New York City’s top 10 lobbyists in 2016

A list of New York City’s top 10 lobbyists in 2016

For lobbyists, no news is usually good news.

Lobbyists operate behind the scenes, meeting with elected and appointed officials to advocate for and against legislation or regulations on behalf of a variety of nonprofit and for-profit parties. In their profession, success is measured by achieving the best possible outcome for a client.

But each spring when the New York City clerk issues the annual lobbying report, the firms who land at the top of the city’s lobbying list are happy to be in the headlines. In 2016, the top 10 city lobbying firms included a lot of familiar faces, with Capalino+Company, Kasirer and Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin still rounding out the top three. One thing that has changed is the total money spent on lobbying, which rose to $95.4 million from $86.2 million the year before.

Along with the countdown of New York City’s top lobbyists, we checked in with all 10 firms to learn how they deliver for their clients, the ways that the industry is changing and where they expect to land on the list a year from now.

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10. Geto & de Milly Inc.

michele de milly

Compensation: $2,532,002.00

Last Year's Rank: No. 9

Principal, Michele de Milly

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

It’s a love of public policy issues. It’s a network of people in those arenas that you have developed over the years. I worked for state government, we’re talking 35 years ago. My partner came out of city government and held posts at all levels of government. I learned a great deal from my years in the government regarding economic development, public policy, transportation issues, environmental issues. We’re a very substantive firm. We are knowledgeable about all these issues and they became the center of the practice.

Who are your top clients? Or, what areas do you specialize in?

It falls into a few categories. We represent a lot of property owners that are health care institutions and educational institutions. So its very nonprofit-oriented in that way. And we also represent private developers who are seeking to build in all five boroughs. And we help our not-for-profit clients achieve their funding through the budgetary process. We have some corporate clients as well.

It’s a real mix, which is very much a measure of our interests and personalities. Both Ethan Geto and myself come out of government and we’re policy wonks. We’re very committed to public policy issues.

How does lobbying in the de Blasio era compare to the Bloomberg years?

They’re more alike than they are different, but there’s a difference in priorities. The priority of de Blasio has been some of the largest affordable housing development we’ve seen. For Bloomberg, I think it was about managing the city, getting a grip on the city and getting a way of managing it more efficiently. The corporate and private sector experience he brought to the table was how he sought to manage the city.

The big distinction was Bloomberg wasn’t involved in politics and fundraising in the same way.

9. Manatt

katie schwab

Compensation: $2,629,806.41

Last Year's Rank: No. 8

Managing Director, Katie Schwab

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

A successful lobbyist has a combination of skills. You need to be a quick study. You need to be enthusiastic. You need to be genuinely interested in collaborating and finding solutions that work both for the public and for the institution of the city and, of course, for the clients you represent. That’s the challenge, and that’s what makes it interesting and fun. And I feel very proud of our team here. This practice is about the collective strength of the people here.

I started out in city government. I worked in the Dinkins administration and in the Giuliani administration, and then I meandered through the nonprofit world. Having served in government allows me to understand the perspective of the decision-makers on the other side. The perspective of someone in an agency is different than the perspective of someone in an elected office.

Where do you think you'll rank on the top 10 list next year?

Our objective for next year is to continue to provide first-rate service in a very competitive and closely watched field. I think our services are more important and relevant than ever.

I think there are tremendous changes in Washington that will have a domino effect at the state and city level. It will be more important than ever to be aware of what those changes are and to address them. What’s interesting is the breadth of concern. The Community Development Block Grant cuts have such diverse implications and a really diverse array of clients called in asking what could they do to resist that. It’s very rare that we’ll feel the impact for the federal legislative proposal so acutely and so immediately. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of that unfortunately.

8. Greenberg Traurig

john mascialino

Compensation: $2,835,415.46

Last Year's Rank: No. 6

Chairman, New York Government Law & Policy Practice, John Mascialino

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

You have to understand what your clients' needs and goals are ... you have to understand the city and the regulatory system, and how to accomplish those goals, and how to make everybody come out a winner in the end. All of us at one time had spent time in elected or appointed office in city or state government, and all of our experience has come in handy.

Who are your top clients? Or, what areas do you specialize in?

The firm has always had real estate as one of its core practices, and a lot of our work is in the developer community. The largest portfolio of clients that we have are real estate, affordable housing and development.

How does lobbying in the de Blasio era compare to the Bloomberg years?

Any change in administration, there’s always a change in priorities. Even each year in a mayoral administration, things could change depending on the economic climate and the other areas of the government. To be a good lobbyist you have to go with the flow, figure out what the priorities are.

Where do you think you'll rank on the top 10 list next year?

We’ll see how the new year brings changes in what our clients' needs are. But the lobbying numbers have been going up, and I don’t feel like that’s going down. A lot of businesses are starting to realize that dealing with the government is not the same as dealing business to business. I think as governments look to do more private-public partnership and invest in private industry, more firms need firms like Greenberg Traurig to navigate all these things they’ve never had to deal with before.

7. Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP

jeffrey braun

Compensation: $3,039,528.20

Last Year's Rank: New to list

Counsel, Jeffrey Braun

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

Our clients see us primarily as lawyers, not lobbyists. They come to us because we have tremendous expertise in city laws and city processes in city zoning, historic preservation, land use. We have a reputation in the real estate industry for excellence and integrity. That’s the main reason our clients come to us.

What’s unique about New York City in terms of lobbying?

To me, there are two very unusual things about New York. One thing is its very complex and sophisticated laws that govern real estate. So it’s a field that really calls for substantive knowledge and expertise in that area.

And the second thing is that city agencies have extensive permanent professional staff, and those staff have extensive knowledge and experience themselves. The city really has a cadre of professionals, but suburban and rural communities don’t have that kind of infrastructure.

Who are your top clients? Or, what areas do you specialize in?

The work that we do in lobbying is exclusively legal work in the land use area. We have an extensive client list. We represent large developers and small developers, lenders and financial institutions that are getting involved in real estate, individuals that own a residence and not-for profits like museums and hospitals.

Where do you think you'll rank on the top 10 list next year?

The thing is that our work really fluctuates from year to year. It depends on the market, it depends on what our particular clients’ needs are. And in terms of what constitutes lobbying, it depends on where a project is, whether it has advanced to the point where you’re doing things that are classified as lobbying. Lately, the real estate industry has been very active, so we’re certainly hoping to have a busy year.

6. Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP

sid davidoff

Compensation: 3,108,056.75

Last Year's Rank: No. 7

Senior Partner, Sid Davidoff

What’s unique about New York City in terms of lobbying?

Almost everything. You’re dealing with a City Council that’s very progressive. You’ve got local advocates on almost every issue. Everybody has an opinion and they state it. You’ve got to deal with a massive bureaucracy of 300,000 people. For other cities, being in the city government is a part-time job. It’s different when you’re dealing with a full-time Legislature than dealing with another city that is very much part-time.

Who are your top clients? Or, what areas do you specialize in?

We run the gamut. We consider ourselves a mid-size New York firm that deals with basically New York businesses that have concerns with things like licensing and land use, particularly in the boroughs. We have a lot of people who do business with the city who are architects and contractors and engineers, or have issues with their private projects. We do a lot of liquor licensing, which involves the state, but also involves going before community boards. I’m renegotiating the lease for the Hunts Point produce and fish markets. That involves everything from food issues, health issues, overland transportation issues, railroad issues.

We also have a lot of not-for-profits, which is always a concern at budget time because of the allocations that come out of the City Council and state Legislature. We go back and forth in the not-for-profit world and the for-profit business.

Where do you think you'll rank on the top 10 list next year?

We’re growing. You have a much more active City Council than you’ve had in past years. As you have people going through this massive bureaucracy and dealing with the City Council, the need for us is growing.

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5. Constantinople & Vallone Consulting LLC

Perry Vallone and Anthony Constantinople

Compensation: $3,670,492.00

Last Year's Rank: No. 5

Principals, Perry Vallone and Anthony Constantinople

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

PV: A reputation for honesty. Our fathers founded the firm, so a reputation for honesty precedes us.

AC: And that reputation attracts the clients that want to do the right thing for New York.

PV: My father’s approach was to do the right thing for the city. The elected officials know when we bring someone to the table, we’re bringing someone that’s trying to do something good for the city.

What’s unique about New York City in terms of lobbying?

PV: Not necessarily unique to New York City, but new to New York City is that term limits are now in place in the City Council. Part of our job is to navigate that changing landscape. In 2021, we’re going to see a changing over in the City Council of 40-plus seats. So we’re staying in touch with community leaders and current council members about who’s looking to take their place and who they’re supporting, and figuring out who the speaker candidates will be, figuring out who’s putting together the coalitions and who’s got the support of the county. And we pass that along to our clients. Depending on who the new members are and the new leadership, it may change the way the initiatives and the policy are implemented in the city and if we can give or clients a leg up, the better off they’ll be.

I think a lot of folks who will be running for council come from two places: the community boards, and we are seeing more folks run for council who are already elected officials, like Bill Perkins.

This year, we even have a candidate coming out of our firm, Keith Powers, running for Council member Daniel Garodnick’s seat because Council member Garodnick is term limited.

4. Bolton-St. Johns

emily giske

Compensation: $3,693,827.57

Last Year's Rank: No. 4

Partner, Emily Giske

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

The No. 1 thing is to know how to move and shake in New York City. You have to have a New Yorker mindset. The great thing about New York City is you can be a New Yorker if you came here a month ago, a year ago, or if you lived here your whole life like me. You really have to have an organic love for the city, and you can never lose your empathy for New Yorkers, for other people.

What’s unique about New York City in terms of lobbying?

New York City has its own industries and its own rhythms. Washington, D.C., for instance, is really a one-company town. In Albany it’s really based on the Capitol. But in New York, government is just one piece of a big mosaic. So you have to get that it’s not all about politics, it’s about people in life every day.

Who are your top clients? Or, what areas do you specialize in?

We don’t specialize in one thing. We have some entertainment, we have some health care and some not-for-profits. We represent the New York Immigration Coalition, which has had some really tough issues recently. And we represent a lot of tech, which I think will be up there with real estate in a few years.

Where do you think you'll rank on the top 10 list next year?

Well, of course, we want to be climbing like a bullet. One of the things we’re very proud of is that we have a lot of young up-and-comers. We have a lot of people who made the 40 under 40 list. We feel like our bench is really good, and we’re really looking forward to seeing it grow.

3. Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin

john del giorno

Compensation: $4,013,285.77

Last Year's Rank: No. 3

Partner, Jon Del Giorno

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

There are a couple factors. One is the ability to be a good listener, to hear out your client, to hear what their needs are, and not imposing yourself on them. Obviously, having a Rolodex, knowing people not just at the top level, but knowing career public officials, and knowing the advocacy world because they become partners. I was in government for 21 years. I started out as an intern when was in high school with the City Council. I’d gotten to know many people over the years in the political world, in the not-for-profit world and the labor world. The last and most important one is your word. You might have a lot of clients, but you’ll lose them if your word doesn’t mean anything.

What’s unique about New York City in terms of lobbying?

Term limits are a major factor down here in the city. It’s been much more stable up in Albany. People who’ve been in the Senate and the Assembly for a long time. There are a lot more people at the table in New York City. In Albany, you’re dealing with more or less four bodies: Jeff Klein, John Flanagan, the governor and Carl Heastie. Down here, you’ve got a whole bunch of people you have to deal with.

Where do you think you'll rank on the top 10 list next year?

Just looking at these numbers, more and more industries and businesses are turning toward consulting and lobbying firms to assist them. Things are being piloted or demonstrated in New York, and being picked up and replicated in other places. And I see for my firm more and more growth in that area. New York is taking the lead on being a sanctuary city, indigent services for immigrants and municipal ID, and these are being replicated across the country.

2. Kasirer

suri kasirer

Compensation: $10,304,683.49

Last Year's Rank: No. 2

President, Suri Kasirer

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

I would say the most important thing in being a successful lobbyist is understanding New York City. You really have to understand politics and how people work. In New York City, you’re dealing with term limits, so you can’t rely on a relationship. People think of lobbying as a relationship business, but you can’t be in this business if all you do is know people. It’s not the old-school approach where you just know somebody and ask for a favor.

We have a much more strategic approach: why is this thing good, and how do we get influencers and lots of people supporting an effort. And once we have a strategic plan, we try to be nimble: evaluate current politics, current news, how that will support or affect the plan that we’ve put together.

What’s unique about New York City in terms of lobbying?

New Yorkers are very informed. They’re very savvy. They’re not afraid to take a position. People are very involved in civic life and the media is very active here weighing in on issues at every level. Everybody has an opinion, so you really have to engage in a very deep way to advocate for a change.

Who are your top clients? Or, what areas do you specialize in?

We have a not-for-profit group, corporate clients and a significant portion of the business is real estate. We’ve represented some of our clients for 10, 15, 20 years. When you know a client for a long time, you have a sense of their values and how they operate and you can really be their eyes and ears in political circles.

We’ve had a couple of big achievements over the last year. One is the Trans World Airlines terminal project. We represent the company that won the bid in 2015, and this year went through 22 government agencies to get this process off the ground. We also took two major corporate mergers through city approval: Charter that bought Time Warner, and Altice that bought Cablevision.

1. Capalino+Company

james capalino

Compensation: $13,485,445.46

Last Year's Rank: No. 1

CEO, James Capalino

What does it take to be a successful lobbyist in New York City?

I’ve always had a very strong bias with respect to the composition of our team, toward people who have had experience in city government. I’ve found people who have had experience balancing all those competing interests, and the interest of the mayor, are usually in a position to be effective advocates. It’s not exactly the fog of war, but sometimes, it’s pretty intense.

How does lobbying in the de Blasio era compare to the Bloomberg years?

If there’s a difference, it probably has something to do with the challenges that were being faced. Mike Bloomberg spent the first term of the administration guiding the city’s recovery from 9/11. For almost four years, almost everything revolved around recovery for the city. And then in the second term, then the Bloomberg administration was able to get back to arm-wrestling with the Council and having fights with the comptroller.

The current administration has a very clear platform of social and economic objectives that the mayor has been very dogged in trying to achieve. But with the new federal administration, this city is in for a rough few years. The budget is going to have catastrophic implications for the city. We’ve been telling all our human service clients that this is a nine-alarm fire. And the mayor’s leadership is very important, which is one reason he’s spent a lot of time focusing on what the Trump administration wants to do.

Where do you think you'll rank on the top 10 list next year?

I think we will continue to strategically grow. We added some new members to our team in the last six weeks. We believe that there’s a continuing crisis over federal policy and the denial of climate change that will produce important opportunities for us. What we’re really focused on, more so than where we rank in terms of revenue, is maintaining the longevity of client relationships. And I am very proud that in the roster of 250-plus clients, there are more than a few that I’ve represented for over 20 years.