Courtesy of Buck Ennis

April 24, 2017

Cornell Alumna Is First Woman to Be Top Staffer for New York Governor

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Amidst the recent major reorganization of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s second administration, Melissa DeRosa ’04, chief of staff, was promoted to Cuomo’s secretary, the top staff-level position in the state administration. At 34 years old, DeRosa is not only one of the youngest people to hold the position, but also the first woman.

Growing up in Albany, New York’s capital city, and her father being a lobbyist for Bolton-St. Johns, DeRosa became interested in politics from a young age. When she was only 16, she interned for the political director of the New York State AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country.

DeRosa completed both her undergraduate and graduate study at Cornell. She received a bachelor of science degree in industrial and labor relations in 2004 and master’s degree in public administration in 2009.

While DeRosa was a graduate student in the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, she was a member of Pi Alpha Alpha, the national honors society for public affairs and administration.

After graduating from Cornell, DeRosa continued to do campaign work and political public relations for various organizations, including the executive board of the Women’s Leadership Forum Network of the Democratic National Committee.

In 2009, DeRosa went on to serve as the NYS Director of “Organizing for America,” President Obama’s national political action organization.

Two years later, she was named deputy chief of staff, then active chief of staff, for New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. During her time in this position, DeRosa orchestrated the office’s effort to pass the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act, a bill to combat rising rates of drug use in New York.

Schneiderman’s former chief of staff Neal Kwatra told The New York Times that DeRosa is a “quadruple threat,” who excels in “policy, strategy, messaging and organizing.”

“You don’t work as hard as someone like her if you don’t care about what you are doing and who you are impacting,” Kwatra said.

In 2013, DeRosa entered Cuomo’s administration as the communications director and a strategic advisor. She was then quickly promoted to his chief of staff in 2015 and finally as his secretary in 2017.

While working within Cuomo’s administration, DeRosa has aided in organizing campaigns such as  “Fight for 15,” an initiative to raise the minimum wage to 15 dollars per hour. It is estimated that by 2021, the act’s passage will increase incomes for over 3 million New Yorkers.

Currently, DeRosa’s attention has been on mobilizing Cuomo’s plans to make SUNY and CUNY college tuition free for low and middle income students.

“It’s about moving the right pieces at the right moment and understanding when the political environment is ripe for action,” DeRosa said in a Crain’s New York Business interview. She was recently featured in Crain’s “40 Under 40.”