Influence Peddlers

Trade secrets of the city's fastest-growing lobbying firm

That's its response for Entergy, a giant utility that paid Parkside $78,000 last year to help make sure a pesky council resolution calling for the shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear plant wasn't resurrected. And that's also the response for each of the 30 not-for-profit organizations (most of them Queens-based) that pay Parkside $4,000 to $6,000 per month for very different assistance—to help win council funding grants (the firm has a near perfect batting average).

"You want to have as broad a category as possible so that you are not leaving anyone out. It is consciously broad," explained Giannoulis. "You don't want to be uninclusive," added Stavisky.

Pressed as to whether the stickers complied with even the clerk's minimal rules, Giannoulis later acknowledged he had somehow missed the instructions calling for specific answers that are posted on the city's website. "We may have some refiling to do," he said.

The Parkside Group's office suite on Nassau Street
photo: Keith Bedford
The Parkside Group's office suite on Nassau Street

But the lobbyists still remain the soul of discretion when asked exactly what they do for their customers. What about Fresh Direct, the fast-growing (and non-union) home grocery delivery company whose trucks now crowd city streets, and which paid Parkside $48,000 last year? "I don't think for the purposes of this interview we are going to discuss what we do for individual clients," said Stavisky.

On the other hand, they're happy to describe the method behind their fast rise to the top: "We are very good and we work really hard," said Giannoulis. "It is a lot of work. It is hard work. You start from morning and you go to night, and you work weekends."

Connections also help. Driscoll, the eldest of the trio, declined to be interviewed about his own work habits, but he has labored for decades for various Queens pols, including serving as chief of staff to former congressman Tom Manton, who has ruled the Queens Democratic Party organization since shortly after its 1980s scandals.

The job brought its perks. Between 1995 and 2001, Driscoll, an attorney, pulled in more than $320,000 in fees from guardianship appointments he received from judges installed by Manton. Even after 1998, when he became part-time counsel to the Queens County clerk, he kept getting the appointments—though he should have been banned from further guardianships, as a 2000 Newsday article noted. How had that issue been resolved?

"As our business was growing he stopped doing the things in question, so it became kind of moot," said Stavisky.

Yet Manton's shadow looms over much of the firm's success. Parkside has run winning campaigns for many candidates backed by the Queens Democratic machine. "We have been proud to be on the right side of some of Tom Manton's right choices," said Giannoulis, citing the firm's campaign work for the city's first Asian American elected official (Councilman John Liu), as well as the borough's first Latino (Assemblyman José Peralta).

But the firm isn't about to buck Manton's choices.

Parkside initially backed a Democratic organization candidate against Queens councilman James Gennaro in the 2001 election. It was Gennaro, chair of the council's environmental committee, who introduced the anti-nuke resolution that Parkside has vigorously opposed on behalf of its utility client. The resolution died, opposed by an overwhelming majority, and has not been reintroduced. When Gennaro ran for re-election last year, this time with Democratic organization support, Parkside ran his campaign. A Gennaro spokesman said the two events were unrelated, as did Giannoulis.

"This is the complete opposite of a problem," said the lobbyist. "This shows that a political client of ours can have a different position than our lobbying client."

Giannoulis himself has enjoyed his own patronage perks. In 1998, he was appointed by former council leader Peter Vallone to the city's taxi commission. The following year, Giannoulis was listed as the intermediary for some $10,000 worth of contributions from taxi industry figures to Vallone's failed mayoral campaign. Giannoulis acknowledged that such solicitations would be improper but insisted the filings were a mistake, one he had tried to correct: "I was there, but I never raised money. They were supposed to have clarified that a long time ago." Vallone's campaign treasurer, however, said the filings were accurate and that he had no recollection of Giannoulis complaining about it.

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