Alphonso David, who has been the top legal advisor on civil rights matters to Andrew Cuomo dating back to the governor’s tenure as state attorney general and who earlier served as a staff attorney at Lambda Legal, has been named to the post of counsel to the governor.
David, who is 44, will assume the role in April after the governor and the Legislature complete work on the fiscal year 2016 budget. The position of counsel is one of two created within the governor’s office by state law, the other being secretary to the governor, a post equivalent to chief of staff.
In announcing David’s appointment earlier this week, Cuomo’s office noted he will be the first out gay man and the first African American to serve as counsel.
“I am honored by the governor’s appointment, and I look forward to serving in this role,” David told Gay City News. “With this great honor, comes great responsibility. And I recognize that as public servants, we should always consider the interests of all New Yorkers, including those whose interests have not always been well represented.”
Since Cuomo took office as governor in January 2011, David has served as a deputy secretary and civil rights counsel in his office, where his portfolio includes oversight of a host of executive departments, including Labor, Civil Service, and Human Rights, with more than 8,000 employees and aggregate annual budgets exceeding $5 billion. During Cuomo’s final two and a half years as attorney general, David was a special deputy for civil rights in that office.
In his role as Cuomo’s civil rights counsel, David was a key player in coordinating the six-month drive that led to enactment of New York’s marriage equality law within the governor’s first legislative session, an achievement of which he said he is “deeply proud.”
Other accomplishments in which he took a leading role during the governor’s first term included the expansion of Medicaid coverage to pay for medically necessary transition procedures for transgender New Yorkers, the liberalization and streamlining of procedures for them to amend the gender designation on their birth certificates, and changes to state procurement procedures that have increased the share of contracts going to women- and minority-owned businesses from 10 to more than 25 percent in the past four years.
As counsel to the governor, David’s role will expand to all significant policy deliberations within the executive department –– in evaluating proposed legislation, implementing existing law, and formulating the state’s posture in litigation, either as plaintiff or defendant. The attorney general, elected separately from the governor and with distinct constitutional authority, represents the state itself, and the counsel to the governor is a client of the AG with responsibility to ensure the governor’s institutional interests are adequately represented by that office.
With a history of political jockeying between Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, that aspect of David’s role could well prove among his most challenging responsibilities ahead.
With David’s appointment, Cuomo is changing up his top team in Albany. William Mulrow, a senior executive at the Blackstone Group private equity firm, is coming on as secretary to the governor, Cuomo’s office also announced this week.
Prior to joining Cuomo’s AG office, David worked as a special counsel at the State Division of Human Rights. During Cuomo’s first term as governor, the division, over which David has oversight, succeeded in closing the backlog of thousands of complaints that were a legacy of 12 years of Republican rule under Governor George Pataki and first began being whittled down under the four years Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson served as governor.
David spent three years as a staff attorney at Lambda prior to joining the state Human Rights Division.
Susan Sommer, who directs constitutional litigation at Lambda, in an email, described David as “an outstanding LGBT civil rights lawyer at Lambda Legal” and “a staunch advocate for civil rights in this state.”
“We are very proud of him and his appointment as general counsel to Governor Cuomo, and very grateful for his contributions to the communities we represent,” Sommer wrote. “We could not imagine a better choice for this key position. Alphonso’s appointment is a testament to his great talents and another milestone for LGBT New Yorkers.”
A graduate of Philadelphia’s Temple University Law School, David went on to clerk for US District Judge Clifford Scott Green there. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland.
The Empire State Pride Agenda, which was a partner with David during the successful marriage fight in 2011, praised his appointment.
“We congratulate Alphonso on his exciting new post,” Nathan Schaefer, the group’s executive director, said in an email message. “We’ve worked closely with him over the years as a key liaison between New York’s LGBT community and Governor Cuomo, and we look forward to working with him in his new capacity as counsel to the governor in securing even more rights for our community.”
Praise also came from Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, a Hudson Valley Democrat who served as first deputy secretary to the governor in the Spitzer and Paterson administrations.
“Alphonso David is a remarkable individual who has an impressive history of vigorously protecting civil rights for all New Yorkers,” Maloney said in an email. “After leading the quick implementation of marriage equality, I know he’ll continue to play a critical role in fighting for the rights of the LGBT community while helping move forward the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. His new position is one of the most important in state government, and I applaud the governor for his outstanding selection.”