Public Wise

Equity in Democracy

Mission

Persistent and unyielding in our commitment to a just multiracial democracy, Public Wise fights to secure a government that reflects the will and protects the rights of the people. We accomplish this through education, research, organizing, funding, and partnerships that support more voting and more equitable representation.

Vision

Public Wise envisions a democracy that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people, with government that is representative, accountable, trusted, and transparent.


Areas of Work

Research

We conduct and publish innovative, non-partisan research to fill gaps in the existing body of voter rights research and serve as a publicly available resource to advocates, academics and policymakers. 

Capacity Building

We provide financial and operational support (funds+) to strengthen the work of frontline organizations engaged in litigation, advocacy, outreach and education.

Organizing

We collaborate with partners to improve voting rights policies and budget initiatives on the federal, state, and local levels through advocacy and direct lobbying.

Board of Directors

Eric Laufer | Board President

Eric Laufer is a multi-disciplinary entrepreneur with ventures in renewable energy technology, real estate and film. He has developed innovative solutions that mitigate the impact of wind farms on surrounding communities and wildlife, managed a diverse commercial and land portfolio with an eye towards good environmental stewardship and produced films that promote values of acceptance and inclusivity.  He holds multiple patents and has a degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical engineering from Stanford.  His greatest joy is chasing his three daughters and wife around New York City.

Andy Bernstein | Board Member

Andy Bernstein helped found HeadCount in 2004, and became its executive director in the Spring of 2008.

Under his leadership, the organization has registered over 650,000 voters, forged alliances with hundreds of musicians and entertainers, and produced dozens of highly-successful events and initiatives.

He has been a featured speaker at the South by Southwest music conference, and appeared as an expert commentator on ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and several other television networks. He also oversaw production of  public service announcements starring Jay-Z, Dave Matthews, members of the Grateful Dead and the boy band Brockhampton, the most recent of which was distributed by the Ad Council.

Andy was the architect behind “The Bridge Session,” a 2012 concert and webcast that brought together The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir with members of The National for the first time. Later, they recorded an album together.

Prior to creating HeadCount, Andy was best known in the music community as an author of “The Pharmer’s Almanac”, a guide to the band Phish that sold over 70,000 copies. He also worked in sports for over a decade, serving as media editor of Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, and later as Vice President of U.S. Corporate Development at the technology company Kangaroo TV, A 1994 graduate of Brown University.

Bernstein resides in a slope-side condominium at the Mountain Creek ski resort, not far from New York City. His pastime is posting harrowing GoPro videos of his ski adventures on social media.

Kristen Dart | Board Member

Kristen Dart is the Political Director for Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts. In that capacity she serves as the organization’s lobbyist and leads the political and electoral work.

Prior to her current role she served as deputy director of the policy office for the House of Representatives in Rhode Island. She coordinated Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s re-election bid in 2016.

Kristen previously served as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Mayor Jorge Elorza in Providence, RI and as the community organizer for Planned Parenthood Southern New England (PPSNE). At PPSNE she coordinated their Generation Action interns, lobbied the General Assembly, coordinated the RI Religious Coalition for Reproductive justice and had a leading role in Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island’s elections efforts.

Her passion for politics and voter rights comes from a long family history of fighting for civil rights and justice. She is an avid college sports fan, she enjoys traveling and hosting family and friends for meals. She resides in her hometown in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Jacob Faber, PhD | Board Member

Jacob William Faber is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Service in New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and holds a joint appointment in NYU’s Sociology Department.

His research and teaching focuses on spatial inequality. He leverages observational and experimental methods to study the mechanisms responsible for sorting individuals across space and how the distributions of people by race and class interact with political, social, and ecological systems to create and sustain economic disparities. While there is a rich literature exploring the geography of opportunity, there remain many unsettled questions about the causes of segregation and its effects on the residents of urban ghettos, wealthy suburbs, and the diverse set of places in between.

His scholarship highlights the rapidly-changing roles of numerous institutional actors (e.g. mortgage lenders, real estate agents, check cashing outlets, and police officers) in facilitating the reproduction of racial and spatial inequality. Through investigation of several aspects of American life, he demonstrates that a pattern of “institutional marginalization” emerges as a powerful mechanism connecting segregation to socioeconomic disadvantage. His work has been published in American Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Demography, Social Forces, Housing Policy Debate, and other prominent journals.

Professor Faber’s scholarship has received recognition from several organizations, including the ASA Latino/Latina Sociology Section, Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM), Association of Black Sociologists (ABS), Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), and Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE). In 2020, Professor Faber won NYU’s Making a Difference Award for his research and teaching on the hidden and unsettled causes of segregation by race. In 2018, he was named NYU Wagner’s Professor of the Year and won the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Research Prize.

Dr. Faber earned his PhD in Sociology from New York University and worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University. He also graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Master’s degrees in Telecommunications Policy and Urban Studies and Planning and a Bachelor’s degree in Management Science. Between stints at graduate school, Dr. Faber worked as a Senior Researcher for the Center for Social Inclusion, a racial justice policy advocacy organization.

Shijuade Kadree | Board Member

Shijuade Kadree currently serves as the Chief Advocacy Officer for The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City.

She is an alumna of Emory University where she graduated with a joint degree with the Schools of Law and Public Health, specifically focusing on Global Environmental Health. A former defense attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, Shijuade has significant government relations, policy, strategic planning and stakeholder cultivation and engagement experience.

Her current work as the Chief Advocacy Officer for The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center means she is responsible for creating, implementing, and directing the annual legislative and fiscal lobbying strategy to support its powerful programs and to advocate for equity and inclusion of the larger LGBTQ community in New York State.

Shijuade centers her approach from a black, queer, feminist perspective, believing that when all of those needs are engaged and addressed, all will benefit from the outcome. She has worked with all levels of government, for-profit, and non-profit actors, to ensure that the work being done is thoughtful, innovative, and inclusive, with an explicitly intersectional lens. Her legislative and organizational policy drafting and implementation experience, across multiple interests and sectors, informs the incisive and proactive approach to her changemaking work.

A recipient of multiple awards for her work, she is also a sought after speaker, panelist, commentator, and moderator. She can be sought out for professional consulting services through her firm, Compass Strategies Consulting. Shijuade resides in New York City with her wife and children.

Stephanie Miliano | Board Member

Stephanie Miliano is the Chief of Staff at Stu Loeser & Co with an extensive background in politics, government, organizing and bilingual English-Spanish communications.

Prior to joining Stu Loeser & Co, Stephanie was a national organizer for political engagement for the Women’s March in Washington, DC while working closely with its co-chairs. She has also served as state field director for New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s reelection campaign. Previously, she served as deputy chief of staff to New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez spearheading citywide projects, and advising on City budget, legislation and communications, and as Manhattan political organizer for Hillary for America.

Sean O’Shea | Board Member

Sean O’Shea is a Partner at Alexander, Borovicka & O’Shea Government Solutions and President of SPO Strategic Consulting, LLC.

Sean has more than 15 years of policy, legislative and legal experience working with various federal, state, and local government entities, nonprofits, trade associations, universities, corporations, and unions in the transportation and infrastructure areas, as well as complex insurance, environmental, and national security issues.

Sean served in various capacities in Washington, D.C. from the White House to Capitol Hill, as well as in the private sector representing various clients. Most recently, Sean served as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor of Illinois overseeing significant capital investments throughout the State of Illinois including a $31 billion capital program that invested in a variety of transportation systems, including highways, bridges, high-speed rail, passenger rail, and transit systems across the Chicago region and beyond; a $2 billion Clean Water Initiative that was a joint effort between the Illinois Finance Authority and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to attack the backlog of drinking and wastewater needs throughout the State; and a $12 billion capital construction plan that is addressing significant capacity issues on the 286-mile Illinois Tollway system.

Sean served as Vice President of Building America’s Future, which was founded by former Governors Ed Rendell (Pennsylvania) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (California) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and which now includes Former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. As Projects Director & Legislative Assistant to then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sean handled domestic appropriation bills, transportation and infrastructure issues, homeland security and health matters related to the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City, and served as an adviser to Senator Clinton on the Northern Ireland peace process and other key pieces of legislation.

Sean previously served in the Office of Cabinet Affairs in the White House for President Bill Clinton overseeing several key agencies responding to crisis events, and helped coordinate policy and operations with the President’s Cabinet for issues such as major disaster declarations, aviation incidents, and policy announcements.

Sean has represented clients in the private sector before Congress and the executive branch agencies on appropriations issues, regulatory matters, and assisted clients navigate Congressional investigations at a major lobbying firm and law firm. In 2015, Sean was elected to the Board of Directors of Building America’s Future and Building America’s Future Educational Fund, the organization at which he previously served as Vice President. Sean is a graduate of DePaul University and American University Washington College of Law. Sean is an attorney licensed to practice law in Illinois and the District of Columbia. He is admitted to the United States Supreme Court, United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and the Illinois Supreme Court.

Our Team

Christina Baal-Owens | Executive Director

Christina brings nearly two decades of experience in electoral and legislative campaigns, advocacy, government, and non-profit management.  A social worker by trade who started her career in the labor and immigrants’ rights movements, she views social change work through the lens of the direct impact and accessibility of enacted policies on communities. 

Christina first developed a passion for making voting accessible to marginalized communities as Director of Civic Engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition where she ran one of the largest voter registration programs for newly naturalized immigrants in the country and led a statewide immigrant voter table. Following her time at NYIC, Christina served in the political departments of two major labor unions, RWDSU where she Deputy Political Director and 32BJ SEIU where she was the State Legislative Coordinator. Directly prior to coming on to Public Wise, she was the Assistant Comptroller for Community Affairs at the NYS Comptroller’s office.

Christina also bring a wealth of experience running campaigns and IEs at the city, state, and federal levels. Most notably, she was the NYS Organizing Director for Hillary for America in 2016 where she ran a program that generated voter contacts in all 50 states. Christina earned her Masters in Social Work from CUNY Hunter College and her Bachelor in Fine Arts from New York University.  Her work is constantly inspired by the legacy she’s inherited from her Filipino immigrant parents and the future she and her husband are shaping for her two young daughters.

Maria Cruz Lee | Digital Communications Director

Maria Cruz Lee joined Public Wise in May 2020 to lead in-house communications and support organizing partners as a digital advisor. She builds on her experience in digital organizing and campaigns as New York State Digital Director for Hillary for America, Digital Director for the City University of New York, digital at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs under the Bloomberg Administration and Communications for immigrant rights campaigns at Define American. In 2018, she was honored as one of City & State’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars

Maria was one of the 45 participants who contributed to “Recoding the Boys’ Club: The Experiences & Future of Women in Political Technology,” a research project conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after the 2016 Election.

Maria is a proud graduate of New York City public schools. She holds a BA in Media from Hunter College (‘10) and an Executive Master in Public Administration (‘20) from the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College.

Jessica Hall | Operations Director

Jessica currently serves as Director of Operations for Public Wise, where she implements processes and practices across the organization, oversees office efficiency, and examines financial data to ensure accuracy and accountability. With 15 years of experience in office operations, Jessica has created a portfolio that includes budgets and forecasting and overseeing company cash flow.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Jessica grew up playing club soccer and had an interest in the arts. With a love for fashion, she later went on to earn her B.F.A. in fashion design from Columbia College Chicago. Currently, a New Yorker, she enjoys time at the pottery studio, true crime documentaries, and cheering on her Huskers in the fall.

Katelyn Israelski | Partnerships Director

Katelyn Israelski, Public Wise’s Director of Partnerships, manages our support of grassroots, state-based, and national organizations fighting to safeguard voting rights and promote democracy access for all. Katelyn previously served in the offices of New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Katelyn has worked on both national and state electoral campaigns, and has additional experience in journalism, beginning her career at MSNBC. Born and raised in the Hudson Valley region of New York, Katelyn now lives in Ventura, California.

katelyn.israelski@publicwise.org

Jessie Kalbfeld, PhD | Research Director

Jessie holds a doctorate in sociology from New York University, where she was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and an inaugural NYU Furman Law Fellow at NYU Law School 2015-2016. Her research interests include race and inequality, neighborhood change, and social control. Some of her recent research projects include an investigation of court reporter mis-transcription of African American English, coauthored with an interdisciplinary team, which was the top downloaded article in Language in 2019-2020; an interrogation of critical mass as it relates to Affirmative Action, published in the Law & Society Review; and an analysis of complaints made against police in Chicago, co-authored with Jacob Faber and published in City & Community. Her dissertation research focused on the impact of racial and socioeconomic neighborhood change on social control in New York City.  Her recent research on court reporters has been covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York TimesNPRVice News TonightVice MediaDaily KOS, and more.

Jessie has worked as a research and data consultant for the Southern Poverty Law Center of Mississippi and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington D.C., among others. She is a founding member of CulturePoint LLC, a research and consulting firm that provides evidence-based approaches to developing leadership and high-performance in organizations through effective management of diverse workforces and creation of inclusive environments. Through CulturePoint, Jessie has consulted with clients such as the US Navy, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency on organizational metrics for diversity and inclusion, skills for public-facing scientific presentations, and cognitive processes of decision making in diverse organizations.

Sara Moore, PhD | Senior Research Associate

Sara is a Senior Research Associate at Public Wise. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Florida. Prior to joining Public Wise, Sara worked as a Regional Director for the American Voices Project at the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University. Her research and teaching interests include inequality, poverty, and economic insecurity.

Outside of work, Sara is almost always knitting, dyeing yarn, or reading about antique glass.

Kayla Pasacreta | Digital Content Manager

Kayla joined Public Wise in March 2021 to manage the organization’s digital footprint and amplify organizing partners online. Kayla is a recent graduate of Syracuse University, where she received a BA in political science.

Prior to joining Public Wise, she worked as a Digital Organizer with the Democratic National Committee where she managed a volunteer pipeline of 2,000 online community leaders, organized online campaigns, and spearheaded initiatives using social media and other online platforms to drive voters to the polls.

Kayla has spent much of her young career in the digital space working for a number of non-profits including The Hub Project and Patriotic Millionaires in various capacities as social media and digital interns. Kayla has worked on issues including DC statehood, tax reform, income inequality, heath care, and criminal justice. Before this, she worked on the Hill for two of her state Congressmen in the role of legislative intern.

She also runs and curates content for a popular social media site, The Executive Tea, which she co-founded as a sophomore in college.

Kayla is passionate about using social media to make politics more accessible to a younger audience. In her free time, she can be found stanning Beyonce, looking up new recipes on TikTok, and keeping in the loop with the latest breaking news.

Eli Szenes-Strauss | Political Director

Eli leads our work to both design in-house campaigns as well as support organizing partners in growing their capacities through targeted, creative assistance. Eli brings to Public Wise his experience as the Political Director for Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, a candidate trainer for the National Democratic Training Committee, five years working for committee chairs in the New York State legislature, and multiple state and local campaigns. In 2018, Eli was honored as one of City & State’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars.

Eli is a fourth generation New Yorker married to an eighth generation Appalachian southerner, which has dramatically improved his communication skills. He relaxes by spending time with his daughter and partner, cooking, and watching bad sci-fi.

Contact Us

270 Lafayette Street
Suite 1400
New York, NY 10012
USA