Nov. 1, 2006

Lobbying for Cornell is 'enjoyable' to Steve Johnson -- Cornell's new government relations vice president

Steve Johnson

From getting to know a new governor to educating politicians about Cornell's land-grant mission, Stephen Philip Johnson, the new vice president for government and community relations, faces an array of responsibilities.

But with more than two decades of experience lobbying state, federal and local governments on Cornell's behalf, Johnson feels he is up to the task.

"Lobbying is sales, and when you have an excellent product, as a salesman, it's more rewarding," Johnson said. His appointment to the senior staff position was announced at last week's joint meeting of the Cornell Board of Trustees and University Council.

"I am delighted that Steve Johnson will be serving as vice president for government and community relations," said President David J. Skorton said. "His knowledge of Cornell, the local community, and our state and federal government is invaluable."

Johnson replaces Vanda B. McMurtry, who resigned from the post in September 2005. Johnson has served as interim vice president since that time. Before that, he was assistant vice president for government relations, heading the Washington lobbying office.

Becoming acquainted with new elected officials in Albany will be among Johnson's first major challenges this year. Not only will New York be electing a new governor Nov. 7, but many agencies and other entities also will be seeing new faces.

"Some of these folks may be somewhere else in government doing other things now, but we'll still need to go and re-establish or establish relations," Johnson said.

The challenge will be to immediately engage politicians unfamiliar with Cornell about the university's unique qualities, particularly its land-grant mission, of which Johnson says he is extremely proud.

"The land-grant mission really differentiates us and our role," Johnson said. "There's Cornell in every county and every borough in the city of New York through Cooperative Extension." The government relations office also is responsible for lobbying on behalf of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, Johnson noted.

Johnson said he has full confidence in the government relations staff members, who have many years of experience among them and will be ready to hit the ground running along with him.

Perhaps the area Johnson is least experienced in is that of the "community" part of his title -- government on the local and regional levels, he said. With Cornell's presence in Ithaca, central New York and in New York City, Johnson says he's looking forward to learning more and meeting people in those aspects of his new job.

Johnson has worked at Cornell since 1972. His first job was at Cooperative Extension in Wayne County developing migrant worker education programs. It wasn't until the early 1980s that he began working in government relations.

Now as a member of the senior university staff, Johnson looks forward to seeing the university more as a whole.

"It was something I didn't do in my previous job, so it'll be a broader perspective," he said.