The Four Lanes of Alphonso E. Tindall Jr.
As a child he walked the precincts for the first African-American running for mayor of New Haven; now he represents cities and states in a public sector-related practice
Published in 2012 New York — Metro Super Lawyers magazine
on September 20, 2012
Updated on September 28, 2012
Q: You mentioned you’ll be traveling next week. Where to?
A: I’ve got to be in Minnesota for the next three days, then I’m out West.
A: Minnesota is. I sit on the board of trustees at a college [St. Olaf] out there.
Q: And the West Coast?
A: More business.
Q: With … ?
A: The city of Sacramento, the city of Los Angeles, the state of California.
Q: Just a few clients.
A: Actually, only the state of California is a client. We have an interview with the city of Los Angeles and a kind of meet-and-greet in Sacramento.
Q: So how has the global financial meltdown affected your practice?
A: Let me tell you what we do. The nature of my practice is a public sector-related practice, and there are really four lanes to it.
There’s public-project finance. We work on transactions for governments—from general obligation bonds to revenue bonds to asset-backed bond transactions or securitized bond transactions—in the state and local government space. We do private finance [too]. And within that there is this new concept of public/private partnerships, which we call PP3 projects. That’s one lane.
The second lane is: We represent governments, primarily, who invest pension-fund monies and general partnerships. We negotiate the terms of the transaction and the documents.
We do emerging markets work, which is either representing clients who are offshore, who are trying to finance or fund the acquisition or development of a particular project where they are located, or are offshore trying to develop or acquire a particular project that is onshore.
And in the last area, which is related to the public-project finance, we represent investment banking institutions who find themselves embroiled in litigation. [Sometimes it is] related to a particular public finance deal or transaction. Here’s an example: When an investment bank does a derivative swap, and the swap becomes out of the money and people are sued, in cases where the investment bank is not sued a particular participant to the lawsuit might ask to see certain documents that the investment bank may have. What we will do is help [the investment bank] review the documents prior to sending them to a particular party. This is a relatively new part of our strategic plan. It’s something that we are uniquely qualified to do because we have such a significant public finance practice, and we have a significant litigation practice.
Q: What’s your role in, say, this fourth lane? Are you more litigation or counsel?
A: In this stage in my practice, I’m probably more of a trusted adviser than anything else.
Q: Was this fourth lane created post-Lehman Brothers?
A: It was post-[Lehman Bros.] but it wasn’t directly related to it. Although I think one can argue that post-Lehman and Bear people started to pull back the curtain more often and sooner in the process, so that you were more aware of what was going on.
Q: Over the last five years, of these four lanes, what have you spent the most time on?
A: Probably the public-project finance. That’s the basis of the public-sector practice.
Q: Is there one particular case that exemplifies what you do?
A: Well, we are a bond counsel to the state of Connecticut with respect to its clean water fund revolving loan program. It’s a program that was created a number of years ago; it came out of the Federal Clean Water Act of ’87. The mission was to try to provide assistance to a state and local government, primarily with a focus on local government, to help them fund the continuing development and construction and upkeep, if you will, of wastewater treatment facilities. Connecticut was one of the premier issuers of debt for that purpose. They had developed a cutting-edge program that we were fortunate enough to work with them on and continue to work with them on.
Q: How did they come to you?
A: I’m from Connecticut. I’ve been practicing law for 30 years, you know. I’m at Edwards Wildman Palmer now. Prior to that I was at Nixon Peabody, prior to that I was the managing partner of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office and prior to that I was at Hawkins Delafield & Wood. The truth of the matter is that I’ve represented the state of Connecticut for the last 30 years.
Q: And how did that first come about?
A: I was an associate. I was at a Wall Street law firm that did work in Connecticut in the public finance space. And I guess I did it pretty well, because I started to acquire additional clients. When I left Hawkins, Connecticut moved with me as a client.
Q: Has your practice representing state and local governments been affected as funds for state and local governments have dried up?
A: It’s made it more difficult. The volume is up this year; it was horrible last year.
Q: Earlier, you also talked about PP3, public-private partnerships. Are those growing?
A: Well, they’re growing, and they’re changing as well. So you think about the Illinois parking authority or the toll road in Indiana or something of that nature, where you offer a bid and hope people will come in and they’ll buy the asset and they’ll operate it—they’ll keep it running and working, and then they’ll pay you a portion over a set period of time of what they receive. That’s how this started. People started to look at what’s going on in places like Canada, where the PP3 work is much more progressive and they’ve been doing it much longer than we have here. But I think that it’s changing in the sense that as we move forward we start to realize how difficult it can sometimes be to work with public institutions who aren’t necessarily accustomed to how the private sector works.
Q: And vice versa?
Q: What’s the biggest disconnect between the public and private sector?
A: Well, I think the biggest disconnect is the fact that the private sector folks tend to not completely understand how governments work. When you look at things simply as the authority to act, the authority to sell an asset … I’ve been involved with transactions where you work on them for three or four months and finally the people focus on the authority of the entity to sell the asset, and people start walking away. Because no one is comfortable that the government entity had the authority to sell it in the first place.
Q: So what drew you to the law?
A: I worked as an intern for Andrew Young when he was a congressman from Georgia. He was the first African-American congressman elected from the South since Reconstruction. What that gave me was a degree of exposure to the process of government that I did not have at the time. And it made me think of a variety of places that I wanted to be and one of them was in law.
Q: When was this?
A: This was 1975.
Q: How did you get that gig?
A: I actually got it, believe it or not, with a program I’m trying to have St. Olaf reinstitute. At St. Olaf you had three semesters: You went four months and then you had what they called an interim semester for a month, and then you had another four months. I was a political science and economics major, and the head of the political science department was a gentleman who had developed this program to send people to Washington to work for elected officials for that one-month interim period. And somehow he connected me with Andy Young. It was a wonderful experience.
Q: Anything stand out?
A: There are two things that I noticed, and it’s been reinforced over the years. As a young man, I recognized the power that our elected officials had. It’s mind-boggling. I think we, as citizens, don’t realize that.
Q: What was the second thing?
A: Be involved. Don’t wait for somebody else. Roll up your sleeves and go to work.
Q: Where were you born and raised?
A: I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I was raised in New Haven, Connecticut.
Q: When you were growing up, did you have aspirations in this particular direction?
A: The treasurer of the state of Connecticut, Henry Parker, who is like a godfather to me, an old family friend, he ran for mayor of New Haven three times in the ‘60s. It was very early. I don’t think there were many African-Americans running for mayor. And my father was his campaign manager.
Q: What did your father do normally?
A: He was a social worker.
Q: How did he get hooked up with Parker?
A: He believed in change.
Q: No, but … ?
A: He went to school with him.
Q: Do you have memories from that campaign or any of those campaigns?
A: I remember at 9 years old walking precincts with him.
Q: With your father?
A: With Henry Parker. They were good memories.
Q: During your career have you ever thought about being a politician like Henry Parker or a campaign manager like your father?
A: No, I haven’t.
Q: Although what you do now, as adviser/counselor, is similar to what your father did.
A: I’ve never thought of that.
Q: Did you have a mentor?
A: I had a number of mentors. Richard Siegel. When I worked at Hawkins Delafield & Wood, I worked in his group. He took me under his wing like a son. He taught me how to be a lawyer.
Q: Do you remember any advice that he gave you?
A: I do. You know how you get swept up as a lawyer in a law firm? You get swept up in focusing on the next thing, the next level. You go from second year to third, from third to fourth, and then when you get to fifth year, the scuttlebutt among the associates is you try to determine whether you’re going to make partner. There was a group of us who were of the same year at the firm, and the discussion would center sometimes on making partner. And one day I asked Dick if he had had a moment and he said, “Okay,” and he invited me into his office. I said, “I’m fifth year. I have a family. What should I be doing to try and do the best I can to be elected to the partnership?” He said, “I understand how you feel. I was in your position many years ago. What I would suggest you do is to continue to work hard and keep your head down; the rest will take care of itself.”
Q: And did it?
A: It did. I was the first African-American partner at the firm.
Q: Have you passed that advice on to … ?
A: I do, I do. It’s ironic. I had the good fortune to meet a number of quality, wonderful people in my life. Ron Brown was someone I knew. I remember Ron Brown when he came [onto the scene]. He came downtown to a place called the India House. He was running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, and he was asking for assistance. I was there. There were maybe about 35 of us. I remember it like it was yesterday. And we supported him and he became the first African-American chair of the Democratic Party—I think the only African-American chair of the Democratic Party. He worked tirelessly to assist Bill Clinton to be elected president. Bill Clinton became president, and after the election, a reporter came to Ron and said, “Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown, now that Bill Clinton is president, what will you do next?” And Ron looked at him, tilted his head, and he said, “Well, I’m going to continue to work hard, continue to believe in the things I’ve always believed in and that the rest will take care of itself.”
And I couldn’t help but remember the discussion that Dick Siegel and I had some eight years before that.