Top NYC lobbyists riff on pandemic politics

How three of New York’s leading insiders are navigating shutdown

National /
May.May 15, 2020 05:45 PM

With in-person lobbying off the table and the city and state governments desperate for cash, three of New York’s leading lobbyists say they’re turning greater attention to Washington.

In a virtual panel discussion with The Real Deal this week, Kasirer’s Suri Kasirer, Greenberg Traurig’s Jonathan Bing and Geto & de Milly’s Michele de Milly said they have been putting in long hours since the shutdown advocating for their real estate clients and finding new ways to get their message across.

“The essence of what we do is the same,” Kasirer said. “But as a colleague of mine said, they call it ‘lobbying’ for a reason — because you’re supposed to be in the lobby, talking to people in government.”

Quipped Bing, “If a legislator or agency person wants to avoid you now, it’s even easier to do than before.”

While all three are focused on New York policy, they are now turning more attention to Washington, which is where the “hope is,” according to Kasirer.

“When it comes to real estate, the House Democratic package was $100 million for renters,” Bing added. “Obviously if something like that could see its way through to passage, that would make a huge difference and would potentially be able to advance real estate in New York.”

At the City Council level, Kasirer said she was concerned by some of the legislation that has come up during the pandemic, and had been urging city and state legislators to take a “balanced approach,” including supporting the “small guy,” while not letting well-off commercial tenants avoid paying rent.

And de Milly said resuming the approval process for economic development projects that can help restart the economy “is going to be really crucial.”

Ulurp — the public review process for the rezonings that most such projects need — was put on hold by Mayor Bill de Blasio because it involves public meetings. But de Milly rattled off a list of entities that have continued with their own public processes: the Rent Guidelines Board, community boards, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Board of Standards and Appeals, and City Council.

“I don’t really see why the Ulurp process could not be convened,” de Milly said.

As for most businesses, the daily tick-tock for lobbyists is now built around Zoom calls, virtual meetings and navigating a rolling tide of policy updates — all from the confines of home.

And there is no shortage of things to do: Bing said he had seen his billable hours go up 30 to 50 percent in March and April. (Greenberg Traurig has a substantial government-relations practice, but is a full-service law firm; Kasirer and de Milly have traditional lobbying firms, which typically charge monthly retainers.)

In recent years, public and political sentiment has swung against business in New York — making advocacy for real estate interests more difficult. Bing, alluding to the political resistance to development proposals, said, “We can’t continue with this ‘everything is no, unless you convince me otherwise.’”

Added Kasirer, “There’s no doubt that there’s a perception that developers are rich, they’re greedy, they can afford it, they can pay more, and I think there isn’t an understanding that some of the bills that passed Albany in the last session are really going to take a toll.”

To combat that sentiment, she said, her firm has been stressing the importance of property taxes as the government carves out its reopening plan.

“From the mayor’s perspective, he’s viewing recovery through the lens of making a more equitable society when things come back,” Kasirer said. “But it is essential that we as advocates make the point that the revenue side of the balance sheet is very, very important.”

Write to Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at [email protected]


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