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Interview with Alan Sagner - Center on the American Governor

Interview with Alan Sagner - Center on the American Governor

us that he had had, and

us that he had had, and we build in Livingston. Then I went to build in Hanover and Morris County and Pennsylvania . Q: You were a builder/developer. ong>Sagnerong>: Builder and developer. We would buy farms for what today you pay for one of the houses we built on those farms, but it was a very exciting business and one that I liked very much. It was at a time when the FHA and the VA made it possible for you to buy mortgages for people, and it was a very good business. I also did some urban renewal work in Orange , building some housing there and in Pennsylvania . Q: Second question is, do you recall what kind of money we’re talking about in 1973 that you need to run for governor? ong>Sagnerong>: I can’t give you the exact numbers. I know that at one point-- in fact I have a letter. Brendan thanked me because I signed a note at the bank, because we just couldn’t raise enough money, and as a businessman I felt if we had a project, we can’t postpone the project. You got to get the money and worry about how you pay for it later. So Bill Faherty at the bank in Newark agreed, and I got a bunch of signatures, but he said, “I just want your signature on there, ong>Alanong>.” And we borrowed two or three hundred thousand dollars. I don’t know what the total amount was, but it was, by those standards, a lot of money. Today it would not be considered a lot of money. Q: When Marty Greenberg called you and asked you if you would consider being finance chairman for Brendan Byrne, why did you accept? ong>Sagnerong>: Because I had an interest in politics, and I checked out ong>withong> people who I knew in the community and asked them who was Brendan Byrne compared to the other people who were running. There was one woman who was running who ended up being Ann Klein. A lot of the woman in the community said you should vote for Ann because she’s a woman. The women’s movement wasn’t that strong in those days. But I heard so many favorable things about Brendan, especially compared to the others who were running, that I decided that would be a good way to express my interest in politics. Q: Had you been in involved in national politics at any level? ong>Sagnerong>: I had. I was active in the first campaign, the Stevenson campaign. Q: Which one, ’52 or ’56? ong>Sagnerong>: Where the campaign was in California , when Kennedy got the nomination. I guess ’56. I went out to-- Q: Well, Kennedy got the nomination in ’60. Stevenson was trying a third time. ong>Sagnerong>: I think it was in ’60 that I went out there ong>withong> a couple other people from New Jersey . Yeah, now I recall it, because we had hoped that we could influence the New Jersey delegation, but we didn’t realize that Dennis Carey, who was the boss of Essex County in those days, had already made his deal ong>withong> the Kennedy family, I was told. And though he allowed me in to talk to the New Jersey delegates, there wasn’t a chance of anybody but Kennedy getting the-- in fact, Bob Meyner was there. I think Bob was the governor at the time. He was trying to get a favorite son campaign going that didn’t get very far. But I was enthusiastic about Stevenson. I lost some of my enthusiasm for him when he went to the United Nations and was not open and honest about our relationship ong>withong> Cuba at that time. But I was active in his campaign, and after office, I was very active in the Carter campaign, because Brendan was an early supporter of Jimmy Carter, and I worked very hard on his campaign. Went down to Baltimore to speak to people, and all over New Jersey to campaign for him. Q: You say that you had been active and interested in national politics and county politics, or local politics prior to your entry into state politics. What was your interaction or interest in local politics? -2

ong>Sagnerong>: We had a group called Democrats for Good Government. I’m trying to remember the name, but I know Dick Debevoise, who went on to become a judge, was among our group. I can’t recall now the names of the other people. There were a number of us who realized, under Dennis Carey, we really didn’t have an open county government, and we organized to try to change that. There was a candidate for the legislature that I supported. We didn’t win. But I supported Dick Hughes. I favored his plan for providing a state-wide tax that would do something to relieve property taxes, which even then was the same problem that it is today. Q: Did you know Hughes? ong>Sagnerong>: I had met him. In fact, Hughes asked me to be chair of the Humphrey-Muskie, and I was co-chair of the Citizens for Humphrey-Muskie based on Dick Hughes asking me to do that. Q: In ’68. ong>Sagnerong>: Sixty-eight was one of the most disappointing political experiences that I had, because there was no question in my mind that the choice between Humphrey and Nixon was such an obvious one. Humphrey was unable to disassociate himself ong>withong> the criticism of the Vietnam War and his failure to denounce Johnson. That was one time when I wasn’t terribly successful in raising money. Q: You were not? ong>Sagnerong>: Not successful, because too many of the liberals that I cultivate were still so upset and concerned, rightfully so, about the war in Vietnam, and what Johnson had done, and the fact that Humphrey had not, in his position, denounced the war and denounced the president that they couldn’t see the obvious difference between what a president Humphrey would have been compared to what Nixon was. So we lost. We lost the election. Q: Was Brendan Byrne a liberal? ong>Sagnerong>: No, I don’t think of Brendan as a liberal, from my perspective. I think he is a balance. He’s not a conservative. He’s not a person who would-- but in fact, he said the other night to that reporter, he said, “Many of my liberal ideas I got from ong>Alanong>.” He had Lew Kaden and Dick Leone and ong>Alanong> ong>Sagnerong>. Q: All liberals. ong>Sagnerong>: All liberals. In fact, interesting, during the campaign, we had a lot of trouble ong>withong> some people in the Democratic party who liked Brendan but felt he was surrounded by too many lefties. I have a memorandum somewhere which is probably historic, where I wrote down a conversation I had ong>withong> Pete Rodino. Because he had invited Brendan to come down to Washington , and he didn’t invite Leone and Kaden. Q: Before Brendan was governor? ong>Sagnerong>: This was during the campaign, when we’re still in the primary. A question of whether he liked Brendan very much, but a question of whether Brendan wasn’t surrounding himself ong>withong> too many lefties. Jim Dugan was I think state chairman at the time, very, very active. He was also not in our liberal camp. So I got everybody together at my house, the big barbecue in the backyard, got everybody together-- Leone and Kaden and all these people-and assured them that we were okay. And we got everybody together. Q: When you say everybody, did you get Dugan and Rodino and other skeptics to come to that barbecue? ong>Sagnerong>: Yes, yes. Q: So you joined the campaign. Do you recall at what point you took over from Archie Alexander, Jr. as finance chairman? -3-

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