Peter Powers Is Back

Former Deputy Mayor's Now a Man to See

Peter J. Powers
Peter J. Powers (Photo: Mutual of America

Peter J. Powers—Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s boyhood friend, former top deputy mayor and perpetual close adviser—has quietly re-emerged as the man to hire for several companies seeking a sympathetic ear from City Hall.

Although Mr. Powers says he does no lobbying-he is not registered as a city lobbyist-he has been retained as a “consultant” by at least five companies that do some form of business with the Giuliani administration.

Mr. Powers operates his business, Powers Global Strategies, out of the offices of Howard J. Rubenstein Associates Inc. His clients include developer Joshua Muss, builder of the New York Marriott Brooklyn, who is negotiating with the city’s Economic Development Corporation over control of city-owned land, and United Parcel Service, which has complained recently about the Police Department’s policy of towing double-parked U.P.S. trucks and which last year racked up nearly $3 million in traffic fines.

Mr. Powers, who was generally considered one of the Giuliani administration’s more reasonable members during his time in City Hall, said he does not lobby the government, whose day-to-day affairs he oversaw until mid-1996 as First Deputy Mayor for Operations. “I don’t lobby and I don’t lobby the city particularly,” said Mr. Powers. He declined to reveal his client roster, saying: “I treat my clients with respect and confidentiality.” He said his advice for clients dealing with government consists of “making sure they understand what the process is if they’re dealing with government [and] helping them address the questions that government is asking them to address.”

Mr. Powers could lobby the city if he wanted to, according to rules regulating lobbying by former city officials. Those guidelines prohibit former city officials from approaching their prior agencies for a year, and impose a lifetime ban on lobbying on “particular matters” on which they worked directly. “I have every right to lobby,” he said. “But I don’t, because I feel it’s something that could embarrass the city or my clients because I’m so close to the Mayor.”

Joseph J. Lhota, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Operations, said Mr. Powers has never contacted him on behalf of a client. “He’s never once talked to me about any business he has,” said Mr. Lhota. “He’s very aware of the perception of impropriety-as well as [actual] impropriety-and he never crosses that line.”

Mr. Powers’ success as a government consultant follows in the tradition of scores of former City Hall officials before him. Last year, for example, the city awarded a $104 million welfare-to-work contract to a partnership that included Richard J. Schwartz-a former City Hall aide who was the architect of the Giuliani’s administration’s welfare reform program. (In April, a State Supreme Court justice said the award process was “corrupted” and blocked the contract.)

Mr. Powers said that he did not owe his business to his relationship with Mayor Giuliani. “I think I owe whatever success I have to my parents, who worked hard to educate me, to gifts that God gave me, to hard work that I put in my life and to luck that I’ve had,” he said.

Sunny Mindel, Mayor Giuliani’s press secretary, did not return several messages requesting comment on Mr. Powers’ consulting business.

Mr. Powers has served Mr. Giuliani in a host of capacities since leaving city government. He ran the Mayor’s City Charter Revision Commission in 1998, headed a mayoral task force on special education, and chaired Public-Private Initiatives Inc., a city-run charity that raises money privately for the Mayor’s favorite projects. Most recently, he reappeared as the Mayor’s trusted confidant in the wake of his marital and health woes and his decision to bow out of the U.S. Senate race.

In addition to the other restrictions on lobbying, former city officials are also prohibited from using “confidential city information” gleaned from their time in government. However, chuckled Gene Russianoff, a senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, “knowing the Mayor’s mood swings is not confidential.”

Lifetime Friends

Mr. Powers may know the Mayor’s mood swings better than anyone. The two have been friends for more than 40 years, since meeting at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, where Mr. Powers joined Mr. Giuliani’s opera club. They also both attended Manhattan College in the Bronx, where the pair ran on the same slate for student office-Mr. Giuliani for class president, Mr. Powers for treasurer-and joined the same fraternity. They attended New York University law school together and Mr. Powers managed Mr. Giuliani’s first two mayoral campaigns.

After he left city government in August of 1996 to join a hedge fund, Mr. Powers told Crain’s New York Business that he would not take advantage of his ties to City Hall. “I could have made a lot of money lobbying the city or the state,” he said. “But I didn’t want to bilk my contacts in the city.” After the fund went out of business in late 1998, Mr. Powers started his own consulting business, which also has a Washington, D.C., office. He then told Crain’s that he no longer ruled out lobbying City Hall. “I haven’t done it yet, and it’s not a major part of what I’m doing, but I have not foreclosed it,” he said.

One current client, Pfizer Inc., said it hired Mr. Powers as a “political consultant.” Asked what that entailed, Pfizer spokesman Brian McGlynn said, “Lobbying.” He added: “In terms of the specifics of our agreement with him, I don’t think we’re inclined to discuss it. It’s lobbying the state legislature, maybe city government. That’s what my understanding is.” Told that Mr. Powers said he does not lobby, Mr. McGlynn said: “It may be that he does not call it lobbying, I don’t know.”

In recent years, Pfizer has lobbied the city on a number of issues, including city funding for the New York Botanical Garden. Pfizer chairman and C.E.O. William C. Steere Jr. is a Botanical Garden board member. (In his January preliminary budget, Mayor Giuliani proposed eliminating general operating funds for the Garden, but restored that money in his executive budget in April.)

Mr. Powers would not acknowledge that Pfizer is a client, but he did say that “there are clients who I’ve had who ask me to advise them on my observations on the political climate on [the] state, national and local level … since I’ve run campaigns and stuff.”

The city code defines lobbying as “any attempt to influence” a wide array of city actions, including proposed laws or the awarding of contracts. However, the law specifically excludes from the definition of lobbying “persons engaged in advising clients … in relation to … proposed legislative, executive or administrative action, where persons do not themselves engage in an attempt to influence such action.”

Other Powers clients include the Greater New York Hospital Association, which has lobbied the city on a number of issues over the years. Company spokeswoman Mary Johnson said that Mr. Powers advises the association’s for-profit arm, GNYHA Ventures, and introduces “staff members to business people around town.”

A Waste Advisor

And Mr. Powers also works for Waste Management, which has a contract with the city to collect residential garbage. The company also utilizes the law firm that includes former mayoral aide Randy Mastro. Mr. Mastro chaired the city’s Trade Waste Commission, which imposed new regulations on the carting business, but says that neither he nor his law firm performs any work for Waste Management before city agencies. (Asked why not, Mr. Mastro said, “Because people like you call. Even when we are doing our jobs ethically and responsibly, people like you place calls.”)

In a written statement, the company said: “Peter Powers has advised Waste Management from time to time on public policy matters involving its operations on the East Coast. He has never represented the company before any New York City agencies.”

Joshua Muss-who at times has had a strained relationship with the Giuliani administration-said he could not recall whether he and Mr. Powers had discussed his business before the Economic Development Corporation. “My business is sometimes a business of perception,” he said of his hire, “and sometimes I need advice.”

He added: “When I get consultants, whether it’s environmental or zoning or land use, almost invariably you’re dealing with somebody who operated at some point in the city government, because those are the guys who know best how to chart your course. My attorney used to be at city planning, [another] attorney used to work for the tax assessors. It’s not a very smart thing when you hire people who don’t know how things are run.” Peter Powers Is Back