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5 years ago

Interview with Alan Sagner - Center on the American Governor

Interview with Alan Sagner - Center on the American Governor

ong>Sagnerong>: New Jersey still has pretty good sense sometimes. Q: So then what happened, in your recollection, after he’s elected? ong>Sagnerong>: I ended up going to Trenton . Q: Right away? ong>Sagnerong>: Yes. Q: Was there a transition? ong>Sagnerong>: Well, the problem was that the Department of Transportation was in very bad shape. Q: Let’s step back for a second. During the campaign, you and Brendan agreed that you would be commissioner of transportation. So by the time election night comes, you know your role in the new administration. So you went right at the transportation department. Now tell us. ong>Sagnerong>: Well, election night. But between the election and the time we took over, there was a period when I went down and got acquainted ong>withong> some of the people, met some of the civil service and full-time people. I don’t have any direct memory, although I’m sure I must have met the people who were in office. There was a temporary person who’s still active in Republican politics. I can’t remember his name. I think he was acting, because there had been a big mix-up, a shake-up in the department, which ended up causing us a lot of trouble later on because there were things that they had not initiated that caught up ong>withong> us after that. Q: Like what? ong>Sagnerong>: Environmental studies. Q: What had they done? ong>Sagnerong>: Well, they hadn’t undertaken them. You just can’t push a button and get an environmental study under the increasingly more difficult environmental rules that were coming into being at that time. And there was a recession in ’74, and Nixon decided to release some money that he had embargoed or held up. We had the plans, but we didn’t have the environmental okay to go ahead, and the administration, particularly I personally, took an awful lot of heat for not being prepared for that. We did everything we could to expedite it, but it’s just a process that you have to go through. Q: Who was helpful to you during the transition? ong>Sagnerong>: Oh, Dick got me an assistant, Manny Carballo, who had experience in state government in New York , because I didn’t know where the bathroom was in state government. It’s a whole new technique. I worked from being your own boss in the building business. So Manny had had experience, and he came in as the assistant, and he guided me through the techniques and protocols, being in government. Q: Was Dave Goldberg helpful to you? ong>Sagnerong>: Dave Goldberg had been out for some time. I think he was there under Hughes. But we would call him occasionally for some advice, if we wanted to do a bond issue, because I think Dave had had the last successful bond issue. We wanted to get a bond issue. We were not particularly successful in doing it. Q: How did you recruit DOT staff? -12-

ong>Sagnerong>: Well, there were many people who were there who were career people, who we maintained as the head of design and engineering and personnel and so forth. I think we hired two people while I was there. One was the head engineer who was somebody from New Jersey that I interviewed and hired. I think it was Goodrich, I believe. And then Peter Stangl, I think, was recommended. I know he either knew Dick or they got to be friends, but I think Dick was involved in hiring Peter Stengel, who we hired to head up public transportation. He was a very effective manager. Q: Why don’t we take a break for a couple minutes, and then we’ll get into your commissionership and the issues you dealt ong>withong>. Michael Aron: Governor Byrne had to formally nominate you to be transportation commissioner. How did your confirmation go? ong>Alanong> ong>Sagnerong>: It didn’t go very easily at the beginning. Tony Imperiale, I don’t know if you remember him, he was a state senator. He was a leading anti-civil rights figure in Newark during the vigorous fights in the city. In fact, I had debated him on Channel 13 one night about some of the efforts we were doing in Newark to promote integration and school problems and so forth. Q: How many years prior have you--? ong>Sagnerong>: I don’t know the exact date, but my memory from that debate is that he referred to Martin Luther King as Martin Luther Coon, which gives you an idea of where his head and soul was. I don’t know whether my activity in Newark and my activity in the civil rights movement was what set him off or not, but when I was nominated, he was on the committee and he said that I was not worthy to serve. Matty Feldman [ph?] and the other Democrats said, “Why not?” He says, “Because ong>Alanong>’s experience ong>withong> Fair Play for Cuba .” Now this an organization that I helped start back at the time of the Castro revolution in Cuba , which got me a lot of notoriety that I didn’t particularly want. Right wing people in Congress and in the press said that I was pro-Castro, that I was against our country because communism in Cuba was a threat to our country. I’m on record in the very first publication that Fair Play for Cuba ever put out was that I am not pro or con Castro. That’s not my issue. My issue is that we should get fair reporting on what’s happening in these countries. But most important that we should let countries decide for themselves what kind of government they want and we should not interfere in those countries. That was my main reason. It went on to become a very important student movement and there were a lot of other groups that got involved and I could see we weren’t going to overcome, particularly ong>withong> Kennedy ordering the Bay of Pigs and all that stuff that we weren’t going to get anywhere. But that was in my record. Q: Did you stay ong>withong> that organization? ong>Sagnerong>: For a year or two. Q: Post Bay of Pigs, post Cuban Missile Crisis, etc? ong>Sagnerong>: By that time, I was about out of it. I had other things that I was doing and I could see that we weren’t getting anywhere and there were people who wanted to use it for other purposes. There was a good book written on the whole thing by a fellow named Van Gossey. He was at Rutgers . He’s now at Lafayette . He’s professor of history. He felt that the young people who got involved in Fair Play went on to become a big part of the student movement of the 1960s. The book is worthwhile. Anyway, so Tony Imperiale said that I was not a safe bet to become commissioner of transportation. I explained what my position had been ong>withong> Fair Play for Cuba and where I was ong>withong> it. He insisted that in case there was a national emergency, having me as commissioner of transportation would not be a prudent thing to do. Senator Matty Feldman said, “What does commissioner of transportation have to do ong>withong> defending our country?” He says, “The Army will have to move troops and the commissioner of transportation can make it impossible for the Army to move. Q: That was the senator from Bergen County and a liberal, Jewish? Go ahead. -13-

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