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.
Kasirer was also the guiding light for the Israeli purchaser of the Plaza Hotel, the El Ad Group, which outraged everyone from Eloise lovers to the hotel workers’ union when it announced plans to turn the place into
multimillion-dollar condos. El Ad won that battle and keeps Kasirer on at $5,000 a month to handle other properties that require special attention from city officials.
None of this has anything to do with her political activity, Kasirer insists. In an e-mail—Kasirer’s communication mode of choice—she said she had also served as a Democratic delegate to the 1996, 2000, and 2004 conventions, and had backed Bill Clinton when he first ran for office.
She also offered this summation of her political creed: “My involvement in Democratic politics, however, long predates my entrance into the business world. I have always been interested in politics as far back as I can remember, and believe strongly in the values and ideals of the Democratic Party.” She added that she has no office in Washington and that “the focus of my business is not federal lobbying.”
The funny thing about Kasirer’s entrance into the business world is that it seemed to come right after she hooked up with her husband, Bruce Teitelbaum, who was then chief of staff to that raging Republican, Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Back in 1999, the Daily News reported that Kasirer was getting some awfully close attention from Giuliani aides in her bid to help investment firm Goldman Sachs with a vital business problem: free street parking for the limos waiting to take executives home.
The mayor responded to this bad news day by announcing that Kasirer could no longer personally lobby his office. Her assistants could, he ruled, just not Kasirer.
Today, if you go down to the wonderful Municipal Archives on Chambers Street, you can roll through page after page of microfilm from the office of Teitelbaum’s former top aide, Anthony Carbonetti, showing diagrams of where those limos parked and the attendant parking regulations—another fine example of the hands-on approach Giuliani brings to politics.
At any rate, Teitelbaum remained a top lieutenant, heading Giuliani’s aborted 2000 campaign for the Senate against an Arkansas import named Hillary Clinton. He later joined the fantastically profitable consulting firm Giuliani Partners. Then, under circumstances which were unclear but decidedly not amicable, Teitelbaum left that company.
Carbonetti, who once fetched Teitelbaum’s coffee, stayed. He now serves as Giuliani’s top political adviser. This proves once again the great Tip O’Neill dictum that “all politics is local.” Suri Kasirer knows this as well as anyone and, if Hillary ever sits again in the Oval Office, the two of them may be able to tackle big issues, like parking regulations on K Street.