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Rockefeller’s Rising Stars

Ten Rockefeller College alums were named City and State NY 2018 Albany 40 Under 40 Rising Stars

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 4, 2018) – Graduates from the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy accounted for a quarter of City & State’s 2018 Albany 40 Under 40 Rising Stars list as Kevin Bronner, Kate Corkery, Jeremy Ginsburg, Eglantina Haxhillari, Ryan Horstmyer, Wayne Lair, Alyssa Lovelace, Melinda Mack, Katie Neer, and Patrick Orecki earned recognition.

Every year, City & State recognizes 40 individuals under the age of 40 who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields, and are on their way to amassing accomplishments well beyond their age. The 2018 Rising Stars were profiled in a special print edition of City & State Magazine as well as online.

Rockefeller College's 2018 City & State Rising Stars
(Profiles by City & State)

1. Kevin M. Bronner Jr., MPA ’08
Government Relations Director, Jackson Lewis

When Kevin M. Bronner Jr. was studying at the University at Albany, he read a book that deepened his interest in the world of finance: “Liar’s Poker.” Bronner says the famous Michael Lewis book – which came to define the high-stakes, no-holds-barred culture of 1980s Wall Street – taught him about the dynamics of the stock market and the upsides and downsides of risk. “Life is about outcomes,” Bronner says. “It’s about taking a risk.” It was during college that Bronner began his career in financial services – with a job as special assistant to the commissioner at the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in economics and finance, both from the University at Albany, Bronner went on to work for the state Senate Finance Committee. It was during this time that he gained valuable budget negotiating experience, working on seven state budgets from 2007 through 2014. Bronner says his work negotiating the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act, which authorized the establishment of several casino resorts, was another highlight of his time with the Senate Finance Committee. He was part of a team working to address the various budgetary concerns of New York lawmakers representing areas as diverse as Western New York and Long Island.

In his current job as government relations director at the law firm Jackson Lewis, Bronner continues to work on fiscal matters, advocating for clients in both legislative and regulatory arenas.

2. Kate Corkery, BA ’04 
Senior Vice President, Ostroff Associates

Earlier this year, when Kate Corkery addressed a room full of interns at the state Capitol, she reminded them to soak up as much knowledge as possible during their internships. No task is too small, she told them – whether it’s organizing memos or answering phones.

“This is a business of relationships and reputation,” Corkery says, remembering how her own internship with the state Senate, in 2003, helped launch her career in government and lobbying. “You’re either learning process or you’re learning people.”

It was thanks to this internship that Corkery later received a job offer from then-state Sen. Jim Alesi in 2006. Then, a stint volunteering during a 2007 special election introduced her to “the campaign side of things,” Corkery says, leading to a job as deputy finance director for the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

After two years of campaign work, she took a job as legislative director at lobbying firm Wilson Elser while pursuing an evening graduate program in organizational management at The Sage Colleges. In 2011, she landed her current position at Ostroff Associates through a networking connection who encouraged her to apply. Corkery enjoys working in government – something she’s been interested in since high school – and having the opportunity to return every day to the state Capitol, where her career began. “This is a beautiful place,” she says. “It looks like a castle.”

3. Jeremy Ginsburg, BA ’11
Associate Counsel, Civil Services Employees Association

As the son of two teachers in Richmondville, a small rural town upstate, Jeremy Ginsburg grew up with a window into the struggles of working-class America. “Since I was in high school, I had a desire to become a union-side lawyer,” Ginsburg says. “It’s really born from a desire to do good for working people.”

When he was in college at the University at Albany, teachers in his hometown launched a lawsuit to protect their retiree benefits. “That really fired me up and made me want to help out people facing those types of situations,” Ginsburg says.

That background ultimately led him to becoming an associate counsel for the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents employees in state and local government, school districts and child care.

At any given moment, he has 40 to 50 open cases that range from matters of contractual or statutory discipline to contract grievances or agency hearings. But work at CSEA isn’t just case management and litigation – it’s also outreach. Ginsburg splits his time between union meetings and door-to-door campaigns to explain the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision, helping him remain in contact with the people who drew him to the vocation in the first place. “What I’m doing is working to improve the working conditions and living conditions of our members who many of whom, if they didn’t have a union, would be working at the mercy of their employer, perhaps making poverty-level wages and without any benefits,” he says.

4. Eglantina Haxhillari, BA ’14, MPA ’15
Director of Government Relations, Dickinson, Avella & Vidal

Lobbying work may not be the most popular field for college students contemplating a career. But Eglantina Haxhillari says she knew this was her calling after an inspiring internship at the Civil Service Employees Association.

“It wasn’t an internship where you sat down and got someone’s coffee,” Haxhillari says of working at the labor union that’s been around for more than 100 years. She remembers joining lobbyists in committee meetings, where she had a chance to watch lawmakers craft legislation dealing with pension plans and raises.

This training prepared Haxhillari for her current work at Dickinson, Avella & Vidal in Albany, where she has the opportunity to guide legislation through every stage of the process. One recent piece of legislation she has worked on is called Breakfast After the Bell. It requires public schools that qualify for free or reduced-price meals to offer students breakfast after the start of the school day.

The measure, which could include grab-and-go options that can be eaten in the classroom, is designed to ensure students do not skip the meal.

Haxhillari says one of the things she enjoys most about her job is the wide range of issues she works on. On any given day, she could go from monitoring a piece of legislation in the morning to watching lawmakers consider it in the afternoon.

“Then you are boots on the ground, in the Capitol, advocating on behalf of the client,” she says. “Every day you learn so much.”

5. Ryan V. Horstmyer, BA ’05, JD
Partner, Shenker Russo and Clark LLP

When Ryan V. Horstmyer was 18 years old, he ran for a town council seat in his hometown of Colonie. At the time, in 2001, no Democratic candidate had won a town board race since the Great Depression. “I ended up losing that election, but I learned a whole lot,” says Horstmyer, who spent the summer before starting college at the University at Albany campaigning door to door.

Although he had the help of a seasoned campaign manager, Horstmyer knew his chances were slim. The lessons he learned during that campaign have stayed with him and prepared him for a career in government and lobbying. “I stuck with it,” he says. “You learn how to talk to people at a door, when you’re interrupting dinner.”

In 2006, Horstmyer ran for office again and won a seat in the Albany County Legislature, representing the 25th Legislative District, which included Latham, Loudonville and Newtonville. During his time as a county legislator, he was the main sponsor of an ethics and financial disclosure law for Albany County officials. He says the experience taught him that crafting legislation takes patience, because a lot of the work happens in private conversations. “It was such a big undertaking, because ethics is a very sensitive issue,” Horstmyer says, adding that he learned it’s important to “assume the best about people.”

“Take your time to figure it out and build trust,” he says. “You just have to be patient and have a lot of conversations.”

6. Wayne Lair Jr., BA ’07, MA ’10
Partner, Statewide Public Affairs

Wayne Lair Jr. dove into state politics straight out of college, with internships and work at New York StateWatch doing legislative tracking as well as at a lobbying firm. “I sort of had a late start. I went to college late in life. I just kind of traveled and worked and messed around for a few years after high school,” he says. “Politics had always interested me and I just kind of fell into it.”

Lair, now a partner at Statewide Public Affairs, has worked on issues that include the minimum wage, wine in grocery stores, and casinos. This year, as a representative of the New York State Restaurant Association, the biggest issue his firm focused on was pushing back on the potential elimination of the tip credit. In the past few years, he says lobbying has changed a lot from when he started.

Navigating that has been the biggest challenge,” he says. “It used to be you could make a phone call and either the bill passed or you could make a bill go away, and now every day you’ve got to work from the ground up. It’s not a top-down legislature anymore, it’s more of a grass-roots legislature.”

He grew up an hour west of Albany and has been in the region his whole life. “I have a 3-week-old daughter, so I’m just starting to figure out how to balance family and work life,” he says. “You have to know when to put the phone away.”

7. Alyssa M. Lovelace, BA ’10
Director for Public Policy, New York State Association of Health Care Providers

Alyssa M. Lovelace thought she would be a journalist, but ended up switching her college major to public policy when she interned at LeadingAge New York, a nonprofit representing health care providers.

“My grandparents raised me, so for me it’s really important that I give back to the people who might not necessarily have a voice. … I watched them as they aged, went from living independently at home to a nursing home and ultimately hospice,” she recalls. “It’s really important to me that the state and consumers and the public are aware of the long-term care industry because eventually we’re all going to be there.”

Now as the director of public policy for the New York State Association of Health Care Providers, she works to defeat or advance relevant legislation and meets with her members regularly. “Right now, we’re doing a lot as a result of the 2018-19 budget, and we’re already preparing for next year,” she says. “We’re all just trying to figure out how to work together in this ever-changing health care environment that the state has created since Medicaid redesign went into effect.”

Balancing her work and family life is a struggle every day, she says. “Fortunately, my kids are older, so they do know when the legislative session is, and they do know that I work long hours … and I’m able to work from home when I need to when my kid is sick, which is lovely. After session, I try to take some time off and be with them.”

8. Melinda Mack, MPA ’05, MRP ’05
Executive Director, New York Association of Training & Employment Professionals

For Melinda Mack, it was not part of her “master plan” to become executive director of the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals. She previously worked for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and at CUNY, among other places. “This weird mashup of skills that I’ve attained over the last decade or more sort of led me to this job up here in Albany,” she says.

Originally from Buffalo, she went to school in Albany and then worked for seven years in New York City, giving her an overarching view of the state. She says her biggest accomplishment was working with the governor’s office this year to get $175 million in the state budget for workforce development, the largest investment in the state’s history.

“That was a five-year effort, to bring together a really diverse set of stakeholders – anywhere from economic developers and chambers of commerce to people who provide frontline education and job training services – together to say we all care about this. It’s not just one faction of one group.”

The group is looking to tackle the issue of child care next. “That’s part of this approach of really looking holistically and bit more out of the box, and Albany’s not known for an out-of-the-box mentality,” she says. She has fostered accommodating workplace policies as the mother of three kids under the age of 7. “We’re really a 24/7 shop, but we also are flexible enough … that I can run out to a kid’s thing.”

9. Katie Neer, BA ’09, MPA ’11
Attorney, Greenberg Traurig

Growing up in Baldwinsville, just outside of Syracuse, Katie Neer always knew she wanted to become a lawyer. “I used to want to know everything,” Neer says. “The closest thing to knowing everything would be to know what the rules are … that’s the law.”

During her junior year at the University at Albany, when she started an internship with the Assembly, Neer realized she was interested in working at the intersection of law and government. “It was then that I caught the government bug,” Neer says. “There are a lot of layers and dynamics in that world, and it fascinated me.” Neer says the hands-on internship gave her a deeper understanding of state government and its intricacies, from the politics of running for office, to the politics of governing, to the politics of policymaking.

As an attorney in the Government Law & Policy Practice at Greenberg Traurig, Neer works on cybersecurity and labor issues, among other areas. The practice focuses on guiding clients and solving problems for them. “At the end of the day, we want to find a path forward for (a) client,” Neer says. “We want to help our clients in navigating government.”

Neer, who lives in Saratoga, says she has always enjoyed playing sports and participating in athletic events. She is currently training for a triathlon along with her husband and a group of friends. Their team, called Empire Endurance, heads to Montreal in September for the competition

10. Patrick Orecki, MPA ’15
Research Associate, Citizens Budget Commission

At the start of his time in Albany, Patrick Orecki wanted to get a sense of the different facets of state government. Eventually, he settled on studying public finance. “You begin to understand just how crucial the budget is to developing public policy in New York state,” he says. “So much of the government operates through the budget process.”

Not long after he got his start in government, Orecki took a position with the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization. “You get an opportunity to dive into some really challenging and dynamic public policy issues, and in doing so, you learn an immense amount from the outside,” he says.

Orecki’s experience within government gave him an understanding of the different dynamics at play, which now allows him to better monitor not just the legislative process, but how various programs get implemented after the fact as well. He relishes the opportunity to look beyond the immediate impacts of enacting legislation.

One major project that Orecki has been able to look at from both the government side and with the CBC has been the Medicaid redesign, which he considers to be one of the most rewarding projects that he has been involved in. “To be able to advocate for public policy and public finance practices that will benefit New York state and New York City in the long term is really one of the areas that excited me,” he says.

To read City and State’s complete list of Rising Stars, click here.