All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Brad Menkes
INTERVIEWER: Hilde Weisert
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    March 21, 1985
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (9/1985)

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(I) Oh, that's interesting.

(WIFE) But this way, who paid for it, the town?

(N) The Board of Elections has to pay when it is a mistake on their part.

(WIFE) But he was running the risk and people were slapping money down when they were yelling recount and he said, take the money back. Let's wait and see. And he did hire an attorney because he had to. You can't do it on your own. But it was a fun time. My little two year old was running around asking for somebody to please give him a bath. (END OF TAPE 1 - SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)

(WIFE) I called people to have a Cottage Party because we did it for many elections after that but I had to say, make sure you have people who (inaudible) so it was a little more difficult. The first time it was easy. They just had their neighbors in and that was it.

(I) But then once you got known, it was

(WIFE) Then it was more difficult and up until the last election, we did not have Cottage Parties the last election. It was ridiculous to go and sit with six or seven people. People had had it too with Cottage Parties because we weren't the only ones who did it. Everyone did it. So we just didn't do it.

(I) So what did you accomplish in that first stint on the Town Councilor what were your feelings about it?

(N) I think that it too long a story for you but I guess we shook the place up a little bit. I'll tell you about it in a minute but this is a summary of the facts on the schools and on the issues of the town in 1958 which was actually put together by Henry Updegrove.

(I) Now this election we were just talking about was absolutely in 57?

(N) 58, May of 58. This has in it, at the end, on the schools there. It is a good thing to know about. Henry had run for the Board the first year. He was one of my principal colleagues at school and this describes the referendum sequence so it is all there.

(I) You wrote this?

(N) No, Henry Updegrove.

(WIFE) If Henry wrote it, it is statistically correct.

(N) That really sets the scene very well in those early years just before. .

(I) It looks very interesting. 

(N) It is. This is well done.

(I) What occasioned, he wrote this for. .

(N) I am not sure. I don't think we used it in that form. It may be that he sent it to the paper or something like that.

(WIFE) The power of the Taxpayers League is also played up in that the first time we were interested in the council election, Brad was not running. I wanted to make a Cottage Party for a group of five that were running not sponsored by the Taxpayers League and it was well known that the Taxpayers League never spoke at a forum or anyplace where there were other candidates. They were above that. So I called them and I said, I can do it and I called the Taxpayers League (I forget who the chairman of it was then) and I said, supposing we do this. I have the same group of forty or fifty people here and you speak first or last, it is your choice, and then you can leave through the side door and I'll have the other candidates come in the front door so you won't even meet but you'll both speak to the same forty or fifty people. Well they had to go back and check and whatever and yes, they did it.

(N) This really makes more sense now that you brought it up honey. In 54 which was four years before, there was an active opposition group to the Taxpayers LEAGUE called the United Independent Voters.

(WIFE) That was Leo Gamow.

(N) And it's important to note that they were not successful. But this was the beginning of the major opposition. There were eleven candidates in that and the first five positions were filled by the Taxpayers League candidates and then the others came in after that and there was one guy who was running as a total independent. He was the eleventh. I think it was Veltry but I am not sure. In any event, so there was a desire as early as 54 to do something about it and it may be that this thing was written, I'll have to look at the dates, in connection with that. We have to look at it.

(WIFE) You forgot that. Going out the side door.

(N) Well that was quite an interesting thing. The Record would probably have that article. That made a big spread.

(WIFE) I had some turnout because nobody that we knew had ever heard of the Taxpayers League speaking because they refused to. 

(N) That was done through Al Robison I think.

(WIFE) I don't remember. He was a member. But I don't know.

(N) You asked me what was done in 1958. We did a few things like changing the township attorney which happened to be a very important change. That was quite messy.

(I) This was somebody who'd been there forever or . .

(N) He was a member of the Taxpayers League and had been involved in several things that were, I don't like to say questionable, but it was healthier that he not be there and that was a big upset in the town to throw out the attorney and bring somebody else in. And we changed the members on the Board of Adjustment that was a big upset. We just changed one and the other four resigned after that. They were mad about it. And we changed the auditor from a state function whereas what they used to do was to send the papers to a state auditor and we got a local very competent municipal auditor and he's been the auditor ever since. On a general basis, we needed somebody truly independent. Things of that sort. We were modernizing, updating and cleaning house, changing people. In our first year, the township manager quit because of pressure and in fact, we were the council that appointed the current township manager, Werner Schmid, who has been here since 1959.

(I) Where did you find him or how did he come to it?

(N) He was the assistant to the township manager here and we had a national search, we had something like 200 applications, and after going through all these applications and rating them, we came to the conclusion that we were better off with him than with somebody else. That was not exactly a unanimous judgment but it was strongly recommended by the new township attorney who knew him pretty well.

(I) Who was mayor?

(N) In the first term, it was August Hannibal, Jr. He died in early 59. Matty Feldman who was at the time deputy mayor became the mayor.

(WIFE) Was he Taxpayers League, Auggie Hannibal?

(N) Auggie has a schizophrenic approach to this. He ran under both ends of the picture. Remember he was a Taxpayers League candidate and in the middle of the campaign, he was endorsed, he and Votee were endorsed with Matty and also with me separately so everybody was for Auggie. Very popular guy.

(WIFE) All that man wanted, thank God he finally made it, was to be mayor. But he wanted it so desperately and he had it for a little over a year I guess when he died. Maybe even less. Everybody was happy he finally got his wish.

(N) Hannibal was a part of this town at the time the township manager government was established which was in 1930. He was on the first council after the. . oh, you know who the first manager of Teaneck was? Paul Volcker. Paul Volcker was the first and then Welsh and then Schmid. We've only had three.

(I) That is amazing.

(WIFE) It was his father. Not the one who is in Washington.

(N) Paul Volcker, Jr. grew up with Dick Rodda, the superintendent of recreation. Was the superintendent.

(I) He went to school here or he . . 

(N) Volcker, Jr. did.

(I) So you ran again in what was the next. .

(N) 62. I ran for every term of the council except for the term in between 1974 to 78.

(I) I want to remember at some point to find out what was different then.

(I) So give me some highlights of the achievements, the important issues, the big fights, the excitement.

(N) I'll try. It is a little hard to remember. I think the people on that first council, each of the people, were significant people. And we worked well together even though two members were from the Taxpayers League, two members were newcomers and one guy, Hannibal, was a guy who straddled everything. The names of the first council, the 58 council in addition to Hannibal and Feldman, were Tommy Costa,

(WIFE) Also a town boy, still lives in town and his son is a lawyer in town.

(N) And Milt Votee for whom we named the park.

(WIFE) While he was living which was unusual.

(N) So it was a mixture of old and new but the oldsters who were there expressed their views and there were some, they weren't fixed alignments, they were a bunch of free thinkers on it but we had a lot, I'll give you an example. After Hannibal had died and before we had appointed, oh that was later on, OK, skip that. But, let's see, in the first year, I guess the biggest quarrel was the replacement of Judge Draney which we didn't.

(I) What was that?

(N) Let's see. What shall I not say. Draney was the judge, municipal judge,

(WIFE) And he had no law degree.

(N) He was the last of the grandfathered municipal court judges that and two of the members of the council wanted to replace him with someone else. And the other two members of the council, the ones who didn't want to, were Costa and me. And we voted against it but we also stirred up a lot of public fuss about replacing him and in the end, the motion was dropped because he was really a very good judge.

(WIFE) And he was very well liked and respected.

(N) So he served out his term, actually through his lifetime he stayed. That was the biggest argument we had.

(WIFE) Well you ought to mention because of the then and now is there were five councilmen because the town was smaller but they had their agenda meetings in private. There was no Sunshine Law. So if there were disagreements between them, they were hacked out in private.

(I) That's interesting just because you've seen the way the councils operate with and without the Sunshine Law.

(N) Without the Sunshine Law is much better from the standpoint of an effective council.

(I) Getting things done.

(N) Yeah. Because I guess the simplest way to put that is that there are sometimes when you want to dramatize the things that you are saying and you have to be able to say them in certain ways in which you can never do when the public is present. You can get very frank in sessions like that and it builds a trust among the members of the council that what you are talking about won't be repeated.

(WIFE) And it wasn't.

(N) And it was not repeated. So you developed more or less by force an effective working group. Of course that doesn't always happen but it did happen in this case or it happened until the Sunshine Law came in.

(I) And since the Sunshine Law, have you seen more people watching what they say more or playing to the audience or what?

(N) Yes, both. There is another thing that happens which is not everybody will admit to but there is a lot of private conversations, one on one, on the telephone.

(I) So people figure out a way.

(N) Yeah. You can get by the Sunshine Law if you want to but it is not quite as honest internally.

(WIFE) It is not honest.

(I) That's very interesting. Just as sort of a footnote, but I wonder if the people who, if people think about that and know that.

(N) Probably not. Because there is another side to the coin and I'll be honest enough to admit that which is that in the end, it is perfectly healthy for the public to know pretty much everything that happens. I said with the absence of the Sunshine Law makes for a more efficient government and more honest internally but it is also true and you can't say it that you can have something discussed that never sees the light of the day. If you are not, all of you, pretty honest about what you are doing, it could be corrupted. I can see that. I think on balance I suppose that the Sunshine Law is better rather than worse but it surely isn't efficient.

(I) So the Draney ouster debate was a big thing for your first council?

(N) In the early 58s. There was another big thing, you know as we are talking, this whole thing is becoming more vivid. In the fall of 1958, was the beginning of the big expansion of Fairleigh Dickinson and we refused them permission to build on the west side of River Road and we stopped

(WIFE) On the east side.

(N) On the east side, right. And that was in the fall of 58. This had a particular significance for me because the man who was president of Fairleigh Dickinson at the time, his name was Sammartino

(I) I interviewed him for this project.

(N) Did you? Well he was my French teacher in high school. So when he came to the council to complain that we weren't doing right by the university, I had the unenviable position of being a university professor and also being a former pupil to Sammartino but eventually it got resolved through some hard work. We had meetings here

(WIFE) I remember one meeting here in the dining room where they let me bring them coffee. They all sat around the dining room table, he was the liaison from the council, and they were talking pro and con, and when I came in to serve them coffee and cake or whatever, the talk stopped. The serious talk. And they were all very polite to me. They stood when I walked into the room and I told them to sit down. And it was very light, nothing, no talk. And I got signals and so I left. I could not, if I sat in, they would have been miserable. Different?

(I) And it is not that long ago.

(WIFE) No, it isn't. Not for that. And most of them knew me because I was very well known in town. I was a very noisy, outspoken person so I wouldn't run for office, only P.T.A. where there is no double talk. And only things that pertain just to my children. That's all I was interested in. It's like when they threatened to take the (SMITHS?) program out when my son was going into the senior high school and I called the then superintendent and I told him who I was and he knew me. I ended up making a big dinner for him when he retired because I was president of the council of P.T.A. I mean that was my job. And I called him and I said, if you are going to take that program out or any of the advanced programs, I am sending my son to private school, Exeter or whatever, we couldn't afford it. No way.

(I) It was an empty threat.

(WIFE) It was but he didn't know it. And I said I am not calling for the rest of the children in Teaneck because I don't worry about them. What helps mine had eventually to help others but I am not calling for them. And he, what it was, the program stayed in, but he said he appreciated my attitude and he wished that others would do the same. And say why they were calling up. Who cares? I did the same thing to get into Ben Franklin. I said, I want it for mine. And it did benefit others but it was an interesting thing. That was Dr. Newland Lester Newland.

(N) He was superintendent when we moved here.

(WIFE) When we moved here and he was. . I made the retirement dinner for him. I don't know what year it was. But he had been superintendent for years and years. People hated him because he was ultra-conservative. But there wasn't the changeover that we have now.

(I) With superintendents, revolving doors?

(WIFE) No such animal. They criticized him and they fought him and somehow he stayed and his ideas stayed. He had a very high moral code. You know, they talk about dress codes and whatever.  My little kindergarten kid, Peter, had to wear a tie. The others are girls, that's why I don't know about them. He had to wear a tie and a shirt. Just as if he were going to business. Today when I see the kids going to school, it is a whole other ballgame. I don't know which is right.

(N) There are so many things which you think about which you don't know whether people are interested in or not but I think the university issue was critical because it looked to people, many people who are pro-education that we were against the university and in fact, ever since I can remember, the thing that has been sacred to the municipal government of Teaneck has been zoning. And this was a question of whether the university had a complete right to invade the residential area. It was a major, major choice. Zoning was more important. The university had to fit on the other side. So much so that all kinds of trick things were necessary to accomplish that. I'll give you one example. I left here to go down there and you know how you get out of the university parking lot? You go underneath Route 4. I designed that. Not literally in details. The concept. We exchanged land with the university because, so we could keep them on the west side of River Road. So that was an ingenious and useful solution and the whole stretch down to the dormitories we were involved heavily in that because we did not want to hurt the university. We just wanted to maintain the park on the other side and the zone.

(I) So had they gotten what they wanted to do, the whole. .

(N) They wanted to build a building on the west side where, they wanted to build a building on the east side which they did occupy for some few years on a temporary basis. It is a little hard to describe where it is but it was at the north end of Phelps Park. There was an old estate that they had gotten and they were going to build a Dental School in that building and that would have been a step right on the back yards of everyone on Ramapo Road.

(I) So this is why the F.D.U. Dental School is across the river?

(N) Yeah. Exactly. And then eventually they had to go across the street. They used Stuart Cook's house for ten years but they eventually, they got them out. Now this too is important. I'm going to give you parts of this. This was a major action at the time. There was a landspot that looked quite questionable and (here it is right here) involving, it had happened in 1954 and here are the articles that will tell you as much about it as you want to know. It was actually disclosed of in the 54 campaign but we did something about it in 1959/60 in that we sued Levin for the money. And then he counter-sued us in 1960 for half a million dollars.

(I) Who won?

(N) We settled out of court beforehand. And then and this is the next few pages, March of 1960, I lead a debate, important debate, which Leo Gamow who was the Democratic Municipal Chairman.  He wanted to see Teaneck government changed to a partisan government and I wanted it to stay non-partisan. And it was an interesting debate. There were a lot of people there and here is a nice little newspaper description of that written by Bob Henderson. Here's a little bit about the F.D.U. dispute in here. You can borrow but I would like to have it back.

(I) I am going to make a list and the procedure is that they photocopy it and get it all back to you.

(N) Now all this happened in 58-62. The census in 1960 decided we were going to have two more council members in 62. I wrote the plumbing code for Teaneck.

(I) What's the significance about the plumbing code?

(N) We never had one.

(I) It's amazing to know that there was a time when this didn't exist. What did we have?

(N) Nothing. Somebody, individuals. A committee of plumbers but I wrote the code. Then in 1961 there was a big argument over who was going to be the postmaster.

(WIFE) That was when it was a partisan appointment.

(N) Oh, here's a little bit about John Draney. This was earlier. You will have to untangle the time. In fact, here was. . . this is my wife and my oldest daughter.

(WIFE) With what?

(N) Oh, the kids were soliciting for the scholarship fund.

(I) You were very involved with the scholarship fund? 

(WIFE) Everything. You name it, I did it.

(N) I should have had this because we just gave a proclamation to the community scholarship fund last Tuesday night and a very nice young lady there who was eager and fresh and I said, this is like deja vu because I've been involved in this for. .

(WIFE) I don't even know if that policeman that was walking around with her is still around.

(N) No, he is not in town. So here's a thing about that and then this is kind of interesting. Did you ever hear of the Cuban Missile Crisis? Well I gave a lot of talks about building fallout shelters in 1961. And that was not too popular.

(WIFE) Because they felt he was making money on it. They didn't know he took a loan from the bank so he could build it.

(END OF TAPE 1 - SIDE 2 - BEGIN TAPE 2)

(N) This article is of interest too. These were in early days of the Fair Housing. In fact, that began in 1957 with a group called the Teaneck Civic Center and then in 1959 is when the Township Advisory Board on Human Relations was established.

(WIFE) And I am a member of it now.

(N) So this was the, I guess the real beginning of coming to grips integration questions. This was 1961. The Advisory Board was before that. That was 59.

(WIFE) We integrated before the rest of the country. We are a microcosm of the whole.

(N) That's about twenty pages on nuclear war. It is all here. OK here is something else. Look at this.

(I) You kept good records.

(N) Well I did for a time. I gave up after a while. In these days, the RECORD gave us better coverage so there was a lot of stuff here. In this council, was the first to build a municipal pool for Teaneck and Matty and I didn't agree about that but we won. I thought it was a good idea and he didn't.

(I) What year was that? 

(N) That must be 61.

(WIFE) That was a war. It went on and on and on and on. And then they finally put it to a referendum.

(N) Here's the guy you really ought to do. Have you got Ozzie Epstein on your list?

(I) Probably.

 

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