Alumni Profiles

Alumni Profiles

Learn more about our most accomplished alumni. They are a distinguished group of leading public officials & judges, law firm partners, public interest advocates, and business leaders. In each of our BLSLawNotes magazine issues, we profile a few of our best and most loyal assets - our graduates.

Read more about alumni in the news.

  • Gary Kesner 

    The Emmy Award-winning NBC series "30 Rock" had just wrapped its series finale after shooting seven seasons at Silvercup Studios. The crew was dismantling the sets, and pulling down steel bars and metal frames across several stages. Wardrobe racks lined the halls: Jack Donaughy's pajamas and suits; a collection of pastel-colored prom dresses (marked: To Be Donated!); and a row of Liz Lemon's maroon Snuggies.

    Standing out of the fray, smiling and chatting with the crew, was Gary Kesner '78, who joined Silvercup 19 years ago, helping to turn this dilapidated former bakery on the Long Island City waterfront into the largest independent, full-service film and television production facility in the northeastern United States.

    Raised by middle-class parents in the Bronx, Kesner never had any intention of winding up in the glitzy world of film and television. "I've always wanted to do good, not well," he explained. After graduating from City College of New York in 1971, he spent four years running an achievement program for kids and teens at the Hudson Guild, one of the oldest settlement houses in Manhattan, before enrolling in Brooklyn Law School. During his first summer, he secured a position with the General Counsel to the Bronx Borough President where he was involved in legislation, policy, and programming. "It opened my eyes to the kind of work I wanted to do," he said.

    Following law school, he began a 12-year stint in the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch, holding several high-profile positions in economic development, including Executive Vice President of the Financial Services Corporation of New York City and Executive Vice President of the New York City Public Development Corporation. In 1986, he was named Commissioner of the New York City Office of Business Development. "My main focus was always to keep companies in New York City, to help companies grow, and thereby create and retain jobs for the City," he said.

    It was during his tenure at the Financial Services Corporation that he met Harry Suna and his sons Alan and Stuart. The Suna family was looking for a new facility for their metal fabrication business and had their eye on the old Silvercup Bakery. With Kesner's guidance, they were able to access financing and to purchase the building, where they put a small portion of it to use for their business. Not quite sure of what do with the extra space, they came up with the idea of turning what was the former flour silo room of the bakery into a sound stage. Silvercup shot its first commercial (for Cool Whip) in 1983. The rest, as they say, is history.

    With the Silvercup project filed away, Kesner continued his work in economic development for the City, working on such historic projects as the Brooklyn Army Terminal, the South Street Seaport, and the Intrepid Museum. He also administered and expanded a series of commercial revitalization programs, which eventually became known as Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)—powerful engines for economic development and neighborhood revitalization.

    When Koch's third term ended, Kesner began consulting, providing management, policy analysis, program development services, and advice on real estate issues and financing to private and nonprofit organizations. A few years into his work as a consultant, he met again with the Sunas, who offered him a job at Silvercup. "Silvercup was one of my favorite projects," he said. "You take a building that was not utilized at all, and bring it back to life and have a business that grows and benefits the City. That is the story of New York City. It continues to regenerate itself."

    As Executive Vice President at Silvercup, Kesner has been instrumental in developing the company into a critical player in the birth of the New York City film industry, now thriving with other facilities such as Kaufman-Astoria and Steiner Studios. Silvercup itself has grown from one building with 10 studios to two lots with 19 studios, and the business has largely shifted from commercials to film and television. In addition to the critically-acclaimed "30 Rock," Silvercup has been home to such hits as "The Sopranos" and "Gossip Girl," and "Girls." Movies shot at Silvercup include, "Date Night," "Julie & Julia," and "The Devil Wears Prada." Silvercup has also added a location lighting company, Silvertrucks, and a real estate development affiliate that develops market-rate, middle income, and affordable housing projects. It is also in the process of developing what will be known as a property known Silvercup West that will include studios, retail, and residences, and a waterfront promenade in Long Island City.

    Yet, after nearly 20 years of hobnobbing with celebrities (standing in line for Mister Softee with James Gandolfini is a favorite memory), Kesner remains rooted to his mission to "do good." He is Chair of the Long Island City Partnership, Vice Chair of the Queens Theater, and works with The Explorers, a city-wide high school mentorship program. "I feel I have had an impact. I feel like I am doing good," he said. "That's what I have always wanted to do."

  • Harris Diamond 

    Harris Diamond '83, the newly appointed CEO and Chairman of McCann Worldgroup, doesn’t have a Facebook page and doesn’t use Twitter. "It just doesn’t work for me," he said. "I don’t deal in 140 characters or less." One of the public relations industry's brightest stars, Diamond prefers to communicate the old fashioned way, and it's served him quite well. Diamond’s influence is massive in scope. He oversees McCann Worldgroup's eight companies—McCann Erickson (the world’s largest advertising agency network); MRM Worldwide (digital marketing/CRM); Momentum Worldwide (event marketing/promotion); McCann Health (professional/ dtc communications); Craft Worldwide (global production); UM (media management); Weber Shandwick (public relations); and FutureBrand (consulting/design)—with responsibilities for a total of 23,000 people, across 120 countries, and 300 cities.

    Standing at the helm of one of the nation's largest communications businesses, Diamond is keenly aware of the ways in which social media has changed the traditional communications landscape. While his organization has adopted the Facebook "Like" and the 140-character tweet as important tools to communicate both internally and externally, he remains steadfast that his job has remained the same. "The only thing that's really changed is the way we communicate, but not the messages we deliver," he said. "At the end of the day, it's still all about articulating a vision, getting people to believe in the vision, and then getting them to agree to carry out and execute that vision. There are a large number of voices out there, and you have to craft a message that will cut through the noise. But that was always the job. It's just that there is more noise out there than there used to be."

    Diamond has long been in the business of conceptualizing, creating, and communicating a sharp, clear vision for his clients. He arrived at Brooklyn Law School in 1980 from a position at the Prudential Insurance Company and a desire to work in politics. While attending law school, he served as the Confidential Assistant to Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman, a job that required him to manage public outreach and community issues and to act as a liaison with the New York City Police Department and the Mayor's Office. "Working for someone like Liz, who was a senior political figure with substantive responsibilities, you learn how to get things done and how to work around bureaucracy," said Diamond. "I saw her focus, intensity, and drive producing results notwithstanding the skepticism by a lot of institutions when she took the job. That has stayed with me all these years."

    In 1985, after Holzman's first term ended, Diamond became a political consultant working throughout the U.S. and later joined the political consulting firm of Sawyer Miller, where he worked on U.S. gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns, and advised foreign governments and political candidates, including Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. "We were just beginning to see emerging democracies and changes in the ability of candidates to campaign outside of government strictures," said Diamond. "It was a very exciting time."

    In 1991, Diamond left the world of politics to move into corporate positioning, embarking on a career that included serving as Chief Executive Officer of Interpublic's Constituency Management Group, whose companies include DeVries Public Relations, FutureBrand, GolinHarris, Jack Morton Worldwide, Rogers & Cowan, and Weber Shandwick. He also served as Chief Executive Officer of Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading global public relations firms. Over the course of his career, he has worked with clients such as General Motors, American Airlines, Prudential Insurance, and the Government of the People's Republic of China. In recognition of his contribution to the field over the past two decades, Diamond has been named "PR Agency Executive of the Decade" by The Holmes Report, and has been cited as one of the "100 most influential PR people in the 20th century" by PRWeek.

    While Diamond has never practiced a day of traditional law in his life, he remains a champion of legal education. "The law was a great foundation for my business career," he said. "It fundamentally makes you better equipped to understand the issues that businesses confront in a way that no other academic discipline does."

    Diamond recalls the closing lecture of his beloved torts professor, Joseph Crea. "On the last day of our torts class Professor Crea gave what he called his most important lecture. He said, 'The world always turns. There are days when you will be on top and days you are going to be on the bottom. Treat people well. The world always turns.' I still recall that advice today." A valuable message and one that cannot be contained in 140 characters.

  • Claudia Werman Connor '88 

    For Claudia Werman Connor '88, the new Director of Foundation & Trusts at Save the Children, one summer working on Riker's Island was all it took. She was in her second year at Brooklyn Law School when she began interning at the Legal Aid Society's Prisoner's Rights Project (PRP). Her main task was to travel to Riker's Island to document injuries and interview inmates who alleged physical abuse by corrections officers. "That experience solidified my desire to do something that would have a positive impact on marginalized people," she said. "The work was transformative and eye opening." Since that summer, Werman Connor has dedicated her career to being a voice for the voiceless, both at home and abroad.

    Following law school, where she was a Sparer Public Interest Law Fellow and a member of the Moot Court Honor Society, Werman Connor joined the Criminal Defense Division of Legal Aid's Manhattan office. Three years later, having gained trial and litigation experience, she returned to PRP as a staff attorney. Coincidentally, her first assignment was to prepare the pleadings for the Riker's prisoner abuse case she had documented as a student. The class action was brought on behalf of 22 inmates and was settled for $2.2 million in 2006. The landmark case was one of the only victories in which the City paid damages to inmate plaintiffs, and also put in place citywide reforms, including the use of video cameras for the security of inmates and strict guidelines on the use of force by guards.

    After two years at PRP, Werman Connor took a leave of absence to teach law at Hofstra, but quickly returned to trial work, this time at Legal Aid's Brooklyn office. "I loved being on trial and missed it," she explained. "The people I represented at Legal Aid had terribly difficult backgrounds; they had lost parents, were on the streets, or were in and out of institutions. They had so little trust in the system, and I thought it was important for them to know that sometimes the system could work in their favor."

    While advocating for those on the margins of society in Brooklyn, Werman Connor also began to think about human rights in a more global context. In 1998, to explore the international arena, she took a leave of absence from Legal Aid and moved to Mozambique with her husband, who took a position as the director for a USAID-funded HIV/AIDs project. The couple planned on returning to the States in a year or two. Instead, they stayed abroad for a decade, doing human rights and humanitarian work in both Africa and Southeast Asia.

    While in Mozambique, Werman Connor worked first with Save the Children UK on child protection policy, then with the Carter Center on voter registration and election monitoring. Her final role in the region involved working with Population Services International, where she edited and co-wrote a report examining the prevalence of AIDS and patterns of transmission in key locations across the Maputo Corridor, a heavily trafficked route for Mozambicans traveling for work into South African mines, truckers, and prostitutes.

    In 2001, Werman Connor moved to Malawi, where she began work with a national human rights organization, The Malawi Center for Advice, Research, and Education on Rights (CARER), leading the day-to-day operations of CARER's rural paralegal program and human rights monitoring. Four years later, she and her family were off to Myanmar in Southeast Asia. Werman Connor joined UNICEF where she developed a training manual on the national anti-trafficking legislation. She was subsequently retained by the Myanmar UN Country Team to draft a report for the UN Secretary General on child soldiers.

    When Werman Connor returned to the United States in 2008, she joined the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a nonprofit that offers life-saving care and assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. At the IRC, she served first as a technical advisor on protection and rule of law for international programs; then as the Regional Director of U.S. Programs, where she supervised seven regional refugee resettlement offices across the U.S.; and, most recently, as the Director of National Programs.

    Last October, Werman Connor joined Save the Children, the leading independent organization creating lasting change in the lives of children in need in the United States and around the world, as Director of Foundation & Trusts. "While it's a shift in my professional focus, I am still contributing to improving the lives of vulnerable and marginalized people. That's what I started out doing at Legal Aid," she said. "My career path has been a cumulative process. In many ways, the work I did at Malawi CARER set me up to do the work at the IRC and at Save the Children. And I continue to rely on what I learned in law school—from my professors and mentors, as a Sparer Fellow, and as part of the Federal Litigation Clinic. Those experiences continue to inspire me."

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