Openings for glad-handing on long days of State House lingering – that’s what lobbyists live for.
And, after lifetimes of rinsing and repeating that and more, Paul Bontempo and Paul Matacera of MBI-GluckShaw had the sort of history of face-to-face interactions with policymakers that political powerbrokers need. Their combined eight decades-deep pool of experience helped lift MBI-GluckShaw to a spot among the state’s Top 3 lobbying outfits.
That’s a lot of years to lose. And, earlier in June, the firm announced its president, Bontempo — also one of the firm’s founders — and its vice president, Matacera, were retiring.
But the four-partner unit that will replace the duo has had its fair share of years in Trenton. And, more than that, the partners have a fresh perspective on the industry that they’re eager to share.
Highest-ranking of the firm’s new leadership is former Union City Mayor Raul “Rudy” Garcia. Among other initiatives, the new president’s desire is to see more minorities and women brought into the firm.
“We need people working for the firm to not only treat our clients well, but also they should represent all of the communities that are in New Jersey,” he said.
Lack of diversity has been a problem across the entire industry, not just within the firm, Garcia said. That has been apparent as far back as him being elected to the state Assembly in 1993, a seat he served in for a decade.
“I was the only Hispanic person of 120 legislators during that time,” he said. “And, now, I’m still one of only a handful of minority lobbyists in Trenton today. I want to change that.”
Garcia said a barrier to a more diverse group of lobbyists in Trenton has been the lack of awareness in communities about lobbying as a career option. He admits that he hardly knew what a lobbyist was until he became an assemblyman.
“So, we have to work to bring in qualified, talented individuals who may be interested in this career,” he said. “It’s not only setting an example as one of the state’s top lobbying firms, it’s good socially and also for our clients. I have a deeper sense of commitment to this issue than most people, but our entire firm will be really helpful in this, too.”
At the same time, Garcia said, he would like to see the firm participate more in grassroots lobbying. That’s an approach in which lobbyists find opportunities to get the general public to convey a message to legislators as an alternative to working to directly persuade legislators.
That’s not to say Garcia is any less interested in traditional lobbying and the firm’s focus on building relationships with legislators.
“My vision for the firm is to continue that, too,” he said. “There are more than 6,000 bills in a cycle. Legislators are not subject matter experts on everything. And there may be unintended consequences that can affect people — and our clients — in a way that wasn’t anticipated.
“You get more an opportunity to explain things like those consequences when you’ve built relationships with legislators.”
Jeffrey Warsh, Scot Mackey and Matthew Stanton — the firm’s new vice president, treasurer and secretary, respectively — are the other three new leaders behind Garcia; they all bring at least 15 years of experience in the state’s politics.
Besides that, Matacera and Bontempo will still be involved with the firm in an emeritus capacity. Garcia said that means all the relationships they built over their career will continue to exist, alongside the relationships Garcia has built with New Jersey’s current cast of leaders, such as Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge).
“Coughlin and I have worked together for many years,” he said. “He’s very thoughtful and he’s also very careful in terms of policy, which I think is a great help to me, the firm and our clients.”
Garcia has also established a working relationship with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). The two recently came together to establish legislation to give police officers and firefighters control of their pension fund. That effort resulted in a bill that passed the New Jersey Legislature and is soon arriving on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.
“It was an idea that Sen. Sweeney gave to us two and a half years ago,” he said. “We went all over the country, studying the best pieces of legislation. We came back and made it into a bill. It was vetoed once under former Gov. Chris Christie. But, luckily for us, we supported Murphy when he was running and we were able to explain to him why we need this.”
Garcia foresees there being a lot more opportunities for the firm’s clients to achieve goals under Murphy … owed, at least in part, to the unfailing power of the glad-hand.
“As we make this (leadership transition), one thing that remains is that we know there’s no substitute for leg work for us,” he said. “We will continue to get out there and build relationships. Because you can’t rely on making a friend when you need one.”
Garcia working to help homeland of Cuba, but disappointed by results
Rudy Garcia, left, lived with his mother and brothers in a Union City tenement after they fled Cuba when he was only 4 years old.
“My father was separated from us because of immigration,” he said. “He wasn’t allowed into the U.S. for 10 years, so I really didn’t meet him until I was 14.”
He attributes his career now to the early years of struggling he experienced — before his academic aptitude got him a Columbia University degree and a cushy job with New York City law firms.
“I figured out at a very young age that injustice does exist, and that it’s compounded by inactivity,” he said. “So, even at the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer and to be involved in the political process. It didn’t have a negative connotation for me — back then, (it was a) very noble profession in minds of most people, which unfortunately has changed somewhat today.”
He’s very involved with the Cuban American National Foundation, a Cuban exile organization, and pays a lot of attention to news out of his native country. But he’s not very enthusiastic about the island’s current situation.
“Some people may have another cruise port for tourism there today, but I haven’t seen a change for people actually living there,” he said. “It’s disappointing that all these years later, Cubans still aren’t closer to democratic freedoms.”
Reach Rudy Garcia of MBI-GluckShaw at: email@example.com or 609-392-3100.