Right-wing networker; boutique investment researcher; would-be Newark power broker; Sky Club luncher
“Tucker Carlson is one of my very best friends,” Mark Gerson said. The co-founder and chief executive of the Gerson Lehrman Group, a boutique investment-research firm, looked fit-if somewhat intense-in his close-cropped hair and navy suit on a recent Wednesday afternoon in a coffee shop near his East 44th Street office.
But as successful as his company is, it’s Mr. Gerson’s place in Manhattan’s burgeoning neoconservative social, political and intellectual scene that has gotten him where he is today. He is the Friendster of the neoconservative establishment.
“I’ve known Mark for 10 years,” veteran neocon writer Bill Kristol said. “In New York, I can’t tell you how many times I’ll go to an event and talk to someone, and they’ll turn out be a friend of Mark Gerson.”
“He seems to know everybody,” Tucker Carlson said. “He’s a great promoter of other people. He’d be a great Mayor of New York, but who knows?”
Perhaps biding his time before he takes that step, Mr. Gerson, 31, has become one of the largest fund-raisers for Newark progressive Democratic mayoral candidate Cory Booker and published three books and several articles in The Weekly Standard, The New Republic and The Wall Street Journal – all while running the company he co-founded and expanding it to seven offices with nearly 100 employees from New York to Sydney.
His congenial brilliance, amiable nature and unsolicited offers of help to others have placed him at the center of the intellectual-political-financial complex that spans from Wall Street to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Mr. Gerson maintains a torrid social calendar, beginning each morning the moment he steps from his East 63rd Street apartment building for a regular tennis match at the U.N. Plaza Hotel or a basketball game at the Yale Club. He’s a member there, at the Midtown Executive Club and at the Sky Club, where he lunches alongside New York’s power brokers atop the Met Life building. He’s on the board of the conservative Manhattan Institute and donates to the D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute, President George W. Bush’s favorite backdrop for controversial policy announcements.
At the many book parties hosted by his company throughout the year, Mr. Gerson brings together his disparate constellation of friends, colleagues and confidants.
“Everything is thoroughly integrated. Whenever a friend has a book out, I’ll host an event,” Mr. Gerson said. At one such recent event, staged at the Yale Club for Mr. Carlson’s Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News, Democratic Presidential candidate Al Sharpton was a guest.
Mr. Gerson began building his network back at Williams College, where he was president of the Republican Club and edited the conservative Williams Observer, and where he pored over the classics of his forebears-back issues of Commentary and works by Irving Kristol, George Will and Norman Podhoretz.
After his sophomore year, Mr. Gerson interned at Policy Review , the Washington-based magazine of the conservative Heritage Foundation. By senior year, he was writing his thesis on the history of neoconservative thought-and parlaying his research into meetings with Mr. Podhoretz and Mr. Kristol, and eventually a book contract with Madison Books.
“Mark is very good at forging relationships that have a lot to offer,” said Adam Meyerson, the former editor of Policy Review and president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a D.C.-based nonprofit group.
After his senior year, Mr. Gerson deferred his acceptance to Yale Law School to teach at an inner-city Catholic high school in Jersey City. In 1995, he was published in Commentary, writing about his teaching experience-“one of the dreams of my short lifetime,” he said. Weeks later, David Brooks, then at The Wall Street Journal, ran it as an op-ed piece. A book agent got Mr. Gerson $20,000 from the Free Press to write his second book, In the Classroom: Dispatches from an Inner-city School That Works. Mr. Gerson was 25.
“I never wanted to write full-time. I didn’t want to be an editor or a professor. I found the writing to be lonely,” Mr. Gerson said. But “I found the business aspect of selling the books to the editors fascinating. I decided I wanted to start a business.” Mr. Gerson founded the Gerson Lehrman Group in 1998 with his partner Thomas Lehrman, who’s now at Yale Law School. “When we started the business, we made a rule to make a new friend everyday,” Mr. Gerson said. “The more people we could meet, the more we would learn. It would help the business, and it would help us.”
Mr. Gerson hasn’t been diverted from politics. In Newark, he’s already planning to help Cory Booker put together a 2006 mayoral campaign. “Mark is incredibly energetic on behalf of the things he cares about, and he throws himself into what he believes in,” Mr. Kristol said. “Sometimes nice guys finish first.”