In Honor and Memorium of Jeff Wise

NYAPRS Note: We are greatly saddened at the loss of Jeff Wise, one of New York State’s top longtime advocates for people with disabilities. Jeff passed away last Sunday, following the second of 2 heart attacks over the last few weeks.

I first met Jeff when he served as the senior Policy Analyst at the Coalition of the Homeless’s Albany office. During this period, he played a critical role in drafting and helping to win passage of New York State’s mental health parity legislation, Timothy’s Law and was a staunch advocate for homeless individuals and adult home residents with behavioral health conditions.

After serving as President of the NYS Rehabilitation Association, Jeff became the first executive director of New York’s Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs in 2013, a new state body aimed at, in his own words, “transforming how the state protects over one million New Yorkers in state operated, certified or licensed facilities and programs.” Under his ‘eyes on the prize’ leadership, the Justice Center has focused on “protecting the health, safety, and dignity of all people with special needs and disabilities through advocacy of their civil rights, prevention of mistreatment, and investigation of all allegations of abuse and neglect so that appropriate actions are taken.”

Since the first time I met him to his tragic passing, he remained a committed defender and advocate for people with disabilities. Jeff’s humility and low key ways sometimes masked his great devotion and passion for our community but, by his actions, he always stood up for us all. He was a kind and very good and decent person who will be greatly missed and his memory long cherished. RIP Jeff.


Below please find words from the Governor and an article by a local newspaper for which he once served as assistant city editor.


Statement by NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo: “I am deeply saddened to learn of Jeff Wise’s sudden passing. As the Executive Director of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs since its founding in 2013, Jeff was a dedicated, exemplary public servant who gave his professional life to the cause of helping those in need. Throughout his career, Jeff worked tirelessly to support vulnerable individuals, including the homeless, people with mental illness, and those with developmental disabilities. His stewardship of the Justice Center has benefitted the lives of people across the state, and he will be greatly missed by all those who worked with him. On behalf of all New Yorkers, my thoughts are with Jeff’s family and friends during this difficult time.”


Longtime Advocate, Attorney And Journalist Jeff Wise Dies In Saratoga

By Zachary Matson Daily Gazette January 18, 2016


Longtime social justice advocate, attorney and former journalist Jeff Wise died Sunday afternoon at Saratoga Hospital. He was 62.


Wise had served as executive director of the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs since it was formed in 2013 after decades crafting legislation, leading nonprofits and advocating for equitable mental-health care and fair treatment of the homeless and people with disabilities.


He started his career as a journalist, first as a sports reporter and city editor at the Post-Star in Glens Falls and later as a reporter and city editor at the Schenectady Gazette.


Wise graduated from Albany Law School in 1987 and set out on his career path as a policy advocate and public servant. He worked at the New York State Law Revision Commission, was a legislative coordinator of the state Federally Qualified Health Centers, spent time with the Coalition for the Homeless, and later served as president of the New York State Rehabilitation Association.


Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised his longtime service on Monday, calling him a “dedicated, exemplary public servant.”


“Throughout his career, Jeff worked tirelessly to support vulnerable individuals,” Cuomo said in a statement. “His stewardship of the Justice Center has benefited the lives of people across the state.”


His friends remember him as a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, amateur horse race handicapper and committed advocate of criminal and social justice.


“He had a tremendous commitment for social justice and concern for the most vulnerable people in society,” said Mark Behan, who was a friend and sometime colleague of Wise’s for 40 years.


At the Gazette, Wise and Denis P. Paquette were promoted to the positions of assistant city editor in May 1984.


“Jeff taught me a good deal about journalism,” Paquette, who later became The Gazette’s managing editor and general manager, said in an email. “A good friend and often a mentor. I’ll miss him.”


Mike Kane, a former longtime Gazette sportswriter, met Wise when both began studies at SUNY Potsdam in 1971.


“Jeff was a philosophy major in college who got out of school without a job,” Kane said, adding that Wise landed a job as a sportswriter at The Post-Star.


“He never told the people at The Post-Star he didn’t know how to type,” Kane added. “He went home after getting the job and spent the weekend teaching himself how to type.”


Kane said journalism was not Wise’s life ambition.


“Once he got the job, he became really good at it,” Kane said. “He was a good writer and he was a good editor, and his career shows that because he rose up, first at The Post-Star and then The Gazette to important positions as a young guy. Early in his 30s, he decided he wanted to go to law school; he wanted to try something different. Most of us don’t have the courage to make a complete career change, and he did that.”


Wise worked on public policy, legislation and issues touching the lives of underserved populations for more than 25 years before he was tasked in 2013 with establishing, staffing and expanding the new state agency, which investigates reports of abuse and neglect of people with special needs.


Behan said he won’t forget days at the horse track with Wise, who thought of himself as a pretty good horse handicapper even if they never won much money.


“He loved the races. He loved watching hockey in Glens Falls. He was a tremendous amount of fun to be with and had a great sense of humor,” Behan said.


Wise is survived by his two daughters, Abigail Wise of Washington, D.C., and Rebecca Wise Melli of Fort Edward; and his sister Gretchen Wise Moore of Glens Falls. His parents -- the Rev. A. King and Jane Stanley Wise -- both of Glens Falls, died before him.


Jeff’s Official Bio


Jeffrey Wise is Executive Director of the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.  He was unanimously confirmed to this position by the New York State Senate on June 19, 2013.


Mr. Wise has worked for more than 25 years on issues of New York public policy, legislation and advocacy involving issues touching on multiple underserved or special populations.  During his tenure as an attorney with the New York State Law Revision Commission, he worked on issues related to New York’s criminal justice system and its implications for people with cognitive disabilities.


After leaving the Commission staff, Wise worked on policy and Medicaid fiscal issues as legislative coordinator for New York’s primary care association representing Federally Qualified Health Centers. He later moved on to become a senior policy analyst with the Manhattan-based Coalition for the Homeless, where he concentrated on mental health issues and the nexus between behavioral health and homelessness. 


More recently, Wise served as president/CEO of the New York State Rehabilitation Association, a statewide association of community not-for-profit providers of supports and services for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, mental health diagnoses, and other disabilities.


During his career in public policy, Wise has been engaged in myriad policy and legislative issues.  He has extensive experience in advocacy efforts, to which he has brought his skills in negotiation, legislative bill drafting, research studies, and policy papers.  Wise was an active member of the Timothy’s Law Campaign, a coalition of organizations and individuals who successfully won the passage of New York’s mental health parity provisions now in state insurance law.  His efforts included serving as principal legislative draftsperson in the Timothy’s Law effort.  Wise also has been active in authoring legislation regarding homeless policy, rent increase exemptions for people with disabilities living in rent-regulated or subsidized housing in New York City and elsewhere, and other matters involving underserved populations.


Wise also has served with several other collaborations/coalitions, including groups involved in adult home reform, mental health reinvestment, fiscal support for state supports and services serving people with disabilities.  He is a past member of the board of directors of the Mental Health Association in New York State, and has served on advisory groups involving service provide agency issues and policies regarding provider compliance with Medicaid regulations and the work of the Medicaid Inspector General.


A graduate of the State University at Potsdam with a BA in philosophy, Wise earned a Juris Doctor degree from Albany Law School.