Gov. Cuomo aide James Malatras emerges as top candidate to head SUNY

James Malatras, a top adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has emerged as the leading candidate to become the chancellor of the 64-campus State University of New York, insiders told The Post.

Malatras, 42, former state operations director, is currently a special adviser to the governor’s response team on the coronavirus pandemic and is frequently at his side during press conferences.

He is currently president of SUNY’s Empire State College, which heavily emphasizes remote learning – which higher education has largely shifted to during the COVID-crisis to curb the spread of the killer bug.

One member of SUNY’s board of trustees said Malatras’ strong managerial and troubleshooting skills are what’s needed during the pandemic.

“I think Jim is the right choice right now. His skill sets are what’s needed right now,” said a SUNY board member who requested anonymity about the confidential search to replace former Chancellor Kristina Johnson, who left SUNY to become the president of Ohio State University.

“The challenges the SUNY system faces now are managerial and budgetary. You need someone who is an operations person. We need a very strong person and he’s the right person right now.”

Dr. Kristina M. Johnson
Dr. Kristina M. JohnsonSUNY

The SUNY insider said Malatras’ strong insider relationship with the governor will be a plus to help navigate political minefields during the health and financial crises triggered by the pandemic. It is not time to hire an outsider who has no experience grappling with New York’s rough-and-tumble politics, the official said.

When he was state operations director, Malatras advised Cuomo on education issues ranging from K-12 through higher education.

He left state government to become president of the Rockefeller Institute on Government, before becoming president of Empire State College.

Malatras is a SUNY alum. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the State University at Albany.

Another Cuomo ally, former Cuomo budget director Robert Megna, is serving as SUNY’s interim chancellor.


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