The loss of a long-time client provokes a violent eruption of Cassidy's famous temper.
By Robert G. Kaiser
Campaign contribution reports on file at the Federal Election Commission reveal that in December 2001, 14 employees of Cassidy & Associates gave a total of $7,500 to a political action committee affiliated with Rep. Ray LaHood, a popular moderate Republican from Illinois. This pattern of giving, all reported to the FEC on the same day, suggests that Cassidy & Associates sponsored a fundraiser for LaHood, which turns out to be true. But the records don't begin to tell the whole story.
This was a difficult time for Cassidy & Associates. December 2001 was the end of the second year of new ownership by the Interpublic Group (IPG), a global conglomerate of advertising and public relations firms [See Chapter 18]. Many of the lobbyists who had helped make Cassidy & Associates the highest-grossing lobbying business in Washington felt ill-rewarded by the deal. While Cassidy made millions, many of his lobbyists say they felt their end of the stick looked short. An exodus had begun, and Gerald Cassidy expected more lobbyists to be leaving soon. Clients were leaving too -- 44 of them in 2000, 51 more in 2001 -- and Cassidy's remaining lobbyists scrambled to find new ones. Relations with the new owner had been rocky. The future of the business was uncertain.
His oldest friends were worried about Cassidy. He hadn't been himself, several of them said. In 2000, he had very publicly taken up with another woman, even buying a $2.9 million house for the two to live in on Q St. in Georgetown. He had told numerous associates that he planned to divorce his wife, Loretta, and marry the other woman. The firm was abuzz with this news. Loretta Cassidy had hired her own divorce lawyer.
"If I hadn't heard it as a real fact I never would have believed it," said Carol Casey, a devoted employee who had herself left the firm in 2000, soon after it was sold. "I was really shocked," Casey said. She thought Cassidy's partnership with Loretta -- whom he met when he was 20 and she was 17 and married when she was almost 22 -- had been profoundly important to him. Casey and many other friends of the Cassidys were relieved when the couple reconciled.
Inside Cassidy's grand offices at 700 13th St. NW, offices originally designed by his oldest colleague, James Fabiani, tensions ran high. Cassidy's collaboration with Fabiani had soured and would end within a month.
Cassidy's relations with IPG also were rocky. At one meeting with Fabiani and David Whitmore, IPG's chief financial officer handling the merger with Cassidy & Associates, Whitmore suggested that perhaps Jody Powell was the wrong person to merge Powell Tate and the Washington office of Shandwick, another public relations company owned by IPG. This was the trickiest part of the merger. Hearing this, Cassidy lost his temper and hurled a water glass in Whitmore's direction, according to Whitmore and Fabiani. The glass smashed against the wall just behind him, sprinkling shards into Whitmore's hair, he recounted. Whitmore continued talking to Cassidy for another 45 minutes to try to calm him down and discuss other options. Shandwick executives who heard about the incident pressed Whitmore to report it to IPG executives, which he later did. An IPG official was sent to interview Fabiani and Whitmore, who described the event similarly, and then to talk to Cassidy.
(In a separate interview Cassidy said he had slammed his fist on a table, bouncing a water pitcher onto the floor, where it shattered. He said he had refused to talk to the IPG executive who came to question him about what had happened.)
Another source of tension was Marty Russo, a nine-term member of Congress from the suburbs of Chicago who had joined the firm in 1993 after losing a primary. Russo's Cassidy & Associates business card is embossed with a gold seal of the House of Representatives, and identifies him first as "Member of Congress (retired)," and second, in smaller letters, as a Cassidy employee.
Cassidy named Russo the firm's chief operating officer, while Fabiani was its president and chief executive officer. (Cassidy was chairman.) Fabiani and Russo disliked one another cordially.
On Dec. 12, 2001, Fabiani recalls, he and Russo rode together in Fabiani's chauffeur-driven limousine to the house at 631 A Street S.E. on Capitol Hill, where the LaHood fundraiser took place. This was the home of Jean Davis, a secretary in the firm. She had offered the use of her house as a favor to Arthur Mason, a Republican lobbyist in the firm who had organized the event.
Dec. 12 had been a bad day for Cassidy & Associates. Texas Tech University had notified the firm that it planned to drop Cassidy as its Washington lobbyist, Fabiani said. For years Texas Tech had been represented by Vincent Versage, one of the senior Cassidy lobbyists who left the firm after it was sold to IPG, and Frank Godfrey. Versage had recently helped establish The National Group, a rival firm. David J. Schmidly, the president of Texas Tech at the time, said in an interview that he had decided to move his business to Versage's new firm. "Vince was the person who had really delivered for us," Schmidly said.
On the way to the fundraiser, Fabiani recalled, Russo blamed Godfrey, who had remained at Cassidy & Associates, for losing Texas Tech. Like Versage, Godfrey was an old-timer at the firm, which he joined in 1984. Fabiani, Versage and Godfrey all felt that Russo was threatened by their relationships with Cassidy, and that Russo tried to undermine them with the boss. Godfrey, who came to Cassidy from the staff of House Speaker Tip O'Neill, had serviced Texas Tech after Versage left Cassidy at the end of 2000.
"Marty was talking about how Frank had screwed up Texas Tech, how they were firing the firm because Frank had handled the account badly," Fabiani recalled. "I said, 'Marty that's not what happened at all.' He wanted to pin the thing on Frank."
Russo said in an interview that he did not remember this conversation, or riding to the event with Fabiani.
When they arrived at the fundraiser, Fabiani saw Russo make a beeline for Cassidy, who was in the kitchen. Davis, the hostess, had been surprised by Cassidy's decision to appear at the event. She recalled: "He went to the big-dog fundraisers and usually didn't go to Republican fundraisers. I didn't expect he'd come to something at my modest home." But there he was, in the kitchen.
Fabiani recounted what happened: "Marty goes right to the kitchen area, grabs Gerry by the arm and works Gerry over verbally." He was giving Cassidy the news about Texas Tech. "Gerry exploded. He banged into me coming around a corner."
At this moment Davis was walking down the hallway of the little house, toward the kitchen. She had just noticed Godfrey leaning up against the wall near the front door, when she saw Cassidy "charging full speed ahead toward me, screaming obscenities. I just got out of his way."
Cassidy charged towards Godfrey in a fury, witnesses said. Rep. LaHood was standing nearby, looking on, but his presence did not deter Cassidy. Steve Whitaker, then a lobbyist at the firm, remembered opening the front door just as Cassidy grabbed the knot of Godfrey's necktie and pushed him hard up against the wall once, then a second time. Several people, including Russo, quickly stepped in; Russo grabbed Cassidy away from Godfrey and rushed him out the front door, according to several who saw this happen. Cassidy was soon in his chauffeured limo and on his way.
When asked recently about what had happened that night, Cassidy said he had merely touched Godfrey's necktie while taking him outside for a stern talking-to about the lost client. He said Russo would confirm this account. But in an interview Russo said he pulled Cassidy away from Godfrey and then led Cassidy outside. Russo said he did not remember Cassidy shoving Godfrey up against the wall, the version recounted by several other eyewitnesses, including one with no connection to the firm, Cassidy or Godfrey.
Cassidy's temper was famous inside the firm. Virtually every employee had seen it erupt, and many felt it directed at them. Some could brush it off; others were deeply hurt by it.
Godfrey often bore the brunt of the boss's tantrums, according to numerous former colleagues. He was "a good natured, sweet, loving teddy bear of a man," according to Versage. "Frank was incredibly forgiving. He was not built to fight or hate. He just could not fathom that anyone could want to do him harm."
To the frustration of Godfrey's wife, Colette, a lawyer, that had been his reaction on Dec. 12, 2001. He initially sought to minimize the incident. When he got home that night, Colette Godfrey recalled, "he was badly shaken," but he told her he had to get up early the next morning to travel to Newark, N.J., to see a client, Seton Hall University. Colette Godfrey was furious at her husband; "Let Gerry go!" she remembered yelling at him. She wanted him to quit at once and to take legal action.
One of Godfrey's best friends, a former Cassidy lobbyist named Douglass Bobbitt, shared her frustration and also tried to persuade Godfrey that he had to quit the firm. Godfrey refused. "He looked up to Cassidy, he was proud to be associated with the firm," Bobbitt said. Godfrey went to Seton Hall the next day.
Employees of Cassidy & Associates who attended the LaHood fundraiser were approached in the office the next day or soon afterward by lawyers for the firm who asked them to sign a statement downplaying the incident. Several refused to sign.
According to several friends, Godfrey soon realized he would have to leave the firm.
Two days after the incident, Godfrey went to his doctor, complaining that he had been "throttled" so forcefully the buttons had ripped off his shirt. "He has difficulty swallowing," reported the doctor in a note for his files. He described swelling, tenderness and abrasions on Godfrey's neck. Godfrey consulted Joseph DiGenova, the former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and his wife, Victoria Toensing, a former Justice Department official, to discuss legal action. Toensing took the case and reached a settlement. It required both sides to keep its terms confidential. Cassidy paid Godfrey $800,000.
Cassidy says Godfrey was fired by the firm as part of a restructuring authorized by IPG, the parent company. IPG allowed the firm to make generous severance payments to a number of employees it wanted to get rid of, Cassidy said; the settlement with Godfrey was just his severance payment.
"To my knowledge Frank did not get fired," said Bobbitt, his close friend. "He told me at the time that he was worried that if he didn't accept the settlement he'd been offered, he would get fired.'" Godfrey went to work as a lobbyist for Versage's National Group.
Three-and-a-half years later, on June 23, 2005, Frank Godfrey suffered a heart attack at home and died in front of his wife and children at age 51. He had no history of heart trouble. Besides Colette he left two children, Meredith, then 10, and Cooper, 13.
The 23rd was a Thursday. On Saturday and Sunday, the Godfreys received friends at an Alexandria funeral home where Godfrey's body lay in an open casket. The Cassidys came.
Wendy Burnley, wife of James H. Burnley IV, secretary of transportation under President Reagan, was helping Colette, her close friend. She remembered approaching Cassidy at the funeral home to ask "if he would be interested in organizing or participating in some way in an educational trust for Cooper and Meredith to make sure they would have college." Burnley is Meredith Godfrey's godmother.
"He said, 'Yes, I will get right on that,' " Burnley recalled. Cassidy told her he would get in touch with his lawyers on Monday morning, then get in touch with her, she recalled. "He seemed very agreeable, but I never heard from him again."
On Monday after the viewing, St. Paul's Church in Old Town Alexandria was jammed with hundreds of mourners. Versage's description of Godfrey as sweet, good-natured and forgiving was part of his eulogy that day. After the service the Godfreys received visitors in their comfortable big house near Mt. Vernon. The Cassidys came to the house, but according to Colette Godfrey, avoided talking to her. When she saw them leaving her house she followed them out the door. "I said, 'Gerry, Frank loved you.' I said it twice. He seemed startled. Finally he said, 'Well, I loved him.'" Bobbitt was another eulogist at the funeral. A week later, he remembered, Cassidy called to praise his eulogy and called it "perfect."
"I miss him," Cassidy told Bobbitt. His voice cracked. "You know," Bobbitt recalled saying to Cassidy, "he looked up to you."
"Yeah, I know that," Cassidy replied, according to Bobbitt. "I think Gerry felt bad that he had never apologized to Frank," Bobbitt added.
Last June, as the anniversary of Godfrey's death was approaching, Wendy Burnley called Cassidy to invite him to a small gathering. She learned that Cassidy would be away on June 23.
"His secretary said I'm sure he'll want to talk to you," Burnley remembered. "I said I'd like to talk to him about contributing to the college fund. Made two more follow-up calls, I never spoke to him. She finally said to me, 'Mr. Cassidy is not going to be able to do anything at this time.' "
Asked about this, Cassidy said: "I didn't make a contribution, and I never said I would."
Washington Post research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Monday: Gerald Cassidy shows his generous side.
Key Related Materials
A Response From Cassidy & Associates
Today's grossly exaggerated caricature of Gerry Cassidy by The Washington Post compels us to respond. Each of us now serve as corporate officers of Cassidy & Associates and have been a part of the firm for upwards of 15 to 20 years. We have worked closely with Gerry to build the city's leading government relations firm and are proud to call him our friend. We know Gerry Cassidy to be a generous man and respect and admire him for his devotion to our firm, to us and our families. Throughout the years, Gerry and Loretta have been there for us and we are happy to support them now.
Gregory M. Gill, Executive Vice President & General Counsel
Arthur D. Mason, Executive Vice President
Daniel J. McNamara, Executive Vice President
Mary E. Shields, Executive Vice President
Barbara Sutton, Executive Vice President
Gerald Felix Warburg, Executive Vice President
An overview of Gerald Cassidy's life and career.
A "cast of characters" in the life and career of Gerald Cassidy.
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