That was the best advice anyone in this business had ever given me. It happened when I left government for the first time and was scrambling to sign up clients for a political consulting business I was running out of my house. I had convinced a couple of the Senators I knew from my time in the legislature to sign on but I needed more clients to make a go of it. Cadillac Curtis had set me up with one of his contacts, a fellow named Greg Liebermann. Greg had been the chief counsel for the minority leader of the Assembly then had gone on to become in-house counsel at Niagara Mohawk rising to Vice President and General Counsel before joining an upstate law firm in an of counsel role.
Greg still had a lot of contacts both in and out of government and was widely respected by both sides of the aisle. Needless to say I was excited to meet him and try to convince him to recommend me to his friends and business contacts. I saw dollar signs when I sat down for breakfast with Greg. After several minutes of small talk and explaining what my new business could do for people in government I got to the point and asked Greg if he knew anyone that could use my services.
I did not get what I hoped for. I didn’t even get a polite brush off. What I got instead was embrace serendipity. Greg delivered it in a very serious way, in fact it took him about five minutes of rambling, Greg was and is a rambler, to say it. And when he did I couldn’t help myself I blurted out “what the fuck does that mean?”
Greg didn’t bat an eye but patiently explained that life and business in particular was like a voyage on a sail boat, those that were the most successful unfurled their sails and let the wind take them where it may.
At the time I thought Greg was completely full of shit and that I had wasted my time and gotten stuck with the bill to boot, but looking back it was the single greatest piece of advice I have ever received and I pass it along whenever I can.
It worked for me, my career has taken many twists and turns as the winds of politics have blown me into the harbor of lobbying. Greg on the other hand is presently serving a five year sentence in federal prison after getting caught in a sting operation arising from the governor’s short lived Moreland Commission on Corruption. Greg was one of the Co-Chairs and was secretly taped discussing which of the governor’s many enemies in the legislature should receive subpoenas to disclose their outside income and campaign donations. The fact that he was discussing it with one of the principals of a company bidding for a casino license that was simultaneously donating millions of dollars to the governor thru a myriad of LLC interests all of whom were set up by Greg’s law firm for an outrageous fee might have gone unnoticed, this was Albany after all, but Greg got greedy and while rambling on with his embrace serendipity speech actually asked for a bribe in the form of a new sailboat. Not sure how well embrace serendipity goes over in prison but I will always be grateful for that advice and I try to embrace serendipity every day.
Today’s serendipity was waiting in my office for me when I arrived.
It came in the form of Dixie Junkins.
Dixie had been referred to the firm by Speaker Washington’s chief fundraiser. Dixie had either been Speaker Washington’s roommate in college or was the speaker’s aunt’s husband’s brother in law, no one quite knew for sure. Dixie was impeccably dressed in a conservative Brooks Brothers suit but it might have been a decent knock off I couldn’t tell. At first sight I thought Dixie might be a light skinned brother but after careful examination he just as easily could have been a swarthy Mediterranean type. I had had a full background investigation done on Dixie prior to our meeting and Pat had left the results in a folder on my desk but I hadn’t had the time to review it yet, I would do so as I interviewed Dixie.
“Mr. Leatherbaum how good to see you again”
Dixie had a strange accent, it was either Bahamian with a little Jamaican lilt or it was Brooklyn with a lisp I just couldn’t tell.
“Have we met before? I must apologize I don’t recall”
“No worries Mr. Leathers it was at the fundraiser for 101 black men, I was on the host committee and received the Basil Washington award, and please call me Dixie. I don’t know if you are aware Leathers and I don’t tell anyone but my close friends, but I am the illegitimate son of Basil Washington”
Basil Washington was a legendary figure in the black community in the seventies who eventually served as the Mayor of New York City. If Dixie was his son he was black political royalty although of the bastard variety. Basil’s actual legitimate son was now the Speaker of the Assembly Bernard Washington, known to his friends as “Shady” Washington. Time to check the background folder.
The first page stated that Dixie Junkins birth certificate listed his name as David Basil Junkins the son of Saul Junkins and Delinda Washington. David was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. The report stated that although no proof existed, soon after David’s birth Saul petitioned the court to be removed from the birth certificate as David’s birth father and the petition was granted. The box for race on the birth certificate was also unchecked.
No way to prove or disprove that one, time to move on.
“I’m sorry Dixie I’ve never attended a fundraiser for 101 black men but it is a pleasure to meet you, how can I be of service”
“Well my brother, “Shady” suggested I leverage my unique position and skill set to help you Leathers. I am confident that I can, with my brother’s helpful insight, sign a lot of clients that need the Speakers help with legislation and I might add bring a little diversity to your firm. You guys have a reputation for being male and pale”
“So you want to join us as a lobbyist, have you lobbied before?”
“Oh I have, I was the chief strategist for “Black Shadow”, I’m sure you’ve heard of it’
I had in fact, “Black Shadow” was the super Pac for the black caucus in the United States Senate. They were extremely well funded and even better connected to the black business community, a demographic our firm had never broken into.
“But I don’t want to be a lobbyist per se Leathers, I’d rather have an affiliation with your firm whereby I refer clients and you do the actual lobbying”
I checked the folder again. Under employment it said that Dixie had worked for a fundraising affiliate of “Black Shadow” but did so as a vendor so no payroll records were available. Working as a vendor instead of an employee was common practice among political operatives that did not want their large salaries to become the target of an opposition research report into the spending habits or personnel of these super Pacs. Once again, no way to prove if Dixie was telling the truth.
Time to embrace serendipity.
“That could be a very exciting opportunity for both of us Dixie. I’m sure we could use you and could provide a commission of one third of any revenue we receive from clients you originate”
“That’s great Leathers but as I’m sure my brother explained the relationships I have are going to be wary of using a firm like yours and it might take some time to cultivate and convince them to do so, in the meantime both my brother and our friends think that a forty percent finder’s fee and a weekly stipend of $5000, a membership in The East Greenbush Golf and Polo Club and a corner office would be more appropriate. Now of course if you doubt my brother’s ability to generate new business I’d be more than happy to keep my next appointment with Mr. Richard Siler and you will be hearing from my brother I’m sure.”
I checked the folder again, nothing Dixie had said could be proven or disproven.
“I wish you luck with Richard, Dixie”
It wasn’t in the folder but if Dixie really had the connections in the black community he claimed he didn’t need a membership in a golf club. I’d never seen a black politician playing golf in all my years lobbying. And the day I let “Shady” Washington get over on me was the day I’d make sure “Shady” went back to hustling fake Rolexes on Queens Boulevard.
This time it looked like the winds of fortune were blowing me away from the rocks and shoals of Dixie Junkins. I would let someone else crash and sink with Dixie.
Time to call Dante.