The risks in using a local political fixer to win your real estate project

The Saint ReportPoliticians and Planning, Property Development, Saint Consulting Links, saintblog

By P. Michael Saint,
Chairman, The Saint Consulting Group

Many experienced developers believe that if they need help to overcome neighborhood opposition to their projects, they should find and hire the local political fixer – the consultant who has worked on the mayor’s campaigns or has fixerbeen involved in many political battles in that community for candidates and issues.

We find this is becoming a losing strategy for three main reasons:

1) Local fixers carry baggage. By virtue of their long political involvement in a city or community, fixers often have made enemies. Yes, they worked on the last campaign for mayor, and the mayor won, but they made lifelong enemies of the candidates whom they defeated, who still carry a lot of political weight in town. Building a winning coalition on a land use battle can be hampered, sometimes irreparably, if starting out you cannot approach 40% of the political activists who were on the other side in the last mayor’s race.

2) Local fixers have blind spots. They have worked in an area so long they have biases that cloud their political judgment. Yes, they may know where a lot of the bodies are buried, but they also have developed strong likes and dislikes for people in town. They may totally write off someone who they did not agree with or get along with in the past but that someone may be the key ingredient to winning the project. Or they may include someone who will be the kiss of death. Or they will avoid angering some individual or interest group who opposes the project but whom they need on some other local political campaign.

3) Local Fixers have their own agendas. They make their living selling their insider connections to all clients. Yes, they can get you lunch with their friend, the mayor, but they can never propose or implement a strategy that will anger the mayor. If the mayor won’t take their calls, because he was angered by the developer’s tactics, the fixer will be out of business because he won’t be able to sell lunch with the mayor to the next client. Sometimes a winning land use political strategy requires taking steps that will irritate the mayor.

Mike Saint is founder and chairman of The Saint Consulting Group, email msaint@tscg.biz