The Influentials: Politics

Michael Bloomberg and Patricia Harris, mayor and first deputy.Photo: Roger Deckker

Michael Bloomberg
He’s remade the job in his own post-partisan, technocratic image. The public-school system will never be the same (thank God). Thousands won’t die of lung cancer. His belief in the city as a luxury good is helping drive, for good and ill, the physical transformation of the city. Bloomberg’s desire to reduce the municipal budget’s reliance on Wall Street could lead to a historic economic realignment, with tourism and biotech playing bigger roles in the city budget of the future.

Patricia Harris
First deputy mayor
Kevin Sheekey, Michael Bloomberg’s political strategist may have helped the mayor gain power, but it is Harris who tells him how to use it. Harris, who was in charge of Bloomberg’s voluminous charitable giving, both corporate and personal, when he was in the private sector, is equal parts the mayor’s political conscience, alter ego, enforcer, and all-purpose brain check. Harris, whose nickname around City Hall is “the Velvet Hammer,” is the administration’s liaison to the city’s civic and cultural elite. And when Bloomberg is in Bermuda or otherwise out of pocket, she’s the mayor.

Eliot Spitzer
Attorney general, New York State
Using the unlikeliest of bully pulpits, Spitzer brought reformist zeal back into politics. He transformed the attorney general’s office from a bureaucratic backwater into a kind of governor-in-waiting post, a nationally watched shadow Securities and Exchange Commission that defends investors across the country from Wall Street greed, using litigation—or, more often, the threat of it—to radically transform relations between government and the worlds of finance, insurance, and health care, among others. His hard-charging style set the tone for a new breed of law-enforcement Democrats emerging across the country. Showing he can use the carrot as well, he’s spent the past half-dozen years rebuilding the state Democratic Party, all but ensuring him a landslide victory and a significant mandate to reform Albany when—okay, if—he’s elected governor in November. The Thomas Dewey of the 21st century.

Isac Weinberger
Political gossip
No one does more to shape the rumor of the day—and, hence, drive the city’s political conversation—than does Weinberger, a gruff, rotund Hasidic Jew who works for the city. Weinberger spends his days on the phone shaking down people for tips—who’s thinking of dropping out of what race, what a candidate’s internal polls are showing—and promptly passing them on to the next caller (without the benefit, it should be said, of any fact-checking, only increasing his power).

Christine Quinn
Speaker, City Council
Quinn is undoubtedly the most powerful lesbian elected official in America—a fact that undersells her influence. She controls the city’s budget, which means every cultural institution and community group, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the smallest Staten Island senior center, relies on her for its financial lifeblood. The biggest developers in town need her favor to get their schemes past City Council zoning bureaucrats. And her popularity among council members might mean that she will be able to muster more than token opposition to the mayor if she chooses.

Chuck Schumer
U.S. senator, New York State
Senator Noodge. Schumer’s relentless poking and prodding—along with his pragmatic plotting—have taken the Democrats to the brink of taking back the Senate. As head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Schumer has on speed-dial every one of New York’s wealthiest Democratic donors. What’s more, Schumer has veto power over key political and staffing decisions made by every Senate candidate in the country, each of whom craves his attention, strategic advice, and campaign cash.

Bill Clinton
Foundation president
No one comes close as a Democratic fund-raising attraction. He’s shining attention on the African aids catastrophe and wrangling desperately needed money to fight the disease. A generation of younger politicians tries to imitate his gift for empathy, and his political consultants peddle their wares around the world on the basis of their success with Bill. He’s taught a 40-year seminar in triangulation to his wife
and political partner . . .

Hillary Clinton
U.S. senator, New York State
Does the sun have much influence on the planets? Nothing happens in the 2008 Democratic presidential race that isn’t related to Hillary. The White House is almost equally fixated with New York’s junior senator, and she remains the GOP’s best fund-raising foil. The press doesn’t much care, but Hillary is a major force in her day job as well, from keeping military bases open upstate to doggedly chasing federal money for the victims of 9/11’s toxic air. Politics: Dan Doctoroff, Ray Kelly, Bertha Lewis …

Ray Kelly and Dan DoctoroffPhoto: Roger Deckker

Dan Doctoroff
Deputy mayor
With a salesman’s zeal and a technocrat’s mastery of detail, Doctoroff is orchestrating the most far-reaching changes to the physical city since you-know-who: new parks and immense residential developments on huge swaths of its waterfront; new stadiums in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx; and an explosion of development in every borough. Doctoroff’s two most visible projects—the West Side stadium and the plan to bring the 2012 Olympics to the city—showed the limits of his power, and his upscale vision of the modern city has angered some, but no one has done more to set the physical template for 21st-century New York.

Ray Kelly
Commissioner, NYPD
Under Kelly, the NYPD is no longer just a police department. It’s a defense department, CIA, and emergency-management force rolled into one. After 9/11, when the federal government’s promises of funding and protection were found to be largely empty, Kelly, with Bloomberg’s help, filled the void, reinventing the Police Department for an age when terrorism is always a possibility. He’s also the New Yorker most responsible for healing the searing racial tensions left behind by Rudy Giuliani. And amazingly, he’s kept the crime numbers moving down.

Al D’Amato
The New York State Republican Party has offices and executives. Its heart and soul, however, remain where they’ve been for the past 25 years. D’Amato may yet succeed in crippling Bill Weld’s campaign for governor with well-timed barbs and warnings to potential campaign donors. And if the GOP’s statewide candidates are blown out this November, a certain well-connected lobbyist who last year helped Cablevision kill the West Side stadium will be perfectly positioned to step in as savior.

Rev. Floyd Flake
Pastor, Greater Allen Cathedral
He presides over a vast social service and religious empire ($24 million budget, 18,000 church members) from the pulpit of the Greater Allen Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens. Flake has built a private school for adolescents, low-cost homes for first-time buyers, and retirement complexes for senior citizens; the operation is Queens’s third-largest private employer. The reverend’s endorsement—and his black, middle-class, socially conservative, bootstrapping flock—is coveted by every city and state politician. Flake and his Allen African Methodist Episcopal church/corporation were a model of faith-based economic development long before the phrase was even hatched in some political consultant’s lab.

Rev. Calvin Butts
Pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church
As the leader of one of the city’s most important black churches, Butts has positioned himself as the moral voice of Harlem and made Abyssinian Baptist, with a congregation of 4,200, a mandatory stop for every campaigning politician. He’s also transformed his traditional 200-year-old parish into a multi-armed behemoth, spinning off a separate nonprofit branch that has put more than $300 million toward housing and commercial projects, spurring on Harlem’s economic renewal.

Mike Fishman
President, 32BJ
Randi Weingarten and the UFT command more headlines; Dennis Rivera and the health-care-workers union hold more sway in Albany. But Fishman has turned 32BJ—known as “the doormen’s union” but representing 60,000 security guards, window cleaners, and supers—into the city union with the greatest electoral potency. Fishman delivers troops and votes for candidates. His members reap the rewards: Fishman and 32BJ didn’t need a messy strike—only the threat of one—or any grandstanding jail term to winthe local a generous new contract last month.

Bertha Lewis
Executive director, ACORN
It’s the activist group that much of Brooklyn loves to hate: the one that supported Bruce Ratner’s Nets-arena project. But its members—poor people in Brooklyn and the Bronx—can’t afford to say no to a development promising new jobs and affordable housing. Headquartered on a dingy block in downtown Brooklyn, acorn, led by Lewis, its theatrical executive director, is part of a militant national advocacy group that has become very, very good at playing mainstream politics. acorn members co-founded the Working Families Party, whose endorsement is fought over by politicians seeking left-wing and labor support.

Rudy Giuliani
Five years later, he remains the walking symbol of September 11, especially outside New York. Even if he ultimately doesn’t run for president in 2008, he’ll significantly shape the Republican primary—any candidate who wants to be credible on national security needs a nod from Mr. Anti-Terror. If Rudy does run, his views on guns, gays, and abortions will prove whether a mainstream GOP actually exists anymore. Politics: Chung-Wha Hong, Ethnic Civic Leaders …

Chung-Wha Hong and Lilliam Barrios-PaoliPhoto: Roger Deckker

Chung-Wha Hong
Executive director, New York Immigration Coalition
Thousands of immigrants didn’t just decide to stage mass protests against Congress’s proposed immigration restrictions; one organization took the lead in getting them there. The New York Immigration Coalition is starting to thrive by taking on the daunting task of pulling together the city’s dozens of ethnic communities into one political force. Through its member organizations, the coalition has ties to political leadership in every corner and constituency of the city, and it has made its mark under new director Hong by lobbying with as much skill as it brings to organizing street protests.

Lilliam Barrios-Paoli
CEO, Safe Space
Barrios-Paoli runs a humble nonprofit sheltering teenagers in trouble, but behind the scenes, she’s the first call for the mayor’s top deputy on poverty, Linda Gibbs, when Gibbs wants to make sure new programs will catch fire outside City Hall. Gibbs and Barrios-Paoli are tight friends, going back to the time Gibbs served in Giuliani’s budget office and Barrios-Paoli headed the city’s personnel and, later, welfare agencies. Then Barrios-Paoli did the unthinkable: She refused to carry out Giuliani’s orders to throw welfare recipients off the rolls en masse.

Left to Right: Nydia Velasquez (Photo: Richard B. Levine), Christopher Kui (Frances M. Roberts), and Rafael Lantigua (Newsday)

Clout in the Community
In a city of immigrants, these ethnic civic leaders have power beyond their enclaves.

Christopher Kui
Executive director of Asian Americans for Equality and the new “mayor of Chinatown”; steered LMDC funds to Chinatown last year.

Alex Shchegol
Founded ASA Institute in 1985 with twelve students; now the college attracts thousands of recent Russian immigrants whose advanced degrees aren’t recognized here.

Nydia Velasquez
The first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress; a highly effective advocate for minority-owned businesses.

Niall O’Dowd
Founder and publisher of the Irish Voice; now New York’s most important diplomat to Eire.

Andy Shenoy
Diamond jeweler and special adviser to Governor Pataki on South Asian affairs; stimulated investment by Indian-Americans in biotech companies back in India.

Oscar Paredes
Ecuadoran labor leader who founded The Latin American Workers’ Project in 1997, assisting new immigrants by opening job centers and holding immigration-law workshops.

Rafael Lantigua
A doctor at Columbia Presbyterian; founded Alianza Dominicana in 1987 out of exasperation with city hospital-budget cuts and turned it into the dominant social-services group in the Dominican community.

Lamuel Stanislaus
Any West Indian politician needs a sit-down with kingmaker Stanislaus, Grenada’s permanent ambassador to the U.N.

News powers
These media people change the political game by observing it.

Ben Smith
When at the New York Observer, Smith launched The Politicker, a blog on local politics that tapped a previously unseen audience and spawned a half-dozen imitators. Now at the Daily News, he may reach a larger audience.

Fred Dicker
Dicker’s “Inside Albany” column is the “Daily Racing Form of state politics,” says an Albany insider—must-reading for anyone struggling to fathom the byzantine world of the capital.

Bob Slade
Bob Slade, the host of “Open Line,” a weekend call-in show on WRKS, is the go-to guy for political talk radio among African-Americans, with guests like David Dinkins and Al Sharpton, and the power to swing an election.

Bob Hardt
NY1 is playing on a TV in the office of every politico in town, and as the channel’s political director, Hardt provides the grist of the daily political conversation. The Influentials in Law

The Influentials: Politics