Founder & CEO
Prior to founding Metropolitan Public Strategies, Neal was Chief of Staff to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from 2011-2013. In his capacity as Chief of Staff, Neal managed and directed the overall strategic direction of the office, as well as oversaw its day-to-day operations. While at the office, Neal was responsible for pursuing mortgage fraud by the nation’s largest financial institutions in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, and was the architect around the comprehensive campaign that the AG’s office waged alongside the legal efforts to hold Wall Street firms accountable. In 2012, Kwatra helped the AG successfully pass a statewide measure called the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP), which was designed to help stem the tide of prescription drug abuse by creating a system to electronically monitor drug prescriptions.
Later that year, he was responsible for seeing through an overhaul of the state’s not-for-profit campaign finance regulations, putting New York’s AG at the forefront of the nation’s debate over dark money in the political system.
Before his work for the AG, Neal was the Director of Political and Strategic Affairs at the New York Hotel Trades Council, the largest local union of hotel employees in the nation. Between 2008 and 2011, Neal helped turn HTC’s 30,000 members into a political force. Neal and HTC oversaw all opposition research and coordinated the political operation that helped Democrats capture a majority in the New York State Senate for the first time in nearly four decades. In 2009, Neal and HTC coordinated the campaigns for 22 New York City council candidates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and in 2010, he and the Union played a key role in the campaigns of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Comptroller Tom Dinapoli, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The union, which had previously not had an internal political operation, became a New York political heavyweight known for its members’ effective campaign volunteer work and its staff’s organizing and political research skills. Prior to his work at HTC, Neal served as the Deputy Director of Strategic Affairs for UNITE HERE, the national hotel worker’s union, where he founded and led the union’s new hotel development program. This program was the single most successful program for organizing new workers into the union in UNITE HERE’s history.
Neal’s inaugural efforts with MPS include successful campaigns for Brooklyn District Attorney, the Vote Yes on Proposal 1 campaign to expand commercial gaming in New York State, and the New Haven, CT mayoral race. In each of these cases, Neal and the MPS team strategized and implemented road maps to victory against steep odds. In Brooklyn, Ken Thompson was a first-time candidate facing a 23-year incumbent. Thompson defeated the incumbent 55% to 44% in the primary and 75% to 25% in the general election, becoming the first person to unseat a sitting New York City District Attorney since 1955 and Brooklyn’s first African American DA. For Proposal 1, the public voted on a statewide ballot to allow the largest expansion of commercial gaming in New York State’s history. Proposal 1 was passed by a margin of 57% to 43%. In New Haven, though Toni Harp shared a crowded ballot with three other candidates, she still received 50% of the vote in the four-way race, becoming New Haven’s first female mayor.
Senior Vice President
Throughout his career in politics, Austin Shafran has served as a communications strategist, spokesperson, speechwriter, and legislative director for many prominent city, state and national political campaigns and governmental offices.
Prior to joining Metropolitan Public Strategies as Vice President for Strategic Affairs, Austin served as Legislative Director for the Working Families Party, where he managed the operation of their city, state and federal issue-based campaigns and legislative advocacy, including efforts to raise the NYS minimum wage and enact campaign finance reform.
In 2011, Austin was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to help manage the centerpiece of the state’s job growth and business development program as Vice President of Public Affairs for Empire State Development Corp. Austin also served as a communications strategist and speechwriter for the Cuomo administration.
Before joining the Cuomo administration, Austin served as Press Secretary for the NYS Senate Democratic Conference, where he was the chief media strategist and spokesperson for successful legislative campaigns to pass historic Marriage Equality legislation, fair share tax reform, expanded affordable housing protections, and criminal and social justice reforms. Austin also served as Communications Director for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, leading political campaigns that led to the first Democratic Majority in the State Senate in over 40 years.
Austin began his career in public service working as a Special Assistant to Congressman Gary Ackerman, and Director of Communications for NYC Council Finance Chair David Weprin. He was also named a “Rising Star” by the Queens Courier and one of the “Top 40 Under 40” by City & State NY.
Director of Communications and Digital Media
For more than a decade, Travis Proulx has held executive communication positions in and outside of state government, where he has crafted and managed several public policy and political campaigns.
Prior to joining Metropolitan Public Strategies, Travis served as Communications Director for Environmental Advocates of New York, the state’s leading green government watchdog. While there, he executed the earned media, social media, event planning, digital design, and more on campaigns which have helped to establish Governor Cuomo as a national environmental leader, including the state’s fracking ban, climate action, and historic investments in clean water infrastructure.
In 2011, Travis was appointed Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), one of New York’s largest agencies with 21,000 employees, where he managed external and internal communications as OPWDD enacted system-wide reforms to improve the health and safety, and overall quality of care for hundreds of thousands of people.
Travis also served as Deputy Press Secretary for the New York State Senate Democratic Conference, where his campaign work helped build a Democratic Majority for the first time in more than 40 years. While in the Senate, Travis coordinated communications operations between 32 senatorial offices, as well as central staff photography, social media, and more.
Travis’s government career began as the Communications Director for State Senator Liz Krueger. He was named a “40 Under 40” by City & State NY in 2010, and was an Urvashi Vaid Fellow with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. He has his masters from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and bachelors from St. Lawrence University.
Deputy Digital Director
Jonaliza D. Misa’s experience in government and public affairs expands for almost a decade, starting at Urban League for Bergen County and National Action Network where she began to embrace her skills in communications and digital media.
From there, she joined the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee where she became a key player in its day-to-day operations and worked closely with Senate Democratic members to help achieve their campaign goals.
Prior to joining Metropolitan Public Strategies, she was an integral member of the Communications Team for Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, being recognized in 2015 as one of City and State’s “40 Under 40” for her work. During her free time, she consulted for various non-profits and political organizations including Clean Ocean Access, New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Cecilia Tkaczyk for State Senate and the New York State Dems. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech, and is currently pursuing a master’s in public administration.
Senior Campaign Analyst
James Pagano is an experienced media strategist from the nationally recognized media buying firm – National Cable Communications (NCC) – that specializes in the tactical development and placement of sophisticated cable and digital media buy programs. With an expertise in the targeting, planning and execution of strategic television, digital, consumer marketing media buys and campaigns, James has led the execution of strategic media buy and marketing operations for major political and corporate clients across every major media market in the nation.
James also has a background in legislative research and field organizing, having worked at the highest levels of political campaigns, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Obama for America, and dozens of City Council and mayoral races.
Public Affairs Associate
As a Public Affairs Associate at Metropolitan Public Strategies, Ragen brings her experience in politics and campaigns working at the intersection of grassroots organizing, issue-based advocacy, and communications strategies to help clients achieve their strategic and organizational goals.
Ragen has cut her teeth working in some of the most competitive state and national political environments, including the office of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, the Advance Group, and then for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee where she was involved in the national battleground race in Florida’s 7th Congressional District in which Democratic challenger Stephanie Murphy unseated longtime Republican incumbent John Mica.
Ragen went on to work for New York State Senator Jesse Hamilton, where she honed her multimedia skills organizing press events and developing social media campaigns in the world of Albany politics.
A Delaware native, Ragen earned her degree in political science from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL and now lives in Manhattan.
Aimen has a diverse experience of working in strategy consulting for international economic development. Previously with organizations including USAID and AusAID, she worked directly with the public sector to provide policy recommendations on inclusive economic growth. She also has the experience of designing and implementing a variety of development initiatives across countries in partnership with the public and private sector.
As a Fulbright Scholar, Aimen got her graduate degree at Columbia University in New York.
Jason’s experience as a financial professional spans 20+ years with a diverse range of clients from the legal industry, oil & gas, medical, public relations, non-profits and the hotel industry. His focus in on improving financial efficiencies, increasing the bottom-line and streamlining the accounting processes for his clients.
Prior to being an independent consultant, Jason has been the CFO of an oil & gas company, the COO of a real estate law firm and a financial advisor with American Express.
Not long after college, Jason spent two years living and working in the south of France for a software company (one of his clients that hired him after his consulting with them for just 3 months). This experience was critical in understanding the diverse people and business situations that he would encounter throughout his career. Jason continues to focus on professional development and staying current on all aspects of business financial management.