1. Ann O’Leary
Ann O’Leary is the governor’s chief of staff, which means she manages the state’s top personnel, distills political strategy for Gov. Newsom and generally has the final say on action proposals heading his way. That alone guarantees her the top spot on the list, the position she held last year, too. But now she’s also co-leader of the governor’s task force on the economy, a panel that Gov. Newsom created in April to devise strategies to deal with the pandemic-induced recession, which hit California hard and is getting worse. In Sacramento, two phrases always spark suspicion – “task force” and “advisory commission” – but this time a task force may actually have some clout. Its members include all four former living governors, Disney chairman Bob Iger and other business types, including billionaire and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer, who serves as O’Leary’s fellow leader. For a brief moment, it looked like California was turning the corner on the pandemic, but COVID-19 roared back after a premature loosening of restrictions in May – a decision in which she surely participated. For O’Leary, these must be odd times. She’s at the center of power in the Capitol’s “Horseshoe” – the executive office suite that includes the governor – but she’s operating in something of a ghost town. Most people are working from home and the Horseshoe is largely deserted. O’Leary, an attorney and former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, brought Beltway political smarts to her gig here as chief of staff, presumably a good move for a governor who is likely to make a presidential bid in 2024. But COVID-19 may have made that climb steeper for Newsom, with his every move drawing intense scrutiny. And we haven’t even mentioned wildfires yet. O’Leary has her work cut out for her.
(Updated August 11, 2020)