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Interview with Alan Sagner - Center on the American Governor

Interview with Alan Sagner - Center on the American Governor

Q: That’s a big

Q: That’s a big Baltimore sport. ong>Sagnerong>: Big sport. I’m not much of an athlete. I love sports, I love to play, but my lacrosse was about equal to my golf. But I played. Probably one of the happiest months of my life was my first semester at school, in the spring. It was beautiful, and I played freshman lacrosse. I had joined a fraternity and didn’t know about all the things that college people did. I didn’t make the team in my second year because it was more difficult. Then, in my senior year, I get a call from somebody. They said, “We’re forming a club team in Washington . Would you play ong>withong> us?” That was a big thing in those days. In Baltimore , there were two very fine teams of ex-college players who would get together and play, and they would play the colleges-- warm-up games, practice games. So I played in one of first games against University of Maryland , and somehow I must have had a lucky day and the coach, Jack Farber, said, “Why are you playing for that team?” I didn’t ask him why the hell he knew I wasn’t on the team. Where else could I be playing? He said, “Why don’t you come out?” Well, I think of all the great things that I’ve had, probably even more exciting than being elected chairman of the Port Authority, was to get University of Maryland varsity football uniform and be on the team. My first game of the year, I’m on the third squad. The first game of the year was against Harvard, which was a warm-up game for Maryland in those days. And we’re beating by some outrageous score, and the coach decided to go in. I’m in there exactly five minutes, and on the pileup hurt my knee. I never played another game since then, but it was a wonderful college experience to play that game. Q: What brought you to New Jersey after college? How quickly after college did you come to New Jersey ? ong>Sagnerong>: I stayed in the family business for about a year, and then I spoke to my father-in-law and my brother-in-law and decided I’d rather be in business in New Jersey building houses than making men’s clothing. We had a factory in Frederick , Maryland , and I worked there before I got married. Again, my interest in-- in Frederick , Maryland from Camp David , beautiful countryside. We had moved the factory to have non-union help. Now the war is over, you can’t get help. Lot of work. I said to my uncle, who was running the business, “Why don’t we hire some black people, minorities to work in the factory?” You can’t bring black people to work in a factory ong>withong> white people in Maryland in 1943. So I said, “Well, let’s find another place.” And we found a hosiery factory that was pretty shut down because they couldn’t get the silk they needed to make stockings, and we rented a floor from them and opened an assembly line. It was the first time that black people in Frederick ever worked in a factory. Q: That’s fascinating. You couldn’t put blacks and whites together in a factory in the early ‘40s? ong>Sagnerong>: Nope. Q: In Maryland . ong>Sagnerong>: No. Q: Think you could in the north? ong>Sagnerong>: I don’t know. I assume you could, but you couldn’t in Frederick , Maryland . from Camp David , there was a wonderful resort adjoining Camp David , and there was a sign when you won’t up there. It had bowling alleys and rollercoasters and everything. “This park is reserved for white people and their servants accompanying them.” That was Maryland in those days. Q: What town did you come to in New Jersey ? ong>Sagnerong>: We were living in Irvington in an apartment for a while, and then built a house in South Orange, and lived there until my wife died 14 years ago. Q: What were your early impressions of New Jersey ? ong>Sagnerong>: Very lovely community. Living in South Orange was not hard to do. It was a beautiful community, had -8-

good schools, made a lot of friends, joined the country club, learned to play golf. But I loved the work that I was in. That was the most important thing. Q: Why did you love it? ong>Sagnerong>: Because you’re building something that you could see. There were many challenges because a house has-well, there were many parts. There was the part of getting the land ready,clearing the land and putting the utilities in. I liked the part of dealing ong>withong> the community, trying to persuade the town that a hundred houses would be better for the town than this farm that’s sitting there vacant. There were so many parts of it that I enjoyed. Q: Today there would be such resistance to a hundred houses replacing a farm. Was there resistance in those days? ong>Sagnerong>: It was not that much. It’s interesting. I was talking about luck and serendipity. I was lucky that we were building in Livingston , because I’ve been in that town now since 1947. I don’t think anybody that’s ever in the city government there got even a free lunch from anybody. That’s not the experience that many of my friends had building in other communities in New Jersey . But we had a wonderful group of men. They were non-paid, served only council, and some later years hired a town manager. For a while, one of them would act as mayor, but in later years-- it was a town that gave you a lot of problems that builders didn’t have in other towns, but it was never a town where you had to worry about taking care of somebody. It was frustrating, because one of the things I wanted to do was to build multi-family housing, which they never permitted in Livingston , which would have never happened until the Mount Laurel came along. Then I wasn’t that active, had not been that active, but people came along and built under the Mount Laurel . Thing is that is what we would have built if we’d had permission to do it earlier. But it still didn’t take care of the low-income families in Livingston . So people working at Saint Barnabas Hospital, who work in the other still had to get on a bus and go back down to Newark because there’s no housing. What they did is built luxury housing and then sent some money to Elizabeth or Newark to build low-income housing. Q: How was Brendan Byrne as a candidate in 1973? ong>Sagnerong>: He was everything that he should have been. Q: What does that mean? ong>Sagnerong>: He worked hard. He took the time to answer people. He accepted all the impossible assignments. Q: Such as? ong>Sagnerong>: Going to 18 different meetings in one day, going out of his way to meet somebody who I thought was a potentially large contributor, to go talk to him. I developed a great deal of affection and respect for Brendan, which I still have to this day. He wasn’t perfect. He’s not the greatest public figure that I’ve ever met, but he’s the one that I’ve ever been this close to, and I have nothing but respect and regard for him. I worked very hard in his campaign. At that time, I was president at Newark Beth Israel Hospital , very interested in healthcare. Dick Hughes had put me on the board at the College of Medicine and Dentistry, which luckily I had not been on there in recent years ong>withong> all the mess that they’re in. But I had reached a point in the building career, my brother-in-law had retired and I was so excited about being in this campaign, I said to Brendan one day, “If we win, would you consider letting me come ong>withong> you and be commissioner of health?” He said, “Sure. I’d love to have you.” It was only a few days later he said, “Al, between now and January, you have a lot of work to do.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “The commissioner of health has to have an MD degree.” I said, “Oh.” He said, “But if you’re really ready to stop building and want to come in, I’d like to have you in my cabinet. What would you like to do?” I thought about it, and I remembered the treasurer was usually the heavy hitter in the state government, so I said to him the next time, “How about treasurer?” He said, “Dick Leone has that job. Pick something else.” I hadn’t the faintest idea. I didn’t really know that much about state government. So it was Joe Katz that I spoke to, who was one of the few people I knew in Trenton who knew their way around. He said, “Take transportation. It’s important. It’s going to be -9

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