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Success in a town like Washington, D.C., particularly in the political arena, often depends on who you know. Jarvis Stewart, former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., and special assistant to Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, is counting on the people he’s gotten to know over the past several years to help him unlock doors in the White House and on the Hill.
Earlier this year, Stewart, 31, joined forces with Brett Scott, 37, former counsel to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Amy Mehlman, 31, former government affairs liaison at the law firm Wiley, Rein & Fielding, to form Capitol Coalitions Inc., a government affairs firm.
Talk about diversity, Stewart, who is African American and a Democrat, and Scott, who is white and a Republican, came up with the idea for their coalition over drinks and steaks at the Capitol Grille, a favorite watering hole for Washington’s power brokers, where almost nothing is politically incorrect. Together with Mehlman, they provide a combination of high-level access and legislative and lobbying experience they believe will serve their clients well on both sides of the aisle. “You’ve got to have bipartisan representation if you’re going to survive in Washington,” says Houston Councilman Carroll Robinson. “And because it’s a small, boutique firm, they’re going to give you more attention.” The city’s Committee on Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure, which Robinson chairs, has hired the firm to lobby Washington on airport issues.
“Initially, it was hard, as it is for any small business trying to get off the ground,” says Stewart. “In this industry, it’s harder. You hear white lobbyists talk about their brother’s cousin who is the president of company ‘X,’ and they essentially hand out great retainers to friends. To have a guy like me pitch a client has to take a little bit more arm twisting.”
Stewart anticipates the firm will take in $1.3 million in its first year.