By Bob Bellafiore and Steve Greenberg | January 29, 2020

It’s gratifying for both of us to be recognized in City & State’s Political PR Power 50. Even better to be back to back. Seems like the story of our lives.

It’s been this way for decades, Greenberg and Bellafiore, or the Bob and Steve Show as it’s come to be called by some, including random people in the grocery store.

The show goes back our college years when UAlbany was called Albany State, where we lived in rival sections in our dorm – our mutual compadres didn’t always get along – and both worked on the student paper. Bob worked his way up through the ranks to become sports editor. Bob says Steve, with no journalism experience, was named managing editor when his housemate became editor. Steve says he read a lot of newspapers before taking on the job.

The show continued when Bob was an AP Capitol reporter and Steve ran Assembly Speaker Mel Miller’s regional offices and later became his press secretary. When we wanted to make social plans, Bob left phone messages using a mutual college friend’s name. We did this because, in the event AP got a story the Speaker didn’t want out, Steve wouldn’t be suspected of leaking. Which, for the record, he never did (at least to Bob).

When we got an apartment together and had to decide who got the big room, we used the most democratic of methods – a coin flip.

Over the phone.

Bob did the flipping and, duh, won. No re-flip demanded. Talk about trust.

It was then that we made a pact: wherever our jobs take us or require us to do, we’d never let that get in the way of our friendship.

Little did we know that a few years later, we’d find ourselves working night and day to put each other out of work. We each had senior roles in 2002 when Steve’s boss, Comptroller H. Carl McCall, tried to oust Bob’s boss, Gov. George Pataki.

We both left government after the election, but only one of us has fun telling the story. (For the record, Steve wanted to leave this section out.)

A few years later, we pitched then-Capital News 9’s news director and the first host of Capital Tonight on a point-counterpoint segment that later became “The Insiders.” Our first appearance was July 27, 2005, the day Gov. Pataki announced he would not seek a fourth term.

Our goal as Albany insiders was not to argue or recite talking points. Rather, we sought to help explain New York State government and politics in ways that would be relevant and understandable to “normal” people – people who don’t follow the ins and outs of government and politics all the time; the vast majority of New Yorkers.

We try to make sense of the news of the day – what it means and why normal people should care. Former Gov. David Paterson gave us many truisms but perhaps none truer than when he dubbed the Capitol “Planet Albany.”

Along with being fun, this saga testifies to how two people with very different views on everything – from politics and policy to cola brands and sports teams – can effectively partner to serve many clients together, while still maintaining distinct solo practices and identities. And an enduring friendship.

There might be a lesson here for the divisive, sloganistic and siloistic, food-fight nature of today’s politics, but let’s leave that heavy stuff for another day. (On this issue we agree much more than we disagree.)

The lesson for today relates to how to make public affairs work as a one- or two-person shop in a business increasingly populated by large firms that do great work. But here’s how two overweight bald Queens guys who’ve spent most of our adult lives around Albany (different suburbs, of course) make it work – for our clients and ourselves.

First, we always, always get along. Even when our first consulting clients were on opposite sides of the same issue (rent control).

Second, we believe work should be fun. Which means supporting clients and issues we like and enjoy.

Third, we know we offer unique insights derived over years of working in government and politics but from different perspectives. Steve brings more time in government and campaign politics than Bob, who was a journalist before advocacy and government communications. Both of us learned from some of the best in the business, whose names we won’t list here because there isn’t enough space.

The trick is quickly turning those insights into action. No disagreement between us on an approach has lasted more than five minutes. That’s trust in the other guy.

Hmmm, maybe governments everywhere could use some more of that.

Steve Greenberg, of Greenberg Public Relations, likes the Yankees, the Rangers and Diet Coke.
Bob Bellafiore, of Stanhope Partners, likes the Mets, the Islanders and Pepsi.