Twenty-two years ago, millionaire William Lynch opened his newspaper and was glued to the tale of a former rocker with a black beard and a briefcase, trying to sway skeptical congressmen to spend more on drug rehabilitation, hoping to do some good with his sociology degree.
As the story told it, what Scott Himelstein was good at was persuasion. He could translate the idea of salvation into dollars-and-cents for lawmakers, could listen and speak bureaucrat with ease. And he cared, saying simply, “We’re here to do something about the waste of life.”
Lynch himself wasn’t keen on drug rehabilitation. But the more Lynch read, the more he was keen on Himelstein. He put down his paper and phoned the reporter, asking to meet the idealist over dinner.
They did. “He looked like a yeti,” Lynch said recently. “But he was a very impressive young man.”
The one-time rocker who went to Washington would become the go-to-guy for Lynch and his influential literacy foundation. He would become a trusted insider in education politics, sidling up next to superintendents, businessmen, even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Himelstein is a good listener with an infinite Rolodex; he once dreamed up a company to organize meetings and registered its name, “The Meeting Man.” That didn’t pan out, but he still gets people to the table, and gets them to work together.
“But I’m at a point in my career now,” Himelstein said, “where I want to help set the agenda.”