With hopes to become the next minority-owned underwriter to move up in the rankings, Oakland-based municipal firm Blaylock Robert Van LLC added industry veteran A. Christopher St. James to the firm’s West Coast public finance team.

St. James was named senior vice president of municipal banking on Sept. 2, according to sources at the bank Wednesday.

He joins BRV with over 20 years of experience in investment banking and financial advising. St. James most recently was vice president at Rice Financial Products, where he marketed the firm’s investment banking and sales.

Prior to that he worked with munis at Ramirez & Co., Charles A. Bell Securities Corp., Charles Schwab, Merrill Lynch, and E.F. Hutton & Co.

Eric Standifer, president of BRV, said the firm’s West Coast group is growing to become “extremely attractive to many of the largest regional issuers.”

BRV was senior manager on three issues nationwide totaling $19 million in 2009 and it has yet to lead a deal this year, according to Thomson Reuters. As co-manager, however, the firm has participated in 40 issues year to date totaling $611 million — outperforming its business in 2009, when it completed 17 issues worth $539 million.

Aquacena Lopez, head of BRV’s municipal practice, said the firm’s primary goal is to increase its capacity as a senior manager on a variety of muni deals.

“We’ve seen a lot of the minority-owned firms break through the glass ceiling,” Lopez said, mentioning among others Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., the top-ranked minority-owned firm, which placed ninth among all muni underwriters in the first half of 2010.

“We just want to be in a position where we are the next firm to move up,” she added. “We want to follow in their coattails and build our team with competent professionals to become the next firm that can senior manage. That’s my vision.”

Bob Ceresa, another recent hire and an executive vice president within sales and trading, called 2009 a banner year for minority-owned firms, including BRV, which in August 2009 adopted the 15-person muni group at Cleveland-based investment firm SBK Brooks.

He added that BRV will soon participate in an upcoming $600 million Ohio State University deal. It will also co-manage a $200 million issue from the Ohio Water Development Authority and a $175 million Kent State University issue.

“This is big for us,” Ceresa said. “We hope to perform well and move up in the rankings.”

Lopez added that the firm has momentum and expects to perform well with more Build America Bond deals because its sales team has an extensive background with taxable debt through corporate sales.

“That’s our space,” Lopez said. “We’re taking advantage of municipal professionals that are on the market right now and bringing that in with our corporate bond strength to create a firm that can lead on the muni side.”

St. James earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of California at Davis.

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