Patton Boggs may be the biggest lobbying firm in Washington, but it isn’t always the top of the career ladder on K Street. Darryl Nirenberg, an 18-year veteran of the powerhouse firm, is the most recent case in point.
Nirenberg, a former top aide to the late Sen. Jesse Helms and a prolific fundraiser for Republican candidates, has moved about 10 blocks east from Patton Boggs to highly regarded Steptoe & Johnson, where he will lead the firm’s Agriculture, Food, and Trade Working Group.
“It was a great experience, and I enjoyed every day I was there,” Nirenberg said in an interview this week, speaking of his former firm. “But I’ve worked with Steptoe for years on various projects, and it fits perfectly with my practice. They are the quintessential D.C. firm.”
Nirenberg also added a personal note in a statement about his move. “I am especially pleased to join the firm, having been a friend and neighbor of (the late Steptoe partner) Mark Hulkower. With my office now just steps from the Mark Hulkower Conference Room, I am glad to be reminded every day of his passion for the practice of law, his integrity, and his courage.”
Nirenberg’s path to the lobbying world began with 14 years on Capitol Hill, including stints as an aide to the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, R-Calif.; as a staffer for the Senate Agriculture Committee; and finally as an aide and chief of staff to Helms, R-N.C..
Like so many Hill staffers, Nirenberg, 54, first experienced life in the Capitol during a semester at Colgate University when he interned for the late Sen. Jacob Javits, R-N.Y. He caught the political bug, he said, and scored a job with Hayakawa soon after graduation.
His move to the Agriculture Committee connected Nirenberg with Helms, a virtual saint among conservatives. Helms died on the Fourth of July in 2008, six years after stepping aside from five terms in the Senate.
Nirenberg declined to speculate on whether Helms would be a tea-party activist were he alive today, but he fondly recalled the former TV and radio executive’s passion for his role as a senator. “Helms was a Senate institution guy,” Nirenberg said.
Nirenberg “loved every minute of every day” on the Hill, but says he always wanted to follow the career path of his father, a lawyer in upstate New York (Nirenberg grew up in the small town of Ellenville, on the edge of the Catskill Mountains). After earning his law degree in the evenings at George Washington University, Nirenberg landed at Patton Boggs in 1995.
“I was absolutely blessed to have the opportunity to work with Tom Boggs and more recently Trent Lott and John Breaux,” he said. “It was the privilege of a lifetime.”