When it comes to power in New York City, Michael Bloomberg is the only game in town—but that doesn’t mean there are no other players. We canvassed the city in an extensive if unscientific vetting process, culling the selections of dozens of businesspeople, politicians, and other assorted machers. The conception we worked with had a civic component—power was not simply the power, say, to buy an island. We had no mandate for a specific ethnic and gender composition, which is obvious from the results: The list is dispiritingly white and dispiritingly male—the old-boy network lives. The only woman, Anna Wintour, who was mentioned by many is in a stereotypically female profession. Kathy Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York City, was a candidate, but the consensus was that she was more of a connector and networker than a wielder of power in her own right. City Council speaker Christine Quinn was the choice of few: She was so damaged by the slush scandal of 2008 that the only place she was able to find political safety was in the mayor’s pocket. Many of the structures that used to help create a diverse cadre of leaders—unions, for instance—have lost influence in the last few years. Latino demographics are impressive but have yet to coalesce around a powerful new figure. The primary victory of John Liu as comptroller—likely the first Asian-American to be elected to a citywide office—is a sign of growing ethnic power that’s likely to change the city in years to come. But in the Age of Bloomberg, our panelists decreed these are the eleven others who matter most.
WHO: Chairman and CEO
WHAT: Related Companies
The chief executive of Related Companies, Stephen Ross has been described as the real-estate industry’s last man standing. It’s more accurate to say he’s the only one sprinting ahead. While developers like Jerry Speyer and Bruce Ratner are running for cover, Ross is planning to form a bank to snap up distressed assets. A diverse national portfolio and tax credits from his affordable-housing empire have kept the cash flowing. He now controls $15 billion worth of residential, retail, and commercial properties across the country, including the flagship Time Warner Center in midtown Manhattan. “He shares the Bloomberg administration’s vision for New York: The city always moves forward. Despite the periodic declines, it’s destined to recover,” says Dan Doctoroff, the former deputy mayor for economic development, current president of Bloomberg L.P., and—not coincidentally—longtime friend of Ross’s. Bloomberg is counting on Ross to resuscitate its pre-bust ambition to develop the “last frontier” of Manhattan, the West Side rail yards, into a major business district
WHO: Attorney General
WHAT: New York State
It’s an irony of politics that the man most responsible for the rebirth of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is Eliot Spitzer. It was Spitzer who elevated the profile and prestige of the office that Cuomo now occupies. And it was Spitzer, in turning power over to David Paterson, who provided Cuomo with easy prey. The state’s top law-enforcement official has become the shadowy face of competence and order. Though diligently pursued, his cases haven’t left a large footprint. Cuomo’s targets—unscrupulous lenders, highly compensated bankers, child pornographers, and a disgraced comptroller—have been low-hanging, populist fruit. But his steady hand has earned the respect of an Albany Establishment tired of turmoil. His adversaries warn of a Spitzer-size temper and fondness for intrigue. To their frustration, Cuomo has lately allowed his work, not his personality, to define him. “Cuomo represents the new version of the man on the white horse who will come in and make things right,” says historian Fred Siegel. “You can project on Cuomo anything you want today,” says political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. Democrats aren’t overthinking it. They’re projecting victory in 2010.
WHAT: National Action Network
Earlier this month, Al Sharpton hosted his 55th-birthday party at the Soho Grand. Bloomberg showed up. As did City Council speaker Christine Quinn, Governor David Paterson, and the Democratic nominees for comptroller, John Liu, and public advocate, Bill de Blasio. Three days before, Quinn and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson honored Sharpton at a birthday rally in Harlem. Why does the city’s political class kiss his ring, even now, with his power diminished? More than any other unelected figure, Sharpton sets the racial tone. With his megaphone, Sharpton can confer credibility (as he did for Liu, who ran as the “minority” candidate against white councilman David Yassky) or he can contaminate. Just ask Mark Green. Sharpton’s tactics have grown more subtle. When he warned Attorney General Andrew Cuomo not to “disrupt the party” by challenging Paterson, the message was heard. Sharpton’s National Action Network has been accused of shaking down corporations, but his ultimate goal is stature, power, and acceptance.
WHO: Chairman and CEO
WHAT: JPMorgan Chase
The Wall Street crisis has no shortage of villains and victims. But it also created a star. JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon is the Giuliani of the fiscal disaster: the leader who kept his head while the world crumbled around him. The ticktock of his angling during last year’s crisis—Dimon’s gut calls on Bear Stearns and Morgan Stanley and his speed-dialing with the White House—have assumed mythical status. “He’s taking the kinds of risks during a crisis that define leadership,” says Dan Doctoroff. Lately, Dimon has become the spokesman and political broker for an industry under siege. Says Eric Dinallo, the former state insurance superintendent, “There’s no manufacturing of words, no artificial presentation. If it doesn’t make sense to him, he says it. He doesn’t believe in financial alchemy.” Naturally, there’s chatter about Dimon, a registered Democrat, entering politics. No interest, he says. After his trial by fire, Dimon is settling in for a longer test. More than any other player Dimon will take the credit or blame for the industry’s future results. Fame has expanded his power and responsibility. But it’s also a risk.
WHAT: SEIU 32BJ
The firmament of organized labor in the city has been short on stars since health-care leader Dennis Rivera and teachers chief Randi Weingarten left the city to assume national posts. But if there’s one labor figure ready to break out, it’s Mike Fishman, head of the doormen’s union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. A trained carpenter, he’s not a grandstander but a savvy strategist. His leads a well-paid, less-ideological membership aligned with real-estate interests. After years of steady growth, with expansions in neighboring states and a disciplined training operation, 32BJ has emerged as a potent force. Fishman can deliver votes, giving him more clout than larger labor players, like the municipal DC 37, that have been weakened by internal disarray. “He’s one of the few labor leaders who understand how to play in big-league politics and take care of his worker,” says NYU’s Mitchell Moss, a Bloomberg ally.
WHAT: Rubenstein Associates
He’s variously described as a fixer, an agent, a hired gun, and the dean of damage control. Broadly speaking, Howard Rubenstein gets paid to dull the jagged edges of the city’s Establishment. His specialty is relationships, providing access, making introductions, trading information—a one-man Facebook for the city’s aging elite, generations of mayors and governors, real-estate heavy hitters, labor unions, the largest cultural institutions, and, of course, the Yankees. But it’s a social network that matters. Last year, at the age of 76, Rubenstein helped engineer Bloomberg’s term-limits putsch.
“He’s one of the few people who has maintained political and personal power throughout Republican and Democratic administrations and generations,” says Randi Weingarten.
WHO: President and CEO
WHAT: New York–Presbyterian Hospital
New York-Presbyterian president and CEO Herbert Pardes is the dean of the city’s hospital Establishment. He’s the largest private-sector employer in Manhattan and a thought leader for the industry as a whole. Its lobbying arm, the Greater New York Hospital Association, answers to him. “[New York–Presbyterian] is a first-class hospital. And it’s in great measure as a result of him,” says health-care labor leader Dennis Rivera. Pardes maintains an alliance between the city’s hospitals and Rivera’s former union, SEIU 1199, giving both sides more firepower in their funding battles against the Spitzer and Paterson administration. Bloomberg’s passion for health issues, and his tripling of subsidies to public hospitals, has also strengthened Pardes.
WHO: U.S. Senator
WHAT: New York State
On Columbus Day in Astoria, parade marchers noticed a familiar man approach them on a bicycle. It was Chuck Schumer, unshaven and wearing workout clothes. He just happened to be on a solitary bike ride and intersected with the parade. Schumer got off his bike and walked a few blocks with the throng, chatting with people. And then he biked away. Somehow, New York’s senior U.S. senator manages to be everywhere at once. In Washington, he’s mediating or brokering the most high-profile bills. In New York, he’s constantly courting media coverage of his latest consumer or middle-class agenda. On Wall Street, his most powerful constituency, he’s raising a prodigious amount of political cash. Schumer has become the kingmaker of local Democratic politics. And there’s the constituent services: “I get almost daily calls from somebody saying can you get Schumer to weigh in on this,” says Councilman David Yassky, a former Schumer aide. His wife was a Bloomberg commissioner until 2007, and the senator calls the mayor frequently to talk strategy.
WHAT: New York State Assembly
The gravelly voiced Lower East Side trial lawyer has been demonized as the symbol of cloak-and-dagger government. But even Silver’s most ardent critics admire his political prowess. While the rest of Albany seems like a carnival of incompetence, Silver has stood out as a force of stability. “If you need anything done, you go to Silver,” says consultant George Arzt. Silver has been a stalwart of traditional liberalism and a check against Bloomberg’s most lofty ambitions. Silver cares only about keeping two constituencies happy: Assembly Democrats and his district voters. It’s the speaker, not the City Council, who is the final arbiter. No on the West Side stadium. No on congestion pricing. Yes on mayoral control. “He can stop Bloomberg in Albany, and he can shift billions on a political accounting ledger by approving or blocking legislation. And he does it without any flamboyance or telegraphing his intentions,” says Mark Green.
Anna Wintour’s significance to the city is larger than her inscrutable “yes” and “no” verdicts to Vogue editors and fashion designers. At an anxious moment for her magazine and the universe it covers, she is the conductor and champion of an industry that employs 175,000 New Yorkers and generates $10 billion a year in wages, probably the only leading figure in any of the city’s signature businesses who holds such singular power. Yes, cerulean blue matters. Wintour develops and promotes designer talent, having assumed the role of headhunter for fashion houses. And with last month’s Bloomberg-sponsored Fashion’s Night Out, Wintour has become an economic advocate for a depressed city. “Up until that point, there was so much excessive influence on the runway experience,” says Simon Doonan, the creative director at Barneys New York. “And Anna stood up and said wait a minute, none of this really means anything unless retail is healthy and happy.”
WHO: Chairman and CEO
WHAT: News Corp.
As the owner of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, Rupert Murdoch can claim more readers than Sulzberger and Zuckerman. But his clout can’t be measured in mere circulation numbers. Murdoch specializes in tabloid news that touches the exposed nerve. The stories are colored by Murdoch’s libertarian, free-market lens and his desire to get the city talking. The Post hits harder than the other papers in the city and takes itself less seriously. Murdoch has lost millions on the paper, but with the help of his Fox network, he has a live wire twisting around the city’s media, real-estate, financial, and political Establishments. Or at least most of it. Murdoch gets along with Bloomberg, a fellow billionaire media tycoon, and has a soft spot for pols on the ascendant. The Post endorsed Spitzer for governor, Clinton for Senate, and Obama for president in the primary. Which hasn’t stopped the news pages from subsequently whacking them mercilessly. The only constant is the Australian-born magnate’s business needs.
Additional reporting by Erica Orden.