Hillary's Top Lobbyist

Gotham power Suri Kasirer puts the peddle to the meddle for Clinton

Say this for Hillary Clinton: She is not one of those fainthearted politicians who flees from friends and allies when the going gets tough. Take this vicious ongoing assault on the honorable business of lobbying that has become part and parcel of the hot rhetoric from the big-talk, little-action candidates in the presidential race. You don't see Hillary Clinton taking these cheap shots at a worthy trade. Proof positive of this was offered by the candidate last August when she boldly faced down a hall full of left-wing bloggers furious with her for taking big campaign money from said lobbyists.

"A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans," she told the Yearly Kos Convention in Chicago, as boos and hisses fell like rain. "They represent nurses, they represent social workers," yelled the candidate, defiantly holding her ground. "They represent—yes—they represent corporations that employ a lot of people!"

This courageous stance has understandably helped make Clinton the most popular candidate among the influence peddlers along K Street in Washington. According to Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newsletter that keeps track of these things, Clinton currently leads the candidate pack with 62 lobbyist endorsements. All others eat her dust. Her closest competition is Mitt Romney, who has the backing of 25 such promoters, while John McCain has 20, and Barack Obama has pulled in 18.

Rudy Giuliani, who proclaimed when he was mayor that lobbyists were just a big waste of money (OK, he said it after the press revealed that his political godfather was making a fortune lobbying his administration), is next with 17, while poor Mike Huckabee has just two. John Edwards, who has threatened to arrest any lobbyist who gets near his campaign, predictably has zip.

But this tabulation doesn't count the local, homegrown talent, who know how to hobnob with lawmakers just as well as any big-shot Washington pro. The best example of this is right here in New York, where Gotham's top lobbyist is so fiercely proud of her support of Hillary that she is running as a delegate to the Democratic convention on a Clinton slate on Manhattan's West Side.

Suri Kasirer has ranked No. 1 in the annual standings of city lobbyists for the past two years. Her Kasirer Consulting topped $3 million in revenue in 2006. This set a city record that had New York's own K Street crowd popping champagne corks—since it was reached after the City Council imposed what it insisted were tough new lobbying restrictions.

Preliminary figures show that Kasirer's firm did even better in 2007, good enough for another title. Kasirer is as hot in her business as the New England Patriots are in theirs. She has also demonstrated great prowess as a political fundraiser, and she has handled the financial fortunes of City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who wants to be mayor, although both she and Thompson maintain that she never knocks on his door on her clients' behalf.

When she does knock, she is by most accounts charming and reasonable in her approach. "She knows when to stop," said one city pol, voicing one of the nicest things ever said about a lobbyist. She is also appropriately discreet, declining most requests to discuss her business, including this one.

"To what do I owe this pleasure?" Kasirer asked politely in an e-mail before begging off an invitation to have an actual conversation about the possible intersection between the lobbying trade and a second Clinton White House.

In fact, the possibilities for such cross-fertilization are many. Kasirer's current client roster includes the Motion Picture Association of America and NBC Universal, both of which are shelling out $10,000 a month for her help on pesky tax issues.

Then there's Cemusa, a Spanish company that Kasirer helped land a $1.2 billion deal to build and put ads on city bus shelters, newsstands, and the handful of public toilets. Cemusa, which hopes to expand, has signed Kasirer up for an unusual five-year contract at $9,000 a month.

Cemusa's law firm, DLA Piper, bills itself as the world's second-largest legal company and is happy to pay Kasirer a whopping $18,000 each month to promote its own interests with City Hall.

The lobbyist also represents a defense contractor—Thales North America—that's vying to build the electronic fence that Mayor Bloomberg wants for his congestion-pricing plan ($10,000 per month), a major power-plant firm (U.S. Power Generating Co., also $10,000), and a national for-profit home-care corporation (ResCare, $6,000), as well as a delightful outfit called Omnilink Systems that makes "offender-monitoring devices" for law enforcement ($5,000).

These are in addition to Kasirer's longtime stock in trade, which has been the representation of developers with big plans that tend to make a lot of people unhappy. She represents Clipper Equities, the real-estate company headed by investor David Bistricer, who bought Brooklyn's sprawling Starrett City last year only to be shot down by everyone from Andrew Cuomo to George Bush's HUD secretary, who said his high-priced plan would push working families into the street. (Hmm. Wouldn't a President Clinton get to name her own HUD chief?) Bistricer, who has plenty of other irons in the city's fires, keeps Kasirer on retainer for $10,000 per month.

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