Megan Kilgore, auditor for the city of Columbus, Ohio, and Virginia Wong, partner and practice group leader of Project Finance and Public Finance at Nixon Peabody, are the 2023 public and private sector Freda Johnson Award winners.
The awards, given by the , are named for Johnson, a founding board member of the organization and executive vice president and public finance division head at Moody’s Investors Service for nearly two decades. It is given annually to trailblazing women — one in the private sector and one in the public sector — who exemplify the qualities Johnson brought to the industry.
Along with Kilgore and Wong, 12 other honorees from the public and private sectors were chosen by the Northeast Women in Public Finance as Trailblazing Women in Public Finance.
In addition, the Northeast Women in Public Finance will honor Kimberly Lyons, vice president of product at Moody’s Investors Service, with an Excellence in Leadership award, a new addition to this year’s event.
Johnson and the Northeast Women in Public Finance will formally present the awards at The Bond Buyer’s Deal of the Year Awards Gala at Guastavino’s in New York City on Dec. 5.
The date marks the 13th anniversary of the Freda Award and the ninth year the Northeast Women in Public Finance, along with The Bond Buyer, expanded it to cover two public finance professionals, one each from the public and private sectors.
“What I love most about this award is what it represents,” Kilgore said. “Freda broke a number of glass ceilings and because of that, women in finance had the opportunity to be what they could see. But this award is about more than just representation. Freda understood that success and significance were two separate things, and she never stopped using her platform to promote fairness and opportunity. That’s what makes me so proud to get this award.”
Wong echoed this sentiment.
“I know a lot of the women who’ve won this before and so to be in their company is just tremendous. I’m very grateful,” Wong said. “Public finance has always been a more diverse place to practice, and I think it has gotten better in terms of being a more welcoming place for women and people of color.
“It’s certainly not perfect, but it is a world in which I feel you see more diversity because it’s a reflection of the clients we serve,” Wong said.
Johnson said one of the criteria that they look at when choosing the award winners is their involvement with mentoring and supporting other women that they work with, whether it’s a client or it’s internally.
“Both Megan and Virginia had very strong credentials in that area,” Johnson said. Both of them also focus on working with in their respective fields working mothers, people of color and people in the LGBTQ community, Johnson said.
Kilgore and Wong have extensive public finance resumes, which Johnson said, “jumped off the page” in their nominating forms.
Kilgore’s auditor office moved quickly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, offering resources to small businesses and working families, while advising other city leaders on tough decisions to adjust for revenue loss while maintaining essential services.
Columbus emerged from the crisis with its finances in order and the highest level of reserves in the city’s history, maintaining its triple-A ratings.
Kilgore assumed the elected auditor’s office in 2018, where she manages the city’s offices of income tax, financial reporting, debt management, accounting and operations, payroll services, and financial systems. She oversees a nearly $5 billion debt portfolio, $2 billion investment portfolio and administers the collection of about a billion dollars in revenue every year.
Kilgore was a municipal advisor prior to her current role, but she got her start in public finance in the same office she now leads, working for her mentor and predecessor, long-time Auditor Hugh J. Dorrian.
Kilgore is a founder of the Ohio Women in Public Finance group. A fierce advocate for social and economic equity, Kilgore is also the first LGBTQ woman to ever be elected to the Columbus executive branch and has received numerous awards for her leadership in using economic policies to advance the public good.
A native of Southeastern Ohio, Kilgore speaks often about the cost of inequality and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences around the country, representing Columbus. She is also an adjunct professor at her alma mater, the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University, teaching a graduate-level course in public finance.
Wong has served as bond counsel to some of the largest issuers in the country, including the New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority, the Sales Tax Securitization Corporation of Chicago, the Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewer Authority, and the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority. She also served as bond counsel to the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York in financings for the State University of New York , Columbia University, Rockefeller University, St. John’s University, and Teachers College.
Wong led the firm’s bond counsel representation of the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority in connection with the largest municipal restructuring in U.S. history for the Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corporation (COFINA), the general obligation debt and guaranteed debt of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority.
Wong also has represented cultural facilities and not-for-profit corporations in their exempt offerings, including Pace University, The Rockefeller Foundation, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Juilliard School, Carnegie Hall, Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, The Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Botanical Garden.
Wong also was lenders’ counsel and bond counsel on public-private partnership projects around the country including John F. Kennedy Airport New Terminal One redevelopment and expansion; San Juan Cruise Terminals Project; Midtown Tunnel/Elizabeth River Crossings refinancing; LAX Automated People-Mover Project; SR 400 Express Lanes MMIP Project; Long Beach Civic Center Project; I-70 Project; I-66 Outside the Beltway Project; and Goethals Bridge P3.
Johnson noted that mentorship is a key part of the Freda award. The type of mentorship that Kilgore and Wong are creating comes from their own mentors. “I think it happens more today than it did back when I was in the business,” Johnson said. “It’s a very special thing when you have a good solid mentor that you come to with questions and get advice.”
The public finance industry is more important than ever as macroeconomic challenges abound, leading to volatile markets and a slowdown of business.
Additionally, political discord at the federal level makes state and local government more important.
Kilgore said a lot of what is keeping people interested in government, generally, is happening at the state and local governmental level.
“Management has become, I think, more important than it ever has because the complexity is so real in our world,” Kilgore said.
“The best part about public finance is you’re all working together toward something,” Wong said. “It’s not a zero game I win, you lose. It’s a very collaborative industry. So much of what we do is so important to so many people.”
The private sector trailblazers are:
Eden Perry, managing director, head of public finance at S&P Global; Rachel Perlman, director of municipal institutional sales at Stifel; Carol Thompson, partner at Chapman and Cutler LLP; Bethany Pugh, managing director at PFM; Allegra Ivey, managing director at BofA Securities; and Cabray Haines, executive director at Morgan Stanley & Co.
The public sector trailblazers are:
Maureen Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the New York State Environmental Facilities Corp;, Antoinette Chandler, chief financial officer of the Port of Portland, Oregon; Jennifer Wright, project finance and debt director, the Texas Department of Transportation; Cynthia Evangelisti, treasurer of the Chicago Park District; Leslie Norwood, managing director and associate general counsel at SIFMA; and Nicole Conley, managing director at Siebert Williams Shank & Co. LLC.