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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>: Probably the next day. Q: And what month of 1973 this might have been, or how far into the campaign they were? ong>Sagnerong>: It was still early. Q: So it was maybe spring of ’73? ong>Sagnerong>: Still months of work that we had to do. We set up an office. I think it was somewhere in New Brunswick . I’m not positive, but I think it was in New Brunswick . Then a fellow named Gordon Large joined me, and I think Marty Robbins joined me, and we had a lot of very good people. Q: Was it something that required your attention every day? ong>Sagnerong>: Every day. I mean, a part of every day if not every day. We were very careful. My recollection is that we didn’t have limits on how much one could contribute, but we did have disclosure that we had to-- you couldn’t accept money ong>withong>out identifying who the money was from. So we were very careful, and many times I would get a contribution from somebody that I didn’t know. I would talk to Leone or some of the other people, and we would give the money back. Q: Because of a questionable... ong>Sagnerong>: Questionable background or history or motivation of the person. Q: When did you first meet Dick Leone and Lew Kaden? ong>Sagnerong>: In this campaign. I had never known them before that. Q: What was your impression of each? ong>Sagnerong>: From then to this very day, I have a very high regard for both of them. They both ran for public office. I think Lew ran for Congress and Dick ran for the senate. I know Dick a lot better than I know Lew, because I’m on the board of his foundation, now the Century Foundation. So we talk politics and consult very often and are involved in projects ong>withong> the foundation together. I don’t know anybody who has given more at a greater sacrifice for the good of their state and their country than Dick Leone. Q: Greater sacrifice in what respect? ong>Sagnerong>: Financially, and time. And time. He’s doing, in my opinion, a wonderful public service job ong>withong> the Century Foundation, that does very important research and public interest projects, and he keeps the office in New York , where it’s the right place to bring people, and he lives in Princeton . No person in their right mind would live that kind of life that Dick does. Q: Did you support him over Bill Bradley in 1978? ong>Sagnerong>: Modestly. Q: You liked them both? ong>Sagnerong>: Well, I liked Dick better than Bradley. I mean, Dick was a friend. We’ve gotten to be closer since then, but we were in the same government together. But I wasn’t terribly active for either one of them, that campaign. Q: When you think back on the campaign of 1973, what memory comes to the surface first? -4-

ong>Sagnerong>: It was the first campaign that I was ever really in the center of and the heart of, and I realized how important raising money was, and how it had to be done, reaching out to people. But it’s an important point that I was not afraid to go raise money from people who might end up doing business ong>withong> the state, like the group of building contractors, or the association of liquor wholesales. Because I know, and it was borne out-- this is very important to me-- that as far as Brendan and Dick Leone, who was his treasurer, that there would be no quid pro quo for anything anybody did. In fact, there’s a pretty amazing story. Some fella gave us a contribution and months later he called me up. He said, “I have a story to tell you you won’t believe.” He said, “I called up to make an appointment ong>withong> Dick Leone, and then I heard later that he said he wouldn’t see me because he heard I gave a big contribution.” I had to call Dick and tell him, “This guy is okay. The fact that he gave a contribution shouldn’t bar him from seeing you. You could judge after whether what he wants is right.” But Dick was correct almost to an extreme. Q: From your vantage point, how does today’s pay-to-play mania look? Does it look like overkill, or does it seem to make sense that you would bar state contractors from giving to statewide candidates? ong>Sagnerong>: I think everything is-- well, it has to be open. I mean, the fact that somebody is a contractor and he wants to contribute shouldn’t bar him, as long as it’s a matter of public record and the contracts are given out competitively. Why should that person be barred from supporting a candidate that he favors? Q: So you think we’re swinging too far, the pendulum is swinging too far in the direction of correctness? ong>Sagnerong>: The big difference-- there’s a difference. The difference between a road contractor or somebody who’s supplying a product that there are a number of people making-- the problem comes up in consulting contracts, public relation contracts, law contracts, where how objective can the selection be? In that case, I don’t think there is overkill. Q: As a businessman, how did you become such a liberal? ong>Sagnerong>: I often ask myself the same question. I think there are probably two reasons. One, I had an older cousin in Baltimore , and I think he and his good friend were socialists, or maybe communists. I was brought up in the middle of the depression. I actually remember, I graduated from high school in February 1938. Not that I graduated from-- my whole class graduated in February 1938 because the school board decided in the middle of the recession to advance the whole class a half a year. So we got out in February of ’38 rather than getting out in June of ’39. Q: You were robbed of half a year of school. ong>Sagnerong>: Half a year. Half a year of school. So growing up in those conditions, having a cousin who gave me all this propaganda to read, and being poor, relatively poor-- I wasn’t poor in the fact that we never had clothing, shelter and comfortable living, but I went to Boy Scout camp at seven dollars a week at great sacrifice from my parents, and other people would go to Maine camps and things like that. So I had a feeling of what it was like not have privilege, and I’ve never lost that idea that we have a responsibility, those of us who are fortunate, to help those-- I saw a perfect example of it yesterday. I had a wonderful day. I went to the University of Pennsylvania to see my granddaughter receive her doctorate. She’s an English major. There were 450 people in the graduate ceremony, master’s degrees and doctorates. There were three black people in the whole-- and that is something that I think-and you use the label “liberal.” I think it’s conservative and intelligent to be concerned about what I think are the serious problems in our country. I think probably the ballast, or one that’s greater than the other, is racism and the results of racism. And the environment, and energy. So I don’t know how anybody who is aware of what’s going on can not wear the label “liberal,” if that’s what you call it, for being concerned about these things. It’s a selfish point of view. Q: You said two things made you such a liberal. You said one was the cousin and the depression. Do you recall where you were headed ong>withong> the other one? -5-

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