Paul Nunez has two homes. The one in New Haven where he lives with his wife and two children and where he can be found most Friday nights sitting with his family watching an old movie.
Then, there is his other “home,” the halls of the state Capitol in Hartford, where the 36-year-old Puerto Rico-born New Haven resident is the only Latino lobbyist from a private firm and only one of a handful of Latino lobbyists. He can be seen most days, especially when the Legislature is in session, talking with state leaders and checking his ever-present iPhone for updates and messages while working as an advocate for a diverse array of public and private clients.
“It’s a great place to work,” Nunez said of the Capitol building where he has held various jobs for more than a decade, the last four years as a lobbyist with DePino Associates, a government relations firm based in New Haven.
Last fall, the firm’s founder, former Republican state chairman Chris DePino, reorganized the venture he launched in 2003. Nunez, who has a bachelor’s degree in public policy, and attorney Melissa Biggs became partners in DePino, Nunez and Biggs LLC, or DNB.
Lobbying is an often misunderstood occupation, Nunez said, alluding to the public perception it enables special interest groups to have an inordinate impact on lawmaking. However, Nunez said the role he and the hundreds of other lobbyists who frequent the halls of government in Hartford play is important in the policy-making process and falls under the democratic principal of “everyone has a voice.”
Being a lobbyist entails a lot of interaction with legislators, at the Capitol and sometimes socially, Nunez explained, and presenting them with “clear, objective information” that makes a case for his client.
As to what makes a good lobbyist, “It is how you conduct yourself and knowing how to treat people,” Nunez explained, adding that much of this comes from experience.
Nunez clearly enjoys being a lobbyist and especially savors the diversity of his work, which in any one day can include talking on clients’ behalf or introducing them to legislators, following the progress of bills, attending various committee meetings and advising clients who will be delivering testimony to a legislative committee.
“The most attractive thing about the job,” Nunez indicated, “is having a roster of things to do and prioritize” every day. “I can be talking to a legislator about one thing and a few feet away is another legislator who I need to talk to about a different subject,” he said.
The downside of the job, Nunez said is that having worked long and hard on something and “sometimes that issue does not move forward.” In that case, he noted, “you have to accept the will of the General Assembly.”
A sizable part of Nunez’s work involves advocating for private-interest clients such as AT&T, the Northeast Charter School Network and public utilities. But he also represents the city of New Haven and has helped, on a pro bono basis, the Junta for Progressive Action, a social service agency devoted to advancing New Haven’s Latino community.
“Paul is an amazing person and a true friend and supporter of our work,” said Sandra Trevino, Junta’s executive director, who said Nunez served on the agency’s board when she arrived eight years ago. “He values families and understands the importance of community,” she added.
Nunez, who came to Hartford when he was in second grade, took his first step toward a career of working with community, government and political leaders at the age of 10 when he distributed literature for John Fonfara, now a state senator, who was running successfully for a House seat in Hartford at the time. This would the first of several political campaigns in which he would become involved.
Nunez, whose mother is a teacher, entered Trinity College undecided on a major. However, he said recently that at different points in his life various events would intercede to direct him toward his current profession. One of the first of these events took place when, as a local college student, he gained a place in an internship program that initially placed him in the administrative offices of the Fire Department.
When it came time for year two of the internship, because his father knew Deputy Mayor Frances Sanchez, Nunez was placed in her charge. At that time, Hartford had a weak mayor form of government, and through working with Sanchez, who was helping lead the city during the administration of Mayor Mike Peters, Nunez got to know politics.
“It was a great time to work in government in Hartford,” Nunez said, and having been bitten by the government bug he elected to major in public policy at Trinity.
After graduation, his first job was as a substitute teacher. Later, he became as an executive assistant for a youth services program. But again, something happened to intercede in his career path.
Nunez recalled that he had found a clipping from a newspaper’s help wanted section that contained an ad for a legislative assistant. When a friend also sent him the same clipping, Nunez recalled, he saw it as a sign he should apply.
The aide position was with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, an association that lobbies for the state’s towns and cities. It was during the application process that he met Gian-Carl Casa, who was then working as CCM’s director of public policy and advocacy.
“I was in Paul’s first and second interview at CCM,” said Casa, who since 2011 has been undersecretary for legislative affairs in the state Office of Policy and Management. “He was little more than a kid fresh out of school and displayed the kind of nervousness you’d expect. But those of us who interviewed him – twice – saw in him great promise, eagerness and intelligence,” Casa said.
It’s been a pleasure to work with him and watch him grow through the years into a well-regarded presence at the Capitol,” Casa added.
Working for CCM from 2002 to 2005, Nunez got a taste of lobbying, and again fate interceded. If was during this stint in the capital that friends introduced him to Talia Aikens, the daughter of state Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven. They hit if off and were married ten years ago.
The couple have two children, Isabella, 7, and Nyles, 17 months. While raising her daughter, Aikens discovered a passion for writing multicultural children’s books. Her first book was entitled “Escucha Means Listen” and this has been followed by others that co-mingle English and Spanish.
In 2005, Nunez left CCM to become New Haven’s legislative liaison under Mayor John DeStefano, following in the footsteps of the woman who had introduced him to his wife. Working with DeStefano brought him back into politics when the mayor ran unsuccessfully for governor against Jodi Rell, whose earlier campaigns for state office had been spearheaded by DePino.
Again, something happened that altered Nunez’s career path. A friend told him that state Rep. Christopher Donovan, who was then speaker of the state House, was looking for a policy staff member. Nunez got the job and appreciated working on family issues for Donovan.
In 2011, Nunez joined DePino Associates. Part of the reason that he made this change, he said, was DePino’s attitude. The longtime Republican leader said that he serves as a mentor and provides a support system that would allow the firm to build a great clientele. Moreover, DePino indicated that Nunez could eventually take over of the firm with Melissa Biggs.
“He has a great perspective on life and we talk a lot,” Nunez said of DePino, whose great passion is playing the harmonica and has performed throughout Connecticut and in Europe.
DePino still goes to the Capitol regularly and takes the lead on various clients, Nunez said. The two lobbyists confer daily, exchanging information and sometimes help clients together.
DePino and Biggs, as well as the administrative staff at the New Haven office, also are great help, Nunez said, with the accounting and bureaucratic side of the job, which includes the periodic reports lobbyists need to file with the state Board of Ethics.
“I am just one piece of team,” Nunez said, “and it is the work of the whole team that makes us a great firm.”
One thing that has become indispensable and de riguer in his profession is the iPhone which enables Nunez to quickly look up bills and glean other pertinent information. “It has really changed the business,” he said.
One place were the cell phone is less fashionable for Nunez is at home. There, he tries to avoid thinking about work and prefers interacting with his children rather than legislators.
Family time includes sitting down on recent Friday nights with his daughter to watch her current favorite movie, “The Goonies,” for the umpteenth time. “She can recite many of the lines verbatim,” he said of the movie that came out just about the time he arrived in Hartford.
Bill Sarno CTLatinoNews.com