Kasirer Spotlight: Tristan Massalay-Ellis

Kasirer Spotlight:
Tristan Massalay-Ellis

Kasirer Spotlight is a Q&A that features our remarkable team members. Learn about their background, experience, and perspectives on government and politics.

Tristan Massalay-Ellis is Vice President on Kasirer’s Corporate & Legislation team, where he plays a key role in the government relations strategy for many of the firm’s corporate clients. Tristan joined Kasirer in January 2022 after over a decade of service in the public sector – most recently, as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the New York City Comptroller.

Tristan Massalay-Ellis Kasirer Spotlight

Tell us about your background and what brought you to Kasirer.

I always tell folks, “I’m New York City through and through but, Queens in my heart.” I was born in Queens Hospital, attended Queens public schools, PS 18, IS 237, and John Bowne High School. My mom is a teacher, and my dad is a train driver – literally a motor man. With that background I could have run for Congress, but instead, my passion for baseball led me to the State University of New York at Cobleskill. While there, one very interesting thing happened to me: I was good, but when I looked at my classmates and their resumes, I didn’t have any academic accolades outside of baseball. So, in my junior year, I joined student government. At the end of the year, they held elections and I said to myself, “I’m going to be a leader.” Initially, I chose to run for Public Affairs Officer, but there were close to 20 people running and I didn’t want to be in a competitive race. Ultimately, I was convinced to run for President against one other person, and I won. Just like that, I went from being the baseball guy to being the President of Student Government, and that’s when I got hit with a political bug.

As my college career came to an end, I naturally took up an internship in a local city council member’s office. I told myself it would just be for the summer to get some experience before I’d go get an MBA and work on Wall Street. Twelve years later, I was still in government and had held roles ranging from Special Assistant to being the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the New York City Comptroller.

Last year, I was presented with a unique choice: stay in the public sector and continue to do what I’ve been doing or take a step back and to the side and see what it’s like operating outside of government, while still working with government. That’s when the opportunity to work for Kasirer came about. I had worked with Kasirer on the government side during my time with New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, but having the opportunity to join the firm, and learn in a unique time as a city comes out of the pandemic, was truly special. This was my opportunity to see business and commerce from inside business and commerce, while staying near government.

In over a decade of public service, you have had the opportunity to foster relationships across the City’s government. What kinds of skills and tools helped you to build those strong relationships?

One skill that I had to develop was the ‘meaningful follow-up’ – understanding and honing the skill to not just send, “Hey, thanks for meeting, that was great,” because that says nothing, and it probably wasn’t great. But being able to meet, take away meaningful and important pieces, preliminarily act on those pieces, and quickly follow up with details, helps to foster a bond. Then, being able to add some light banter or cordial words can strengthen it. It becomes the first and second link in a very strong chain.

Another factor is just being genuine. The best leaders possess this – when they are in front of someone, a lobbyist, constituent, friend, parent, or whoever – they can be very direct, and more importantly, they’re able to be direct as themselves – their true selves. This means something to elected officials. It means something when you walk into a room and folks know who you are and what you’re going to be about. Even if you’re representing a client that they couldn’t care less about or representing something that they may have opposing views to – if they know that you are going to be genuine, you at least walk in and gain their respect, and that goes an incredibly long way.

Since transitioning to Kasirer, how have you been able to maintain those relationships while balancing their transactional nature?

I play golf. It’s no secret I play, and I try to play as much as I can, not during work time of course, but I try to play as much as possible. All that is to say: golf is the perfect opportunity to connect with someone. Many people think “oh, you get business deals done, you get out there and you’re shaking them down,” but it’s the total opposite. I play with elected officials, staffers, and administrative people because it’s an opportunity to keep the relationship strong. Take the transaction out of it and just play. Elected officials still send me not only a birthday invite for their fundraiser, but also their real birthday invitation. It’s because they know I’m going to show up as myself, and I’m still going to have the same jokes. Folks know that I’m always going to be myself, bring some levity to the situation, and remain incredibly respectful. They know that at the end of the day, while I would like to get the transaction done, it is just as important to keep our relationship strong. I don’t think I’m going to be a lobbyist at 99 years old, but I would like to think that I’m still going to be a friend, a brother, and a partner.

*Tristan claims he was voted funniest member of the Kasirer team via an internal poll, votes are still being tallied.

Tell us about a project you are most proud of while working in the public sector.

Definitely the National Tennis Center expansion for the USTA (United States Tennis Association) in Flushing Meadows Park. At the time, I was working for Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and they wanted to expand their footprint approximately one acre. During the negotiations, we met with their developers and board, and we really got a sense of how important this project was to them. To not just be in the room, but to have a seat at the table, providing statistical analysis and community feedback, helped the council member to leverage the community benefits package. Having a leader who actually provided meaningful information that could move the dial gave me a sense of pride on a project that I may not have otherwise sniffed.

The U.S. Open is coming up. Whenever they play, I always have a sense of gratification knowing that I contributed to that expansion, helping them add additional facilities in the park that we can all enjoy.

Speaking of accomplishments, you recently worked on finalizing a lease between the Savanna Fund, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, and the Administration for Child Services. What was that process like?

Oddly enough, Savanna was my first client when I joined Kasirer in January of 2022. My former supervisor had brought me in to see if there was any way that I could help foster some relationships and speed up the process from what was looking like a three to four years to one or two years. Initially, we were really optimistic that we could get the deal done, but we definitely ran into some challenges along the way. Our strategy involved engaging key stakeholders in a sequenced way, including the City Council and the administration – OMB, DCAS, ACS, the Deputy Mayors, and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs of the Mayor’s Office. It was critical to ensure that each of these important stakeholders understood how important it was to get this built, to help our government and ACS serve New Yorkers effectively.

This one hit home for me. A lot of folks don’t know my mother was adopted; she was brought to this country at the age of seven from Liberia. She went through this bad situation before being put into the New York City foster care system. So for me, ACS impacts me in a different type of way, and it felt incredible to be able to spearhead helping get a new headquarters and state of the art facilities, while also ensuring that the client’s needs were met. They had stakeholders and investors, and they had deadlines that needed to be met, and we exceeded them. They’re going to get to build this, the city gets a new facility, and the families of the city no longer have to get supplemental services in a dreary, old space.

As someone who has worked in both the government and now corporate lobbying, what are some ways New York City can streamline, improve, and better leverage public-private partnerships?

Things move very, very slowly – slower than slowly at times, and unfortunately, it can deter business, it can deter upgrades, and from a citizen standpoint, it can be somewhat of a ‘Debbie Downer.’ By working with the private sector in a way that’s not adversarial, but rather approaching it as true partners and friends, we can expedite the process and truly increase the overall mood of residents. The way to do this is by looking at these things as a true and genuine partnership.

Another way the city can improve these partnerships is by looking into the future. If the public and private sectors can align on where we want the city to be in 10 or 20 years, we can better operate in partnership toward this shared goal. We all want the city to be a better place, so once we agree on that, we can work towards it together.

Outside of work, what are your interests and hobbies? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

When I’m not working, I really enjoy hanging out with family and friends. Little do folks know, I am also an up-and-coming grill master and I do it all: smoking turkey, grilling ribs, grilling oysters. Also, it’s obviously no secret that I will find myself on anybody’s golf course anywhere. At this point, when I travel, three things come with me: my cell phone, my American Express. and my golf clubs. Oh, and I can’t forget my dog, Bronzey.