When he talks, members of Congress listen. This is why he’s helped bring home tens of millions of dollars for local government agencies in recent years. And why in 2010 Comcast paid Urban’s firm $180,000 to help shepherd through its controversial $30 billion merger with NBC-Universal. And why, over the past two years, the aforementioned Philly pharma company has shelled out $630,000 for ACG’s services.
“What people pay for is results,” Urban says later that day, relaxing in his office.
And few people in Philly’s power orbit have gotten results like David Urban.
METION THE WORD “LOBBYIST” these days, and the name most people think of is Jack Abramoff, the disgraced slimeball who traded expensive gifts and trips for political favors for his clients. Fairly or not, “lobbyist” has become pejorative, a symbol of the corrupting influence of money in politics, a manifestation of our government’s most undemocratic tendencies.
But David Urban is no Jack Abramoff. In fact, he’s nothing at all like what you’d expect a lobbyist to be. He’s a West Point grad and decorated combat soldier, the oldest son of an Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, steelworker who still fervently believes in “duty, honor, country” and who still speaks of politicians with an almost Mr. Smith Goes to Washington idealism. He’s eloquent, passionate, gregarious, quick-witted and razor-sharp — basically, one of the most immensely likeable people you’ll ever meet.
So how the hell did he end up in such a sleazy profession?
That question turns on a concession that Urban is unwilling to make — that lobbying is, in fact, sleazy. To him, there’s little difference between what he does and what lawyers do. “I’m an advocate,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything my clients do or say.”
If power is a drug, it’s easy to call Urban an addict, but that doesn’t do him justice. He’s more a connoisseur, someone who respects and savors power the way a wine enthusiast would a 1999 Château Le Pin Pomerol. It is, in no small part, why a man with his résumé and smarts chose to become a Washington lobbyist. The allure of politics, as both sport and art, was too great.