A big paycheck requires a deep Rolodex.
When a business, union or nonprofit hands a lobbyist five or six figures, it is not just paying for charm. Big-dollar operators command such compensation because of their knowledge of government and politics—and connections to key elected officials and power brokers.
The 10 biggest lobbying firms in New York City have built their businesses on access and savvy. Here’s how they did it.
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Suri Kasirer, erstwhile aide to Gov. Mario Cuomo, started her firm in 1995 as her husband, Bruce Teitelbaum, was rising through the ranks of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration. The power couple’s relationship and Kasirer’s channels of communication with key city figures caught the notice of some good-government advocates as the Republican administration entered its twilight. But Kasirer’s career was just dawning. By 2006 she had the most lucrative lobbying operation in town. The founder became one of the city’s biggest fundraisers, amassing cash for Hillary Clinton, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and many others. Meanwhile, her clientele grew to include some of the biggest names in real estate, including El Ad, Extell and SL Green.
She hasn’t slowed down. Last year Kasirer bundled $56,030 for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s re-election campaign. And this year one of her firm’s vice presidents, Jason Goldman, became new Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s chief of staff. Senior Vice President Julie Greenberg, for her part, served as Comptroller Scott Stringer’s chief of staff during his time in the Assembly.
“This is a business built on trust and reputation over the long haul,” Kasirer said. “Our team has decades of combined experience in government and advocacy at all levels.”
2. James F. Capalino & Associates
For a few years, Capalino was king. James Capalino’s eponymous firm surpassed Kasirer as the city’s top lobbyist in 2014, Bill de Blasio’s first year as mayor, and the common assumption was that its revenues rose because of its chief’s ties with the mayor. A former campaign manager for Mayor Ed Koch, Capalino was an aggressive fundraiser and supporter of de Blasio in the 2013 primary, and word quickly spread that he enjoyed an open line of communication with the new administration.
The firm gave $10,000 to de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York—a now-shuttered nonprofit that ethics advocates decried as a “shadow government”—and two of his clients soon did the same. Then, amid media reports of city actions favoring Capalino clients, de Blasio declared in 2016 he would no longer correspond directly with his lobbyist friend. The next year Capalino fell back into second place.
Still, Capalino remains one of the busiest firms in town, bringing in reams of small accounts alongside such big payers as The Georgetown Co., Industry City, Macklowe Properties, Magnum Real Estate and Midtown Equities. He maintains a team with deep roots in city government, including Susan Hinkson, former Board of Standards and Appeals commissioner, and former Scott Stringer aide Jesse Campoamor.
The firm declined to comment for this article.
3. Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno
When former Councilwoman Melissa Mark- Viverito of East Harlem captured the council speakership in 2014, Crain’s ran a photo of this then-six-year-old firm’s founders on its cover. It was an acknowledgment of their efforts in securing her the perch and of the bounty the company was poised to receive. The Staten Island firm’s annual harvest almost doubled between 2013 and 2016, when the speaker showered its clients with public funds, as revealed by the New York Post and Daily News, and when one of its lobbyists joined her staff, as Crain’s reported.
But the real money is in the family business. Principal Vincent Pitta is the son of Vito Pitta, former Hotel Trades Council president, and the brother-in-law of the powerful labor union’s current leader, Peter Ward. The hotel workers union and affiliates of its parent organization, Unite Here, gave the firm $219,000 last year to represent its interests to city authorities.
Like other firms on this list, Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno is a paragon of bipartisanship. Co-founder Robert Bishop is a Republican, and Conservative James Molinaro, former Staten Island president, joined the team in 2014.
It remains to be seen how the company will fare under the new council regime. Hotel Trades helped usher Corey Johnson into the speakership, but Pitta’s legal arm worked for his main rival, Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine. “Vincent Pitta has been a significant presence in governmental circles,” spokesman Hank Sheinkopf said, “and expects to remain so through hard work.”
4. Bolton–St. Johns
Bolton–St. Johns became known in the 1990s as the firm led by Mel Miller—who had lost his Assembly speakership because of a conviction subsequently overturned—and Norman Adler. The company had an office-sharing arrangement for a few years with Armand D’Amato, brother of Alphonse D’Amato, then senator. But it changed hands in the 2000s and has become an increasingly big player in statewide affairs. Partner Giorgio DeRosa’s daughter Melissa is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chief of staff, while Emily Giske is a vice chair of the Cuomo-controlled state Democratic Committee. Giske is a longtime confidante of ex-Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who runs homeless-shelter operator Women in Need—one of Bolton–St. Johns’ highest paying city clients. Giske brought on board partner Mike Keogh, who had lost his longtime post as council finance director in 2007 amid a scandal over taxpayer funds being allocated to fake charities for members’ later distribution.
Bolton draws huge sums from Airbnb, Dart Container Corp. (whose foam food containers the mayor is trying to ban) and the waste-management and taxi industries. Unlike most of its peers, the firm does little fundraising for candidates at the city level, but it does operate a powerhouse political action committee, Bolt-PAC.
5. Constantinople & Vallone Consulting
Peter Vallone Sr. joined his brother- in-law Anthony Constantinople’s lobbying business in 2002, when term limits finally forced Vallone from the council speakership after 15 years. His namesake son succeeded him in his Astoria-based seat, which he held until 2014, and is now a Queens County Civil Court judge. Another son, Councilman Paul Vallone, represents Bayside and surrounding neighborhoods. One of the firm’s lobbyists, Keith Powers, was elected last year to represent the East Side of Manhattan.
The firm and its employees raised a bit less than $15,000 for council candidates last year, plus more than $25,000 for Scott Stringer’s re-election bid, $3,000 for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and $16,565 for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. The Daily News reported that Constantinople & Vallone utilized loopholes in disclosure law to avoid reporting $16,350 it raised for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s re-election campaign.
The company advocates for TD Bank, Waste Management, T-Mobile USA, private prison operator Geo Group and scaffolding and demolition magnates Greg and Lawrence Blinn.
6. Greenberg Traurig
Americans became acquainted with this Miami-based law and lobbying titan in 2001 during the Jack Abramoff scandal. But New Yorkers probably know it best as the firm that former Mayor Giuliani jumped to in 2016 amid the heat of the presidential race. In January the Trump administration gave Giuliani’s old job as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York to Geoffrey Berman, a principal of Greenberg Traurig’s New York and New Jersey offices. It is an interim appointment, but many expect President Donald Trump to formally nominate Berman for the powerful post.
Greenberg Traurig’s legal prowess and connections have made it the go-to attorney for the Cuomo campaign and a slew of other Democrats.
Giuliani administration veteran John Mascialino oversees the firm’s city lobbying operation, which last year took in fees from developers including Fetner, Jeffrey Gershon and Slate Property Group. Other top clients were the Hunts Point Market, the West Village Houses co-op complex and mobile technology firm Verifone.
7. Davidoff Hutcher & Citron
Politicos’ ears perked up in January 2017 when this 42-year-old legal and lobbying firm hired Keith Wright, Manhattan Democratic Party boss, fresh out of the Assembly and after an unsuccessful congressional run. The Manhattan Democratic operation is a shadow of the Queens and Bronx machines and of its former Tammany Hall glory. Still, Wright enjoys considerable sway over important party-run processes such as judicial nominations, appointments to the city Board of Elections and the awarding of the party’s ballot line for special elections to the state Legislature. In September, for example, he helped elevate former Assembly colleague Brian Kavanagh to the state Senate post abandoned by Daniel Squadron.
Wright joined a team that included John “Sean” Crowley, brother to Rep. Joseph Crowley, the powerful Queens Democratic Party boss. The Crowley clan has immense influence over virtually all government affairs in the borough, and the congressman played a seminal role in handing the council speakership to Corey Johnson.
The company’s lobbying anchor is Sid Davidoff, a veteran of the Lindsay administration who raised $18,400 for Mayor de Blasio’s re-election and $9,100 for Scott Stringer. Big 2017 accounts included real estate and investment trust iStar Financial, the pro–charter school nonprofit Center for Educational Innovation–Public Education Association and voting machine vendor Election Systems and Software.
8. Geto & de Milly
Ethan Geto—a city and state government old-timer—was the biggest bundler for Corey Johnson’s 2017 re-election campaign, presciently pulling together $22,150 from an array of real estate executives for the aspiring speaker back in July 2015. His business partner, Michelle de Milly, a veteran of Empire State Development, drew from similar wells to collect $10,250 for Johnson around the same time. Developers account for almost two-thirds of Geto & de Milly’s clients. Avery Hall Investments, The Brodsky Organization, DDG Partners (a major Johnson supporter outside of Geto and de Milly’s bundling), Property Markets Group and Zeckendorf Development were among the big names to hire the duo to push council members for zoning concessions last year.
The firm brought on Mark Benoit, a self-described longtime friend of Mayor de Blasio’s dating to their years in the Dinkins administration, shortly after the mayor took office in 2014.
“Our firm handles a broad range of public affairs matters, including government and community relations, crisis management, press and digital strategy,” said Geto, “so we’re fortunate to have a mix of seasoned consultants and dynamic young executives with experience and relationships in all of these areas.”
9. Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz
A lobbyist for the yellow taxi industry, Michael Woloz bundled a whopping $231,915—more than any other fundraiser—for Mayor de Blasio in the month between when the then-public advocate won the Democratic primary in September 2013 and his victory in November. Woloz’s cash-gathering was substantially more subdued last year, amassing $16,650 for de Blasio and almost $5,000 for Scott Stringer, and distributing relatively meager amounts among Corey Johnson and two of his rivals.
“Lobbying is about effectively communicating ideas and building trust and relationships over a long period of time,” Woloz said. “We have been successful, in large part, because we are trusted by elected and community leaders to provide them with key facts and the best arguments on important issues.”
Partner Martin McLaughlin is a former Koch political aide. Lobbyist Kathleen Cudahy was an attorney to former Speaker Vallone and a strategist and adviser to former Mayor Bloomberg. Senior Vice President Jeff Rodus was deputy chief of staff to Melissa Mark-Viverito. The firm is in its 30th year.
10. Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
Cantankerous taxpayers might best know this firm for receiving $2.6 million of their money in February for their work representing Mayor de Blasio through a pair of corruption probes. But the ties between the firm and the mayor run deeper than that. Partner Barry Berke held a fundraiser for de Blasio at Kramer Levin’s offices during his first run at Gracie Mansion and subsequently became his campaign treasurer. Business burgeoned for the firm while it was working for the mayor and awaiting payment. The partnership, which had fallen off the Top 10 list after 2013, surged back in 2016 as media reports spotlighted its service to de Blasio. All but a few of its 43 lobbying accounts are real estate–related and fall under the purview of partner Gary Tarnoff. Big 2017 clients included Plaxall Realty, Witkoff and Jonathan Kalikow’s Gamma Real Estate.