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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

Q: He was part of

Q: He was part of the administration, how? ong>Sagnerong>: I forget what Ed’s position was. Q: Secretary of state? ong>Sagnerong>: I think so, yes. Amiable guy until you tried to slow down any road construction. I felt and the argument I used and it was not relevant at the time and I didn’t get very far ong>withong> it, was that we should maintain what we had. We needed the roads; they’re important. But we shouldn’t keep building new highways to open up new areas that we have to think. And this is back in the 1970s. We had to stop thinking in terms of unlimited energy supplies. I was quoting, I think his name was James Schlenger or Schlesinger. He was the environmental commissioner for Kennedy that said that we have to think in terms of limits on fossil fuel, that we can’t continue to think that we’re going to go adding the number of cars we were adding every year. This was back many, many years ago. But people wouldn’t buy it. The idea was that we could build new cars, bigger cars and build more highways. But I didn’t get very far ong>withong> the governor and we built 287. Q: Did 287 exist partially at that time or it was a new road? ong>Sagnerong>: No, it existed. I think it went from Morristown . I don’t know exactly. Q: Somerville ? ong>Sagnerong>: It was from Somervile to about to Morristown at that time. I remember it was going to Morristown because I got a call from one of the public relations people at Prudential. Was it Bill Wachenfeld who called me? One of the very wealthy New Jersey magnets lived in Morristown . The plans called for a rest station on the highway near where his property was and asked if we could change the plans and not build the rest station there. Q: What did you say? ong>Sagnerong>: I probably would have said the same thing whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. But I said, “No. We’ll put the station right where it was planned to go.” Q: You wanted to take the money that was earmarked or designated for 287 and do what ong>withong> it? ong>Sagnerong>: Repair bridges, put in intersections, jug handles, repave roads that were not safe. Q: State roads? ong>Sagnerong>: State roads. Q: Like what, do you recall? ong>Sagnerong>: I don’t remember the specific. One that I do remember was that terrible intersection on Route 1 where I think the jug handle had finally been put in or an overpass had been put in. But that was typical of what we had around the state in many locations. Q: You mentioned the Ed Crabiel was a road builder. Did he want to be DOT commissioner? ong>Sagnerong>: Not that I know of. He was probably too smart to want to take that job. He knew too much about the problems they were going to have, like the time that the union that represents surveyors picketed my house in South Orange because we didn’t have much work. Before that when we had a lot of work, surveying and other field work was done by contractors who were union, who had union help. But we had employees in the department that we didn’t have work for, so what work we were doing, we did ong>withong> state employees. The union picketed my house in -16-

South Orange , claiming that I was changing the rules, but I was going back and I was one who sympathized ong>withong> people who were out of work, but I couldn’t keep people on the state payroll and not have them do any work and pay other people for doing the work. Q: Was there a recession on at the time? ong>Sagnerong>: Yes. Q: Did it affect the road work and the construction? ong>Sagnerong>: Yes. That’s why Nixon released the money that had been frozen, because many states were suffering because they didn’t have the work for highway workers and construction people. Q: How were your relations ong>withong> the unions generally? ong>Sagnerong>: Other than that, I don’t recall any problems. I had dealt ong>withong> unions in the building business. I had no problem. In fact, I thought, on balance, that the unionization was a good thing for our country and I supported the idea of unions. Q: Charlie Marciante was head of the AFL-CIO in those days, a powerful figure in Trenton . ong>Sagnerong>: To say the least. Q: How were your relations ong>withong> him? ong>Sagnerong>: We were cordial. Q: You say, “to say the least.” Amplify that. ong>Sagnerong>: I think Charlie was the person if somebody had a problem, people told me that they would call Charlie Marciante and the problem could be resolved. I never was in that position, but I knew that he had real power and I’d heard stories that if people wanted to take an event or restaurant that wasn’t union and they’d get permission from Charlie, they could take it there. That was just a rumor. I don’t know if there was any truth in it, but he had that kind of power, whether it was for the good or not, as people tell us, I don’t know. But I do strongly believe in unions and people tell you stories about corrupt unions and inefficient unions or union officials who do unfavorable or dishonest things. But I don’t think there’s any other structure in our government, whether it be government employees or physicians or business people where you won’t find human weakness showing up in that sense. But I think on balance when you read the history of our country, I think the unions have been very important in raising the standard of living and improving conditions in this country. Q: As DOT commissioner, you oversaw the Turnpike and the Parkway as well. What were your interactions ong>withong> the two authorities? ong>Sagnerong>: I don’t recall any at this point, any particular problems that I had ong>withong> them. I was able to get an extra lane put on the Parkway through information that I found out, despite our environmental problems. I found out at a Department of Transportation conference down in Birmingham , Alabama about a system of expediting the environmental approvals on existing roads, which had not occurred to us or our environmental people. We were able to apply that to the Parkway and provide an extra lane and provide the work at that time. I use that as an example of this criticism we have now of people in state government going to conferences and being criticized for spending state money for traveling and putting up at hotels. If it’s done in a reasonable and practical way, I think it’s a very positive thing, because people learn from each other and when you can meet ong>withong> people, whether it’s Department of Health or Transportation or whatever it is, who are doing the same type of work in different states and learning from them their experience, I think it’s for the benefit of the state. -17-

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