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The Influencer

The No. 1 lobbyist in town on smoke-filled rooms, (non-)conflicts of interest, and our scandalous lack of public toilets.

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Suri Kasirer was just declared the city’s highest-earning lobbyist, taking in over $2.4 million in fees for her ten-year-old, five-person boutique firm in 2005. She helped a Spanish company win the billion-plus contract for public toilets and an Israeli developer take the Plaza Hotel condo. Daughter of a Queens rabbi, she’s married to former Giuliani chief of staff Bruce Teitelbaum. Her reductive style appeals to companies—especially international outfits—that lack patience for City Hall’s red-tape labyrinth. Says one competitor: “Whenever you’re No. 1 in the money, you put a target on your back. Her competitors will be shooting at her.” Reluctantly, Kasirer spoke to Geoffrey Gray.

How does it feel to be the top lobbyist in the city?
I’m not answering that. I’m sorry. You’re not gonna like me, but I am not answering any of your questions.

Why so hesitant?
I am not looking for stories about myself. For me, it’s about my clients. I like to tell their stories.

How do you sell the toilet story?
Because a person here can’t find a bathroom, unless they’re well dressed and going into a fancy hotel. We’re the only civilized city in the world that doesn’t have public toilets.

Did you try any of the prototypes out?
I did not.

You’re the chief fund-raiser for city comptroller—and 2009 mayoral aspirant—William Thompson, who has control over the contracts of many of your clients. Do you see that as a conflict of interest?
I don’t, and I don’t lobby him or his office. I turn down clients that want to hire me to lobby him. I made that decision when he became comptroller.

How do you feel about more regulation on lobbyists?
The more transparency there is, the more people can understand what we do. There’s this perception that people are in smoke-filled back rooms making deals. That’s really not the way it is. There may be some individuals like that, but for the most part it’s a lot of hard work from people who care about what they do.

How would your friends describe you?
Intense.

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