As managing director of Envision Strategy, Heimov is working with New York law firm Napoli Shkolnik—which currently represents 2,200 plaintiffs from Flint—to get similar relief.
The health crisis in Flint, Michigan, is tragic. Tens of thousands of residents developed toxicity symptoms after drinking lead-laced water for 18 months. President Obama declared a state of emergency. The situation has been particularly hard on Flint’s youngest residents, since children are more vulnerable to lead’s devastating effect on the body, which can include developmental delays and behavioral issues.
As the scale of the lead contamination became apparent, victims’ lawyers turned to Washington, D.C., lobbyist Brett Heimov ’92 to create a victim compensation fund through an Act of Congress and Michigan state legislation.
Heimov gained expertise in large-scale, government-financed victim compensation when he helped craft the $4.5 billion James Zadroga Act for 9/11 first responders suffering from exposure to asbestos and other chemicals.
As managing director of Envision Strategy, he’s now working with New York law firm Napoli Shkolnik—which currently represents 2,200 plaintiffs from Flint—to get similar relief. A class action lawsuit has already been filed, but Heimov says that a fund would help victims more swiftly than moving through the courts.
Something in the Water
In April 2014, in a cost-cutting move, Flint diverted its water supply to the Flint River, neglecting to treat its contaminated water with anticorrosive agents, thus causing lead pipes, still used in Flint, to leach lead. The town insisted the water was safe even when residents complained of illness. When the problem was finally acknowledged in October 2015, Flint residents, whose average income is about half of their state’s, were told to use only bottled water.
Many filed lawsuits. But a fund that would be “in the billions” and last for decades is the appropriate path, Heimov said. “Lawsuits can take five, seven, 10 years. A fund, once approved by Congress and the state of Michigan, starts paying victims right away.”
Born and raised in Avon, Connecticut, Heimov was drawn to politics at a young age. Family conversations at the dinner table regularly turned to politics, even though no close relative worked in the field. He volunteered at the local Democratic club and by age 14 knew he wanted to go into politics. For college, he sought a small school in the Northeast with a political science department that was close to a large city. “Adelphi had what I wanted,” he said.
He knew he was in his element the minute he stepped into his dorm room. His roommate, who had already moved in, was not there. Instead, “I found a six-foot blow-up Gumby doll of Saturday Night Live fame. We were fast friends from that point on. He was the best man at my wedding.”
Academically, Heimov was “good.” Socially, he shined. “I was in student government, I was in Greek Council, I was in fraternities, I ran homecoming one year, I was in the president’s circle, I ran parties, I was on the president’s advisory board. For three years in a row, my friend and I received the most- involved-student award.”
Heimov still keeps up with his Adelphi buddies, saying they get together for an annual fraternity guys’ weekend. As a senior, Heimov scored an internship at the Manhattan office of Congressman Ted Weiss (D-NY). After graduation, he was offered an internship in Weiss’ D.C. office—but the congressman passed away a day after Heimov moved to the nation’s capital. When Jerry Nadler (D-NY) was elected as Weiss’ replacement, he joined Nadler’s office.
After the 9/11 attacks, Heimov was working for Nadler, whose district included Lower Manhattan, when Congress voted on compensation for victims’ families. Heimov planned to attend law school, but a promotion in 1999 to chief of staff changed his plans.
In 2004, a friend at Washington lobbying firm Dutko Worldwide invited Heimov to join the firm. “The guy had more clients than he knew what to do with,” Heimov said, adding, “It was time.”
He spent three years at Dutko, working on healthcare and transportation issues as well as the 9/11 first responders fund legislation. He took the account with him as he moved to another lobbying firm, Winning Strategies, and later to Envision Strategy, which he co-founded in 2015.
Heimov, who plays baseball with his two young sons on weekends, said he learned how to manage the stress that comes with politics. “In government, the entire agenda can change on a dime,” he said.
Though the compensation fund for those in Flint is currently stalled, Heimov said he’ll continue to reach out to federal and state legislators. “So far, the response has been good, and we are confident someone will pick up the mantle and move the bill along,” he said.
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