by: Jessica DiNapoli – Long Island Business News
The persuasion and advocacy skills Brad Gerstman developed as an attorney are now being used to fight for clients at Gotham Government Relations, his Roslyn-based firm. In his spare time, Gerstman is also an advocate for people with special needs, those with autism in particular. As he was driving into the Midtown Tunnel for a business meeting, Gerstman took two minutes to answer a few questions.
Can you tell us how your career path led to Gotham?
I always loved politics and my background is working in government. My first job was as a prosecutor and assistant district attorney in the Bronx. That was a lot of fun and really a good way to learn and develop my advocacy skills and also learn how to deal directly with people at a very young age, especially from a professional standpoint. As I got more and more involved with politics through my legal career, I saw there was an opportunity to create a unique brand of advocacy and lobbying. I’m using my strength of advocacy and writing and the power of persuasion along with all the nuances that go into the political landscape to create the best possible outcome for my clients.
So, what’s unique about Gotham?
We’re not just door-openers. That we can do, but we didn’t get into the business to do that. There are other firms out there but our unique brand of lobbying and government relations is very strong advocacy skills. We understand clients’ cases, mission and goals and that’s what we’re able to do. We’re able to quickly grasp onto issues from the client. Some are extremely technical legal issues. Some are not as technical. We are able to understand what clients are about and to package that in a way so that it appeals to elected officials.
What goes on in a day in the life of Brad Gerstman?
I’m going from meeting to meeting to client to client to elected official to elected official. Other than charitable endeavors, I spend my time with clients and elected officials. I’ve spent time in Albany meeting with government people and then have meetings in the city. And at night I have all campaign events – thank goodness they are over. There’s a minimum of five events per night, but usually I’m able to only go to one or two. You can’t just walk in and show your face. I pick one and share with my partner (David Schwartz) and the other associates. The schedules are packed constantly. When session in Albany is over, lobbying doesn’t end. We travel the state. This summer we went through all of upstate New York to visit with elected officials, to talk about clients’ issues and legislation we want to stop or block.
Will the three contested New York Senate races affect your business?
As an attorney I understand election law and I’m carefully watching the three ballot counts (Republican Jack Martins and Democratic incumbent Craig Johnson on Long Island, one in Westchester County and another in Buffalo) and recounts going on around the state. It’s definitely going to decide who the Senate leadership is – whether it’s Republican or Democratic leadership. It’s really the strangest scenario. If the Republicans win all three, it would be 33 Republicans, 29 Democrats. If they win two seats, it will be 32-30. If the Dems sweep all, they’ll win. They have to sweep all to win.
You are involved in advocacy for children with special needs. The New York State Board of Regents recently changed its rules on the amount of speech therapy children with autism can get in school. Were you upset with the ruling?
It’s clear to everyone that the state education department’s goal in many cases with special ed is to cut costs. They’re being penny-wise and pound foolish. The more intervention a school or parent provides to a child, the better off they are. Many kids can become very functional adults, holding down a job and paying taxes, if they’re given intervention at an early age.
How else are you involved in special needs advocacy?
We worked out butts off to pass the Autism Insurance bill (which mandates insurance companies provide coverage for diagnosis and treatment of people with autism). It was passed by the Senate and Assembly – it passed unanimously in both houses – this year. It was sponsored by Shelly Silver in the Assembly and a whole host of leadership in the Senate. And then, the governor vetoed it two weeks ago, citing financial issues that are all fiction. We have enough energy to try this 1,000 times. Twenty states already have this bill, including neighboring states. So I asked myself, ‘Why would he do this?’ I guess at this point he has lost the concept of being forced into so many difficult situations. When