Michelle Cheney Donaldson
35 Commissioner - New York State Division of Human Rights, Bronx, N.Y.
Michelle Cheney Donaldson, 35, joined state government as assistant to the governor of New York for African-American and Caribbean affairs. The experience, plus her accomplishments as project director for the state’s health department, prepared her for a challenging stint as special assistant to Indianapolis’ deputy mayor of public policy. Donaldson returned to New York to take up the post of commissioner, in which she oversees an $18 million budget as well as administrative operations for more than 200 staff members in nine state offices and two satellite locations. Managing the division of human rights for the state of New York and its millions of diverse residents can be a daunting task, but for Donaldson it has been a professional pursuit that’s earned her the distinction of becoming the youngest person ever to hold the title of commissioner.
Donaldson credits her mother for instilling in her a strong work ethic, spirituality and kindness to mankind; her brother-in-law, Rudy Washington, former deputy mayor in the administration of Rudy Giuliani, for recognizing her potential for public office; and her husband, Randolph, for his unstinting support.
Ultimately, the mother of twins would like to establish a network for mothers, either in an electronic format or via a magazine or newsletter. “I believe one of the keys to keeping life a bit simpler is to share information that can ultimately save the next person time, stress and money,” she says.
Donaldson has received many awards in recognition of her commitment to government and community service. She is a member of the Greater New York Chapter of the Links Inc. and a former board member of the New York Urban League, Manhattan branch. When her life’s work is complete, Donaldson says, she would like to know, as famed writer Erma Bombeck declared, that “when I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’ “