A charming hustler from Malden, Mass., shows Schlossberg-Cassidy a new way to solicit clients and make more money.
Robert G. Kaiser
One important reason why the lobbying firm called Schlossberg-Cassidy began to make serious money was William Cloherty, a rotund Irishman from Medford, Mass. Cloherty was aptly described by the expression "a piece of work." His friends often called him a leprechaun, but he was an oversized leprechaun.
By the time he met Cassidy in the late 1970s, Cloherty barely resembled the teenage halfback for Hull High School on the South Shore, near Boston, who in the late 1950s had "gained six point seven yards per carry," by his own account. Cloherty might be 5 feet, 7 inches tall, and he looked nearly as broad as he was high. Bright, energetic and full of wit, he had an anecdote for every occasion. Some of them actually checked out, while others were embellished over time.
Cloherty talked fast in the accent of working-class Boston. But he would waste little time before informing a new acquaintance that he graduated from Harvard College (class of '62) and served in Venezuela in the Accion project in the '60s, working with slum-dwellers in Caracas. Later he worked for Tufts University as a troubleshooter in the administration there, and briefly for Boston University as well. He came to Washington in 1979 to work on a project in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. That ended in 1980, which prompted him to approach Cassidy with an idea.
The two had met in 1977 through John Silber, the ambitious, driven president of Boston University who would become one of Cassidy's biggest clients. Cloherty and Cassidy hit it off; Cloherty described his original meeting with Cassidy as "one of the fondest memories of my life." In 1980, Silber was paying Cloherty $1,000 a month to act as BU's part-time agent in Washington. Cloherty decided he couldn't be much use to BU as a solo operator in the capital. "I said John, what you want to get done, the best way I can really help you is get you signed up with Schlossberg-Cassidy ..... with Gerry Cassidy," Cloherty recalled. Silber did sign up with Schlossberg-Cassidy, and two months later Silber cut off Cloherty's $1000 a month. "That was fine with me."
Cloherty had a better idea, which he then brought to Cassidy directly. He offered to develop business for Schlossberg-Cassidy from other universities. "I can do this in a way that will cost you nothing," he recalled saying. "'Oh, tell me about that, I like that idea!' I remember Gerry perking up the way he does."
Cloherty's idea was to find new business for Schlossberg-Cassidy in return for a percentage of the fees paid by any clients he brought to the firm. "Just give me ten percent of the fees in perpetuity," Cloherty remembered proposing. And he recalled Cassidy's reply: "We can't do it in perpetuity, because the Magna Carta prohibited contracts in perpetuity. So I said well, 99 years." The deal was struck.
Cloherty, a natural salesman and an indomitable enthusiast, would pore over newspapers looking for leads to possible clients. One he found in the New York Times was a story buried deep inside the paper (Section D, page 23) about a new project in imaging research at Brooklyn Poly Tech (now Polytechnic University). The story identified Prof. Bernie Bulkin as leader of the effort. Bulkin himself recalled what happened:
"He got my home number and called me at home ..... He came [to visit Poly] right away. He was immediate and persistent."
Cloherty's memory: "So I ..... call up the fellow. And I would accurately say, 'I'm from Washington D.C.' Immediately all sorts of sugar plums would go off in their heads. 'I saw your article, and I'd like to come up and talk to you about it.' 'Oh, when could you come?' 'This afternoon!' ..... I didn't in any way misrepresent myself, I just said I was from Washington and would like to come and talk to you about the article."
Brooklyn Poly signed up as a client with Schlossberg-Cassidy.
On another occasion Cloherty dropped in on his old pal Terry Holcombe, who had recruited him into Accion, a private peace-corps-like group working in Latin America. Holcombe had become vice president for development -- fundraising -- at Columbia University, where Cloherty visited him. Holcombe confided that he had a big problem.
Michael Sovern, president of the university, was anxious to rebuild the chemistry facilities at Columbia, to create appropriate laboratories for the distinguished chemistry faculty to conduct its research. This would cost $30 million. "We didn't have any alumni that I could find who would give in that range," Holcombe recalled. Cloherty offered Holcombe a new option for finding the money -- hiring Schlossberg-Cassidy.
Sovern recalled that he had heard about Schlossberg-Cassidy's success helping to win three big earmarks for Tufts. He knew it would be controversial with his colleagues at other universities if he sought an earmarked appropriation to pay for his chemistry lab, but he had no better idea, so he signed Columbia up. It remained a client of the firm for years. Over a period of several years, Columbia received about $28 million in federal appropriations for its new chemistry labs. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and two New York City congressmen, Democrat Charles Rangel and Republican Bill Green, provided the key Congressional support.
Columbia agreed to retain Schlossberg-Cassidy for an initial fee of $10,000 a month. After nearly two years the monthly retainer went up to $17,500, and later to $20,000. Over six and a half years Columbia paid a total of $1.3 million -- to help win $28 million. Cloherty's share, under his deal with Schlossberg-Cassidy, was $130,000, though he didn't have to do much after he signed up the client.
Cassidy wanted Cloherty to join the firm, take an office in L'Enfant Plaza, but Cloherty wasn't interested: "I wanted to stay a little bit separate." Cassidy asked if he'd like some slick brochures to support his sales pitch. No thanks, Cloherty replied, just give me newspaper clippings announcing the "grants" -- earmarks -- you have won for your clients, and "a simple list, plain paper, no letterhead, of the educational institutions and how much they received. You know, Tufts University -- twenty-seven million dollars. That was for their nutrition center. ..... "
Cloherty's sales pitch was direct: "I said well, there's a new business developing in Washington. We don't do research grants, we don't help you get a grant through NIH or something, but if you have a particular need here, for a state-of-the-art facility, I can't make any promises, but there's a chance we can get it funded by Congress." In other words, he was selling earmarks.
This was an unusual way to make money. One long-term client could put tens of thousands of dollars in his pocket, though he never really did any work on its behalf.
"There was always an issue when you signed a client up. To some degree the reason they signed up was that you had met them, and there was a bond that had to be established. One of the key things was to seamlessly wean yourself off the account." Cloherty tried to coach the clients he signed up on "how to be an effective client." He would observe that "there are two people in that shop, and you ought to insist that Cassidy handles your account. You have a right to insist, you know, you're the paying customer."
Why not Schlossberg?
"I could see as I began to bring in clients that the amount of toughness and determination to get the goal accomplished was light years higher for Gerry Cassidy than for Ken. Ken was a very amiable guy, very affable, loved to chat with him. But not somebody that would go through the brick wall, necessarily, not somebody who was not going to be denied."
Washington Post research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Tomorrow: A trip to buy a Brittany Spaniel becomes the catalyst for an ugly divorce.
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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