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In an earlier era, Gerry Cassidy — possibly the city’s richest lobbyist and founder of its biggest lobby firm — might have been a Roman emperor, his bearded and benevolent visage stamped on the face of thousands of coins. At the Cassidy Cos., which flies its own flag outside its marble-paneled downtown office building, Cassidy is an emperor, of sorts. But last week, his deputy and chief visionary for the past 20 years, Jim Fabiani, announced that he was leaving to start his own shop with his own name on the door. Why leave, and why now? In an interview with both men in Cassidy’s corner office — a surprisingly compact space with dim lighting and three small sofas — Fabiani launches into his standard explanations, which succeed in explaining nothing: The firm is doing better than ever, he says, which would seem to make it as good a time to stay as to leave. He’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur, he says, although he was a major force in taking a business with revenue of less than $1 million and expanding them 50-fold. Noticing the lack of note taking at these tepid revelations, Cassidy, sitting on one of the sofas in a pose both languid and disdainful, barks a suggestion: “Tell him you fucking hate me,” he says to Fabiani. Fabiani, a meticulous man who went to Harvard and taught history at the Deerfield Academy, demurs. But the exchange illustrates one of the lobby business’s more complex relationships, a contrast in both style and background. Fabiani, 53, grew up in Westport, Conn., the son of a corporate executive. Cassidy, 61, was raised in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and retains all the instincts of a street fighter. These two strong-willed characters have worked side by side over the better part of two decades to create the city’s largest lobby and public affairs operation. The Cassidy Cos. encompasses not only the $30 million lobby shop, Cassidy & Associates, but also a handful of other entities, including Powell Tate, that contribute $20 million more. It almost certainly would not be as big or successful without Fabiani, who spent three years on the Hill as a staffer for Rep. Silvio Conte, the 17-term Massachusetts Republican who was a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. Indeed, Cassidy likes to tell the story of the day in 1982 when he approached Conte about hiring Fabiani away. “Silvio was having lunch at his desk on top of this mass of paper,” says Cassidy, who had started his lobby shop in 1975. When Cassidy told Conte about his plans, Conte reached his hands under the papers and hurled everything, including his home-cooked Italian meal, off his desk. ” �Only your good friends fuck you!’ he said, and he walked about the office smacking things,” Cassidy recalls. When Conte calmed down, he returned to his chair and, Cassidy says, asked simply, “ When is he leaving?” “He was a big-hearted, bad-tempered guy,” says Cassidy, who acknowledges that’s the description he chooses for himself as well. Cassidy maintains one of the lobby world’s most carefully cultivated images, from his white beard (wisdom and longevity) to his hand-tailored suits (business savvy and sophistication) designed by Alan Flusser, who created the wardrobe for Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas’ razor-sharp character in “Wall Street.” In recent years, his firm has gone through enormous changes, all with Fabiani at his side. In 1989, there was the much vaunted — and phenomenally illiquid — employee stock ownership plan. Later, an unconsummated merger with Van Scoyoc Associates. Then an IPO that exposed the firm’s financial innards to public view, but was later withdrawn. Finally, there was the Interpublic Group of Cos. purchase of the Cassidy Cos. for about $70 million in IPG stock in 1999, which led to the near evisceration of Powell Tate and has added a much disliked layer of bureaucracy. The venerable public affairs firm is slowly being nursed back to health. Next year, Powell Tate will merge with BSMG (a recently purchased unit of IPG), and the betting is that this will free up Jody Powell and Sheila Tate to troll for business. Fabiani is leaving after a very successful run. How many lobby shops can insist that clients sign a minimum two-year contract and forgo a 30-day-out clause, which allows either party to terminate a contract with a month’s notice? He is known as a tremendous pitchman and number cruncher. Still, it’s hard to imagine that in some small corner of his McLean estate, late at night, drink in hand, Fabiani is not breathing a quiet sigh of relief.
T.R. Goldman is the senior correspondent for Influence . His e-mail address is [email protected].

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