By Paul Adler, Janine Clements, Amy R. Partridge, Duke Ratliff, and Kevin Zawacki
Not all of these changemakers are household names just yet, but they are part of a new guard of emerging leaders who are shaking up the power structure in Westchester. Coming into their own over the past several years — or recently raising the stakes on an already-solidified reputation of power — they have been racking up contributions and accomplishments that are being seen and felt across the county. While certainly not an exhaustive list of all the newer VIPs around town, these are some of the interesting and dynamic men and women we’re avidly watching.
Mayor of White Plains
Mayor of Yonkers
Three of Westchester’s biggest cities are rapidly evolving as vibrant urban hubs under the strong leadership and vision of their chief executives. The mayors of Yonkers, New Rochelle, and White Plains are focused on priorities that include economic development, revitalizing the downtowns, promoting sustainability, modernizing infrastructure, and changing the way people think about their cities.
Ten years ago, “there was much promise of development but little happening,” says Mayor Mike Spano of Yonkers. “Now we have several thousand housing units and new hotels being built, and we passed the city’s first affordable-housing ordinance.” Yonkers is also attracting companies such as Target, FedEx, and MGM. It is one of the safest large cities in the U.S., according to FBI data, and the public-school graduation rate has risen from 72% to 90% under Spano, with plans to build three schools.
In New Rochelle, Mayor Noam Bramson is overseeing the city’s expansive downtown development plan, which was made possible by zoning changes, a fast-track permit-approval process, and a multibillion-dollar investment, among other factors. Expect to see brand-new residential towers in addition to a new family court and retail space. “We also have a 10-year capital plan directing more than $100 million to upgrade public infrastructure, such as parks, playgrounds, and roads,” says Bramson.
“We’re continuing to modernize and revitalize Downtown White Plains, adding housing, expanding the hospital, and redeveloping two malls,” says Mayor Tom Roach of his city’s plans. “We also have the county’s most progressive affordable-housing program.”
Sustainability is also high on the agenda for this trio of mayors. “New Rochelle has seen multiple energy-efficiency improvements and provides 100% clean energy to electricity consumers through Sustainable Westchester,” Bramson says. “Our downtown development is less car-dependent.”
“White Plains has more electric-vehicle charging stations than any community in Westchester and will have the first electric garbage truck in the state,” says Roach. “Our Community Solar program will generate over $1 million a year and triple the amount of solar energy produced in the county.”
In Yonkers, a New York State-designated Climate Smart Community, water usage dropped 30%, thanks to the replacing of water meters. “We have Westchester’s largest green feet and were the first city in the state to launch the electric scooter program,” remarks Spano.
Director of Workforce Programs, White Plains Education & Training Center, Westchester Community College
More than 17 million workers have been displaced by the pandemic in the U.S., and Eridania Camacho of Westchester Community College is at ground zero to assist local workers desperately in need of retraining. Previously the director for WCC’s Gateway to Entrepreneurship, when the pandemic first struck, her role and title changed as she shifted her focus to the White Plains Education & Training Center (WPETC), to expand WCC’s much-needed offerings in workforce training.
“More people are looking to sharpen their skills or gain new skills so that they can enter the workforce or shift to other industries.”
— Eridania Camacho
WPETC is a training hub where potential workers can learn skills in information technology and cybersecurity jobs. Classes are offered in areas such as digital literacy and IT competence.
“More people are looking to sharpen their skills or gain new skills so that they can enter the workforce or shift to other industries,” Camacho says. “I believe that when something like the pandemic happens, we are forced to step out of our comfort zones and explore new opportunities and different ways of approaching things. Being able to move beyond these challenges is an essential step toward growth.”
“If you drive through any town in Westchester, its main street is lined with small businesses, not large corporations,” Camacho says. “These small businesses are the lifelines that sustain the community.”
President & CEO, Westchester County Association
Westchester’s business community is confronting its biggest challenge in recent history: a grueling pandemic that’s slowed the economy to a crawl. That means Michael Romita — the new president/CEO of the Westchester County Association (WCA) — has a Herculean task ahead of him.
For 70 years, the WCA has sparked economic development as an advocate for local business. That mission matters more than ever, with lingering shutdowns and virus rates taxing the region. Thankfully, Romita is especially qualified for his role. In past professional lives, he was a trial attorney for the Department of Justice, chief of a family-run oil company, and partner at a Washington, DC, public-policy firm. So, he innately understands the policies and aid Westchester businesses need right now.
In the past year, much of Romita’s energy has focused on getting funds to local merchants. “We recognized pretty early that the county had a very tight budget and that the state was spending [its] money fighting the pandemic,” Romita recalls. “So, we had to pivot our advocacy to the federal level.”
Romita is also helping fuel the region’s healthcare industry. “We’re developing a local pipeline of talent for the sector,” he says. “That’s going to be a growing need for our economy.” To do this, the WCA and Romita convened the Healthcare Talent Council, “a high-level roundtable with the heads of the hospitals and the deans and presidents of [local] colleges,” Romita explains. The council is ensuring local curricula aligns with local hospital needs and pushing for more clinical training. “You can’t have somebody come out of a [classroom] and throw them into a COVID emergency room,” Romita says.
“We need to think more strategically about how our regional economy fits into the broader national conversation.”
— Michael Romita
Romita’s leadership isn’t all reactive, however. “It’s pretty easy to be distracted by every short-term issue,” he warns. “But we need to think more strategically about how our regional economy fits into the broader national conversation.” Romita’s long-term vision for the WCA entails revitalizing the county’s commercial office space, strengthening the regional healthcare sector, helping the transition to clean energy, growing affordable housing, and closing the digital divide.
It’s an ambitious to-do list, but Romita plans on leaning into Westchester’s strong suits. “Our socioeconomic diversity is one of our greatest strengths,” he says. “We’re professionally diverse. And we’ve got very dedicated, engaged businesses and nonprofits who really care about solving our problems.”
Owner, Hudson Hospitality Group
As an April Fool’s prank in 2019, Westchester Magazine published a tall tale that developer/restaurateur Louie Lanza had purchased the entire city of Peekskill. It hit so close to home that some readers thought it was fact — and others wistfully hoped the story was true.
Walk almost anywhere in Peekskill, and you’ll come face-to-face with a Lanza-owned property. His Hudson Room and Eagle Saloon both sit in the center of downtown, close to the tourist-attracting Paramount Theater. His restaurants Taco Dive Bar and Bajarito command attention at the city’s bustling waterfront. Lanza’s Factoria, with Fin & Brew and River Outpost Brewing, is a popular entertainment destination at Charles Point, while his Spins Hudson is the largest entertainment venue on the Hudson. Also, he owns three of the buildings on Peekskill’s busiest corner, at Division Street and Main Street.
For the dynamic Lanza, the pandemic brought a time of refection and planning. It was a time to ponder projects and new partnerships. “The hospitality business has suffered tremendously in the last year,” Lanza says. “At some point, you have to take the lemons and make lemonade.”
Early on in the pandemic, Lanza cofounded the Million Gallons Challenge, which provided soup for colleagues and other food-insecure members of the community. Chefs and restaurateurs, along with restaurant and hospitality workers, used vacant space and leftover food and ingredients toward the cause.
Lanza describes himself as “a team player,” and the pandemic has helped him appreciate partnerships even more than ever. “There’s a lot of incredibly brilliant people around, and if you can partner with the right people, you can do things together,” Lanza says. “Nobody can do it by themselves.”
Lanza says he’s in the final stages of making a deal with a tech company to move into one of his buildings downtown, which will eventually lead to nearly 100 professional employees working in Peekskill. And since cannabis has been legalized for recreational use in New York, Lanza has fielded numerous phone calls from would-be partners about the burgeoning industry. “I have some research to do,” he says.
CEO, White Plains Hospital
Since taking over as CEO in 2015, Susan Fox has led White Plains Hospital on a nonstop trajectory of action. Notable projects launched or completed during Fox’s tenure include the hospital’s revamped lobby and inpatient tower; a $50 million expansion of the Center for Cancer Care; its off-site Ambulatory Surgery Center, opened in Harrison last fall; a new Pediatric Center; and the hospital’s soon-to-open 250,000 sq. ft. Center for Advanced Medicine and Surgery. In addition, Fox oversaw White Plains Hospital’s transition to becoming a member of the Montefiore Health System.
The hospital has also received numerous honors under Fox’s leadership, including recognition from Magnet for excellence in nursing and from Leapfrog for patient safety, as well as consistently ranking in the top 10% nationally for outstanding patient experience by Healthgrades.
For Fox, who started her career as a pediatric ICU nurse, all these advancements and kudos come back to one thing: patient care. “I am guided by the privilege of being able to care for people,” she says. “Every decision made is centered around our patients, knowing they deserve the highest-quality compassionate care available.”
In the past year, Fox’s leadership was tested like never before, as the hospital — which operates the busiest emergency department in Westchester — cared for thousands of COVID-19 patients. “There was no playbook for how to manage this crisis,” she says, adding that the hospital staff came to work each day guided by an important mission: “We knew that so many people were relying on us for not just healthcare but also to be a source of information and leadership — both inside and outside of the hospital.”
Looking ahead, Fox is focused on continuing the hospital’s streak of elevation and transformation. “Whether it was being here to lead in this time of the pandemic or to bring advanced care to our community, it is humbling to have that responsibility, and I don’t want to waste a minute of the time I have to make a difference for so many.”
President & COO, Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts
With nearly 15 years of industry experience at gaming icons like Las Vegas’ glitzy Bellagio, Empire City Casino seemed like an unlikely next stop for Ed Domingo’s rising star. “A lot of people thought I was crazy to leave Bellagio to move to Yonkers, but it was a really easy choice for me,” explains Domingo, who became president and COO of Empire in January 2020.
“I was really excited to have the chance to move back, especially in the context of casinos, since I understood how powerful this market could be,” he shares.
Domingo wasn’t wrong about the area market. “Empire City was, the second that we bought it, literally the largest casino floor in the entire MGM feet and one of the seven largest casinos in the entire country,” says Domingo. Prior to the pandemic, Empire City was certainly riding high.
The casino enjoyed its largest-ever Saturday-night volume just two weeks before it was forced to shutter due to coronavirus restrictions, Domingo notes. The casino remained closed just one day shy of six months, which was “the longest closure of any of the buildings in our feet,” he explains.
“I could not be prouder of the team and the efforts they put out to get us open again.”
— Ed Domingo
To come back, Domingo tackled the issues head on, overseeing HVAC updates, structural changes, overhauls in cleaning protocol, and new training for employees so that the casino could successfully reopen in fall 2020. “It was a ton of work during that intervening period, and I could not be prouder of the team and the efforts they put out to get us open again,” he says.
For Domingo, success now amounts to “seeing our customers come back, getting comfortable, and hearing them say that we are doing things the right way.”
Executive Director, Nonprofit Westchester
Jan Fisher has long served in the local nonprofit sector, working with Westchester Jewish Community Services — the largest provider of outpatient mental health treatment in the county — for 13 years before consulting for The YWCA of White Plains & Central Westchester.
In July 2019, Fisher took a new position at the helm of an organization that has what she feels is a truly unique calling: “Nonprofit Westchester is the only business membership organization that is solely dedicated to advancing the needs and interests of Westchester’s nonprofit sector, the people we serve, and, most importantly, our workforce.”
During the pandemic, this mission took on a whole new sense of urgency. “CEOs of my member organizations, my board, and myself were literally working 20 hours a day just figuring out how we were going to make sure people were safe and that our services were delivered,” recalls Fisher.
“Since COVID hit, we have held over 60 workshops on everything from board governance to [securing] grants; the local government came out with a funding opportunity for us, and our business sponsors have more than doubled,” she adds of Nonprofit Westchester’s success in the face of the pandemic.
In recent months, Fisher has worked tirelessly with the YWCA to create a new Center for Racial Equity and served on George Latimer’s Reopening Task Force to help area businesses and nonprofits reemerge and recover from the pandemic.
“COVID reinforced the importance of working together,” reflects Fisher, who adds that “when we all operate as one, our individual organizations will do better. If we are going to accomplish real change, we have to do it together.”