Shaun Illingworth: This begins the second interview session with Ira Piller, on June 23, 2020, for the Rutgers Oral History Archives Class of 1970 Oral History Project. My name is Shaun Illingworth. I am in Hightstown, New Jersey, and you are still in Clearwater, Florida, I assume.
Ira Piller: Yes, didn't move yet, in one day. [laughter]
SI: To begin, before we started recording, you were telling me about some new documents you were sent by this second cousin we discussed yesterday who was doing all the genealogical research on your father's family. Can you summarize what she sent you?
IP: Sure. Ironically, I received a slew of documents from what is now known as my second cousin, Lily Winegar, who lives in Buffalo. I looked at the documents, and I actually looked at a few of them very closely because one of them had my father's name on it. To make a long story short--from this passenger list from Hamburg, Germany, it appears that my father may very well, in fact, have been born not in the United States, as I assumed he was. This is a bit of a manifest type of document, which clearly states that the ship Amerika--that would be A-M-E-R-I-K-A--departed from Hamburg, Germany, and had my father on the ship with his mother, who was thirty-one years old, with his older sister who was five years old, and my father who's three. So, it appears that my dad, in fact, was not born in the United States, as I just assumed. Three children in that family had yet to be born. They were clearly born in the United States, but the two older children were most likely born in Poland. Somehow, they did make it to the United States, and that was new information to me. Ironically, I have the opportunity to pass that along for the oral history, so, again, another surprise.
SI: Yes, it is interesting how new information is always emerging. Pivoting from there back to Rutgers, one of the documents that we discussed yesterday was this letter your mother sent to her sister, where she references how worried she is.
IP: My mother sent the letter to her first cousin Abe, who I had no idea--never knew of that name, never knew of that person. So, my mother's mother and Abe's mother were sisters, making them first cousins. My mother, in 1968, somehow was motivated, or maybe Abe wrote her first, or what have you, but we have clear documentation that my mother did write this letter to her first cousin Abe Winegar. In that letter, one of the items that she mentioned or one of the things that she mentioned was that her son was a sophomore at Rutgers and that she was very much worried and concerned. My mother was a Jewish mother, so I can understand all that. She was concerned about my well-being with the war in Vietnam and the draft coming up and all of that sort of thing. So, there you have it.
SI: Wow. That would have been a bit before the draft lottery went into effect.
IP: Yes, that was in 1968, when I was a sophomore, most likely, first semester or maybe, possibly second semester because I graduated in June of '70, so that would've been my sophomore year. The lottery, which we can get into later, the official draft lottery did not start until actually, on my birthday, December 1st. Excuse me, Shaun. That letter was making reference to me. The letter was written in 1968 by my mother to her first cousin Abe up in Buffalo, New York, and she made reference to her concern for me and the war in Vietnam, etcetera. While the war was obviously going on and many young men and women served, there was no official military draft. Ironically, that draft was in 1969, and literally, it was held on December 1st in the evening, and that just ironically, once again, is my actual birthday. So, there's that. That's when the so-called lottery draft started.
SI: Had your parents expressed these concerns to you by December 1, 1969?
IP: Yes. I mean, throughout my college years, which would've been '66 to '70, there was already heightened concern throughout the country about the war. The protests were probably just burgeoning in the mid-'60s. They then crystallized later in the '60s, as we all know. But the time had come that apparently not enough men and women were in the military. So, President Nixon instituted a draft lottery, whereby it was very much like you would think. Apparently, everybody has a birthday. There's 365 days in a year, so there's 365 literal balls that, from what I understand, were in a cylinder, a large cylinder. Literally, they were plucked one by one to complete that effort. But, as I said, getting back to your question, the Vietnam War was a topic of conversation, just like we would have today a topic of conversation with the pandemic, where you would talk about the civil unrest that we're having right now. Civil rights in the mid-'60s as well. If we had cable television back then, it would have been the number one story every single day because American soldiers were dying every single day. So, it was the number one overriding topic forever during the mid-'60s, late '60s, and beyond. My parents certainly were concerned as everybody's parents were.
SI: Did they ever discuss with you what they hoped you would do or what your options might be if it came to it?
IP: Yes, that is a very good question. Again, I might be wrong on some of my facts, but I'll try to do the best that I can. So, after your four years of college--if you went to college, you had a college deferment until you completed your studies, until you graduated, or whatever. So, the alternatives for people, for graduates, were to either further your studies and not enlist in the military, in the service, or you could go to medical school and that would be a deferment. You could go to law school, and I believe that was a deferment. You could go to graduate school; that would be a deferment. I'm not completely certain exactly if those deferments, especially for graduate school and law school, would actually be upheld.
So, in my case, I remember distinctly--so we discussed, "Do you want to go to law school?" Medical school was out of the question. I'm not a science-oriented person. I had none of the prep courses or prerequisites for medical school. Law school was a consideration, but I was actually more interested in government work or government service. So, I was then researching and pursuing graduate studies in public administration or government service of some sort. I started to do some homework and to research a variety of schools that were in that discipline. One of those schools is a school that I wound up going to, which was the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and that would lead, among other degrees, to an MPA, Masters in Public Administration. I also applied, and I think I got into Syracuse University, a very fine school, the Maxwell School. I might have applied to George Washington University, American University. NYU [New York University], I think, had a discipline in that field. But I wound up accepting an offer from the University of Pittsburgh.
I, however, do remember also taking my physical exam. I did receive my letter to be required to take a physical medical exam for the Army or the service. I did actually get a medical deferment for high blood pressure. So, the bottom line is, even though my number was not a very encouraging number--my number was, if I recall, in the 120s, in the mid-120s. It's either 125, 126, 127, something in that range. If I had not, A, gone to college, just for the sake of conversation, that was a number low enough or high enough, whatever your description, that would've been a number that I would've been drafted. [Editor's Note: The first Vietnam draft lottery took place during the senior year of the Class of 1970. On December 1, 1969, the U.S. Selective Service held the draft lottery, which was broadcast live on television and radio. The lottery selected birthdays to determine the order in which men born between 1944 and 1950 were called to report for induction in 1970 during the Vietnam War. December 1, Ira Piller's date of birth, was drawn at position 129.]
Of course, some people were very lucky; they got in the high 200s or the 300s, and they were home scot-free. They could've not gone to college or graduate school or medical school, and they never would've been touched. I'm pretty sure that I would've been on my way to military training and would've been drafted. So, I had two things going in my favor. One, I failed my physical, so I could not go, and number two, I got a further deferment through education by going to graduate school. So, I got another deferment that way. Having been opposed to the war on a personal level, I felt pretty good about that. I felt very good about that. I was pleased--not pleased that the war was continuing--but pleased that I was legally able to avoid the war. There was some discussion, I didn't have to do it, but there actually was some discussion about possibly moving to Canada, for me--I'm not ashamed to say it--to escape the draft or to escape the war. I know many people who did that, both in college and in graduate school, that took that avenue. I respect that, but it wasn't necessary in my case.
SI: You had told me an interesting story about the night of the draft. Can you tell me again?
IP: Yes. That story is something that I'll never forget. So, on December 1, 1969, my very birthday, and the very day of the "first draft lottery for military service," Rutgers was playing the University of Pittsburgh in basketball. I was and still remain a very big college basketball fan. I think I may have mentioned the other day, I think I missed two home games in my entire four years at Rutgers. So, because it was my birthday, my parents wanted to come to that game. So, we made arrangements. I bought the tickets and [made] the plans weeks before, maybe a few months before, just so we would be assured that they would have a seat at that game. Students, of course, got in for free and there was no issue there, but the old Barn, as we call it--that was the gymnasium that was forever until the new stadium, the RAC [Rutgers Athletic Center,] was built. I think that was in '73 maybe, that started to be used.
In any case, clearly, the old Barn only had twenty-eight-hundred [seats], as I recall. I could be wrong. It could've been less. It had a very limited number of seats. For sure, under three thousand. So, I got my parents tickets to celebrate my birthday, and this was well before we ever knew that that would be also the night of the first draft lottery. So, my parents are sitting up in the mezzanine section, the guest section, or whatever, and I'm sitting down in the area where all the students are sitting. I vividly recall, certainly all the seniors at that game, which was a lot of seniors. Back in those days, we had transistor radios. They were small. You could put them up to your ear. You could bring them to the beach or whatever. It was a sea of transistor radios in that gymnasium because during the game itself, the draft lottery is literally going on, and every student, including me, had their transistor radio glued to their ear.
So, the irony of all this, the funny part about it is that when you heard your number, you might cheer because you got a really good number. Other times, they might call your birthday, and you got a very poor number and you would boo or you would be angry. Certainly, we're not clapping. So, the irony of that was that you would be perhaps clapping when the University of Pittsburgh would be scoring a basket. Other times, you would be booing when Rutgers scored a basket if you did not have a good number.
Then, to add insult to injury, I got my mother, my Jewish mother, in the mezzanine with my dad, who's a much more reserved person, and we would be waving to each other, acknowledging each other during the game. They knew what was going on. They knew it was the draft lottery as well. I remember distinctly getting my mother's attention and going like this [thumbs down], in other words, not a very good number. [It] made her nervous; made me a little anxious. I think my father took it in stride. My father served in World War II, so he had done his time. So, it was awkward, humbling--for some, uplifting, and for some, a depressing night. I do recall, I believe, Rutgers winning the game. We had a very good team in my senior year. We went to the NIT that season, the first time I think Rutgers ever went to the NIT. No, my freshman year was the first time we ever went. But I think we went when I was a senior. I might be wrong. But, in any case, it was a trying moment. It was a very tumultuous evening, and that's my little vignette if you will. [Editor's Note: Bobby Lloyd and Jim Valvano led Rutgers to a third-place finish in the 1967 National Invitation Tournament (NIT), losing the Final Four game to Southern Illinois 79-70 on March 16, 1967. Rutgers made the NIT tournament in 1969, losing in the first round to Tennessee.]
SI: Well, it is interesting. That shows how personally it affected so many young men on campus then.
SI: Now, you were involved with the march on Washington. Was that same year, or was that earlier?
IP: No, the march on Washington was in either in April or more likely May of 1970. It followed on the heels--and again, we can look the history up. One of the reasons [for] this march on Washington, the protest, was so eventful and so significant is that a couple of weeks earlier, the four students at Kent State University were killed by the National Guard. They were killed. That made front-page headlines all over the world. It was a very sad day. I don't remember the governor's name of Ohio that had called out the National Guard. There was a protest for the Vietnam War that day on that campus in Kent, Ohio, and four students were killed. So, that was just one of several reasons why the march on Washington was a very significant moment, and I remember that distinctly. It was a huge--it was quite an event, quite an event. Rutgers had several buses that were sponsored by one of the student government groups. But we went, myself and a bunch of friends, boys and girls, we all went to Washington, DC that morning and had the protest, peaceful protest. [Editor's Note: Jim Rhodes served as the governor of Ohio. Following President Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War to Cambodia, a nationwide student strike commenced in the beginning of May 1970. On May 4, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on anti-war protesters and bystanders at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. The march on Washington took place on May 9-10, 1970.]
SI: Before the break, we were talking about the march on Washington. Before I ask you more about that, I want to go back to earlier that year or even earlier. A lot of students became more involved after the Cambodian incursion and more involved in the anti-war movement. What do you remember about that time? Were you actively participating in anything?
IP: What years are we talking about? Are we talking about my senior year?
SI: Your senior year, definitely after June of '70.
IP: Well, Cambodia came later, Shaun. The Cambodian controversy came, I think, later. But Nixon had taken a very strong law and order position on protests and all of that. I will give him credit for one thing as opposed to our current president. At least back then, I vividly remember Nixon actually coming out and speaking with some protestors, not necessarily the march on Washington, but there were frequent protests. It might have been the march on Washington, the one that I went to. He at least, I guess, somewhat acknowledged the issues, so to speak. So, that much I do remember, as opposed to this president, who basically hasn't acknowledged any of the protests that are going on now with the civil unrest.
I was not necessarily active with organizing the protests; I was more a participant. As I had mentioned yesterday, the congressional candidate that I did support and work for was opposed to the Vietnam war that I recall, and that was, I'm sure, one of the contributing factors in me getting involved in his campaign. That would've been Lew Kaden's congressional Democratic primary campaign in Middlesex County.
Yes, there were lots of pieces, lots of moving parts during that whole second half, second semester. We also had the teach-ins. I don't know if you recall. I remember many classes were suspended at the time. We were going through curriculum changes. By that, I mean, Rutgers had required certain courses that you had to take to graduate. I think that one of the changes or one of the discussions or one of the motivating things at one of the teach-ins was that some of those prerequisites or required courses no longer would be required. For instance, I think after I graduated, I'm not even sure that you had to take, for example, a language course, like I did. Then, we also had that second semester the pass/fail course correction. By that, I mean, I think you could pick one course that, obviously if it was a difficult course, you could choose to either pass it or fail it. I remember distinctly that I was not a good math student, but I did take statistics. I think I was required to take statistics, even if it was the beginners' course, and I don't think I was doing particularly well. I probably would not have done well in it. So, I chose to take that course on a pass/fail basis and did pass it, probably not by much, but I did pass it. [Editor's Note: In solidarity with the National Strike, the Rutgers College faculty voted on May 5, 1970 to make classes and final exams optional and instituted pass/fail grades for the spring semester 1970. The faculty also voted to eliminate ROTC on campus the next year, though that was later reversed by the Board of Governors.]
So, there were a lot of things going on. You still had the Vietnam War going on. You had the teach-ins going on. You had some civil unrest still going on. It was a lot of things going on, not unlike we're having today--different but somewhat similar. See, back then, like in '68, for example, with the civil unrest in '68, Nixon was the challenger, or he was the Republican nominee. Humphrey was the Vice President, and he succeeded Lyndon Johnson, so he was part of the party in power. Here, [Donald] Trump is in power and is almost like the challenger. What I'm trying to say is that it's hard for the person in power. It's easier for the challenger to question the establishment. In this case, Trump is the establishment in the sense that he is the officeholder, and yet, all of these issues are happening under his watch, so to speak. So, some similarities, some differences, what have you.
SI: Who were you supporting in '68?
IP: Who would I support? I don't think I was able to vote in '68. [The] first election that I voted in--because in '68, I would've been eighteen years old maybe, nineteen years old. I turned twenty-one in December of '69, having been born in 1948. So, my first election that I voted for would have been '72. [Editor's Note: The 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1971. It changed the voting age to eighteen from twenty-one.] So, I did not have the opportunity to vote in the '68 presidential campaign. I would have voted for Humphrey clearly. Just to backtrack, one of Nixon's platforms or appeals was he supposedly had a "secret plan" to extract the United States from the Vietnam War. Well, that secret plan never really came to fruition, because the war was clearly going on stronger than ever during his presidency and beyond.
SI: The Rutgers campus joined the nationwide strikes shortly after the Kent State shootings.
SI: What do you remember about that time on the Rutgers campus?
IP: Well, let me just mention slightly one thing. The two university epicenters, if you will, for the protests were Columbia University in New York City, where they literally took over--the SDS, the Students for a Democratic Society, perhaps a radical group, perhaps not, they literally took over the Columbia University's president's office. I remember that distinctly. The other epicenter was Berkeley, the University of California at Berkeley. Those were the two centers. Rutgers was probably not far behind in the sense of interest, but not at the level of intensity of those two campuses. But Rutgers was certainly--I mean, there were certainly people who were in favor of the war, no doubt about it, a lot of the kids in ROTC Reserve Officers Training Corps, I would imagine. But my sense was the overwhelming majority of students were opposed to the war throughout the country, and Rutgers would've been falling in line right with that lockstep. There was lots of activity on campus. Again, I don't know if I participated in a whole lot of them, but I know I went into some teach-ins. That's for sure. It was a tumultuous time. It was a very fluid time, lots of moving parts. Not the easiest environment to study. Of course, I was a senior anyway, so there probably wasn't much studying going on when you're a second-semester senior. But the tone was there. The mood was there of a change to come.
SI: I know a lot of the activity at Rutgers focused on Old Queens. There was a takeover. Do you remember observing that?
IP: Yes, I do remember. Yes, there might have been--I don't remember the details, but I do remember there very well might have been, especially if you're referring to. You maybe have done some research or some homework. Yes, there might have been a takeover of Old Queens at one point. Would Mason Gross have still have been the president, or did Edward Bloustein takeover? Okay, Mason Gross was still the president. He was such a well-liked person. I don't think anything ever got really violent, although I could be wrong. Now, Columbia was violent.
SI: Yes. Mason Gross is often cited for …
IP: Being conciliatory?
SI: That, and how he responded to the protests. Do you have any memories of Mason Gross or his leadership at that time?
IP: Only in that he was forward-thinking, liberal-minded; at least that was my impression. A very well-respected educator, both on campus, and I think he had a certain stature on a national level, as well. That's my recollection.
SI: A lot of the figures from the strike, the people leading the teach-ins, included professors from the political science department, which was your minor. Do you remember any, not so much speeches, but anything that they would talk to you about in class referring to the war?
IP: I don't remember, Shaun. Let me try to attack this in a couple of different ways. In the previous--now, just bear with me. There was a controversy, but I believe it was before the period that we're talking about when Professor Genovese of the Rutgers History Department, possibly political science, had taken a personal stand against the war in Vietnam, and his status, since it was a state university, was being challenged. My recollection is that Governor Hughes, who was the governor during the '60s, and very well may have been the governor in the late '60s. I don't exactly remember. But Governor Hughes upheld his right, as I recall, to voice his opinion and not suffer any professional consequence because I remember, clearly, some more conservative groups were advocating for his ouster. Do you remember when that was? Do you remember from any of your research?
SI: The teach-in itself was in April of '65. It became a campaign issue between Hughes, and I think Wayne Dumont was the challenger.
IP: Yes, that sounds right. So, Hughes was the governor during my later years at Rutgers. So, that's understandable. My recollection is--I'm going to use this again--not one hundred percent, but the professor I mentioned to you yesterday, Josef Silverstein--I'm almost positive that he was opposed to the war in Vietnam and voiced his opinion. My hunch is that Ross Baker also would've been in that camp. No other professors that I can recall, but there were many. There were many in other disciplines. It was definitely the topic on campus. I mean, it was all over the place. But I don't remember any other professors per se, but they were doing teach-ins and all of that all the time.
SI: Yesterday, you talked a little bit about your involvement in Lewis Kaden's campaign. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? You said you went door to door.
IP: Yes, I was obviously a volunteer. I recall campaigning or knocking on doors and trying to convince people or trying to--I guess what they call today--isolating supporters and just having brief conversations. So, I do remember doing--that was what I primarily did. I might have also licked a few envelopes and things like that, basically grunt work, low-level organizing and things of that nature.
SI: Now, were you mostly focusing on the residents of New Brunswick, or was there an effort to register the kids at Rutgers?
IP: Good question. In my case, I believe it was more just knocking on doors in Middlesex County. I remember going to Highland Park, going to New Brunswick, possibly Franklin Township, but I don't recall going to Perth Amboy, which was a big part of that district, as I recall. So, I don't think I ever ventured into Perth Amboy.
SI: Going back to the march on Washington, you said they had organized buses coming down from the university.
SI: Do you know if it was a particular group that did that?
IP: I don't remember. I don't remember. I honestly don't remember, but it was pretty organized. I remember we left early in the morning, and we came back late at night. It was not overnight. It was just a one-day event, if you will. Lots of speeches, I recall. Again, I wish I remembered all the speeches. I'm sure there were some senators and congresspeople giving speeches. Many, many Democratic senators were opposed to the war, whether it be George McGovern, Gene McCarthy. I'm not sure, but I would guess that all of those senators--Shirley Chisholm--my hunch is that many of those senators and congressional representatives were speaking at that rally, including musicians and singers. You name it, they were probably there, which, again, is interesting that now the protests--they've really yet come to the fore to actually appear at these protests. I mean, we've seen Senator [Mitt] Romney walk. We've seen other senators walk in the protest, but I haven't seen any of them give speeches. I don't recall any of them yet giving speeches.
The other thing is that back then, there was clearly some--again, the names escape me, but there were clearly some student leaders or young twenty-ish. I mean, John Kerry might've been at that march on Washington. I just don't recall. In fact, he probably was. There were also many actors and musicians that appeared that were part of that movement. I don't see that [today]. We know that some of those types have supported the Black Lives Matter protests, but I haven't seen any of them on stage if you will. Back at that march on Washington, that was very common.
SI: The friends that you went down with, were they from your fraternity or just people you knew?
IP: It was a combination of fraternity, non-fraternity, some of our friends from Douglass, some of the women from Douglass. It was across the board. It was not like all kids from this fraternity or that fraternity or that residence hall. It was just everybody. Keep in mind, I don't think Douglass had sororities anyway.
SI: Do you have any memories of graduation that year, which was obviously affected by the shutdown and that sort of thing?
IP: To be honest with you, I remember a fairly normal graduation. I remember my parents were there. I don't remember any type of protest per se. Looking back on it, maybe that's a little surprising. I don't remember anything out of the ordinary at graduation day. I know it was outside. I'm pretty sure it was at the stadium, the football stadium. Other than that, I don't have any recollection of a protest of any type.
SI: Also, going back a couple of years to when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, do you have any memories of that time on campus, what that day was like or what that night was like?
IP: Well, '68, I remember definitely an impact on the student body. Just a sad time. Then, Bobby Kennedy also died not too long after that. I think he died--well, we would've been possibly off campus at that time. I know he died during the California primary, which would've been probably June, but it could've been May. I forgot when he died. It was a trying time. It was a tense time. I remember that. I remember it being a tense time. Could I just stop for a moment? I'm getting a phone call. [Editor's Note: Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. After winning the California Democratic primary and delivering his victory speech in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, Robert Kennedy was shot three times by Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy died the next day.]
IP: Where were we? I'm sure you probably know where we were better than I do.
SI: Yes, we were talking about the march on Washington. You were comparing it to later protests.
IP: Right. It was pretty organized, in the sense that I think we were saying that I had some friends. It was a coed group, a coed mix of people. I know I didn't make the arrangements for the bus. I know there was a sign-up sheet, or one of the people in our little group signed us all up. So, that's how I know I got there. My hunch was that it was a Rutgers-sponsored bus trip--many buses of some sort or another. There were many, many, I don't know what the final count of the crowd size was, but it was the whole Washington monument area. That whole area was packed, and there must have been a million people there. I'm guessing, who knows.
SI: We also talked about the assassination of Martin Luther King.
IP: I'm sorry. That's right. That was a somber time.
SI: Yes. Any memories stand out about the Black student movement, anything that you observed?
IP: Well, for the few Blacks that were on campus, my recollection is that there was some activity, some movement, but, again, Rutgers did not have a particularly large black student population. Of course, across the country, you had everybody from Stokely Carmichael to Jesse Jackson, of course, Martin Luther King, prior to that. I remember Rutgers having its share of protests if you will, but again, nothing to the level that we're seeing now on campuses--or not on campuses, but in cities, and not to the level of the Vietnam War protests, which affected everybody and really hit home as opposed to the civil rights protests. Again, when you combine Martin Luther King with Bobby Kennedy, it was really a double blow to the Civil Rights Movement, and it was a tense time. Then, we had the riots, unfortunately in Detroit and in Newark, and it was rough. It was rough. It was a tense time. Ironically, if I can throw in an editorializing …
SI: Go ahead.
IP: As divided as our country [was] and as many issues that were affecting everybody back then, it may be hard for some people to believe, and certainly it's everybody's different opinion, in my opinion, as divided as our country was back then with civil rights and the Vietnam War--again, the Vietnam War then supplanted the Civil Rights Movement as the main protest issue of the day in the late '60s, early '70s--it is not nearly, in my judgment, as divided as our country has been for the last three-and-a-half years and for clearly the last year. There's a variety of examples we can give, but I'll just give you one basic example. Back then, the Vietnam War was affecting your life--literally, a war imposed on the United States. We never started that war. The war had been started--the civil war of North and South Vietnam had been started back when the French had controlled Vietnam. It was also a foreign land. Here, today, the protests that we're seeing are what we call in tennis unforced errors. They were inflicted within our own country. But the division that I see now is far more extreme than it was even in the Vietnam War era, especially today with it cutting across men, women, young, old.
Frankly, the protest movement of the Vietnam War protests was primarily young people, primarily. Not all. Not all by any means. But the people in the streets were mostly--the march on Washington was primarily young people. When I look at the protests today that I've been seeing over the last month, I see lots of white people, lots of Black people. I see people of all different ages, etcetera, all across the country, even in southern cities. That's my two cents. To me, there's differences between that era's protests than this era's protests, but the one thing that I see clearly is our country is more divided today than ever before. I'm sure that all the social platforms that we have, the media platforms that we have, have certainly added to that, but to me, I look at our division in our country as an internal division. This is an American situation, as opposed to the war, which was in a foreign country.
SI: Well, to back away from social activism for a moment, looking at the yearbooks and Targums from that era, there was a good number of acts that were either big at the time or became bigger that came to campus from comedians to bands and stuff. Does anything stand out in your memory as something you saw on campus?
IP: I love music. Of course, the Beatles were also just--the Beatles came to America, I think, in the mid-'60s. When I was in high school, I remember the Beatles. Of course, John Lennon became very active politically. The Beatles were very popular. But, on campus, I remember distinctly during my years, Simon and Garfunkel gave a concert. Again, this group certainly was not political, but a very famous, very popular group was the 5th Dimension, popular music, the Turtles. We certainly had our share of all the musical types at various concerts or junior prom or whatever it was. I remember that. But I definitely remember Simon and Garfunkel coming to campus. I can't remember all that--I'm sure we had comedians, but I don't remember anything per se. I wouldn't be surprised if George Carlin made an appearance on campus, but we also had a lot of speakers on campus. Again, I don't remember specifics that well, but we had politicians come to campus and give speeches. When I was at the University of Pittsburgh, when I was in graduate school, I remember George McGovern coming to campus when he was still early in the primaries. Eugene McCarthy, you name it, politicians making speeches at college campuses was common back in the '60s.
SI: Before we leave Rutgers, and we can come back any time if you have other stories, but I also want to ask if you were involved in Hillel or any other Jewish organization.
IP: There was no Hillel per se on campus back then. In fact, the Hillel building--my father was very active in Springfield in the B'nai B'rith organization, and Hillel is an outgrowth of B'nai B'rith or was part of the B'nai B'rith organization. My father is actually one of the people that was active in raising money for the Hillel building being built on campus. There might've been a Hillel, but there was no headquarters or no building per se. So, I must share that with you, that there wasn't much of that back then. I'm sure if I tried to seek it out, there might've been a group, but if there was, it would've been very difficult to participate because there was no building, so to speak, or center.
SI: You described earlier how your graduate study at Pittsburgh came about. What was that summer like for you and then getting settled in your graduate program?
IP: Good question. You'll see where I'm going with this. I had an aunt who worked for CBS. That summer between graduation and going off to graduate school, she was able to not only assist me, but without her, I could not have gotten the job. I had to tell a little white lie. But I have to tell the truth. She was able to get me a low-level position at WCBS Radio in New York City, literally, at Black Rock, which is the CBS corporate headquarters, right on Sixth Avenue. The way I was able to get that job--again, she knew somebody who knew somebody, one of those kinds of things. While I must admit I was all set to go to graduate school, I took the job with the pretense that it would only be a summer job. Now, I didn't tell them that because if I told them that, I wouldn't have gotten the job. But I always had just as much of an interest in media, TV, radio, newspaper as I did in sports. We can come back to that at a future time because I was able to mesh those two disciplines in my thirties. But the job was--WCBS was an all-news all-the-time radio station back then. I think it still is a twenty-four-hour news program.
My shift was the graveyard shift. I literally would come in at two o'clock in the morning, and my shift was until ten o'clock in the morning--either one to nine or two to ten. That was the only shift that was available. I had a blast. One of the people that I met turned out to be the foremost TV journalists, in my opinion, of the last several decades. He's now deceased. He died young. Ed Bradley, who was a Black journalist, who rose to be one of the main correspondents on 60 Minutes. Just a terrific guy. He really took me under his wing.
That summer, Shaun, at Shea Stadium, there was a twenty-four-hour concert [Festival for Peace]. Again, I think it was a protest concert. Janis Joplin was the headliner. I think the Beatles might have even been there one day. I don't remember. It was the end of my shift, so I was pretty tired, but he was in radio back then. He was assigned to cover that concert. So, he said, "Do you want to come along?" So, I came along, and I helped him out a little bit.
I remember that the mainstage was at second base at Shea Stadium. I got to see part of the concert for a couple of hours. It was a real thrill, but I got to learn the news business a little bit. I got a little bit of a taste for covering stories. I was almost exclusively in the radio headquarters, so to speak, helping out, reading copy from AP [Associated Press] to UPI [United Press International], or Reuters, and just helping the anchors and the correspondents, picking up the phone, answering questions, all the grunt work. But I loved it, and it definitely left a lasting impression.
At the end of the summer, like in mid-August, I got the nerve up to say, "I'm leaving to go to graduate school." They actually took it very well. They took it very, very well because, in that kind of a job, they know that people are going in and out, leaving for other jobs. So, I felt bad in a way that I got the job by being not completely truthful, but being the nature of that industry, it wasn't the worst thing in the world. I did work hard, and I remember they were very happy for me, etcetera. But my big moment was meeting Ed Bradley. Then, I went off to graduate school.
SI: Yes. Just a quick question. Did you do anything at Rutgers that fed your interest in media?
IP: It's funny you should mention that. Yes and no. I did work for The Targum for a year or two but in the advertising department, and that actually became another career choice for me much later on in my life. So, I actually was in the business department of The Targum, but I think I only did that for one year, possibly two years, and it was not as a freshman. It would've been as a sophomore, junior. So, I wasn't a journalist, but I worked for The Targum and that was it. I didn't do any other thing journalistically. I was the sports editor of my high school newspaper. That I remember. [laughter]
SI: Tell me a little bit about going out to Pittsburgh and getting established there.
IP: Okay. By the way, at Pitt, my best friend in college and also a fraternity brother, he and I both went to graduate school together and we were roommates in graduate school together for the year that he was there our first year. Then, I think he was able to do his degree because I think he went to summer school or whatever, yes. I did an internship, which I can tell you about, in Newark, for Newark City Hall. I think he had a serious relationship and wanted to finish graduate school earlier than me, which he did, and then he went off to California. So, [it was] a lot of studying, met people, however, from all over the world. The name of the school was GSPIA, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Those are the letters, and that's what it went by.
I actually had a really good, fulfilling couple of years there. The reason I say that is that coming from [the] New York-New Jersey area, to go to a World Series game is virtually impossible to get a ticket. Well, the first year that I'm there at the University of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the World Series, the 1970 World Series. I said to my friends, "Gee, the tickets are going to go on sale at the William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. I'm going to get there at four o'clock in the morning or five o'clock in the morning because how else am I going to get a ticket?" So, I go there. I got there at five o'clock. I think I was the third person on line. There was nobody else there. Then, even at seven o'clock in the morning, when the tickets actually physically went on sale, I had no problem getting a ticket for my friend or me or whatever. So, it was a revelation moving to Pittsburgh, which still was a sizable city--I mean, it's not on the level of even Philadelphia or Boston, but it's a sizable city--that I was able to do things like go to football [games]. We went to Pittsburgh Steelers games. No problem getting a ticket. To get a ticket to the New York Giants was virtually impossible, at Yankees Stadium. So, I was able to do a lot of cultural things that I never really would have had a chance to do in New York because of the access.
I remember buckling down to school. Also, I went on a couple of trips to other universities. I remember going to the University of Michigan for a graduate student program of some sort. I was doing things that I normally wouldn't have thought to do. Also, again [I] was studying public administration. I know there were courses on city [management]. I also gravitated to the city managers program because I always wanted to work in government. That's something I had just always thought I would be a fit for with my political interests. I do remember going in January or February of that first year, which would have been second semester, I do remember going to a lecture or a rally or an on-campus appearance by Senator George McGovern and liking what he had to say. He was against the war in Vietnam. He was a World War II hero himself, having flown many missions, airstrikes--a true American hero, but was opposed to the war in Vietnam. So, that might've been my first taste of saying to myself--that was 1971--so in 1972, I knew ahead of time that that was a presidential election, and to myself, I was saying, "If I'm ever going to get involved in a presidential campaign, next year would be the time to do it."
Anyway, I finished up my second semester and then was fortunate to get an internship working for the city administrator of Newark, New Jersey. So, Ken Gibson, who is Black, was the Mayor of Newark in that period of time. This would've been the summer of 1971. So, I got exposed to a lot of political stuff, if you will, and I worked on a very mundane type of project for my internship. I was doing a paper, a thesis if you will, on the sanitation department. So, I had to get up early in the morning to drive--not physically drive; I was in the passenger side, but just taking notes, interviewing sanitation workers. I had to write all that up. My teacher at the University of Pittsburgh--I can't remember his name, but he was an older gentleman. He was a chairman of the department, and his background was as a young person, he was very active and worked as some kind of an undersecretary in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration. It was Joseph [Pois]. He had to be well into his sixties, if not seventies, when I was a student of his.
So, then I came back to Pittsburgh, finished up my degree. I'll never forget. I really wanted to get involved in the presidential campaign at that point. I graduated in January of '72, came home, and literally--I don't know how I got the nerve up--with a bunch of friends drove to Washington, DC and knocked on the door of a few of the candidates running for president. Now, my first choice, only because he was the heavy, heavy favorite, was Ed Muskie, the senator from Maine. He was the clear odds on favorite. He was the establishment's candidate to get the nomination, but, again, we're in primary season. This is in January, February, and they had no jobs. I would've worked for nothing. Next up was Hubert Humphrey. He was making a comeback. They didn't laugh. The Ed Muskie people, I think, laughed at me because everybody was working for Muskie back then. It was like he was the heavy, heavy favorite--Humphrey--taken up. I think I also knocked on the door of Scoop Jackson, Henry Jackson, the senator from the state of Washington. Then, even though he would've been my first choice, but I was selfish, I guess, I went to the McGovern headquarters, and they welcomed me with open arms, and in two days, I was in New Hampshire. I went home, got in my car, and drove up to New Hampshire.
That year was one of the best years of my life because I got an opportunity first in New Hampshire, when New Hampshire was the first primary in the country, not like it is now; I think Iowa is. In any case, I got a chance to work in a place called Peterborough, New Hampshire, a small community not too far from Manchester, and did some organizing, did some fieldwork, did anything they asked me to do, and was there for about a month, living with a family. It didn't cost me anything, but I wasn't making any money. Then, I recall, McGovern didn't win, but he came in a very, very strong, solid second. Muskie did win, as I recall, but it was a poor showing, and that really was the beginning of the end for Ed Muskie. He also was criticized by the Manchester Union Leader, which was the leading newspaper, the only statewide newspaper in New Hampshire, rock-ribbed conservative Republican. They wrote, apparently, an editorial, very derogatory about his wife. He then defended his wife in a speech in the snow, and to his credit, he cried. He cried because he felt for his wife, and he was hurt, but in politics back then, that was the kiss of death, and he was portrayed as a weak person. So, McGovern didn't win the primary but made a strong enough showing to continue.
I believe my next stop, my next primary, was Wisconsin and went to Wisconsin. I was very fortunate in Wisconsin to meet a person in the main headquarters in Madison. Madison is the capital of Wisconsin; the university is there. Even though Milwaukee is the biggest city, that was, I think, the main headquarters, probably because of the student support for McGovern. I happened to meet a woman, a seasoned politician by the name of Jean Westwood. Jean Westwood took me under her wing. Jean was from Utah of all places. She was one of, at the time, the few establishment-type political operatives to support McGovern. She taught me a lot of ins and outs. One of the things I started to do was become a scheduler.
McGovern had a lot of people, surrogates [such as] athletes; a bunch of the Washington Redskin athletes had supported him. Pierre Salinger, who was Kennedy's Press Secretary, supported McGovern. The senator from Alaska by the name of Ernest Gruening, spelled G-R-U-E-N-I-N-G, was one of only two senators to oppose the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution under President Johnson that basically authorized the bombing of Vietnam or something like that. He supported McGovern. Actresses and actors like Shirley MacLaine, Warren Beatty, a host of other personalities, were supporting McGovern. What my role turned out to be was to schedule those people I just mentioned to you in kaffeeklatsch at like a women's house, where she would invite thirty of her friends, or go to a factory tour with Pierre Salinger, or go to a bus stop and help all those people introduce themselves to the voters.
So, I got a real taste for politics from Jean, and she then helped me get a position in the next primary, which was in Massachusetts. Then, I didn't see Jean until the Miami Democratic Convention. Jean Westwood was then appointed as McGovern's handpicked chairwoman of the Democratic Party. Now, we know that McGovern lost big, so Jean's tenure was not very long, but Jean Westwood became the chairwoman or the chairman, whatever you want to call it, of the Democratic Party during McGovern's campaign and thereafter for a short period of time. If it wasn't for meeting Jean Westwood, I don't know what role I would've had. I then went to the Massachusetts primary, still living with families. Then, from there, we went to Ohio, and I would always be now in the scheduling group. So, the main scheduler was doing the scheduling for McGovern. I was doing the scheduling for all of the minor people, including Eleanor McGovern, McGovern's wife. She had a twin sister, by the way, by the name of Ila Pennington, and I would do her scheduling also.
So, I was working literally seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, never had a day off. By this time, I was getting paid a meager amount of money. I don't even remember what. It might've been a hundred dollars a month. I don't remember. Then, from Ohio, we went to Oregon, Oregon to California, California to New York. Then, I think I had a number of weeks off until the Democratic convention. I went to the convention in '72.
Then, in the general campaign, I actually was going to continue doing scheduling in Washington, DC, but didn't really care for it that much. So, after a couple of weeks, I was assigned to be an advanced man. My territory was Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Upstate New York. I was travelling usually a week ahead of the candidate to build a rally, which wasn't easy for George McGovern, because as popular as he was with the students, he still lacked charisma. To get ten thousand people or even five thousand people to see him was a major undertaking. We would also, of course, do factory tours, etcetera. So, it was an exciting time. I got to see the country. Unfortunately, we lost in a landslide to Nixon, and the rest is history.
Watergate, which occurred in June of 1972, the Watergate break-in, believe it or not, was not a--I wouldn't say it wasn't a big issue. It was an issue that did not catch on. All the players had not been found out yet. Everything happened, as you know, after 1972 and then the impeachment hearings in '73, etcetera. It was reported. It was perhaps a front-page story, but it did not become nearly as prevalent of a story as it did after the election. If it had been a big story, who knows what might have happened? All the fireworks happened after the campaign, not during the campaign. [Editor's Note: On June 17, 1972, several burglars were arrested inside the Watergate office complex when they had attempted to break into the Democratic National Committee offices. Congressional and independent investigations began looking into the break in and coverup in 1973. Following the House Judiciary Committee passing articles of impeachment in June 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency on August 8, 1974.]
SI: I am curious. When you were a scheduler, as you were going to these little, more personal events, how were people reacting to McGovern's message and that sort of thing?
IP: Well, of course, the people we were attracting were very--they were very inspired by McGovern, by the antiwar movement, and McGovern was more than just the antiwar movement. In the Senate, one of his big issues was agriculture. He's from an agricultural state, South Dakota. First of all, let me backtrack a half a second. McGovern, even in 1968, inherited Bobby Kennedy's legacy, if you will. McGovern and the Kennedys, even with John Kennedy, were politically similar in the sense that they were--McGovern, even though he was antiwar, was still an establishment Democrat for the most part. I mean, he wasn't nearly like, for instance, Bernie Sanders has been perceived for the last number of years. George McGovern was a traditional liberal senator from a farm state, who was very much pro-Peace Corps. Again, [he] had been active in agricultural issues for the farmers and for civil rights, all of that sort of thing. His first running mate was Tom Eagleton. Unfortunately, that was a disaster. Eagleton was a senator from Missouri. It was found out that he had shock therapy when he was younger, so McGovern had to ask him, or he resigned from being the vice presidential candidate, and the person that took his place was right out of the Kennedy family, Sargent Shriver, who was married to one of the Kennedy sisters.
So, George McGovern had a tremendous affiliation with the Kennedy clan, so to speak. His nominating speech at the convention was by Ted Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy. Unfortunately, that was another problem. His acceptance speech wasn't until one o'clock in the morning when everybody was asleep. So, that's another story. McGovern was a very well-rounded person, but the Vietnam War was the main issue. He was very much in the Civil Rights Movement, etcetera, and all of that sort of thing. He was very well-received during the campaign by the groups that we were appealing to, but Nixon's big calling card was the "silent majority." That was his base, if you will, and those people turned out and delivered a landslide victory. I think McGovern only carried the District of Columbia and the state of Massachusetts. I'm pretty sure he did not even carry his own state. So, it was a landslide, but for a good cause. [laughter]
SI: Wow. After election night, what was the next move for you?
IP: The next move for me was I still had politics in my blood. As I may have mentioned yesterday, New Jersey had its gubernatorial election the next year in '73. So, I think I worked from the end of the election in November until early, maybe February of the following year, '73. A friend of mine, who was in the campaign also and from New Jersey, one of his relatives was a grocery marketing executive for--I think it was--Shop Rite, the grocery store chain. I was able to do some menial marketing work for him, but I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to work the gubernatorial campaign. So, I was able to--again, I knew a couple of people at that point. Even though we had lost the election, I had a few contacts, and I was able to make contact to work in the gubernatorial campaign because all the Democratic candidates were lining up. I worked for a gentleman by the name of Dick Coffee, spelled just like the beverage. He was a state senator from Trenton, and I think he might've been the state senate minority leader or majority leader at that point in time.
There were many others running. Names escape me at the moment. So, I worked in that campaign as--I was working, I think, more in field organizing and a little bit of scheduling. But what happened there was that probably in March or April, I believe there were a couple of other also strong candidates, but none of these candidates had really established themselves. So, there was another person that there had been a groundswell of support for. He had never run for public office. He had worked for Governor Hughes, I believe in his cabinet--might have even been chief of staff, I don't know. But he then became the county prosecutor for Essex County, and his name was Brendan Byrne. He was an establishment type, again, not a particularly charismatic person, but as you know, New Jersey is a very, very political state, lots of bastions of support in Hudson County, Jersey City, Newark, Essex County. What happened there was that a deal was made. It looked like Brendan Byrne, if he would jump into the race, would get the support of Essex County. I believe Hudson County had their own candidate. The deal that was made was that even though Dick Coffee had already established his campaign, it would've been a tough go to win the primary. He might've won the primary, but it would've been a bloodbath. So, for sure, an arrangement, a political deal was made in heaven, and the Coffee campaign basically became all for Brendan Byrne.
So, Brendan Byrne, who did not have a built-in infrastructure of a campaign, inherited the infrastructure, and we had a good infrastructure. We had a good field organizing group, and we had a good campaign, but the candidate may not have been the strongest. We all switched over to become the infrastructure for the Byrne campaign. Byrne's calling card was that he had prosecuted many mobsters and many underworld figures, and his reputation was that he was the man the mob couldn't buy. One of our slogans was, "The man the mob couldn't buy." Or, "Enough is enough," as I recall [was] one of our other slogans. The bottom line was that we won the primary handily, as I recall. During the primary, my position then became--I actually got a better position. I became the director of scheduling for the Byrne primary campaign and then continued that for the general campaign, and I had a staff of maybe three or four people. So, I was doing the scheduling for all of Byrne's appearances, whether they be factory tours or rallies, appearances at schools, fundraisers, etcetera, and I was living at home at the time.
Ironically, of all places, his headquarters was right on Route 22. The main headquarters was on Route 22, literally only ten minutes from where I lived with my parents in Springfield. I think the exact address might have been Union, New Jersey, but it was on the border of Union and Springfield. So, it was very convenient for me. That really worked out. We won, and we handily won. We beat Charles Sandman, who was a conservative Republican from Cape May County, and was one of Nixon's last holdouts in the impeachment hearings. He was one of the few congressmen that was on the committee that actually supported Nixon to the very end. But the rest is history.
SI: Do you mind if we take a quick break?
IP: No, not at all.
SI: We are back on.
SI: You mentioned how you had joined the Coffee campaign and then that morphed into the Byrne campaign.
SI: What did you think about Byrne's platform and what he was trying to do?
IP: Shaun, at this point--I remember when I was in the McGovern campaign, and I was working the California primary. My college friend, who I mentioned to you--we also went to graduate school together--he had settled in California. That's where his wife's family, I believe, was from. We had drinks the night of the California primary. I remember saying to him--and again, you must realize that I was really heavily into politics at that point, and I was young--I said to him, "You know, politics is a game"--something like this--"but it's the only game in town." Again, I was perhaps idealistic, perhaps naïve, who knows? But my feeling was that politics may be a game, but it's the only game to play. If you're going to play it, the idea is to win, and, of course, the McGovern campaign was a political reckoning for me in that the cause was there. I believed in the cause. I believed in what was happening. But in terms of results, it was a disaster.
IP: The Byrne campaign, on the other hand, was not much on, I don't want to say substance. That wouldn't be a fair way to say it. I would say that, again, we were running against an arch-conservative Republican, so there was a lot to be said for just winning. But Byrne was a liberal, and he did a lot of liberal things when he got into office. Content or idealism was really not the calling card of the Byrne campaign. The calling card of that campaign was to win, and that's all that was really on my mind because I thought the cause was valid. The alternative would've been an arch-conservative, bit of a crazy guy. If you look up stuff on Charles Sandman, he was to the right of Atilla the Hun, okay? I mean, he was way out there. I just felt the cause was still a noble cause.
For example--now it's coming back to me--one of the strong candidates in that primary was a very, very liberal candidate, very antiwar candidate, and her name was Ann Klein, K-L-E-I-N. If it was just Coffee and Klein and maybe another candidate, she very well could've maybe won that primary campaign. She stayed in the primary, by the way, and she was defeated, but then she supported Byrne very heavily. I could slightly be wrong on that. She either dropped out of the primaries also late, but I don't think so. I think she stayed in the primary. She was beholden to her cause, and she followed through. But, then, eventually Byrne beat her, and then she became the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the largest department of New Jersey state government at the time. So, the platform is something that I can't really recall for you, other than it was probably a traditional, liberal platform.
SI: After that campaign came to its successful conclusion, what was your next move?
IP: My next move was now I was part of a winning campaign. I had always wanted to work in government. I had a degree in public administration, and so for me, this was the natural progression career wise. Here was an opportunity to be, if you will, a political appointee and get some kind of a position in one of the departments as not an advisor per se but as an assistant per se to a commissioner, to a department head or whatever. I interviewed for a few different positions. Ultimately, I was appointed to an assistant role in Ann Klein's department, the Department of Health and Human Services. I was extremely appreciative. One of the areas that I focused on was correctional issues and the Department of Corrections, which was one of many departments under that department, under her aegis.
Her right-hand man, her assistant secretary, was a gentleman you may be familiar with, Bob Mulcahy. Bob Mulcahy, after that, became Byrne's Chief of Staff, and then after that, he became executive director of the Meadowlands and then became ultimately the Rutgers athletic director, etcetera. So, I was actually one of Bob's assistants, one of several, but one of Bob's assistants. I was actually assigned the corrections wing, if you will, or that portfolio by Bob. I stayed there for probably a couple of years, maybe one-and-a-half years, and then funds were appropriated for the Department of Human Services to conduct a master plan for corrections, for the whole state of New Jersey. They appointed a professional corrections, not an educator, but a person who had experience in that area, who I believe either had a PhD or was going for his PhD. I was interviewed to be his assistant director, and that's what I then did for another year. I became the assistant director of the New Jersey Correctional Master Plan. I still have the two volumes somewhere in my library, but it actually was a master plan for the future. I worked on that exclusively with him in a separate office on State Street across from the Capitol. That's what I did.
Then, just to fast forward a little bit, you may remember my other love, in addition to politics, in addition to media, was sports. So, I kind of was getting restless with politics. I was becoming less idealistic and more realistic, and as noble as the cause was for Brendan Byrne and the Democratic platform and the liberal platform and all, I also got to be a little [inaudible] by the political process, by the government process, if you will. So, what I started to do with the help of another friend, who I met in my first position working for Mulcahy as an assistant--in the next office, was a former--this is a small world--a former fraternity brother of mine, back at Rutgers at ZBT. He had gone on to Columbia Journalism School and was actually a reporter for The Star-Ledger, but then he switched gears I guess and decided to work in PR [public relations] but in government. He was the number two person in the press secretary's office within the Department of Health and Human Services.
He and I were not that close in college, but our offices were adjoining and we actually rekindled our acquaintance and became very good friends. [inaudible] [He] had a colleague from his days at The Star-Ledger, who was now working as a reporter for New Jersey Public Television. Through that connection, I was able to interview with the sports director of New Jersey Public Television. I did not want to leave my day job in the department, but I was single. At night and during the weekends, I became the person working on the Rutgers basketball games, high school basketball games, football games, all the Rutgers football games. For about a year, I was doing, of all things, statistics. So, even though I wasn't a mathematician, I was good at keeping track of how many points one player could score or what yard line the football was on. So, I was serving in the football season as a spotter for the broadcasters. I would point at a chart who made the tackle and also doing statistics, how many yards, etcetera. I did that for about a year and liked it a lot and liked it so much that I was ready to leave my day job and leave my career.
What I did was just that, and they hired me at New Jersey--I think I was out of work for a few weeks and then the director of the sports department said, "You know what? I'm just going to hire you." I then worked for New Jersey Public Television in the sports department for about a year and a half, maybe two years, and this is now in the late '70s. I had no other life because there was always a game. I did that [for] two years, developed a great rapport with the sports director, and then I wanted to become a reporter. So, I did some reporting also for--they had a special show just geared for kids, sports and kids. So, I did some reporting with that.
To make a long story short, I then parlayed that into becoming a sports reporter for a station up in Springfield, Massachusetts. It didn't work out all that well, parlayed that into a sports reporter position, weekend sports anchor in Peoria, Illinois, and then it was time--my dad had passed away by this time, long gone. I'm an only child. It was time to come home.
When I got home, I was working for a couple of cable TV stations. That was the time when Bill Bradley had pushed through the bill for New Jersey to have its own television station. So, Channel 9 WOR in New York literally transferred to Secaucus, New Jersey, and they were starting their own news program more or less focusing on New Jersey but also New York. I applied to become the sports producer for the news department and got the job. That was probably in--I'm going to say--1982 or 1983, something like that.
Now, I had married my love for media with my love for sports, and the only rough part is I had to commute into New York City. By now, I had moved closer to New York City. Of course, I had an apartment in--of all places--I lived right near where you lived. I lived in Plainsboro. Back then, if you could believe this, Plainsboro looked a lot different. It was Walker Gordon Farm. There was only one complex. It was a singles complex for the most part. It was Fox Run Apartments. When I lived there, there was only that one apartment complex, and then it started like wildfire; everything bloomed from there.
I then moved closer to New York City, in New Jersey, near the Willowbrook Mall, and I was commuting by bus every day for three or four years, I would say a solid three years from when we worked at Times Square. Then, when we moved to Secaucus, I was able to drive my car. I did that for about eight years. I was still single, so I had the liberty to work crazy hours. I had no social life to speak of because our show was at ten o'clock at night. So, once my sports segment was over, with preparing for the producing, once it was over, literally, at ten to eleven or 10:55, I would bolt and run through Times Square with all the adult movie theaters at that time, race to Port Authority, and make the 11:15 bus. Then, I got home at twelve o'clock every night, so it was a very busy time. That's about it. That's that era of my life.
SI: Okay. Let me ask a few questions before we move on.
SI: Going back to your time in government, and when you were working for Bob Mulcahy, what kinds of things were you doing for the corrections?
IP: Basically research, doing surveys, doing a lot of interviewing, kind of some troubleshooting. I would make several trips to a variety of our correction institutions, whether it was Trenton State Prison, occasionally Leesburg--that was a long trip--Rahway State Prison, basically. We were revising some codes, some correctional procedures and policies, somewhat mundane, but occasionally some dramatic changes. By having a familiarity with the Corrections Department, I was able to parlay that into working exclusively on the correctional master plan, which was more of the same but a lot of research as well. We had lots of meetings because that master plan. We had an executive committee made up of politicians, educators, experts in the field of correctional reform, etcetera--not particularly exciting.
SI: I am curious. Did you follow how the plan was implemented or not?
IP: To a certain degree, yes. We finally got the plan in our volumes, and it was passed. It had to be passed by the legislature or adopted by the legislature. But, then, I think that was about the same time that I was then working more and more for New Jersey Public Television. So, I was able to leave with a clear mind that I had done my work, and it was now time to move on.
SI: You are in this space that has changed quite a bit, the local media outlet. They've either been consolidated or bought up. What was it like working in a place like Peoria …
IP: Yes, it was different.
SI: … As a broadcaster at that level?
IP: Yes, you had to do a little bit of everything in markets like that. Again, I was working, for instance, on the weekends. I was the weekend anchor, the weekend sports anchor, and then I think my week started on Wednesday. So, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I was doing sports reporting on local events, athletes, teams, etcetera. Then, Saturday and Sunday, I was anchoring. My days off were Monday and Tuesday. There's not a whole lot to do in Peoria on Saturday and Sunday. You could imagine how little there was to do on a Monday and a Tuesday, but I did meet some nice people along the way and I have no complaints at all. No complaints at all.
The irony of it all is that my wife, who's from New Jersey, actually went to Bradley University as a student in Peoria, Illinois, but our years didn't overlap. I was out by the time, I was already out of Peoria by the time that she was out also. So, we never overlapped. She had already graduated from college, and I came a few years after that. That was funny. But they were fine places to live; it's just that I never had the opportunity to take advantage of it. So, I was always working, and I had my days off on Monday and Tuesday.
SI: In general, you had a lot of experience on camera. I would imagine most of this is a live television experience.
IP: Yes. Well, the reporting was I would do sports reports on a team. That was on videotape.
SI: Do you have any memories of some segments you shot?
IP: Yes. The one that I am most proud of was in Springfield, and I played tennis. Now I play it more. Since moving to Florida, for the last twenty-three years, I've played it now three or four times a week. In the North, you can't do it that much. But Springfield was the hometown of a top ten tennis player in the world. He was from Springfield, went to Stanford. His name was Tim Mayotte, and he's a contemporary of [John] McEnroe and [Jimmy] Connors, in that era. His nickname was the "Springfield Rifle" because he had a terrific serve, a very fast serve. So, I'm playing in Springfield on the public courts on my day off, and somehow I befriended a gentleman much older than myself, who happened to be playing tennis, who happened to be Tim Mayotte's father. One word led to another. He knew who I was from being on television. So, I asked him, "Gee, if and when Tim ever comes home, could I do a story on him?" The father was very gracious. He set it up for me, and I actually got a chance to not only do a story but play a little tennis with Tim Mayotte, which was like Sandy Koufax pitching to a high school player, totally overwhelmed, might have gotten the ball back a few times. I'm sure he was kind to me. We had a few rallies, but it was just a thrill. I remember that, I remember that.
The other thing vaguely that I remember, now this would be in Peoria, I remember doing the sports anchoring on a Saturday. You probably don't remember this--you're too young--but one of the most famous football plays of all time in college was Stanford playing against, I think it was, the University of California. It was the last play of the game. It was a kickoff, and on this kickoff, the returner returned the ball and there must have been five or six laterals. The Stanford band was still on the field, and they scored a touchdown on the final play of the game. It must have been five or six different laterals, and I was able to incorporate that play into my report. I was able to--you had to remember all the names of the players and all of that, but that's a very--if you ever get a chance, just look up "Unbelievable kick return, Stanford versus University of California," but I think it was Cal that scored the touchdown. This is back--I can tell you the year. This was probably 1980, 1981, whatever, okay. So, that's about as much as I remember. [Editor's Note: On November 20, 1982, the Cal Golden Bears defeated the Stanford Cardinals on the last play of the game. On a time-expiring kickoff, the Golden Bears returned the ball for a touchdown. Prematurely, the Stanford marching band had gone onto the field in the endzone and were in the way for the final yards of the play. It is known as "The Play."]
SI: Yes. I am also curious, being at WOR for a relatively long time, how did you see the station grow?
IP: Just keep in mind that I was strictly--by that time, I had had my fill of doing on-air work. It really wasn't my strong suit. Producing was more of my strong suit. So, at WOR, I was the producer for the sports segment, working with a variety of different anchors. The two anchors that I remember the most and who [inaudible] were Marv Albert's brothers. Marv has two brothers, younger. One is Steve Albert, and the other was Al Albert, and both of them were excellent to work with. So, I just didn't want you to leave the impression that I was doing any on-air work at WOR. That was strictly behind the scenes. Your question was, "How did I view working at Channel 9?"
SI: Well, I would like to know that, too, but how the station was growing at that time.
IP: Yes, we really were growing quite broadly. It was very exciting to work at a station that all my life as a youth--as a young adult, we always wondered why New Jersey did not have its own station. As you perhaps know, if you picked up New Jersey and put it in the middle of the country, New Jersey would have perhaps--with Camden and Atlantic City and Newark, there would perhaps be ten different TV stations in a state the size of New Jersey. I mean, if you go to Kansas--I mean, even in a state like Kansas or any of these smaller states, they all have maybe three or four cities, five cities even, that are very small markets, but they all have a CBS, ABC, NBC affiliate. So, New Jersey would've had so many more stations. It was very exciting to work for a station that was now in its infancy, just coming into its own with an emphasis on New Jersey.
When I was at Channel 9, we did virtually all of our sports features stories on New Jersey high schools and teams and universities. We never bothered with covering Saint John's or NYU or CCNY [City College of New York] or Columbia. We were covering Rutgers, Princeton, Fairleigh Dickinson, Drew, all the high schools in New Jersey. In fact, we had a segment called "Team of the Month"--I think it was called "Team of the Month"--where I organized a panel of sportscasters from maybe four or five different people. We would vote every month on the best sports team every month. So, the emphasis was totally on New Jersey, totally. Now, we did also cover the, don't get me wrong, we covered the Knicks in terms of the professional level. We did cover all the New York professional teams, but as far as college and high school, that was virtually exclusively New Jersey teams and schools.
SI: You said you were there for a total of eight years.
IP: Yes, I would say eight, give or take eight years, yes. Then, by that time, in my last year there, I met my future wife, not affiliated with work or anything. I knew I had seen enough of the media world at that point to know in my heart that it was not impossible but very difficult to have a family life working in the media world that I was working in. I mean, eventually, I could've gotten to the network level perhaps, but there's a ton of travel involved when you get to the network level. I worked on a few things. I did a little bit of freelancing while I was at Channel 9 for NBC Sports. I would work on a football game in Cincinnati or Indianapolis, and even that was two days of travel, but the other people were there for like a week ahead of time preparing.
My point is that once I got married, I knew that this was probably not going to be a profession that would be conducive [to family life], and I got married late in life. I got married at forty. So, I knew that it was not going to be a life that would be helpful to maintaining a family life. I saw a lot of divorce. I saw a lot of separation. I already had my eyes on leaving the sports world per se. Again, I had done enough research by that point, and what I parlayed that into was taking a little bit of time off. I was able to work in my wife's family's business, and I did that just for a short amount of time, but mostly going back to NYU for not a graduate program but a certificate program in sports marketing. At this point, we had moved from my condo near the Willowbrook Mall, and we had purchased a home in, of all places--now, it has some notoriety, back then, no one knew what it was--Bedminster, New Jersey, of all places, if you catch my drift. For those listening, that's where Trump has one of his golf courses and where he takes some time off, more than from time to time.
SI: Every weekend. [laughter]
IP: Every weekend, right. Always criticizing other presidents who played golf, he said on the campaign, "I'm never going to play golf." He plays a lot of golf, but be that as it may. So, Denice and I moved to Bedminster into a large development with private homes and also condominiums and villas. It's called The Hills. Our daughter was born and grew up there, until we moved to Florida when she was about five years old maybe. I was working during the day at the family business, not particularly thrilled with that, but I was happy, at night basically going into New York City. Now, I also was doing--now, it's coming back to me, so I apologize--what happened was that I started taking the courses, and one of my professors was the vice president of sports marketing at a company called PSP and that stood for Professional Sports Publications.
Now, again, you've got to realize this is back in the early '90s now, late '80s, early '90s, back then, we didn't have Facebook or a lot of Internet stuff. So, their properties were publications. They have the contract, Shaun, for virtually all of the college football day game programs in the United States. They had the SEC [Southeastern Conference]. They had the Big Ten. I don't think they had Notre Dame, which was an independent. They might not have had the PAC-10, but they had a lot of college football publications. As you know, when you go into a college game, whether it's at Rutgers or Notre Dame or Michigan, and you want to buy the program, there's no competition. You either buy that program, or you buy nothing at all. Also, the other main publication property that they had was the NBA [National Basketball Association]. They had the exclusive rights for the gameday program for every NBA team, and that was one of their main, if not their main, property.
I was working there in advertising on marketing plans for major advertisers that were clients of the company. At night, two nights a week, I would go right from that job, go to NYU downtown, and take my courses. I did that for about a year, and I had developed some contacts at that point. What I actually did, toward the end of my tenure at PSP, I was assigned the Rutgers football program. So, I then was literally going out, in New Brunswick, getting advertising, signing up [inaudible] businesses, what have you, to take out full-page ads, half-page ads, quarter-page ads, in the Rutgers football program. I also worked on the Nets, the New Jersey Nets, NBA program. I was able to do that out of my house, actually. So, I didn't even have to go into the office all that much.
Then, I wanted something more full time. It was full time, but I wanted something where I was going to make a little more money. One of the people at the company knew the advertising director for one of the major cable companies in New Jersey. I think they still exist, TKR, which was basically in the New Brunswick, Edison, Somerset County, Middlesex County area. The biggest cable station in the state is Suburban, at least it was called Suburban back then, and that was the station that was based in Essex County. We were like the number two. Basically, I was hired to become an account executive. I did that for six or seven years, I think, and really enjoyed that--very competitive. So, I was now really switching my gears totally into business, totally into advertising. That's what I did until we decided to relocate to Florida.
My in-laws had relocated to Florida. My mom had passed away, and I had no family. Of course, I didn't know that I had this newfound second cousin from Ancestry.com, so who knows? But, no, she lived in Buffalo anyway. So, we made our way to Florida. I didn't have a job. I wound up taking a few months off just to settle ourselves here and then wound up as the marketing director for the professional soccer team here in Tampa. That was called the Tampa Bay Mutiny. They were part of Major League Soccer. To make a long story short, I enjoyed it, but it really cut into any kind of family time at all. I was once again back at the games because our sponsors with the advertising suites, and it was taking up a lot of time. The games were in the evenings or on the weekends, so I was falling into the same pattern that I was falling into way back in New Jersey Public Television or at Channel 9, etcetera.
I finally left that and decided I was going to do something different and, not to bore you, I got a job where I literally could go to work in my t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers, or not. I worked for a company down here for thirteen years. I know it's going to sound crazy, but this company sold back then--and then they eventually became DVDs--but this is now all in the 2000s because we moved to Florida in 1997, this company would supply videocassette movies to communities in the country in rural areas. Their market was smaller cities--not New York City, not Los Angeles, not Pittsburgh. Those were all supplied by the chain stores like Blockbuster, which is now out of business--all the major chains. This company's niche in the industry was to supply product to Arkansas, Texas, rural areas. I think the biggest city that I ever sold anything to might have been like maybe Kalamazoo, Michigan, but even that's a fairly large city.
Our niche was Upstate New York. I think I had one customer maybe in South Jersey, but most of them were located in the South, in the Midwest, in the Northwest, in the upper Midwest like South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, those kinds of rural or farming states. Sometimes, they would be in some of these communities, [where] literally the general store would be everything from the post office, to the butcher shop, to the groceries, to the video store, all under one roof. So, that's what I did. I enjoyed it tremendously. Now, I had my evenings to myself. I was able to leave the office at five o'clock. To be honest with you, if the Internet had been developed back then as it is now, I probably could've worked even from home. But back then, we all worked under one roof, and that was in Clearwater. So, that's what I did until I retired. I've been retired now for about six years.
SI: Wow. You are saying how you had this very diverse career, but it has always married your interest in sports and marketing to a degree.
IP: Right, and the media. Now, I actually went back to my roots with art history. I'm able to actually enjoy the museum world, so to speak. Finally, the Dali [Salvador Dali Museum] is reopening. It's been closed since mid to late March. We're finally reopening, I think, right after the July Fourth weekend or holiday. But, again, as I mentioned to you the other day, my work is for the art librarian, and so I'm going to actually be going back July 1st.
SI: Oh, great.
IP: Yes, once a week on Wednesdays. The other thing, if I may just add, is we are somewhat active in our synagogue down here, and I've been able to parlay my advertising roots. Every year, we have a major fundraiser in March, and we conduct a silent auction. What I've been able to do is coordinate the whole silent auction by getting museums and amusement parks down here and sports teams and restaurants and all different types of businesses to contribute certificates, tickets. The Bucs [Tampa Bay Buccaneers] always give us an autographed helmet. The Yankees are very good to us. All the sports teams supply us with memorabilia or merchandise. So, that's been another little outlet for me that I've done and I get great satisfaction from that, although next year we might have to have it virtually because many of our congregates are over fifty years old or are over sixty years old. So, there's a concern there. So, anyway, that's my life.
SI: Wow. Well, is there anything else you would like to add or something that we skipped over?
IP: No, I don't think so. I think we pretty much covered everything. [In] closing, I'll just say I'm very distraught about what our country has gone through these last four years. I pray that this doesn't continue because I've just never seen our country as divided as I see it now, and that's why I'm going to always harken back--even though our country is in a bad place now--I'm going to harken back to Abe Lincoln and say, "A house divided against itself cannot stand alone." I'll just leave it there.
SI: Okay, all right. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 8/9/2020
Reviewed by Molly Graham 9/8/2020
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 9/16/2020
Reviewed by Ira Piller 3/3/2021