Citizen Action of New York Announces New Executive Directors for 2019

by | Jul 2, 2018 | Press Releases

Beginning in December, Rosemary Rivera and Jessica Wisneski to Lead Statewide Grassroots Organization

Albany, NY — On Saturday morning, at their annual Leadership Summit, Citizen Action of New York announced that Rosemary Rivera and Jessica Wisneski would be assuming the roles of Co-Executive Directors of the organization beginning in December. Rivera and Wisneski will be replacing current Executive Director Karen Scharff, who is stepping down in December after 35 years with the organization.

Rivera and Wisneski, who currently serve as Organizing Director and Deputy Director, respectively, will be taking the helm of Citizen Action at a time of considerable growth, with eight regional chapters and over 30,000 members statewide. The new Executive Directors plan to continue the work of empowering local communities and marginalized groups through civic engagement, political education, and direct action.

“Citizen Action of New York looks forward to building on recent successes and growing our people-powered movement,” said Ivette Alfonso, President of Citizen Action of New York. “Rosemary and Jess have been committed leaders for Citizen Action and are the right people to lead our organization into the future. Karen Scharff leaves a legacy of bold leadership and deep dedication to the work, and we thank her for her years of service.”

Before joining Citizen Action in 2005, Jess Wisneski was the Field Coordinator for Hawaii’s statewide 2004 – 2005 Clean Money, Clean Elections campaign. As Legislative and Campaigns Director for Citizen Action, Wisneski led the campaign to pass Fair Elections, directing a large scale coalition and campaign in 2013 and 2014. She helped form the Health Care for All New York coalition in 2007 and played a significant role in the 2009 – 2010 campaign to pass the Affordable Care Act and implement the program in New York.

Wisneski also coordinated the coalition to end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering and co-directed the 2015 statewide campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour for fast food workers. Since taking on the role of Deputy Director in 2017, Wisneski has played a role in advising strategic campaigns, including the federal fight to protect health care, voting rights and campaign finance reform, and the campaign to reform New York’s criminal justice system.

Wisneski is a State Committee Member of the Working Families Party and represents Citizen Action of New York on the State Advisory Council. She was born and raised outside of Kingston, New York and now resides in Olivebridge, New York with her husband and two sons.

Rosemary Rivera started her career as an organizer in 2003 with Syracuse United Neighbors before moving to Rochester, New York.  She became the Education Organizer for Citizen Action of New York and the Alliance for Quality Education, working out of Metro Justice in Rochester. In 2007, after the new foundation aid formula related to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity was won, Rivera took a position with the Healthcare Education Project at SEIU 1199 and led work in Miami to create a public health care option. In 2008, she led campaign work in Minneapolis and helped to create a non-profit called Minnesota SOL (Saving Our Lives) while recruiting and training teams of immigrants and refugees to work on the Obama campaign through a “Be My Vote” project.  

Rivera returned to Citizen Action of New York in 2010 as the Organizing Director. She currently serves as a Commissioner on the Rochester Housing Authority, is a statewide committee member of the Working Families Party, is a member of the training team for People’s Action,  chairs the Alliance for Quality Education, and leads multiple education initiatives in Rochester, New York. She was instrumental in passing a new Code of Conduct in the Rochester City School District, which in less than two years has led to a sizable drop in the number of student suspensions.

Rivera was born and raised in New York City. She has one son and two grandchildren.

Karen Scharff joined the staff as Organizing Director when Citizen Action of NY was formed in 1983 (then called NY Community Action Network) and became co-Executive Director in 1984. In 2008, when Kirsch left to run Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Scharff became the sole Executive Director. She has led the organization through enormous growth in its chapters and grassroots membership, and made Citizen Action of NY a leader in the broader progressive movement in the state. Scharff played a leadership role in the founding of the Working Families Party, the Alliance for Quality Education, the NY Civic Engagement Table, and many other coalitions and collaborative projects to build power for poor and working people across New York State.

Citizen Action of New York is a grassroots, member-based organization with eight chapters and affiliates across New York State. They work to create transformational change in pursuit of social, economic, environmental, and racial justice.