Political Opposites Attract At Vegas Shop

R&R Partners is known for wooing people to Las Vegas by promising discretion in its “What happens here, stays here” ad campaign. Discretion will also be a priority this election as two agency executives work to re-elect Bush and a third tries to do exactly the opposite.

Greg Ferraro, president of the agency’s government advocacy group, is communication chairman for Bush-Cheney in Nevada. Ferraro, a former lobbyist, served on the staff of the Republican National Committee earlier in his career. He reports to CEO Billy Vassiliadis and partner Bob Henrie.

Vassiliadis, an ardent Democrat and onetime consultant to President Clinton, hosted a fundraiser for presidential hopeful John Edwards last summer at R&R’s Las Vegas headquarters. Now supporting John Kerry, Vassiliadis is also an adviser to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate’s senior minority whip.

Henrie, on the other hand, has been a strategic consultant to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, for 18 years. Both Henrie and Hatch are devout Mormons, and one of Hatch’s “core issues,” said Henrie, is Bush’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which Vassiliadis opposes. In November 2002, Vassiliadis was a spokesman for Nevada’s ballot initiative to allow gay marriage, which failed. Last year he successfully lobbied the state legislature to pass a series of gay-rights laws.

“It can be awkward at times,” said Vassiliadis about the divergent political agendas at the agency. “We are not always thrilled with the issues and candidates the others’ support.” Regarding gay rights, “Bob [Henrie] may not be supportive of my work, but I know he is a good human being,” Vassiliadis said. For his part, Henrie said that “Billy understands my values more than anyone.” Politically, “Sen. Hatch respects the fact that my associates … do not share his political view on gay marriage.”

Geography can help keep the peace. Vassiliadis works out of R&R’s Las Vegas office, Henrie is based in Salt Lake City, and Ferraro operates in Reno, Nev. Yet Ferraro is on the phone to Vassiliadis “10 times a day,” he said. He added that “our agency culture makes it acceptable to express your opinions and views.”

All three men say that no matter how passionate they are about their politics, they refrain from publicly embarrassing their colleagues. Vassiliadis and Henrie met Ferraro in 1986 when they all worked for Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Jim Santini in his race for the Senate. After Santini lost, Vassiliadis and Henrie bought the Las Vegas shop, whose anchor account is the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Ferraro joined in 1993 to expand the agency’s government advocacy for its clients.

“Billy, Greg and I have a unique relationship,” Henrie said. “We talk, we listen, we debate, but we don’t argue. Anyone sophisticated in politics understands that few things are black and white.”