Before his 30th birthday, Gerald Cassidy, a scrappy Irishman from Brooklyn, has left his roots behind, worked for two years as a legal aid lawyer for migrant workers in Florida and talked himself into a job on the staff of Sen. George McGovern's Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs.
Beginning in 1969, the two bright young men on the staff of Sen. George McGovern's nutrition committee became a team, and then an inseparable duo. Gerald S.J. Cassidy, then 29, and Kenneth Schlossberg, four months older, "were the Bobbsey twins," said Marshall Matz, also a McGovern assistant. "It was KenandGerry as if it was one word," said another colleague, John Holum.
Those were exciting, life-altering years for McGovern. By the end of 1970, thanks largely to his work on hunger and nutrition, he was a national political figure. In 1970 and 1971 Congress passed expansions of the food stamp and school lunch programs, both McGovern projects. McGovern's name started appearing on lists of potential presidential candidates.
Cassidy and Schlossberg spent those years working the hunger issues, organizing hearings and drafting legislation. Their colleagues remember Schlossberg as the dominant figure, though he looked younger and was physically less imposing. "I always thought of Ken as the creative member of that team," Matz said, "the guy who had the vision."
They hit it off from the beginning. "We were both ethnic kids from the Northeast," Schlossberg remembered. Others on McGovern's staff were not enthusiastic about hiring Cassidy, Schlossberg said, but "something about the idea just felt right to me." Schlossberg and Cassidy both considered McGovern's interest in the presidency a diversion from unfinished work on hunger issues. But eventually they caught the presidential bug themselves. They played modest roles on the edges of the campaign, leaving the Senate staff temporarily to do so. They had one moment in the sun. In March 1972, Frank Mankiewicz, McGovern's national political director, invited the two to draft a speech for McGovern after Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace had won the Florida Democratic primary, alarming the party establishment. The idea was for McGovern to speak directly to white ethnic voters in Milwaukee, site of the next primary.
"I wrote most of the speech," Schlossberg -- known for his writing skill -- recalled, "but the spirit of the thing, in terms of connecting with blue-collar Catholics, this was really Gerry's." In the speech McGovern described the votes cast by working-class voters who chose Wallace in Florida as "an angry cry from the guts of ordinary Americans against a system which doesn't give a damn about what's really bothering people in this country today." Mankiewicz had added a nice literary flourish, quoting Willy Loman from Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman": "Attention must be paid." The Washington Post used that as a headline on an editorial praising the speech. (view the editorial [pdf])
"I had been pushing the campaign to concentrate more on the working class, to look for things where George could reach out to them," Cassidy recounted. "Now here's a guy who got elected in South Dakota, and there isn't a more working-class place that I've been to than South Dakota. He could connect with those people." But too often, the elitists running the campaign -- Ivy Leaguers and anti-war activists -- had other ideas, Cassidy thought.
Cassidy did some field work for McGovern, including a stint during the Ohio primary when he was responsible for Toledo, but he didn't like the work or his colleagues. "I just didn't like the people I was working with," Cassidy recalled. "A lot of them were why George lost" -- self-righteous people who imagined an "enlightened class of college graduates who were going to lead the world to their point of view. ..... They were talking about themselves. And that's what I didn't like about them."
McGovern's crushing defeat came as no surprise. Cassidy had returned to the nutrition committee payroll before election day, Schlossberg right afterward. Cassidy soon had a job offer from Barbara Mikulski, then a city council member from Baltimore and now a U.S. Senator from Maryland, whom he had met courting ethnic voters for McGovern. She had become chairman of a panel at the Democratic National Committee established after the McGovern debacle to once again examine the party's delegate selection process. She hired Cassidy as her chief staff man. In January 1973, he left the nutrition committee for the DNC. But he ran into trouble almost immediately.
Robert Strauss was the new chairman of the DNC, and "he didn't want anyone around who was connected to McGovern," said Jack Quinn, whom Cassidy had brought with him to the Committee. (Quinn years later served as White House counsel under Bill Clinton, and is now a successful Washington lobbyist.) Strauss "systematically weeded out" McGovernites, including, before a year was up, Quinn and Cassidy.
Cassidy's firing, which Strauss says he cannot recall, was one to remember. In September 1973, Cassidy had been driving home from a meeting in Annapolis on Route 50 when a car driven by an undocumented immigrant without a driver's license crossed the median strip and crashed into Cassidy's car head-on. He suffered a serious back injury and spent six weeks in the Fairfax Hospital. While he was lying on his back in his hospital room, Cassidy learned that he had been fired.
Schlossberg went to see Cassidy in the hospital and offered him his old job back. "Don't ask me why I did this, because my life would have been totally different if I hadn't," Schlossberg said in an interview in 2005. McGovern agreed to put Cassidy "back on the payroll while he recuperated," Schlossberg said. It took many more weeks for him to regain his health. They went back to work on nutrition issues.
By the spring of 1975, both men were exasperated with McGovern, who had begun talking about running for president again in 1976. He wanted to use his committee payroll to hire people who could work on another campaign. One was Bob Shrum, then a young operative who would go on to run or advise eight unsuccessful Democratic presidential campaigns. McGovern still considers him "one of the most brilliant people around."
Schlossberg remembers the uncomfortable moment when McGovern ordered him to fire Cassidy to make room for Shrum. That order is recorded in a letter found in McGovern's papers at Princeton University. (view the letter [pdf])
"Dear Ken," McGovern wrote. "As you know, I have been thinking for a couple of months about making a change on the Committee. I would like to have you tell Gerry Cassidy that Bob Shrum is coming on board as general counsel. ..... Therefore, Gerry should begin looking for other employment."
Shrum, who did join the staff, remembers an altercation with Cassidy, which he attributed to Cassidy's anxiety about his future. "He pushed me up against a wall. I said, 'Gerry, this is a lousy way to deal with it.' " McGovern says, "If I fired anyone I don't remember it." Cassidy said he did not remember pushing Shrum.
In the early months of 1975 Schlossberg and Cassidy spent hours talking together in the office they shared, according to Alan Stone, another former colleague on the committee. They were hatching plans to leave the committee and go into business for themselves.
Schlossberg and others who knew them both at the time recall this as Schlossberg's idea, but Cassidy says it was his: "I wanted to start a lobbying operation." Schlossberg thought of it as "a consulting business," specializing in food issues, that would do lots of different things for clients, from writing reports to organizing conferences and helping solve problems with government agencies.
Acknowledging that they had different visions, Cassidy says now, "We should have parted company right then." Instead they started a firm called Schlossberg-Cassidy & Associates, though they had no associates other than Cassidy's wife, Loretta, who did secretarial work. The president of the firm was Schlossberg; Cassidy was Secretary-Treasurer.
The original articles of incorporation filed with the District government on May 20, 1975, described the firm's "purposes" in terms that reflected Schlossberg's vision: "to provide a broad range of services to industry and government including but not limited to research, counseling, evaluation, planning, policy making and analysis of agricultural, food, nutrition and health programs, policies and products." (view the incorporation papers [pdf]) Their original address was 623 South Carolina Ave. SE, which was Schlossberg's house at the time. They worked out of his English basement.
The two sent letters to everyone they could think of, offering to help them in Washington. No one replied. They sought advice from others who had consulting businesses. Schlossberg remembers being told not to start without enough money to keep the business going for at least two years, a pipe dream for them. Schlossberg had $10,000 to $20,000 saved, he remembered; Cassidy remembers borrowing $5,000 from his wife's parents. Schlossberg says he lent Cassidy $5,000, too. The other advice both remember was to work for retainers, not hourly rates, and to demand payment in advance.
This was a difficult time for Schlossberg, who found himself in "a really wrenching and painful divorce" from a "very difficult wife," as Cassidy put it. He spent part of the summer of 1975 at a food conference in Europe and then writing an article on food stamps for the New York Times Magazine. The first phone call from a possible client came after he returned from Italy. A California company called Larry's Foods was having a hard time collecting money it was owed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Trying to sort out this history by talking to Cassidy and Schlossberg is not easy. The two men haven't spoken for two decades, and they have retained no affection for each other. Each puts himself at the center of the early events of their joint enterprise. For example, both claim they took that first call from Larry's Foods.
Schlossberg remembered that Larry's was owed $200,000 by the USDA for hamburger patties it had provided to the school lunch program. "I can fix that for you for a fee of $10,000," he remembers telling Chip Goodman, son of Larry Goodman, the Larry of the company's name.
Cassidy's version: "I was the one who took the call from Larry's Foods; I knew to call this fellow Eskin at the Department of Agriculture, and I knew this could be more than just one shot. We could turn this into a retainer, which we did, we had them for a client for a number of years."
Tracked down 30 years later in California, Chip Goodman said he had a similar memory to Schlossberg's ; he said he made the first call to Schlossberg, whom he had known from his work on the nutrition committee.
Schlossberg remembers that he, the gregarious one with lots of pals, was constantly reaching out to potential clients, looking for business. Cassidy, he says, sat in the office: "He didn't know many people, and those he knew didn't like him." No, said Cassidy, in those early months "Ken was not around a lot. ..... So the business getting started was largely me getting started."
Schlossberg remembers getting a call from Bill LaMothe, an executive at the Kellogg Co., "who called to ask if I could help get Hubert Humphrey to take part in a Kellogg event. I had easy access to Humphrey." Schlossberg asked for, and got, a fee of $5,000. Cassidy remembers a different history: "I had a very, very good relationship with Phil Hart (a Democratic senator from Michigan, Kellogg's home state) ..... He got us a meeting with Bill LaMothe, the CEO of Kellogg, and they had problem with cereals, with getting their products into the school lunch program ..... so we got him as a client."
LaMothe, also interviewed 30 years later, supported Schlossberg's memory of these events.
Schlossberg-Cassidy had started to get real clients. By the first anniversary of the firm, Schlossberg remembered, he and Cassidy were each making about what they earned at the Senate committee -- roughly $35,000 a year. Nearly all the first clients were food companies and related enterprises.
Then in 1976 came a phone call from the new president of Tufts University that would transform Schlossberg-Cassidy's business and, eventually, Washington itself.
Washington Post research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Tomorrow: Schlossberg and Cassidy invent the modern earmarked appropriation and turn their new lobbying firm into a thriving enterprise.
Key Related Materials
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