Leadership

Executive Board

President, Omar Franco

Omar Franco is a lobbyist in the Government Law & Lobbying Practice of Becker & Poliakoff and is the Managing Director of the Washington D.C. office. A former Chief of Staff to U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Omar has an insider’s knowledge of U.S. Congress and the Federal agencies. Since starting his lobbying practice, he has served as the lead government relations representative for Florida Gulf Coast University, Secure Wrap, Inc., Medical HealthCare Plans, and the municipalities of Hialeah, Miami Lakes and North Bay Village. Over the last three years he has worked on federal issues for the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, Stratus Pharmaceuticals, Pacer Health and FalconTrust Air, among others.

While serving as Chief of Staff for more than four years, Omar managed Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart’s Washington D.C. and District operations and closely counseled the Congressman in his areas of expertise which include federal appropriations, health care, higher education and issues dealing with the state of Florida.

Vice President, Susie Santana

Susan I. Santana serves as Assistant Vice President, Federal Relations for AT&T. In this capacity, Ms. Santana is responsible for representing AT&T’s legislative interests before the U.S. Congress. Prior to this role, Susan served on the External Affairs team of AT&T, developing and managing long-term strategic relationships with key constituency groups to positively impact their understanding of and communication with AT&T. Prior to AT&T, Ms. Santana served as Government Affairs Counsel for Dell Incorporated. Her responsibilities included conveying Dell’s key policy messages and business interests to the U.S. House and Senate in the areas of Trade, Energy & Environment, Telecom, Diversity and Education. Prior to going in-house, Ms. Santana was a senior associate in the area of Corporate Diversity Counseling in the Public Policy Group of Holland & Knight. She assisted clients on diversity-related issues such as minority business procurement, workforce diversity, strategic business partnering, community outreach and government relations.

Before that, Ms. Santana served as the Executive Director of the Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation in Washington, DC. In this capacity, she was charged with implementing the Foundation’s programs and overseeing the administration and operational duties. In 1998, Ms. Santana was a corporate attorney for the international law firm of Baker and McKenzie in San Diego, California specializing in cross-border transactions. During her tenure there, Ms. Santana was elected to serve as the General Counsel for the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to practicing law, Ms. Santana received a fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and clerked for a federal judge on the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. She received her bachelor’s degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, and earned her law degree in from UCLA School of Law.

She has served on the Board of Directors for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and the Hispanic Bar Association of D.C. She is currently a Board member of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Education Fund and the HNBA Education Fund. She is the past President of the Hispanic Bar Association of DC, and has been recognized with various honors including the Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility’s Young Hispanic Corporate Achiever Award.

Treasurer, Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto

Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto is a Legislative Representative for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The AFL-CIO is a voluntary federation of 57 national and international labor unions that represents 12.2 million members, including 3.2 million members in Working America, its community affiliate. Mrs. DiBitetto advocates on the AFL-CIO’s behalf for immigration, public safety and wage theft legislative issues.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO, she was Legislative Affairs Specialist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). At AFSCME, she covered a broad array of legislative issues; lead primary campaigns in Nevada, California, Texas and Puerto Rico; and coordinated Hispanic voter outreach efforts.  Mrs. DiBitetto holds a Juris Doctor degree from the George Washington University Law School and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the American University.

Secretary, Brandon Declet

Brandon Torres Declet serves as Vice President at McAllister & Quinn and currently leads its Defense, Homeland security and Intelligence practice. Brandon brings more than a decade of experience working among senior government officials at the federal, state and local level. Prior to joining McAllister & Quinn he served as Counsel to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the Senate Judiciary Committee and as Counsel to Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Brandon has experience in the appropriations process as well as developing legislative and policy initiatives in the areas of homeland security, judiciary, transportation, defense, technology, and intelligence. He was previously a Senior Fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) at George Washington University, an advisor to the New York City Police Department (NYPD) Counter Terrorism Bureau and an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University. He also served as a senior analyst with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), specializing in defense related policy issues. Brandon earned a B.A. from Union College, a J.D. from the Fordham University School of Law and an L.L.M. from the Georgetown University Law Center. He is a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association. He serves on the boards of the Hispanic Lobbyists Association and the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council.

Board Members At-Large

Cristina Antelo

Cristina Antelo is a Principal at the Podesta Group where she handles a diverse range of legislative, administrative, and policy issues. She represents national and international clients on health care, litigation, trademark, appropriations, and trade issues before the Executive Branch, Congress, and the courts. Ms. Antelo counsels her clients on the development and implementation of comprehensive strategic plans to address specific needs or broader policy interests that require attention by the federal government.

Ms. Antelo serves on the board of the Hispanic Bar Association of DC Foundation. She is a founding member of the Hispanic Lobbying Association and in late 2007 was elected to its board. Before joining the Podesta Group, Ms. Antelo was a Legal Fellow on the Senate Democratic Steering Committee chaired by Senators Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle, focusing her work on Latino outreach and constituent issues.

Prior to her legal career, Ms. Antelo was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs & Co for several years. She was a financial analyst in the company’s Private Wealth Management Division in New York with an operational focus on high-net-worth individuals. Her responsibilities included margin account management, compliance with regulatory requirements, and reporting. Ms. Antelo later joined the trading floor in Los Angeles to gain trading and portfolio management expertise and was promoted to associate. She was a NASD (now FINRA) Registered Representative completing her Series 7 and 63 licenses.

She is a native speaker of Spanish.

 

Larry Gonzalez

The former head of NALEO’s Washington, DC office and an experienced participant in policy-making at the federal and state levels, Larry Gonzalez helps clients develop and implement comprehensive strategic plans to engage the Latino community and Hispanic members of Congress.

Larry joined The Raben Group in 2006 and is a leader in the LatinStrategies practice group. In addition, Larry represents a growing client portfolio before the House and Senate banking and judiciary committees. A leader in numerous legislative battles, Larry has a deep understanding of the importance of coalition building and the nuances of the policy making process.

Prior to joining TRG, Larry was the Washington, DC director for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, a nationally recognized association of more than 5,000 Latino public officials.

Before moving to Washington D.C., he served as a legislative aide in the Illinois State Senate. Larry also worked as an aide for the Cook County, Illinois Board of Commissioners and as director of communications at the Cook County Clerk’s office. He has extensive political campaign experience, having run successful state senate, state representative and county board campaigns.

Larry was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and holds a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism from Western Illinois University.

Maritza Kelley

Maritza Kelley is the Senior Director of Advocacy and Legislative Affairs for First Focus,an organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy decisions.   In this role she works closely with the First Focus team to implement strategies to support First Focus’ priority initiatives.

Before coming to First Focus, Maritza worked as an Associate at the Ibarra Strategy Group, where she handled a diverse portfolio of non-profit and corporate clients, advancing their public policy goals with elected officials, communities of color and advocacy organizations.  Prior to joining ISG, she worked four years at the Texas State Capitol.  During the 2009 81st Legislature, she led the policy direction and coordinated consensus building among 44 Members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the largest and oldest Latino caucus in the United States.  During the 2007 80th Legislature, she worked as a research analyst at Moak, Casey and Associates, providing in-depth analyses of education legislation for client school districts.

Maritza attended graduate school at the University of Texas Austin, receiving a Master’s of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and a Master’s of Arts from the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.  She holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Latin American and Latino Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz.  In 2008, she was selected to join a team of researchers to execute the study, “Risk and Vulnerability Assessment in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic,” which received the 2010 American Planning Association National Award for Best Applied Research Project.  In 2007, she was the recipient of a Ford Motor Company Social Enterprise Fellowship to provide consultation to an NGO in Puebla, Mexico.

She is a native speaker of Spanish.

Rich Lopez

Rich Lopez currently serves as Director of Federal Government Affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers whose membership is comprised of over 85 percent of the world’s automakers who have a presence in the United States.  In his role at the Alliance, Rich works with the Hispanic community on issues of concern to the auto industry, formulates coalitions with Hispanic groups that hold similar auto related interests and helps organize Hispanic representatives from each of the auto companies to discuss issues of concern to the community and where the industry can be of assistance.
Prior to being recruited by the Alliance, Rich was Executive Director of Legislative Affairs at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) where he helped promote Latino issues such as the DREAM Act and the Latino Museum to Senators, Members of Congress and their staff. 

He also worked with Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) to help them navigate Congress and department reauthorization bills to expand research and development grants to HSIs whose main focus was on specific sectors of the economy that lacked Hispanic representation.  Rich also spent many years on Capitol Hill as the Executive Director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s political arm, BOLD PAC, and as Senior Legislative Assistant / Deputy Floor Director for Congressman Joe Baca.  He also spent several years working for Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, both on his re-election campaign in Nevada and in his Washington DC office as Director of Advance and Legislative Correspondent.

Rich has remained active in Hispanic politics and continues to provide support to both the community as well as to candidates seeking both federal and state office.  He sees the next generation of Latinos as the future of the country and has been a mentor to Hispanic staff through the CHSA mentor/mentee program and through social activities both on and off the Hill.  As a HLA founding board member and recently re-elected board member, Rich would like to continue his efforts to assist the community and those that are looking to rise in the political realm as Congressional staff, corporate professional and/or an elected official.

Rich is a native Texan that has spent the last 12 years working in DC with a short stint in Austin at the Texas Legislature, where he got his political start as a Senate Messenger over 15 years ago.  He has two older brothers and spends his time traveling around the world learning about the vastly different communities and cultures each country provides.  He loves DC and often calls it his adopted home and has no plans of leaving anytime soon.

Jana Lozano

Jana Lozano joined the University of Texas System in 2011 and currently handles federal relations for nine universities and six health institutions.  Prior to this, Jana spent four years in the office of Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz, most recently as Legislative Director.  During her time with Congressman Ortiz, Jana oversaw several key legislative portfolio issues, including health care reform, appropriations, and the Congressman’s Transportation & Infrastructure committee assignment.  Ms. Lozano earned a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science from Texas Christian University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health through The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Isaac Reyes

Isaac Reyes has more than fifteen years of experience in government and public affairs.  Before joining Target Corporation’s Government Affairs office, Mr. Reyes was at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the Director of Congressional & Public Affairs.  Prior to working at the Chamber, he was a principal in the government relations firm of Austin, Copelin & Reyes, specializing in the design and execution of successful legislative policy and political strategies. Mr. Reyes served as a Policy Advisor under Senator Tom Daschle’s Democratic Policy Committee, where he worked with all Democratic Senators and staff to build consensus and implement policy to advance goals of the Democratic Leadership.  Mr. Reyes also served as Legislative Director for Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-TX).  Additionally, Mr. Reyes served as an advisor to Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in the critical swing state of New Mexico.

Estuardo Rodriguez, Jr.

Estuardo Rodriguez, Jr. serves as the Counsel on Media and Communications at The Raben Group where he brings years of experience with media and message development consultation, in addition to extensive experience with government affairs and specialized marketing to Hispanic communities.

Mr. Rodriguez works with a number of non-profit organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) as well as private sector companies that include V-me Media, Inc. (V-me) and The Home Depot. His work involves development of messaging campaigns, grassroots outreach, legislative monitoring, federal lobbying and coalition building.

Mr. Rodriguez currently leads an initiative supporting Congressman Xavier Becerra’s National Museum of the American Latino Community Commission Act, which calls for the creation of a national museum in Washington, D.C. to house the cultural contributions and experience of Hispanic Americans. Mr. Rodriguez works closely with both parties in the House and Senate to garner support for the bill. He and the firm have worked to create the infrastructure for a non-profit organization that will unify the resources, supporters and partners that will ultimately make this museum a reality.

Prior to joining The Raben Group, Mr. Rodriguez was an independent consultant and attorney providing political marketing and media relation services in New York and Washington, D.C. In addition, he worked closely with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during the 2004 presidential race to manage and direct their media relations effort on a three-state bus tour through Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. He worked closely with House members Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA), Xavier Becerra (CA), Grace Napolitano (CA), civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, former Secretary Federico Peña and others during that campaign.

Prior to his independent consultancy, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), through Cohn & Wolfe – New York, engaged Mr. Rodriguez to promote a national diabetes education and awareness initiative in top U.S. Hispanic markets. The effort brought national exposure to the campaign through national television programs on Telemundo, more than 50 Spanish language newspapers, and several national and top market Spanish language radio programs and networks.

Mr. Rodriguez began his professional law career at the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, where he worked as an attorney under Secretary Henry Cisneros and later Secretary Andrew Cuomo. His focus was federal program enforcement, which entailed filing complaints against and debarring individuals and companies who misappropriated or mismanaged funds secured through HUD programs.

Raised in Washington, D.C., Mr. Rodriguez received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Philosophy from Barry International Catholic University in Miami, Fl., and his Juris Doctor from St. John’s University School of Law in New York City. Mr. Rodriguez is a co-founder and President of the Hispanic Lobbyists Association, a member of the Hispanic Bar Association of D.C. and a Board Member of the Fairfax County Medical Care for Children Partnership.

Santiago A. Vaca

Lt Col (ret) Santiago “Rico” Vaca is a senior policy advisor in the Public Policy and Regulation
Practice Group. He joined the firm following a distinguished 21-year military career in the Air Force,
including several overseas deployments and direct work with the United States Congress. Mr. Vaca
focuses his practice on appropriations, defense policy, acquisitions and regulatory issues, DOD
renewable energy initiatives and client concerns related to national security. He has a deep
understanding of the congressional budget, appropriations and authorization processes, as well as
significant experience with Department of Defense organizational issues, policy directives, and
military programs and procedures.

Mr. Vaca joined Holland & Knight in 2009, following four years of experience working in Congress as
the primary Air Force budget and appropriations liaison to the Senate and House Appropriations
Committees. In this capacity, he developed a keen understanding of all major Air Force programs
and requirements, including F-22, F-35 and KC-X tanker programs. He assisted in crafting and
implementing Air Force communications strategies for all service priorities seeking congressional
approval and funding. Additionally, Mr. Vaca directed and led more than two dozen worldwide
congressional fact finding missions for senators, members of Congress and congressional staff to
more than 30 countries and nearly all 50 states.

Mr. Vaca was a command pilot and mission commander with more than 3,200 hours in the F-15C, F-
16 and T-38. Prior to his congressional assignments, Mr. Vaca served as the chief of Air Combat
Operations for United States Forces Korea, where he oversaw all flight operations over the Korean
Peninsula. He acted as a professional adversary threat instructor pilot with the 64th Aggressor
Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base and served as the chief of Combat Operations during Operation
Enduring Freedom at Price Sultan Air Base in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He maintains a top secret
clearance.