Schumerland ascends to new heights in Senate

Schumerland ascends to new heights in Senate
© Haiyun Jiang

Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerManchin meeting with Biden, Schumer in Delaware Progressives' optimism for large reforms dwindles Democratic frustration with Sinema rises MORE (D-N.Y.) will be able to draw upon a network of influencers and former aides when he ascends to Senate Democratic leader in 2017.

Former staffers of Schumer’s have prominent positions throughout Washington and New York, exerting their clout at trade associations, corporate offices, public relations shops, and law and lobbying firms.


With Senate Republicans lacking the 60 votes needed to enact many of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE’s priorities without Democratic help, Schumer will have considerable leverage to shape the agenda — and that will make connections to him a valuable commodity.

“There aren’t a lot of folks who can claim they are close to him, but folks do all the time,” said Izzy Klein, who worked for Schumer and now serves as managing partner at Roberti Global: Irizarry-Klein-Roberti, with clients including Citigroup, Oracle and General Motors. 

The Brooklyn-born senator has a steep challenge ahead, with his party defending 25 Senate seats in the 2018 cycle. At the same time, he’ll be squaring off against Trump and an emboldened Republican Party.

Schumer and Trump have long operated in the same New York social spheres, with the president-elect even donating to Schumer’s campaigns in the past. Trump actually called Schumer soon after winning the White House.

But Schumer has sought to make one thing clear about Trump: “He was not my friend,” he recently told Politico. “We never went golfing together, even had a meal together.”

Schumer has been a power broker in Democratic politics for years, including stints as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) from 2005 to 2009.

While in Congress, he has also shown an ability to work with Republicans on a variety of issues, including immigration reform and protecting the voting rights of U.S. service members while overseas. That has raised hopes that Schumer could play the role of deal-maker next year. 

“Regardless of whether they came in knowing him well, or knowing his reputation for being a political guy, [Republicans] overwhelmingly come out of the experience believing that he is a fair and an honest broker,” said a former Schumer staffer now on K Street who asked not to be named.

A disciplined politician who stays on message, Schumer has long been known for his “staff time,” where he holds meetings on policy issues that can run late into the night. The senator peppers aides with questions as he seeks to game out strategy.

“He does not have a K Street kitchen cabinet. There aren’t lobbyists he spends time during the day talking to,” said Stephanie Martz, of Monument Policy Group, who served as Schumer’s chief counsel. “For political advice, he  relies on his staff.”

Yet Schumer is well aware of how outside lobbying forces can affect what happens in Congress.

“His staff will come into those meetings knowing what outside groups think,” said a former Schumer staffer.

Lobbyists and “people from the outside, how do they influence? It’s in those conversations,” the former staffer said.

A source close to Schumer stressed that his inner circle consists of senators and current staffers. While some of the office’s former staffers are now lobbyists, the source said, they are not involved in day-to-day operations.

At least a dozen former Schumer staffers have gone into the lobbying industry over the years.

Schumer’s office is “beholden to no one,” one Democratic lobbyist added. “They also know that K Street can stop stuff.”

Some of the people closest to Schumer worked on his first Senate run in 1998, like his current chief of staff, Mike Lynch.

Other alums of Schumer’s that race include Third Way co-founder Jim Kessler, who also worked with Schumer in the House; Josh Isay, the co-founder of SKDKnickerbocker in New York, the public affairs firm; J.B. Poersch, the managing director in SKDK’s Washington office who also worked as the DSCC’s executive director from 2005 to 2010; and Erick Mullen at public affairs and lobbying firm Mercury, who helped Schumer win his Senate seat and then served as a top staffer.

Another figure in Schumer’s orbit is Katie Beirne Fallon, who last week was named the senior vice president and global head of corporate affairs at Hilton hotels.

In addition to being close with Schumer, Fallon forged relationship with Senate offices as the director of legislative affairs at the White House for President Obama. She does not intend to register to lobby for Hilton at this time, a company representative told The Hill.

Earlier this month, Stacy Ettinger left Schumer's office for law and lobby firm K&L Gates. She spent almost a decade as senior legal and policy counsel for him. 

Among the other former staffers in the private sector are Jessica Straus at Dish Network, who worked at the DSCC and then became Schumer’s finance director; Heather McHugh of Capitol Hill Strategies, a former legislative director; Jason Abel, a former Schumer and Senate Rules Committee chief counsel now at Steptoe & Johnson; Roger Hollingsworth at the Managed Funds Association, and Jimmy Ryan, at Subject Matter, who was with Schumer during his time in the House and worked on gun control in the ’90s. Molly Ahern at American Continental Group, who spent five years with Schumer, is reportedly beloved by his staff. 

There are also lobbyists without a Schumer stint on their resumes that have become close to the senator’s office, including Jeff Forbes of Forbes Tate, Steve Elmendorf of Subject Matter, Jeff Peck of Peck Madigan Jones, Shannon Finley at Capitol Counsel, David Castignetti of Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, and Glover Park Group’s Joel Johnson.

“He takes input from [lobbyists] like he would from anyone else. Whether it’s a grassroots group or a more established advocate, if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, he will listen,” said Abel, who worked in Schumer’s personal office and on the Senate Rules Committee.

Schumer, as many former aides will attest, is fiercely independent. But the senator doesn’t hesitate to use his comically archaic flip phone to call on people for fundraising help or input on legislation.

“The one thing about him is that he treats everyone like they play the most important role. He’s been doing this a long time and he knows a lot of people,” said the Democratic lobbyist.

“He calls on a lot of folks, and is very upfront with people: ‘I really need you. And I’ll be for you sometimes and against you other times,’ ” the lobbyist added. “He’s against me more than he’s with me, that’s for sure. But I’m never surprised.”


— This article was updated at 10 a.m.