rivera said. “That’s what I needed to do with my life.”
In 2000, she began doing community organizing with NYPIRG on homeless outreach and higher education issues, eventually becoming chair of the state board in 2001. She also worked extensively on the organization’s public health campaign to amend Local Law 1, making landlords more accountable in protecting tenants from lead paint, which she felt was ravaging poor communities throughout the city.
After leaving NYPIRG in 2004 and interested in getting involved with something larger, Rivera went to SEIU’s Local 32BJ, the country’s largest property service workers union.
She decided that union work was most effective for the policy goals she wanted to achieve.
“We feel that government doesn’t work for us,” she said, “and, to me, labor has been the only place where I feel that it really has worked.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I’m a big sponge. I’m always learning. I take everything that I learn and try to go on to the next campaign with those things.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d probably be a nurse or a doctor, or I’d be in Africa somewhere building houses.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “‘Camille Rivera: A Work In Progress’”
Election Campaigns Director, Working Families Party
Karaoke Song: “On the Road Again,” by Willie Nelson
Emma Wolfe has been seeing more of New York than she had originally imagined when she first took her job with the Working Families Party. From helping flip a GOP-held seat in Long Island by assisting State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Nassau) to heading up the get-out-the-vote effort for State Sen. Darrel Aubertine’s (D-Oswego/Jefferson/St. Lawrence) surprise victory, Wolfe has traversed the state.
Wolfe and the Working Families Party went three for three on primary day, helping Joe Mesi grab the Democratic nomination for the seat of retiring Mary Lou Rath (R-Erie/Genesee).
Joining the Working Families Party allowed her to use her skills as a community organizer on labor issues and campaigns that she felt were important, Wolfe said.
“Working Families Party is the best of both worlds,” she said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “They really prepared me well in terms of knowing the institutions that play an important role in campaigns.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “My whole family are artists. So I feel like, even though I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, I would be doing something to support that world.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Emma Wolfe, Working Families Party (you can find us on Row B).”
Senior Vice President, Kasirer Consulting
Karaoke Song: “Groove Is in the Heart,” by Deee-Lite
Julie Greenberg’s parents dabbled in local politics when she was young, and at the dinner table, she said, the focus was always on politics.
Or, more specifically, “how to keep the Democrats in office.”
That fighting, partisan spirit led her to Albany, where she worked on legislative policy issues in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office right out of college and then as then-Assembly Member Scott Stringer’s chief of staff. For the last six years she has been at Kasirer Consulting. Her ability to navigate the maze of bureaucracy, and her knowledge of how politicians think, helps her clients get what they want.
The environment at Kasirer is “very intense and fast-paced,” she added, much like a political campaign.
Despite the similarities, Greenberg says she cannot see herself returning to politics.
“So many people have asked me that over the years,” she said. “I don’t really foresee myself doing that.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “It’s just developing relationships and networking, and one just kind of led to the other. Serendipitous.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “Maybe if someone would pay me to go travel around the world, I would take that job in a second.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Julie Greenberg, World Traveler.”
Executive Assistant, Legislative Counsel to Speaker Christine Quinn; Candidate, 47th Council district
Karaoke Song: “Yesterday,” by The Beatles
John Lisyanskiy works for Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), worked for Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) and began his career as a legislative assistant for Peter Vallone, Sr. (D-Queens).
But though Quinn is set to be forced out of office by term limits next year, Lisyanskiy hopes to continue his streak of relationships with Council speakers. But this time, he wants to have a different role, casting a vote for Quinn’s successor as a Council member himself, not as an aide.
Lisyankskiy, a Russian-born émigré, is one of three candidates vying to succeed Council Member Domenic Recchia (D) in this south Brooklyn district.
Throughout his time in the Council, Lisyanskiy has strengthened his ties to the Russian community, organizing an annual Council event, the Russian American Heritage and Culture Celebration, and brought Russian dignitaries, immigrants and other elected officials to the Council.
Lisuyanskiy’s time as an aide to three speakers, he said, makes him the most qualified person to win the seat.
“On the outside, you can’t always learn this stuff,” he said. “It’s one thing when you’re truly and internally involved.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “It’s the commitment and ability to work with colleagues and form this alliance.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I would see myself at a nonprofit.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “I truly hope it says ‘Councilman.’”
Founder and Executive Director, Living Liberally.
Karaoke Song: “Fight for Your Right to Party,” by the Beastie Boys
In 2003, as the United States headed into a war in Iraq, Justin Krebs looked at his friends and saw people angry about politics but too busy to engage in the debate. He realized he needed a way to make politics part of people’s everyday lives.
What started as small get-togethers in a Hell’s Kitchen bar five years ago became politically-themed social gatherings all over the country, hosting movie screenings, craft fairs, bicycle outings and comedy nights. Krebs modeled his community organizing on the union movement from the 1950s and old-style New York City Democratic clubs with a modern twist from the social scientist Robert Putnum, author of Bowling Alone.
“Right now I think it is important to build progressive infrastructure,” he said. “The movement was weakened by getting behind candidates and then being left with nothing if they lost.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I see how what I have done and the people I have worked with all building together for an identity, less around issues and more about helping craft and further the culture of proudly being a liberal.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I still have the idea of going for being a writer, or researcher, or a journalist, but I am less and less inclined to do it full-time, but to make it all a smart part of my life.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card?
“I would like to help Living Liberally to grow to be in every community in America, and help make the word ‘liberal’ a positive word again.”
Democratic nominee, 22nd Assembly District
Karaoke Song: “Dancing Queen,” by ABBA
Years ago, while working her way through law school, Grace Meng was certain that Asian-Americans still had a ways to go before breaking into New York politics. This was before John Liu became the first Asian-American elected to City Council, and her father, Jimmy Meng, became the first elected to state government. After her father’s election, Meng said she became convinced that not only had Asian-Americans finally come of age politically, but that her calling was to follow in her father’s footsteps.
This year, she succeeded, defeating Assembly Member Ellen Yo (D-Queens) in the Democratic primary. Her election in November is all but certain.
At a younger age, Meng held a congressional internship in Washington and worked as a law clerk for former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D). Later she helped found Friends of the Community Unite Serve, a community organization in Queens. In 2006, Meng ran against Young in an election to succeed her father, but dropped out after Young challenged her residency.
This year, the results were more to her liking, with a surprisingly large margin of victory in the Sept. 9 primary.
Meng said she is consistently amazed by the rich diversity in Flushing, which has led her to align herself with a slate of candidates that reflects the community’s many ethnic groups. But though she will be the second Asian-American woman expected to be elected to New York state government, Meng said her goal is to represent all ethnicities in Flushing.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I think it gave me the experience and knowledge of why it’s important to be in this position and, hopefully, to hold public office.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I would be an attorney in a non21profit organization to help disadvantaged individuals.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Hopefully, ‘State Assemblywoman.’”
Deputy State Director, Sen. Hillary Clinton
Karaoke Song: “Smooth Operator,” by Sade
Growing up with a mother who was a nurse and a father who worked in the sanitation department, Cleon Edwards had an acute awareness of the kind of problems faced by working class families. As one of the few students who went to LaGuardia Community College right out of high school instead of attending classes in between shifts on blue-collar jobs, this was intensified, as he came to have as friends people facing the same struggle his parents did.
A college internship in the office of then-Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins (D) led to the first of many jobs in and around government. Then a few years ago came the call from Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D) office, asking him if he was interested in a job.
“I thought that was one of the dumbest questions I’d ever been asked,” Edwards said. “The opportunity to jump back into an arena I’ve always had a passion for and do it for someone like Senator Clinton was amazing.”
Not only has he worked in public service his whole career so far, but he has politics in his personal life as well: his new bride, with whom he just returned from Maui, is deputy counsel to the finance division of the City Council.
“This government stuff,” Edwards joked, “is sort of who I am.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Each experience, I was able to benefit from folks who where there, who took an interest, saw some potential.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d have loved to be playing with the Yankees—second base, preferably, even though I do like Cano.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “My only objective is to continue to feel motivated by whatever it is that I’m doing and to continue to feel that the effort that I’ve put forth on a daily basis is something that’s being valued by the folks that are closest to me.”
Senior Vice President, Global Strategy Group
Karaoke Song: “All I Really Need,” by Raffi
Justin Lapatine initially planned a life confined to the ivory tower, pursuing a PhD in political science at Columbia University.
He soon realized, however, that the environs of academic life were not for him.
“Trying to explain politics in a theory that covers 1,000 years of history requires you to take out all the color and all the fun and all the flavor that I think all of us that are involved in politics love and are addicted to,” he said.
After a brief stint as a partner in a New York City culture and society website—the site quickly “flamed out” in 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst, he said—his addiction led him back to politics, when a friend invited him to join the Gore-Lieberman campaign. Despite that race’s disappointing end for him, the campaign nevertheless reminded him of why he wanted to be in politics in the first place. He went on to work as an opposition researcher for Mark Green’s mayoral campaign in 2001, where he helped dig up dirt on Michael Bloomberg with a team that included future Bloomberg press secretary Stu Loeser.
That experience catapulted him into public affairs, which eventually led him to Global Strategy. There, he has helped the company evolve from a research firm for politicians and interest groups into a broader public affairs firm. That task pales in comparison to his current challenge: getting some sleep, while taking care of his three-year-old and four-month-old children.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “There’s nothing more important in politics than two things: One is the relationships that you build. … And two: People recognize folks who get things done.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d probably be a freelance travel writer, never seeing the inside of an office.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “President, GSG Bali.”
Legislative Assistant, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Comptroller William Thompson
Karaoke Song: “I Will Stand By You,” by the Pretenders.
After graduating from Columbia Law School, Sandra Ung, a native of Cambodia who grew up in Flushing, worked as a staff attorney to Sanctuary for Families and as an associate at Dorsey & Whitney. She became the chief of staff to then-Assembly Member Jimmy Meng (D-Queens), the first Asian-American elected to the Legislature. When Meng retired after one term in 2006, Ung took the opportunity to apply her knowledge of Albany’s protocol on a city level.
While working for Comptroller Bill Thompson (D), Ung has continued her outreach to the Asian-American community, particularly looking at state and federal bills that can affect the city. She is also a board member of the Asian American Bar Association of New York.
And a run for office herself is a possibility for the future.
“Through working in state and city government, running for office—especially coming from an Asian-American background,” she said, “is definitely good for the community.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “My past jobs helped me meet different types of people I needed to meet to do this.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I would still be in my former job, in legal services for people who can’t afford it.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “It could be the city seal. It could be executive director of a nonprofit.”
Chief of Staff, Council Member Hiram Monserrate; Candidate, 21st Council district
Karaoke Song: “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor
Julissa Ferreras’ political career has been a series of serendipitous coincidences, grassroots initiatives and the occasional omen.
She was born on Election Day 1976, the day her outgoing Assembly Member, Ivan Lafayette (D-Queens), was first elected.
“And he retires in the year that, hopefully, I’ll be going to office,” she said, referring to 2009, when she expects to run in and win the special election which will likely be held to replace her current boss, Council Member Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens), who is himself running unopposed for State Senate.
Ferreras has been a community organizer for most of her professional life. At 19, she ran a beacon school in Queens. In 2001, she managed Monserrate’s first Council campaign.
In 2005, she took a two-year leave from her job in Monserrate’s Council office to work as the director of civic education of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. She traveled around the country, helping Latinos become American citizens and getting them registered to vote.
The experience, she said, was eye-opening.
“I learned that Latinos, like any other Americans—we have the same issues,” she said. “We all want better education for our children. We want quality of life. We want public safety, health care that’s affordable—that people can reach out and achieve their goals.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “They’ve all involved the community, so they’ve been my stepping stones to where I am now.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I would be teaching math. I love math.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras.”
Government Affairs Specialist, TLM Associates
“Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” by Fleetwood Mac
Eleven years ago, Jean Kim arrived in New York from Columbus, Ohio, with two suitcases and a background in broadcast journalism from Ohio State University. Following her interest in politics, she bounced from managing then-Assembly Member Barry Grodenchik’s campaign in Flushing to working as an immigrants’ rights coordinator at the AFL-CIO, to being an advisor in Diane Savino’s 2004 State Senate campaign and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2005 re-election campaign. Along the way, Kim found her own identity.
“Being Korean and female, people in the community look to me as somewhat of a trailblazer,” she said.
She looked to another trailblazer, Council Member John Liu (D-Queens) and followed his lead. Over the past two years, working as a lobbyist, she has shared her accrued political wisdom with companies like Zipcar and nonprofits like the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “My skill set comes from my experience running campaigns in every single borough in the city. It taught me to understand the issues and players in New York City.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “Once upon a time I thought maybe I would be a journalist.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “I would never say ‘never,’ but I have no immediate plans to run. I want to stay involved in politics and use my PR and managerial skills.”
Chair, Community Board 1
Karaoke Song: “Brown Eyed Girl,” by Van Morrison
Though a regulatory lawyer by profession, Julie Menin said this by no means confines her to the inner corridors of bureaucracy. She relishes the opportunity to analyze even the knottiest political issues as she takes them apart and reassembles them at the ground level, where they resonate in people’s lives.
As the chair of Manhattan’s Community Board 1 since 2005, she has had a role in some of the city’s most important public policy debates centered on the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, and has been intimately involved in the revitalization of the downtown community through non-profits such as Wall Street Rising, of which she is founder and president.
In 2007, she penned an op-ed for the Huffington Post titled “Do we need more women in politics?”
She was not being entirely rhetorical. Menin is seen as one of the leading contenders to succeed Council Member Alan Gerson (D-Manhattan), who is set to come up against term limits next year.
“I spend a lot of time already at the City Council,” she said. “That’s something I’m seriously looking at.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Being trained as a regulatory lawyer, and having a strong interest in government—how government works, how government can make peoples’ lives better—was perfect training.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing?
“I always thought, when I was in college, I would go into academia and teach at the college level, particularly in political science.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Well, I hope it would say that I’m serving in some respect in public service, whether that’s continuing serving on these boards, or whether it’s actually holding elected office.”
Chief of Staff, Assembly Member Deborah Glick
Karaoke Song: “Kick,” by INXS
Growing up, Bethany Jankunis was not particularly political. She certainly never fashioned herself a candidate for elected office.
“Not in a million years,” she said. “My brother growing up always wanted to work in politics, and I thought, ‘Eh, politics, I don’t know the difference between a Democrat and a Republican, a donkey and an elephant.’ I just wasn’t interested.”
Now, Jankunis—a former policy analyst in the city comptroller’s office, and current chief of staff to Assembly Member Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan)—finds herself giving serious thought to the idea of running for office herself.
“It’s a definite possibility,” she said. “I would love to basically do what I’m doing, but at a higher level.”
Jankunis started her career in social work, interning at a Head Start program in college and majoring in psychology. At the comptroller’s office, she specialized in children’s and family issues.
“I kind of thought, well, it’s great to be an advocate and push more stuff,” she said, “but I could be on the other side of the desk, and I could be making the decision to actually help allocate more money for these things.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I think my job with the comptroller helped me get some great policy training, sharpened my writing skills and my ability to interact with diverse constituencies.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “There’s a part of me that always wanted to be a news reporter.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Chief of Staff—in general, but for something other than where I currently am.”
President, Connective Strategies; Field Director, Rep. Edolphus Towns
Karaoke Song: “Fire and Desire,” by Rick James and Tina Marie
When she was 14 years old, Tyquana Henderson started a protest march following the Rodney King verdict, which inadvertently began her political career. When the marchers reached the local police precinct, they found that rather than arresting them, the police had called Council Member Thomas White, Jr. (D-Queens) to mediate.
“He said that the only way to change the system is to learn the system,” Henderson recalled.
Two months later, White opened a district office around the corner from Henderson’s home. She began to intern there after school. At 15, she was doing casework, covering community board meetings and had a business card with the seal of New York. By 18, she was White’s legislative aide at City Hall.
Several major campaign positions followed, but she eventually landed at Yoswein New York. But after five years there, Henderson last year founded Connective Strategies, a political consulting firm, and recently returned to the political fray as field director for Rep. Edolphus Towns’s re-election campaign.
Although the thought of elected office has crossed her mind now and then, Henderson said she is most at home behind the scenes.
“The power is not in being the elected official,” she said, “the power is in making the elected official.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “Everything I’ve done has been a building block. I’ve never taken a step backwards.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d probably be an accountant, because that’s what my first degree is in. I maintained a tax business in college to keep food on the table.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “President, Connective Strategies.”
Executive Director, Rep. Charles Rangel’s campaign
Karaoke Song: “Fever,” by Elvis Presley
While attending Bard College, Walter Swett wished President Bill Clinton luck on his re-election campaign as he swept through town. Swett remembered that Clinton gave him that “hypnotic Clinton look” and said, “I can do it, but I need your help.”
Since that encounter, Swett has dedicated his professional life to helping Democratic congressional candidates get elected, starting with volunteering on the campaign of Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-Ulster/Orange/Sullivan) in 1995.
Swett came to New York in 1999 to pursue a career in politics. His first gig in the city was as campaign finance director for Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan), putting him in charge of fundraising for Rangel’s re-election committee and his National Leadership PAC.
Even as Rangel has come under some fire of late, through the PAC, Swett is helping raise thousands of dollars for Democratic candidates nationwide, including four in New York, much of which came via through Rangel’s annual Tavern on the Green birthday party.
In what spare time he has, Swett has also helped organize a bi-monthly series of breakfast forums at Junior’s, bringing together a small group of young Brooklynites to meet with elected officials, candidates and other community leaders to debate and discuss issues of local concern.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I try to do whatever I can to help as many campaigns as possible with Congressman Rangel so we can really give people that boost.”
If you were not working in politics what would you be doing? “I would be coordinating movie premieres.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “It’ll just have my name. No title and no affiliation. Just a cell phone number and an e-mail address. Flexibility.”
President, New York State Young Democrats
Karaoke Song: “SexyBack,” by Justin Timberlake
Matthew Silverstein’s choice of a karaoke song is not just a favorite tune. It is a campaign theme.
“For a long time, the Young Democrats had been in a downturn,” he said. “It was becoming uncool and not sexy to be a member of the Young Democrats.”
So when Silverstein, the president of the Queens County Young Democrats, ran for president of the statewide organization, he borrowed a popular refrain coined by Justin Timberlake to reinforce his message: “I’m bringing sexy back.”
Since he began his term in May, Silverstein has sought to make the Young Democrats as much a social group as a political one.
Coupled with the explosion in political interest among young voters this election, Silverstein hopes his theme will revamp a once-lifeless organization.
He has focused much of his first three months in office on channeling that unbridled enthusiasm into a coherent chapter-building strategy. He is also putting the Young Democrats to work to help elect more Democrats to Congress and take the State Senate majority.
As for his own political future, Silverstein certainly has plans.
“I really have always felt, from a very young age, that I was meant to help people and really serve the public,” he said. “Some time down the road, I probably would run for something.”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I would say that, for me, it’s been a continuous road, a path that I’m on, and it’s been one step after another, and each one has been a learning experience.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing? “I’d probably be working as a teacher. My entire family’s all educators and all teachers.”
Five years from now, what is it going to say on your business card? “Maybe ‘Council member?’”
Senior Tri-state Finance Adviser, Sen. Barack Obama presidential campaign
Karaoke Song: “Sweet Caroline,” by Neil Diamond
For Hildy Kuryk, the Democratic National Convention in August was more than just a series of cocktail parties and occasions to mingle with the political class. It was the culmination of nearly two years of work.
“It was such an overwhelming trip,” she said. “To see him accept the nomination from remembering, in January of ’07, you know, how much has gone into this from where we started. We were obviously huge underdogs, and so it was a real gamble.”
That gamble has, to say the least, paid off for Kuryk, who has been with Sen. Barack Obama from the start, fundraising in what was largely seen as unfriendly territory.
“Senator Clinton, obviously, and as expected, had a majority of the political and Democratic support here,” she said, “so we really had to go out and find new pockets of support for Senator Obama.”
She was led to that task by way of other, less successful campaigns. She worked for Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (D) presidential campaign in 2004, and then for former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle (D). There, she made a number of valuable connections, including with Steve Hildebrand, who was also working for Daschle at the time, and is now Obama’s deputy national campaign director.
“He said, ‘I think I’m going to go work for Senator Obama,’” Kuryk recalled. “‘I think you should check it out.’”
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now? “I was lucky enough to work with people who went to go on and work with Senator Obama.”
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