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K Street icon Cassidy to step down

Gerry Cassidy plans to step down in 2014 as chief executive of Cassidy & Associates, the trailblazing lobby firm he founded nearly four decades ago.

Cassidy, 73, will notify the firm on Thursday that he plans to become chairman emeritus on Jan. 1 — a decision he says was six months in the making.

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“It was an easy decision to make once I'd done a lot of thinking about it,” Cassidy told The Hill in an exclusive interview.

Cassidy has tapped two of his closest allies — the firm’s president, retired Lt. Col. Barry Rhoads and Kai Anderson, Cassidy’s chief strategic officer and executive vice president — to serve as co-chairmen.

“I thought these were the fellows to do it, and this is the time to do it,” Cassidy said.

In another personnel move, Gregg Hartley, a leader at Cassidy & Associates, is leaving the firm on Jan. 1 to form his own lobby shop.

Hartley, a former chief aide to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) when he was in the House, said the new venture will be called Cloakroom Advisers. He plans to partner with another Cassidy & Associates alum, William “Rocky” Fox.

He will still be serving as a more independent of counsel role at Cassidy, and still able to help “a select number of clients receive the same exact services as they were getting before I departed,” Hartley said.

The changeover marks the end of an era for a K Street firm that, more than any other, propelled the rise of the modern lobbying industry in Washington.

The business began modestly in 1975, with Cassidy’s wife, Loretta, answering the phones.

Three decades later, it was firmly established as one of the top-earning firms in all of Washington, earning more than $370 million in lobbying revenues since 1998, when the oldest records are available electronically.

“I'd like to think that when people look back, they'll see that [Cassidy & Associates] was a groundbreaking firm and that it has relevancy to whatever happens in the future,” Cassidy said, “[and] that we were a builder and a leader.”

Cassidy’s first partner, Kenneth Schlossberg, left the venture in 1985, just before the firm’s earnings began to skyrocket — eventually making Cassidy one of K Street’s titans.

By the mid-1990s, Cassidy & Associates had helped save General Dynamics’ Seawolf submarine program and McDonnell Douglas Corp.’s C-17 planes from getting nixed from the Pentagon’s budget.

“I couldn't envision that at the time I started the business,” Cassidy said. “And I said, ‘Who could look forward and have a vision of what the future holds?’ ”

Rhoads, a former Defense Department official, and Anderson, a former senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), say that their boss has been a mentor, teaching them how to manage clients and stay ahead of the curve.

And they say they are determined to keep the firm growing despite the congressional ban on earmarks, which has taken a bite out of the firm’s business.

Since 2007, Cassidy’s revenues have been in decline, falling to $15.5 million last year — a nearly 51 percent drop from the firm’s high of $32.1 million in 2001.

But Cassidy & Associates has been retooling for a new era, and remains firmly among the top 20 earning lobby firms in Washington, with clients like Intel, EADS North America, Expedia, AT&T, BP and BMW.

“I don't think any of us are in a position of predicting what will be the new paradigm two or three years — but it's not going to be the continued gridlock we're in right now,” said Anderson. “Something will break the dam.”

“The only way that you're able to adapt as that happens — or help that sea change happen — is if you've got good people who can innovate, who can do something other than what has been done historically,” he said.

Currently, the firm employs 33 full-time lobbyists and senior advisers, but expansion could be on the horizon.

Asked if they planned to bring on new talent, Cassidy, Rhoads and Anderson replied in near unison: “Absolutely.”

“The status quo is not even a discussion point,” Rhoads said. 

— This story was updated at 7:36 p.m.