In the Bronx, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s allies Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and former Assembly Member Marcos Crespo opted to exit public office rather than stay in the fight, while others remained and lost. In Albany, Heastie’s caucus grows more unruly, openly critical and leftward-tilting with each election cycle. But the speaker remains atop both the Bronx Democratic machine and the Assembly, recently installing another protégé, state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, to lead the former and maintain his iron grip on the latter for his sixth year running.
Few politicians across the country, much less in the Bronx, attract as much praise, ire and media attention as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is the most prominent democratic socialist in a state that continues to elect more leftists. Progressives look to her for leadership and covet her endorsement. Her late backing almost lifted mayoral candidate Maya Wiley to victory, while her support of Brad Lander helped him win the comptroller race.
State Sen. Jamaal Bailey is the new boss of Bronx Democrats, bridging the divides that have rattled the party in recent years. Bailey is both a progressive criminal justice reformer and a loyal party acolyte, receiving a career boost from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s mentorship. Already under his leadership, a new image of the party is forming: A woman of color will likely be borough president and make up a majority of the Bronx City Council delegation for the first time.
Rep. Ritchie Torres’ gamble backing early mayoral front-runner Andrew Yang didn’t pay off, but for the newly minted representative, it was just the latest example of the independent streak that got him into Congress in the first place. As one of the first two openly gay, Black members of Congress, he quickly made a name for himself. He proposed bills that would cut funding to Immigration and Customs Enforcement partnerships with local police. He also introduced a resolution condemning the anti-trans bills sweeping statehouses across the country.
Even as Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark has begun to dismiss marijuana cases by the thousands and expunge the records of sex workers, she has maintained a tough-on-crime stance by recently declaring war on gun violence at a rally in University Heights. As part of her plan to address the rise in shootings, she announced that a team of assistant district attorneys would investigate non-fatal shootings as if they were homicides in order to get more guns off the street.
When Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. leaves office at the end of 2021, Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz will be one of the last architects of the 2008 “Rainbow Rebellion,” a coalition that elevated him, Diaz, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and their allies into Bronx Democratic Party leadership. Dinowitz has avoided serious electoral threats, unlike former state Sen. Jeff Klein and former Rep. Eliot Engel, whose districts overlapped with the Assembly member’s. Dinowitz runs the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee alongside Heastie, and helped his son, Eric Dinowitz, win former City Council Member Andrew Cohen’s seat.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera emerged as one of the leading critics of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home pandemic policies – and ended up being interviewed by the FBI for three hours for its probe into the governor. Despite having the votes, another session ended with Rivera and his counterpart, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, unable to pass the New York Health Act. If the bill passes in future sessions, Rivera’s efforts will be second only to Gottfried’s in bringing single-payer health care to New York.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi has no qualms about taking on Albany Democratic leadership, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, or the Dinowitz father-son duo that now both hold elected office in districts overlapping her own. The relationship has never been warm, but the cold war at local political club meetings heated up as Biaggi forcefully backed Eric Dinowitz’s rivals in the special and primary elections for City Council District 11. The progressive star’s endorsement was sought by left-wing candidates across the city in 2021.
New York City Council Member Vanessa Gibson defeated Assembly Member Nathalia Fernández and fellow Council Member Fernando Cabrera in a competitive Democratic primary. Gibson is poised to become the Bronx’s first female and first Black borough president. She made her mark chairing the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, pushing for more police officers and transparency of police surveillance. When she succeeds current Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Gibson will emulate her political mentor and trailblazing “second mother” Aurelia Greene, the longtime Bronx lawmaker who died in May.
Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. will be one of the few incumbents returning to the chamber next January after he abandoned his run for Bronx borough president. The South Bronx Puerto Rican lawmaker could have a shot at running for city council speaker if he’s inclined to leave behind his influential Land Use Committee post. As one of the borough’s top fundraisers, Salamanca could have the backing of the Bronx Democrats if he runs for speaker.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat had a very good year. The first Dominican American elected to Congress fostered a growing Dominican political base in the Bronx. He guided his protégé Oswald Feliz to victory in a New York City Council special election, beating candidates backed by the world’s second-richest woman, Alice Walton and influential unions. When Espaillat endorsed Eric Adams, the front-runner invoked divine intervention – few can get voters to the polls like Espaillat can in the Spanish-speaking communities of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx.
It didn’t take long for Rep. Jamaal Bowman to jump into the fray after defeating then-Rep. Eliot Engel, who had been in office for more than three decades and chaired the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee. Bowman, the founder of a Bronx public middle school, has issued sharp critiques of President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. This earned him accolades from the left, even as White House chief of staff Ron Klain consulted with him on policy and personnel during the transition into Biden’s term.
As a fixture of the Bronx Democratic machine since the 1980s, Stanley Schlein continues to wield influence, even as the party’s grip on the borough loosens. No Bronx judge gets to the bench without Schlein’s approval as the perennial chair of the party’s judicial convention. Beyond his day job as a well-compensated lobbyist, Schlein’s election law expertise earned him six figures in the 2021 primary. Candidates who employed his services include six running for New York City Council, two for borough president, two for city comptroller and onetime mayoral front-runners Andrew Yang and Kathyrn Garcia.
When the public school system needed a steady hand to lead New York’s 2.6 million students through the COVID-19 school year and the post-pandemic return to classes, Betty Rosa was the obvious choice. Rosa spent the last decade representing Bronx County on the Board of Regents, serving as chancellor since 2016. Now, Rosa is implementing policy instead of overseeing it, using $9 billion in federal stimulus to shore up the system and reduce inequities in the student population exacerbated by the pandemic.
Eight years after he bet on Mayor Bill de Blasio before anyone else would, George Gresham and 1199SEIU went all-in for mayoral contender Maya Wiley. The union’s political action committee spent $1.2 million on an ad buy in the last days of the primary, funded partly by billionaire financier George Soros, yet Wiley fell short. Last fall, longtime ally Gov. Andrew Cuomo put Gresham on a COVID-19 vaccine task force. Gresham said he’s determined to fight against mandatory vaccination for medical workers during his membership.
Few committees are as important in Albany as the labor committees, and Latoya Joyner has found herself chairing the influential committee after the post opened when Bronx Democratic boss Marcos Crespo left for the private sector last year. Though her bill offering unemployment repayment forgiveness has not made it to the governor’s desk, she worked with state Sen. Jessica Ramos to pass a measure that will prevent wage theft in the construction industry. This was a major priority for unions in the Building and Construction Trades Council.
Randy Levine, the longtime president of the iconic Bronx ball club, was reportedly considered for the job of Donald Trump’s chief of staff in 2018. The Yankees president was deputy mayor and labor commissioner under then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Levine is an occasional presence at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences as the state lets sports fans return to watch live games in person. He also called for the state to legalize recreational marijuana and mobile sports betting to increase revenues post-pandemic. Both measures were approved in Albany this year.
Assembly Member Michael Benedetto represents the entire East Bronx, from Pelham Bay to Throgs Neck, overlapping some with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district, but so far staving off progressive challengers. The former publisher of the Bronx Times-Reporter and 30-year New York City public school teacher now chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Education. In Albany, Benedetto shapes the debate on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (he’s opposed) and mayoral control of New York City schools (the current law expires in June 2022).
The former Montefiore Medical Center emergency room nurse emerged as a political force during her decadelong leadership of the New York State Nurses Association. Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez’s authority championed her 42,000 front-line members through negotiations, strikes and lawsuits. As COVID-19 spread and members debated the union’s shift to the activist left under her leadership, she took initiative. She advocated for better pay, personal protective equipment and a newly passed safe staffing law out of Albany that requires hospitals and nursing homes to establish a minimum patient-to-nurse ratio.
Although she’s still in her first term, Assembly Member Karines Reyes is making waves. The Montefiore Medical Center nurse returned to her old job during the pandemic’s peak, and amidst a ventilator shortage, she cared for sickly patients in the hours before they died. She was the primary sponsor of the NY HERO Act, which provides first-in-the-nation COVID-19 workplace protection laws. Reyes, who is also a former New York State Nurses Association union official, celebrated the passage of safe staffing legislation, a longtime priority of the influential organization.
New York City Council Member Mark Gjonaj spent over a million dollars to beat Marjorie Velázquez by just 4% in 2017. This time, Gjonaj, the best fundraiser on the City Council, spent nearly $500,000 before dropping out in February, ceding victory to his progressive challenger. A longtime community organizer and advocate for deaf children, Velázquez is the first Latina to represent District 13. She will be part of a Bronx City Council delegation composed of a majority of women of color next January. The other breakthrough New York City Council primary winners were Amanda Farías, who lost to Council Member Rubén Díaz Sr. in 2017 but won this cycle after he declined to seek reelection; Pierina Sanchez, who is set to succeed Council Member Fernando Cabrera; and Althea Stevens, who won in the district being vacated by Vanessa Gibson, likely the next borough president.
Once viewed as a likely front-runner in the mayor’s race, Ruben Diaz Jr. dropped out of the primary last year and returned money to donors, apparently serious about leaving the political life he led after becoming the youngest Assembly Member since Teddy Roosevelt. A quarter century later, Diaz is done with elected office. Whatever he does next, the three-term borough president will have plenty of powerful allies left in office, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the city’s next mayor, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez served under two governors as secretary of state and was chief of staff to then-Bronx Democratic Party boss Roberto Ramirez. She also headed up EmblemHealth and Cablevision’s government affairs divisions. In addition, Cortés-Vázquez was executive vice president of AARP before being tapped by Mayor Bill de Blasio to serve in his administration. As commissioner, she oversees the reopening of the city’s senior centers this summer and the expansion of her department under the mayor’s five-year Community Care Plan for older New Yorkers.
The Parkchester-based sibling duo Hawk and Chivona Renée Newsome have led the Black Lives Matter movement at protests while pursuing electoral influence through Chivona Renée Newsome’s congressional candidacy. They’ve also endorsed candidates in the 2021 Democratic primary. The pair were arrested at a May protest blocking traffic at the Holland Tunnel alongside mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan, though the Black Lives Caucus, the political arm of the organization they founded, endorsed Maya Wiley days before Election Day.
A decade into her tenure leading the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, Marlene Cintron saw hard-earned growth in the borough dissipate with COVID-19 closures shuttering businesses. Last spring, Cintron participated in developing an emergency loan fund for Bronx businesses to borrow up to $100,000 to help aid their survival. This spring, Cintron was named co-chair of the “A Sure Bet for New York’s Future” Alliance, advocating for a full gambling license for Empire City Casino, a move projected to generate millions of dollars for the region.
Paloma Izquierdo-Hernandez runs one of the largest health care providers in the South Bronx, originally founded by her father, Dr. Richard Izquierdo, in the 1970s. From a 100,000-square-foot Longwood headquarters, Izquierdo-Hernandez oversees 1,000 employees at 10 locations throughout the Bronx, Queens and Harlem. In April, Urban Health Plan was tapped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help vaccinate bodega and grocery workers. The provider also received $17 million from the American Rescue Plan for COVID-19 vaccines and treatment.
Feeding a city is no easy task, especially when you’re less than a year into your job and a once-in-a-century pandemic cripples your supply chain and threatens your workforce. Phillip Grant oversees the nation’s largest produce market responsible for 4.5 billion pounds of food annually, guiding the market’s 30 member firms through COVID-19 and a one-week strike in January over a wage dispute. The strike attracted national attention, but ended with a three-year contract that brought Teamsters back to the market.
A fourth-generation Teamster, Daniel Kane Jr. led 1,400 workers at Hunts Point Produce Market through the first strike since the 1980s, even as the NYPD cracked down on the picket line. The January strike attracted support from Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ritchie Torres and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, as well as leftists nationwide. After a weeklong strike, Kane secured a three-year contract with higher pay and greater health care benefits.
State Sen. José M. Serrano’s district spans parts of the South Bronx, including Mott Haven and Melrose. He followed in the footsteps of his father, former Rep. José E. Serrano, who recently retired after three decades as a member of Congress. The South Bronx native spent about three years in the New York City Council before joining the state Senate in 2005. Serrano chairs the body’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation, bringing with him experience from working in the arts for the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Famously, Bhairavi Desai does not have a driver’s license. Despite this, Desai has led an organization representing yellow cab drivers in New York City for over 20 years, advocating on behalf of her 21,000 members as the medallion crisis and ridesharing apps threatened their livelihoods. Just this year, she slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rescue plan as woefully insufficient and helped kill an Uber- and Lyft-backed bill that would continue to prevent rideshare drivers from organizing with full labor rights.
For nearly 20 years, Father Joseph McShane has run the Bronx’s premier institution of higher learning, the 180-year-old Fordham University. McShane is a respected Jesuit Catholic leader in the Bronx and nationwide. California Rep. Juan Vargas, a Fordham graduate, said he endorsed Michael Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign after a conversation with McShane, who serves on the board of directors for Bloomberg Philanthropies. In December, McShane announced the largest donation in university history: $35 million from billionaire Mario Gabelli.
Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez got her start in Bronx politics as a staffer for New York City Council Member Mark Gjonaj, before going on to serve as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s liaison to the borough. That experience helped launch her into office in 2019, repping neighborhoods such as Allerton and Morris Park. While her recent run for Bronx borough president was unsuccessful, she remains a rising star in the Bronx Democratic Party. Fernandez, whose father hails from Cuba, recently voiced support for Cuban protesters denouncing shortages for food and medicine.
Christopher Mastromano and Christopher Roker were tasked with leading the Bronx’s public hospitals through the coronavirus pandemic. Mastromano leads NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi and NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx and will oversee the long-planned merger of the two locations. Roker, an operations expert who moved over from NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan to head up Lincoln Hospital in February, will also continue in his role as the system’s chief growth officer.
Eric Dinowitz was a schoolteacher, union representative and Community Board 8 leader before he launched his bid for the New York City Council. His Northwest Bronx home base is an epicenter of the progressive, anti-establishment movement in New York City that ousted then-state Sen. Jeff Klein and then-Rep. Eliot Engel – both allies of his influential father, Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz. This didn’t stop the younger Dinowitz from winning a March special election for the council seat formerly held by Andrew Cohen and cruising to a decisive primary victory in June.
New York City Council Member Kevin Riley worked for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for a decade before Riley ran to replace the expelled lawmaker Andy King. Riley has spent the past two decades attending the same church as state Sen. Jamaal Bailey. Both relationships will be valuable assets to Riley during his City Council career. Riley also founded The Dad Gang, a Black fatherhood initiative that hosted a Father’s Day March of Dads featuring Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and rapper Fat Joe.
Tenant attorney Oswald Feliz defeated candidates backed by unions and political action committees in the March special election for Rep. Ritchie Torres’ open New York City Council seat – then won the June primary to keep it. After running the Bronx office of Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s 2016 campaign, Espaillat put his political muscle behind Feliz. The young lawmaker will play a key role in shaping the borough’s future, he even founded a new Bronx political club with Espaillat in 2019 called the Northwest Bronx Democrats for Change.
Discouraged by then-Bronx Democratic Party boss Marcos Crespo from running in the first place, Amanda Septimo ousted longtime party fixture Carmen Arroyo last year after the incumbent filed fraudulent ballot petitions. Once in Albany, the first-term Assembly member organized protest sleepovers outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Capitol “War Room.” When Hunts Point Teamsters went on strike, she showed up every day and got the Cuomo administration to help bring both sides together.
Dr. Philip Ozuah took charge of the Bronx’s largest health care provider and one of its largest employers just months before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in New York. One of the top hospital executives in the city, Ozuah oversaw Montefiore Health System’s 13 hospitals and 300 clinics through surging patients, PPE shortages and an increasingly confrontational nurses union. After George Floyd was killed, Ozuah penned an op-ed in The New York Times and appeared on the TODAY Show to discuss dual deadly pandemics: COVID-19 and racism
Fernando Delgado was selected to lead the City University of New York’s only senior college in the Bronx this year, replacing interim president Daniel Lemons after a two-year search. Delgado spent 20 years as an administrator at public colleges in Arizona, Minnesota, and Wisconsin before coming to the Bronx. An expert in Latinx identity and the son of immigrants, Delgado runs a university federally designated as a Hispanic-serving institution where nearly half of the student body is composed of first-generation college attendees.
Once a top aide to Eliot Engel, John Calvelli returned to politics after 20 years away to co-run the New York office of Michael Bloomberg’s short-lived 2020 presidential campaign. When he came back to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs some of the world’s largest urban parks including the Bronx Zoo, a global pandemic had arrived in his home borough thanks to a likely zoonotic coronavirus. Both Calvelli and Christián Samper, a world- renowned biologist and conservationist, have written and spoken extensively on measures that must be taken to prevent further global pandemics, including the curbing of ecological degradation that increases the risk of viruses like COVID-19 spreading.
After the long fight for bail reform, Justine Olderman spent 2020 defending protesters arrested during a police crackdown in Mott Haven last summer and demanding better treatment for prisoners at Rikers Island and other city facilities where unhealthy conditions lead to high rates of COVID-19 among the incarcerated population. In February, the Bronx Defenders joined a lawsuit demanding Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Howard Zucker open eligibility for the vaccine to prisoners.
Marcos Crespo did not go far when he resigned from the Assembly and as party boss of the Bronx Democrats last year. He took a job at Montefiore Medical Center and was quickly thrown into the fire when New Rochelle nurses went on strike over pay and staffing concerns. Crespo became the public face of that battle for Montefiore and will continue to wield influence in the Bronx and Albany through his new role and his old friendships.
A former director at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, Karen Meyerhoff took the top job at the 28-acre, North Riverdale public garden and cultural center in 2015. After shutting down for almost four months at the pandemic’s height, Wave Hill reopened in July last year and offered free admission to New York City hospital staff and their families. Wave Hill is slated for a full season of exhibitions this year, marking the complete return of one of the Bronx’s premier cultural institutions.
Michael Brady has helped bring millions of dollars in investment to the South Bronx as he works to revitalize the area through development, clean streets and a cohesive business community that can attract new business to the neighborhood. An outspoken opponent of New York City Council legislation changing fast food employee labor laws, Brady implored regulators to “remove your foot” from the neck of the business community. Brady brought back the 1 Bronx Pride Festival this year to celebrate the Bronx LGBTQ community in person after 2020’s virtual programming.
Since she initiated its formation in 2005, Wilma Alonso has worked to make Fordham Road Business Improvement District the biggest shopping district in the Bronx. A passionate defender of brick and mortar retail, Alonso was an outspoken opponent of the New York City Council’s approval of thousands of new street vending permits in January. When Fordham Road stores were looted during last summer’s unrest, Alonso demanded accountability and attention from the city.
Affinity Health Plan, the 30-year-old Medicaid health plan with over 280,000 subscribers that was originally known as Bronx Health Plan, has been led by Michael Murphy since 2017. In October of 2020, Murphy arranged the $380 million sale of Affinity to Molina Healthcare, a managed health care services company that serves 3.6 million members nationwide. Under the Molina Healthcare umbrella, Affinity kept its name and its Bronx-based offices and will continue under Murphy’s leadership going forward.
In 2019, Lourdes Zapata returned to the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, where she previously worked for 17 years, after five years working in state government for Empire State Development and then as chief diversity officer in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. The economic development nonprofit manages 500 housing units, 30,000 square feet of office space and a number of vocational training and workforce development programs. Last May, Zapata was named to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Small Business Sector Advisory Council.
Jason Laidley was Bronx borough director for New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office when his old friend from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s team, Jamaal Bailey, asked him to run his state Senate campaign. Leaping at the chance to work with his friend and for the neighborhoods he grew up in, Laidley became Bailey’s chief of staff after the campaign won. Now, Bailey is the boss of the Bronx Democrats and a leading criminal justice reformer in Albany, with Laidley as his right-hand man.
Over the past 20 years, Plinio Ayala has built Per Scholas into one of the nation’s leading technology training nonprofits. At no cost to low-income individuals interested in the IT profession, Per Scholas offers training and workforce development programs to embark on tech careers they otherwise would have been excluded from. Ayala has helped over 11,000 workers launch successful tech careers by partnering with dozens of the biggest tech companies and building Per Scholas nationally from his South Bronx office.
Bronx lives would have been saved had leaders and decision-makers in New York heeded the warnings of Mychal Johnson. For years, the environmental crusader sounded the alarm about pollution, asthma and environmental racism in the Bronx. When COVID-19 arrived, it found the borough weakened by highways, heavy diesel trucking, fossil fuel power plants and other air pollutants. Still, Johnson fights on, hosting a Voterfest in Mott Haven with The City ahead of the June primary to inform Bronx voters.
The FreshDirect executive who successfully led the charge to bring the grocery delivery business to the Bronx has started his own consultancy, drawing from his decades of experience in New York City politics. Larry Scott Blackmon worked for Mayors Bill de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and the New York Jets. At FreshDirect, Blackmon recently helped organize the first “Bronx Day” on Governors Island in appreciation of FreshDirect’s 1,000-plus Bronx employees.
Editor’s note: Larry Scott Blackmon is a member of City & State’s advisory board.
Few have done more to document, uplift and inform the Bronx than Michael Max Knobbe and Gary Axelbank, both longtime residents of Van Cortlandt Village in the North Bronx. For the last 20 years, Knobbe has built up the independent, nonprofit cable network, opening new studio locations across the borough and training generations of young Bronxites in the art of television production. But the network would not hold nearly as central a role in the borough without the longtime host of “BronxTalk,” Gary Axelbank. The respected broadcaster has long been the go-to moderator for debates, forums and town hall meetings for everyone from local legislators to congressional and mayoral candidates.
As a self-proclaimed Bronx girl and the borough’s reporter for NY1, Amy Yensi provides her expertise in reporting the toughest stories. She also highlights the best the Bronx has to offer, particularly when it comes to the borough’s tasty delicacies. Her coverage of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, rapper DMX’s death and memorial and disparities in federal aid for Bronx businesses earned her the respect and admiration of her home borough’s viewers.
A onetime aide to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Paul Thomas is wrapping up his first, fruitful decade as a lobbyist for The Parkside Group. The firm rakes in millions each year from clients like AT&T, Microsoft, 32BJ SEIU, the Brooklyn Nets and DraftKings, while also advising nonprofits and local cultural institutions on legislative efforts and government affairs. Thomas has spearheaded anti-gang initiatives and serves on the board of the New York League of Conservation Voters.
A leader in the city’s Guyanese community and a veteran of the Bronx borough president’s office, Bharati Sukul Kemraj is one of the key consultants working for Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates. Kemraj’s nonprofit, the Bharati Foundation, launched a voter outreach campaign in Indo-Caribbean and West Indian communities. The daughter of a prominent Bronx Hindu priest, Kemraj is a leader at the Vishnu Mandir temple in Parkchester and hosted visits with mayoral candidates Dianne Morales and Maya Wiley during the primary.
The day after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Brennan O’Donnell wrote a lengthy email to the Manhattan College community, singling one of the university’s most famous alumni: Rudy Giuliani, class of 1965. O’Donnell explained that the former mayor had violated America’s values and the Catholic school’s Lasallian principles by undermining the integrity of our elections. The college was recently named one of the best universities for veterans by the Military Times.
The tenant protections passed in Albany were a start, but Sandra Lobo and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition have continued their tenacious advocacy for racial justice and “economic democracy” in the Bronx. Lobo hopes to convince the city to hand over 28 buildings and lots in University Heights for a community land trust to house impoverished Bronxites, instead of selling the city-owned properties to private developers. Lobo is on the community advisory board for MIT’s Community Innovators Lab.
Abe Fernández serves a dual role for Children’s Aid, running Collective Impact in the South Bronx as well as advocating for community schools across the country through the National Center for Community Schools. Through his first role, Fernández formed South Bronx Rising Together in collaboration with local stakeholders to develop a cradle-to-college or career structure for kids in Morrisania. In the latter role, Fernández works to export the Children’s Aid community schools model used at 22 schools in New York City.
When he’s not managing public relations for one of the biggest hospitals in New York City, John Doyle is helping Assembly Member Michael Benedetto’s campaign or organizing town halls with state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez through City Island Rising, the civic organization he founded. When former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan received Benedetto’s endorsement in this year’s New York City Democratic mayoral primary, he touted Doyle’s endorsement as well.
The first woman to lead Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City in its nearly 120-year history, Alicia Guevara guided the mentoring organization through the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly pivoting to virtual programming so that kids, often from the worst- hit neighborhoods, could stay in contact with their “bigs.” A lifelong Bronxite, Guevara has made it a priority to grow Bronx mentor membership. Guevara previously ran Part of the Solution, a North Bronx nonprofit that feeds the needy.
Nilka Martell is a leading environmental activist in the Bronx who has spent years urging the federal government to cap the Cross Bronx Expressway and convert it into green space. With COVID-19 laying bare the impacts of environmental racism in the Bronx, Martell has recruited more politicians to her cause, including Rep. Ritchie Torres, Andrew Yang and Assembly Member Karines Reyes. In June, Martell co-authored an endorsement of Vanessa Gibson for borough president, highlighting her support in the Latino community.
Longtime Bronx real estate developer Mark Stagg continues to buy up property and build new housing across the borough, including hundreds of affordable housing units and apartments for formerly homeless New Yorkers. The brash businessman occasionally rubs a community board or two the wrong way, but has developed a public relations strategy of honoring community leaders and working with elected officials like New York City Council Member Rafael Salamanca to distribute thousands of care packages and meals during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the longtime head of the Bronx-Manhattan North Association of Realtors, Eliezer Rodriguez oversaw a merger with Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors last fall, expanding HGAR’s Bronx membership to over 1,500. Rodriguez assumed a new role in the newly merged association, heading up advocacy and legislative efforts in the Bronx and Manhattan. The move will give Bronx Realtors more collective lobbying power and access to premier listing software.
The biggest business in Cary Goodman’s 161st Street Business Improvement District is perhaps the worst neighbor in his eyes. The $5 billion New York Yankees pay no property taxes to the city, an arrangement Goodman pleaded with Mayor Bill de Blasio to change in order to help the neighborhood’s struggling businesses. When baseball came back without fans last year, Goodman organized protests urging the iconic Bronx franchise to do more for local businesses.
Sean Coleman has spent years running the borough’s only LGBTQ community center in the South Bronx as the first Black transgender person to run an LGBT center in the state. The managing partner of Sean Ebony Coleman Consulting, he also manages Gilead’s multimillion-dollar TRANScend Community Impact Fund to assist transgender and gender-nonconforming grassroots groups. Last year, after receiving $800,000 from New York City, Coleman opened a 16-unit building to provide temporary housing for transgender and gender-nonconforming sex workers.
Jennifer Tausig emerged as a significant leader in the Bronx business community during the coronavirus pandemic, slamming the city after only 1% of the city’s small business loans went to Bronx businesses. The executive director of the Jerome-Gun Hill Business Improvement District, Tausig was elected co-chair of the NYC BID Association, representing the city’s 76 BIDs. Tausig also leads the Mosholu Preservation Corporation, a nonprofit funded by Montefiore Health System to strengthen Bronx communities and publish a local newspaper, the Norwood News.
After enjoying a period of growth and ample funding from the city and other benefactors, Viviana Bianchi directed the Bronx Council on the Arts through the pandemic and did what she could for the Bronx’s struggling arts community. Last year, the organization distributed $500,000 to more than 100 local artists and arts organizations. In January, a theater program called Healing & Wellness Rainbow of Desire launched in order to help kids manage the stress of the pandemic, it was partly funded by Bianchi’s group.
For 37 years, Brad Silver has run the Bronx Jewish Community Council, serving 10,000 Bronxites annually through the council’s food programs, home health aides, and benefits assistance. The comprehensive social services organization serves low-income New Yorkers and operates one of the largest food pantries in the borough on Holland Avenue. During the coronavirus pandemic, Silver has scaled up his organization’s food delivery operations, which were already distributing thousands of meals a year to seniors and Bronxites living with disabilities, to address the growing need.
When Daisy Cocco De Filippis stepped aside as provost of Hostos Community College in 2008, she relocated to Connecticut and became the first Dominican community college president in the United States. Last year, she returned to New York to be closer to her family and guide Hostos through the coronavirus pandemic, becoming the first Dominican woman to lead a CUNY school. In June, billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $15 million to Hostos. In July, Cocco De Filippis was named president, dropping the “interim” from her title.
A champion of the Bronx business community, Lisa Sorin was named to both Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reopening advisory councils. When the mayoral council stopped meeting last summer, Sorin signed a letter along with 160 New York City business leaders calling on de Blasio to address public safety and quality of life issues they said were being ignored. Sorin is involved in the project to make Yonkers’ Empire City Casino, employer of hundreds of Bronxites, a full casino.
With 859 beds and over 4,500 employees, the BronxCare hospital network is the largest in the South Bronx and one of the largest employers in the borough. Nearly one million visits are made to the system’s outpatient clinics annually and its emergency room is among the busiest in the entire state, with over 141,000 visits per year. For more than 40 years, Miguel Fuentes Jr. has dedicated his career to leading the hospital network.
As the top tenant leader representing the more than 400,000 New Yorkers who live in NYCHA housing, Daniel Barber is a voice for residents of the beleaguered public housing agency and a frequent ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he partnered with then-Assembly Member Michael Blake to distribute thousands of meals across South Bronx NYCHA developments. Also, Barber endorsed mayoral candidate Ray McGuire, and the pair campaigned together at NYCHA complexes in the closing weeks of the election.
Just the sixth president in the College of Mount Saint Vincent’s 174-year history, Susan R. Burns was hired by the North Riverdale school late last year after working for a decade in the administrations of universities in Iowa. Located in the northwesternmost portion of New York City, the small Catholic college has produced such Bronx luminaries as News 12 reporter Michelle Ross, Stu Loeser & Co. media strategist Jennifer Blatus and Showtime late-night host Desus Nice.
The current leaders of the Bronx County Bar Association are Wayne Wattley and Peter Ridge. Wattley, the organization’s president, has over two decades of experience as a trial attorney. In 2019, he joined the personal injury and civil rights firm Elefterakis, Elefterakis & Panek as senior trial counsel. Ridge, the board chair, has worked as a personal injury attorney in the borough for over 16 years. He arranged for Bank OZK to sponsor free continuing legal education courses for members and formed a new revenue committee to generate new fundraising sources for the organization during the coronavirus pandemic.
Longtime community activist and Bronx NAACP President Biarni Burke has made it a priority in recent years to increase voter turnout in the borough, which historically has the lowest percentage of voter turnout in New York City. During the three recent City Council special elections for Bronx seats, Burke organized a competition between the three council districts to try to raise turnout above single-digit percentages. Ahead of the 2021 primary, Burke led a voter turnout push and educated voters on ranked-choice voting.
Dianne Johnson fosters Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s relationship with local communities, overseeing much of the Archdiocese of New York’s charitable outreach and partnerships across the city. Catholic Charities is responsible for hundreds of units of affordable housing in the Bronx and millions of meals distributed each year. Father Eric Cruz runs the Bronx arm of the charity, often acting as a conduit between the Archdiocese and the Puerto Rican community. In 2018, as migrant children were being separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, Cruz traveled to Texas with faith leaders to observe the crisis. Catholic Charities of New York took in dozens of unaccompanied children at the time.
A national leader in elder care, Daniel Reingold was at the helm of New York’s largest nonprofit nursing home, Riverdale’s Hebrew Home, through the coronavirus pandemic. The home’s 600 residents were among the first seniors in the state to receive vaccines in December. In his three decades at the organization, Reingold has testified before Congress, been invited to the White House, hosted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the nursing home and created a model for elder abuse shelters nationwide, opening the first in 2005.
Jennifer Rivera got her start as East Bronx City Council Member Jimmy Vacca’s director of operations. From there, she became the Bronx regional representative for Gov. Andrew Cuomo for four years before stints at Empire State Development and as the governor’s assistant deputy secretary for executive operations. After directing Altice USA’s government affairs division, Kasirer hired Rivera to put her experience to work advising corporate clients. Rivera serves on the board of directors for the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation.
Along with business partner and fellow political veteran Luis Miranda, Roberto Ramírez’s name is part of MirRam Group, one of New York’s leading political consulting firms. However, Ramírez had long ago made a name for himself in government and politics as a state lawmaker from the Bronx, as the borough’s Democratic Party boss – the first Latino to hold such a post in New York – and as a savvy campaign strategist.
Running Monroe College is a family affair for Marc Jerome, who took over his father’s position as president in 2017 and is the third generation of his family to work at the Bronx- and New Rochelle-based institution. Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Jerome to the Board of Trustees of the Higher Education Services Corporation in 2018. Also, in February, Jerome opened the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Justice at Monroe College with former Assembly Member and Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Michael Blake.
Thomas Isekenegbe spent the past five years building Bronx Community College into an institution serving low-income and immigrant Bronxites. Last year, Isekenegbe secured a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund career development and tutoring programs for Hispanic students. Also, in June, the New York City Department of Education awarded the college’s Early Childhood Center $4.7 million to expand and offer child care for ages 6 weeks through preschool.
A Bronx native and graduate of New York City Catholic schools (including postgraduate studies at Manhattan College and Fordham University), Michael Deegan was elevated to superintendent of the Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New York in 2019. He oversees archdiocesan schools from Staten Island to Ulster and Dutchess counties, including nearly 9,000 students in the Bronx alone, by far the largest enrollment of any county in the system.
After seven years as assistant director of the Belmont Business Improvement District, Alyssa Tucker was chosen in January to lead the organization and its member businesses in the post-pandemic era. Tucker’s work for the BID previously helped bring the traditional Italian neighborhood into the 21st century via social media accounts promoting the Bronx’s Little Italy to over 300,000 followers. The iconic Bronx neighborhood has its own private sanitation workers, security guards and even a public relations firm.
Camelia Tepelus has led the Morris Park Business Improvement District since its inception in 2018, overseeing some 300 businesses in the commercial corridor. Her organization’s members have done surprisingly well during the pandemic, losing only two businesses to closures and gaining 11 new stores as of January. For her work at the BID and her previous career fighting human trafficking, Tepelus was honored as a Woman of Distinction in March by state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi.
In 2019, after two years as director of communications for New York City Council Member Andrew Cohen, Miles Burnett left to become the first full-time executive director of the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District and be Tomas Ramos’ campaign manager in the Democratic primary for New York’s 15th Congressional District. When COVID-19 arrived mid-campaign, Ramos and Burnett created the Bronx Rising Initiative to distribute resources to the community and, later, launched an awareness and door-knocking campaign to encourage Bronxites to get vaccinated.
For 35 years, Margaret Caplan has worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, most recently serving as the medical center director for VA Hudson Valley Health Care System. She took the same position at James J. Peters VA Medical Center, a teaching hospital with a state-of-the-art spinal cord injury treatment center. In December, the Bronx VA began distributing some of the earliest available Moderna vaccines to 40,000 Bronx veterans.
Abby Jo Sigal runs HERE to HERE, the South Bronx academic and career success organization backed by philanthropist Judith Dimon and her husband, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Last August, when 27 CEOs of New York’s largest employers launched the New York Jobs CEO Council with the pledge to hire 100,000 traditionally underserved New Yorkers by 2030, the council turned to Sigal and HERE to HERE to help facilitate the hiring and training process.
In 2014, Michael Alfutis was appointed by the SUNY Board of Trustees to head up its Bronx-based merchant marine academy, Maritime College. During his tenure, the school has established the SUNY Maritime Foundation, a nonprofit that has funneled $4.5 million in grants to the college, and has expanded its partnership with Hornblower Cruises, the operator of NYC Ferry. The 28-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard is also a rear admiral.
In addition to running the Bronx campus of Metropolitan College of New York, a private college for working adults, John Edwards is also the executive director of the office of career development for the institution, which has another campus in the Financial District. Edwards, who also serves as the vice president of communications for the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources’ Greater New York chapter, previously worked for JPMorgan, the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Samelys López’s strong fourth-place finish in the crowded 15th Congressional District Democratic primary last summer solidified her position in progressive circles as the socialist left works to build its presence in the Bronx. She was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, the Working Families Party, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. A constant presence on the campaign trail supporting candidates in the June primary, López will have plenty of allies in her next campaign.
Bernadette Kappen, the executive director for the New York Institute for Special Education, has spent her career educating children with visual and hearing impairments, as well as other disabilities. Located in Allerton, the institute is a member of the 4201 Schools Association, a coalition of 10 private special education schools. Kappen, who co-chairs the association, frequently testifies in front of committees in Albany to advocate for better funding.
Charles Moerdler was once a young, hot-shot buildings commissioner in John Lindsay’s administration. Now approaching his tenth decade, Moerdler is not quite the force in New York politics he once was, but he isn’t living a quiet retirement either. When he’s not pressuring city officials and developers as Bronx Community Board 8 land use chair, Moerdler still represents influential lawmakers like Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz and powerful organizations like the New York State United Teachers.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former press secretary, John P.L. Kelly started at business software heavyweight SAP in 2019, but never strayed too far from public service. Kelly was briefly drafted back into the “Cuomo family” last spring to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic response. A Riverdale resident, the Irish American organized a socially distanced St. Patrick’s Day parade through the neighborhood. Kelly serves on the board of directors for Riverdale Neighborhood House and the community advisory board of WFUV, Fordham University’s public radio station.
Ariana Collado is at the forefront of Bronx Democratic Party boss Jamaal Bailey’s efforts to democratize and diversify the county operation. Taking the position in January after serving as then-New York City Council Member Andrew Cohen’s chief of staff, Collado oversaw a June primary in which Vanessa Gibson won a competitive race and is set to become the first female borough president. The borough is on track to have a delegation that is majority women of color, an impressive turnaround for a party long accused of sexism.
Jennifer Blatus came up through Bronx politics, but she made a name for herself running the communications shop of Max Rose’s successful 2018 congressional campaign. Now at Stu Loeser & Co., Blatus worked on former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign and on strategy for Revel, the scooter share company. In the 2021 Democratic primary, the Bronx resident served as communications director on the campaigns of Nathalia Fernández for Bronx borough president and Tali Farhadian Weinstein for Manhattan district attorney.
A longtime pastor, tenant leader and Bronx LGBTQ community fixture, the Rev. Carmen Hernandez in 2020 spoke out against New York City Council Member Rubén Díaz Sr. as a homophobe and labeled him as “The Donald Trump of the Bronx.” She runs programs for Bronx youth and, through the NYC LGBTQS Chamber of Commerce, seeks to create economic development opportunities for LGBTQ people. An advocate for at-risk inner city kids the Bronx’s Soundview neighborhood for four decades, she founded and leads Giving Kids/Youth a Chance.
A former deputy organizing director for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilona Duverge founded Movement School to train the next generation of progressive electoral operatives. The school, which offers campaigning classes taught by veterans of the campaigns of Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey, has graduated over 100 fellows from across the country. In one of the clearest signs of Movement’s impact, Green New Deal public housing legislation crafted by Duverge and her fellows was introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders in Congress.
Though Justin Lerner grew up on Long Island, his connection to the White Plains Road Business Improvement District actually dates back to its founding in the 1990s: The BID’s founder, Howard Spring, also ran a business on Long Island and was a mentor to Lerner. Before Spring died in 2015, he taught Lerner the ins and outs of the BID and, when a new director was needed in 2018, Lerner became the logical choice to succeed him.
A refugee of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal regime in Cambodia, Chhaya Chhoum grew up and fell in love with the Bronx after being resettled there as a child. Chhoum founded the social justice organization Mekong NYC to provide health and social services and to build organizing power among Southeast Asians in the Bronx. She organized translators to help hundreds of Southeast Asian Bronxites make their COVID-19 vaccination appointments after the city failed to do so.
The Bronx Night Market launched by entrepreneur Marco Shalma has become a major destination for New York City foodies, gathering local food vendors and musicians to Fordham Plaza over the course of several months each year. The culinary festival was the only local open-air market that operated last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, though its success was hampered by safety restrictions. However, with wider-scale reopening, the market food fair has been energized with new interest just as it celebrates its fourth anniversary.