New Brunswick Redevelopment
Interview with Pat Sheehan
Listokin: . . . and was on this panel in Newark, guess on some redevelopment, this could have been around '71, and you were on the same panel, and I remember as a fresh, you know, young assistant professor . . .
Sheehan: Where had you come from?
Listokin: Well I was working here with George Sternlieb?
Sheehan: Oh [yes] yeah.
istokin: And this was literally. . .
Sheehan: We had many arguments. Many arguments.
Listokin: This was literally last minute, what you know, I can't do it, you go up. And then I remember I was talking in part on the Pittsburgh redevelopment and they have a graded – a different tax arrangement there. They're not taxing improvements, but just land on that, and, lo and behold, I had someone in the audience who did their dissertation on that topic.
Sheehan: Oh dear.
Listokin: Who then picked me over like a cat with a mouse. You know, I had just mentioned this in passing. Well, anyway, we're delighted you could come.
Sheehan: Well thank you. I imagine John Heldrich put my name in. I see you're working on the first go around.
Berkhout: [Yes] [ . . .].
Listokin: We've been – and this has been a very enjoyable effort, you know, talking to people who were involved with the redevelopment. I think it's time to memorialize you know in terms of audio and visual before we lose that record and can better learn from it. So we sent you, you know, an e-mail with some . . .
Sheehan: I got it here.
Berkhout: We mailed it.
Listokin: If I can start with something that wasn't on the e-mail.
Listokin: Because it's very important. Can you tell us something about yourself? You know, where you grew up? And your connection to the city? Before we get into the why and the who and the what.
Sheehan: Sure. I'm a Jersey girl. I was born and grew-up in Newark, and I'm an urban person. Grew up in Newark. Went to college in Washington, D.C., and settled in New Brunswick as a young bride, so you know you get me out in the country, and I'm a little bit lost. I like the fact that a bus stops at my corner. I might say that I haven't been on a bus in 20 years, but I like the fact that it's there, and can walk out and get a loaf of bread or whatever, and I was married to a local boy from – actually he lived in Highland Park, but was born in St. Peter's. Went to St. Peter's High School, and ultimately went to Georgetown Law School and was deeply committed to New Brunswick. And I'm not sure at the time, that it was really my first choice. I mean we were having a wonderful time in Washington, D.C. I worked there. He was in law school there, and it was a great place. I could travel for free, and lots of friends there and so on. But no, so when he died, I felt we had already made the commitment and this was where he wanted to raise his family and so the wellbeing of New Brunswick was very important to me. And, as I said, the commitment had been made the rest is history. Here I am.
Berkhout: So what kind of work did you do in Washington, D.C.?
Sheehan: I was with the Air Transport Association. I did wage and salary surveys, union agreements, that kind of thing, and it was the labor relations arm of the Air Transport Association.
Berkhout: Hmm, interesting.
Sheehan: [Yes] [. . .], I've been fortunate my jobs were always quite satisfying.
Listokin: And just for our own record, the mayors who were before your term in New Brunswick do you recall, we're just trying to . . .
Sheehan: Oh sure. We defeated an administration that had been in office for 27 years, and Mayor Paulus, Chester Paulus...
Berkhout: Like the street out there.
Sheehan: Paulus Boulevard, Paulus Dairy – it had been at that point for some years a commission form of government, and he had been the mayor at least two or three terms in the overall administration. Some of the bodies may have changed, but they had been in office for 27 years, which I think was the root in many ways of our problems, but also of our success.
Listokin: And since, you know, you're talking in part about the mayor, you have someone who is in office so many years. Your platform or your desire to change when you ran?
Sheehan: Well a typical comment is – [ . . .] we were a slate of five. There was a five-member Commission governing body, we called ourselves the New Five. We called them the Old Five. They called themselves the Good Five – and so that was pretty symptomatic of where we stood. I think the importance of our success was emphasized by running as a team, despite the fact that commission form was in effect fiefdoms, I'm not sure necessarily how close a relationship they had with each other, but built into the system was the fact, you know, you're Public Safety Director, and you want to hire four more policemen, and get a new patrol car. Well, I'm Public Works, and what kind of a garbage truck am I going to get in return for supporting you. So as a system it called for horse trading, and not necessarily in any priority basis. Could be, but . . .
Listokin: And this is the way it had been? Or this was . . .
Sheehan: Oh [yes] [ . . .]. That's typical of Walsh Act communities. I don't know – are you from New Jersey originally?
Listokin: I'm not from New Jersey, but I'm here since . . .
Thea I was born in Paterson actually.
Sheehan: Oh [yes] [ . . .]. Great Falls. Since Pat Kramer took me there one day and we saw a rainbow. I said, "How do you arrange that? Can I turn on rainbows in New Brunswick?"
Listokin: But just so I understand – the different commissioners are in charge of different interests, and then when you came in with your five – it was more coordinated? You said you ran as a team so I'm wondering . . .
Sheehan: Absolutely. And I think that that was key in that we were able to work together, and [in spite of the structure] [. . .] – well, a perfect example was, and I'll get to DCA in a minute, but a perfect example was there was provision in the law for each of the commissioners to have an administrative assistant. So we each appointed the same person, so that we had a full-time manager in effect. One of the incumbents that we had defeated took us to court over it, said it was illegal, that you can't do that, no, no, no. So we each hired in effect one fifth of a person, and that gave us a coordination that had never existed before, and so that was key. There was no provision for a city administrator or a city manager under that form of government, and this was using the system, we thought, in a more effective way because although it's the only 24-hour a day part-time job in the world, the fact remained that we all had jobs of our own to feed the family, which was very important, and this was a way of having a full-time person. The other part of that that was critical, and I'm not sure it can always be replicated, and I would like to talk a little bit about what I think of as a contribution, but in particular when we took office we were almost – almost, just a little bit behind the establishment of the State Department of Community Affairs. Paul Ylvisaker was the first Commissioner. It's my guess, I as a new mayor, certainly wanted to make my mark, and even more importantly, he as a new commissioner in a new department wanted to make his mark. He had some money. I had no money, and so we had a very close relationship. He supplied us interns. He supplied us an interim manager. He had a kind of executive loan program, and so we had the manager of, I think it was Woodbridge, assigned to us at no cost to us, because we had no money, for six weeks to try to organize. City Hall was clearly a creature of the 19th century and we really had to bring it to the 20th century. I mean if I wanted to communicate with [a fellow city commissioner] [ . . . ] -- the previous administration clearly ran under the idea of "don't write anything down." In this day and age it would be "don't send any e-mails because they can come back and bite you in the tail" – [. . .] If I had a memo – I mean I came out of the corporate world so I thought in terms of memos – it was typed up on bond paper, very high quality, expensive bond paper with a gold seal. It was put in an envelope, and our mail person, George Hall, at the end of the day, collected all the mail, walked downstairs, across the courtyard, into the post office, deposited the mail, and the next morning he went over to the post office and collected the mail and delivered it to the offices. And that's how you [distributed] [ . . .] your memo. So there was lot to be done to bring it into the 20th century, just in the nits and grits, and I think we were contributing to that. The other really important thing was that we were open to share. I mean we had the task force of the Chamber of Commerce come in just to look at the mis-practices ala the memo first class memo. They estimated, I think, for me to buy a box of stationery, a box of pencils, a box of anything, somebody handled the piece of paper 17 times. So there was that kind of thing. And – but we, you know, we weren't too proud to ask for help. And I think that that's key. I mean I can't help but think of it a lot lately with Cory Booker in Newark and with Obama, they're not ashamed to say they don't know everything, and they're not anxious to look back and punish or investigate or presenting – if half the rumors that we heard were true, and I'm sure they weren't all true, but half the rumors we could have spent the first year just chasing people down to try to put them in jail. That would accomplish nothing, and so we looked forward and looked for all the help we could get. We were not shy about asking for help, and the stars were in alignment ala Governor Hughes and Paul Ylvisaker, also the fact that, I mean, there was room to repair almost everything. [. . .] In those days Town and Gown was not a matter of cooperation, I mean, they only threw bricks at each other. There was no discussion. No relevancy.
Berkhout: Was that when Mason Gross was President?
Sheehan: Mm-hmm. And so, you know, we would talk to Mason Gross and he – I don't know if you were here when John McDonald was here, but he was the go-to guy, as it were. An ombudsman for university with the city government and for the city government with the university. And again, there was a willingness to cooperate and share and help out with problems. I mean up until that time, really, you could hardly get anyone from Rutgers to admit that they were in New Brunswick. "Oh [yes] [. . .], we're outside of Princeton." Yes. They'd even live in New Brunswick, and they didn't admit to being in New Brunswick, and the only thing New Brunswick was useful was some kind of social services survey or a graduate student thesis, and they didn't look on it as a way to help the organization of city government or to help the school system, but rather for their own interest. And there had been a long history of that, and I'm not trying to say this side was right or that side was wrong, but that's the way it was.
Berkhout: So what year did you become mayor?
Listokin: So actually if we could start with – I can imagine the reasons why the efforts to redevelop the city, but if I can get your perspectives on what they were?
Sheehan: Well, I think I was maybe a step behind that. You can't think about redevelopment when you're trying to think about survival, and the sixties was chaos, and so what we offered which I think was perhaps a stepping stone. . .
Listokin: Were you talking about chaos in the times or in New Brunswick specifically or?
Sheehan: No I'm talking about the times. I mean the National Guard was patrolling Newark. Plainfield was in flames. Trenton was not much better, and nobody was talking to anybody, and there had to be some stability, and some recognition of trying to make things work for the people who lived and worked in New Brunswick or in Newark, or Camden, or Plainfield, or wherever, and so I [believe] [. . .] that we laid a good ground work for redevelopment, but we weren't at a point of thinking of redevelopment we were thinking of survival and stability.
Listokin: So if you can speak some about trying to stabilize the survival mode. Like, you mentioned the platform you ran on, you know, the group of five trying to coordinate, but what would be some other aspects in this predevelopment stage?
Sheehan: Well, I think that – I used the word "stability" then. When I got your [letter] [. . .], it kind of made me think back and some of the memories are very, very happy and some of them are a little intense. But to set it in the scene, I think New Brunswick, like most of our other cities, not only in New Jersey but elsewhere, were – and victim is too strong a word, but they were a harbinger of the times of unintended consequences. For example, nothing could be more advantageous and more delightful and more justified than the GI Bill and the Highway Act. I mean, I think they were both wonderful programs. But what they did was tie a noose around the cities. The highways provided the way out of the cities. It brought – and the GI Bill brought housing developments. They would not – the Kendall Parks of the world would not have been built or at least not – or the Levitowns would not have been built with the same speed, and they offered our GIs housing, but they did not provide them with a choice, because housing stock in the cities was too old and didn't qualify. I know my husband couldn't get a GI loan for us to buy a house in New Brunswick.
Listokin: So are you referring to like they couldn't get FHA insurance in New Brunswick?
Sheehan: A mortgage.
Listokin: If they wanted to buy?
Sheehan: Because the houses were more than 30 years old. So,
Listokin: And that was the FHA policy at the time if it was more than 30 years old you couldn't get insurance?
Sheehan: Yeah. You couldn't get a mortgage. It wasn't a matter of insurance. It was a mortgage. You could not get a mortgage.
Listokin: And that's because of FHA and bank redlining?
Sheehan: No it had nothing to do with redlining, I don't think, although there was that too, but that was not as much as a problem as the fact that the federal benefits were set up in such a way that the cities were deprived of participating, and that helped with . . .
Berkhout: The flight to the suburbs.
Sheehan: That's right. So now you have New Brunswick in 1967 where more than a third of the land area is tax exempt. More than a third of the residents are over 65, and more than third of the residents are school age. The school age population primarily was in public housing, and the over 65 was primarily in grandma's house, 25-foot lot, you know, cheek to jowl over on the side streets of New Brunswick, and so much of the "racial crisis" was really a generational thing. You know momma and poppa or maybe just momma is now living in this 25-foot lot house that raised two or six children. They're all educated, and they're all living in Kendall Park or North Brunswick or South Brunswick. A lot of them didn't go very far away, but they were out of New Brunswick. Who wouldn't want a new house and a car and a driveway, the American dream?
Listokin: These are the children of the over 65?
Sheehan: That's right. And the other alternative was that the over 65 now retired and went to Florida. In both instances we now have slum landlords, in effect. The kids aren't going to live in that house themselves, and here's the Rutgers population. We'll divide it up into 16 units and charge the kids by the head, and they all have a car on streets that are this narrow that may or not have enough to park one car. So, suddenly the neighborhoods are going to hell in a basket, and so that was kind of forces beyond the control of New Brunswick, Newark, or wherever, and that was typical of our cities that we were in effect becoming warehouses for the poor and the old. And in order to get past that you had to bring people together and say, "No we're not going to decide everything in this town." I mean it was easy in some ways for us to say, "No, you're not being excluded we want you in." Because everybody had been excluded. Unless you were at the Elks Club at 4 o'clock on a Tuesday you weren't deciding anything. So it wasn't a matter that minorities were excluded, everybody was excluded except the old guard, the entrenched machine.
Listokin: Could you talk some about the retail changes? You spoke some about the housing changes, but what about the retail changes?
Sheehan: Yes that was something we all had to cope with, and the breakdown of the neighborhoods because of the cars and the multi-use – illegal – zoning, and so on.
Listokin: Illegal conversions?
Sheehan: Yes. You know, years later my daughter and my son, the oldest and the youngest, went to Penn and ultimately both of them lived in apartments in [West] [. . .] Philly, it was a just like place like New Brunswick. You know, maintenance, zoning.
Sheehan: Not there, but somebody is making a lot of money. In terms of retail, that followed the automobile and the malls. I mean you went to [Menlo Park Mall] [. . .] and you shopped in Korvettes or Two Guys or Woodbridge Mall when it came and so on. And those are problems that all of the cities faced. It isn't unique to New Brunswick. We were fortunate in a way that although we didn't have much retail, we had some merchants and local businessmen who got on the band wagon with us in terms of stability and in terms of improving the downtown. I mean, I was almost burned in effigy because we proposed to eliminate parking on George Street. George Street is very narrow.
Berkhout: I know. Right.
Sheehan: And it used to have parking on both sides. I think there were a total of 62 meters. Shoppers didn't get to park in them. The people who worked in the offices in the stores tied up those meters all day. So it did not have parking, but it was a symbolic thing that was going to destroy downtown. Nobody could move downtown because the traffic was so bad. So [. . .]we eliminated parking, eliminated the meters on George Street, and provided [off-street- parking. I mean the [Ferren and] Wolfson [decks] [. . .] came along back at that time, and then the Church Street lot – you know, they all followed. You had to have parking, and we didn't have any parking. And the fact of the matter is that if you went to Woodbridge Center mall, three out of four of you were parked further away from the store than you were if you parked in downtown New Brunswick, but you could see the store, it wasn't around the corner and down the lane, and the crime in – I mean, I hate to sound like we were just picked on by the world, but it's true, urban areas were. Number one, Woodbridge Center, for an example, had its own security. They were under orders not to report to the local police; the pocketbook snatching, the car stealing, the vandalism with the aerials and so on. Yet every court case that ultimately came to court of course came to New Brunswick because that's where the courts were, and so the byline in the paper for every petty thievery incident was New Brunswick.
Berkhout: I see.
Listokin: But had occurred . . .
Sheehan: In Woodbridge Center, in Menlo Park, or wherever. But back to advantages – that very question was one we raised with the paper with the New Brunswick Home News at that time was indeed a local paper. We said look, you know, every crime in the county can't be reported as if it were New Brunswick, and they changed the policy, which made a difference. I mean, I think one thing we had going for us that I'm not so sure is true today was that you – the institutions of the community were willing to exercise some corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship if you will. I mean, today I think you'd call it conflict of interest or graft, but I virtually strong-armed the community, business community, to support pools. I mean rinky-dink [. . .] above-ground pools, because there was no place or thing for the children to do. The Home News bought a pool. Johnson & Johnson bought a pool. Squibb bought a pool. The downtown merchants bought a pool. Not a big deal, but it was the first time anybody had done something for the youngsters who were like on tether hooks at that time. And I'm not sure they'd do that today.
Listokin: Just one other, your perspective on the urban renewal that started in the late forties and fifties and continued. How was that playing out in New Brunswick?
Sheehan: Well, that was playing out the same way it played out every other place. Again, what I think of is unintended consequences. I mean, I had three children of my own, and I love them dearly, but high-rises were where 75 or 80 percent of the inhabitants of those high-rises – I'm speaking of Memorial Homes which is now gone, thank God. The children ruled it. And they were unruly, unsupervised children, sub-teens and teenagers. I mean, you know, I'm not talking about the mob came in unruly, I'm talking about unruly kids. I mean you get to the 11th floor and there are two people on that whole floor that are over 18 in terms of residents. I went door to door at Memorial Homes, and I want to tell you it would make you cry. I mean you had young mothers who hardly were more than kids themselves. They couldn't ride the elevator. They couldn't take the baby downstairs, because they were intimidated and harassed by kids, and kids urinating in the elevator and throwing sticks and nothing virtually criminal, but virtually inhabitable, and I think, you know, talk about Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, New Brunswick, they had to go. The other part that made Memorial Homes very difficult for future urban renewal was that we had a pretty stable minority population, and they were pushed out of – you might not have liked, and I can't really remember them – but the housing they were in, which is what became the . . .
Listokin: The older areas by the river basically.
Sheehan: Yes. Right, right. Became Memorial Homes. Families were separated. There was no real [relocation] effort, and I don't think that's true only in New Brunswick. I assume it was true around the country of [relocation][. . .] and replacement housing and keeping families together, and so on. And so that memory was still very raw, which made housing development a very difficult path. But, back to DCA, the Housing Finance Agency in New Jersey, you know, I got more than my share. You know, I was there all the time with the tin cup and the big mouth, and we had some real successes in terms of the Bond [Clothing] factory out on Remsen Avenue for senior citizen housing. The UAW housing down here. Over there on Commercial Avenue, the low rise housing, but . . .
Listokin: And that was ... you had a receptive ear in DCA and also you were proactive in moving these projects along?
Sheehan: [Yes} [ . . .], a big mouth helps. A big mouth helps. I've got – well, I'll give you a perfect example. I mean the rules are wonderful and generally serving, but they don't always come out as a practical matter. The ones we built on Commercial Avenue there just as you come up opposite the Bishop towers. They were going to be two story, but we had identified a need for larger apartments because of larger families, and so it went to three stories, and [regulations provided] [. . .] if you have three stories you have to have an elevator. And I said, "Over my dead body you're going to have an elevator."
Listokin: And that was because it became too expensive?
Sheehan: No, it had nothing to do with expense, it had to do with safety. You ride up and down in the elevators, if they happen to be working, in Memorial Homes, you were threatened, you were unsafe, it smelled like urine, at best, sometimes it smelled much worse. I said, "No elevators." You know, I went to a grammar school that had three stories, and all those little kids were walking down stairs. People who have children didn't want to be on the third floor, they're going to have to walk. No, the federal guidelines were: three stories, you got an elevator. I said, "No, no," and it was the first [project to] go through. Of course, it caused a sensation going through HFA because it was against the rules and so on. But as a practical matter, if you had any hope of maintaining the safety and the ambience if you will of what was really nice housing, elevators were a source of problems. It was no different than when we were having some kind of a little unrest wherever, the university or the high school or the Job Corps or whatever, the first thing you did was close the gas stations and the bars. Well when you're building housing the first thing you do is you build it so it doesn't need an elevator.
Listokin: Well if we can turn to some of the who of the redevelopment. Maybe starting with J&J?
Sheehan: Well J&J was key, and you know John Heldrich was on your list, and it really can begin and end with him. Richard Sellers was another key player from Johnson & Johnson and – putting on my other hat – I like to think that I was a bit of a player as well. The decision to stay in New Brunswick despite the fact that it would [have been] [ . . .] painless and easy for them to have gone almost anywhere else. They own more than enough acreage in Somerset County that they could have gone out and built the world class headquarters without even blinking an eye. To stay in New Brunswick and take the abuse of marshalling together the parcels of land. I mean there were some, they formed a real-estate community or whatever, agent, to acquire the property for what is now world headquarters site, and that was taken by some as a diabolical plot. Taken by others as a gold mine at the end of the rainbow. You know, they couldn't have sold the property for 25 cents, but now because J&J is buying it because they've opened that screen of secrecy, now it's worth a million dollars plus! And so, the fact that they committed to that very critical decision when the other alternatives were so much easier for them was key.
Listokin: And why do you think – what prompted them coming to that decision?
Sheehan: You don't think the novenas I made counted? Huh? Well J&J has a very strong sense of public responsibility, and they're a company driven by what they call the credo, and they had a much closer identity with the communities in which they're located than many other corporations had, and so I think that ethic had a lot to do with it. That's not to say that it was a unanimous decision by a long shot, but there were, you know, there were enough John Heldrichs in that room to see that it happened, and they were also willing to fight the fight with me for Route 18. I don't know if you were around when we had the pillars?
Listokin: Yes, yes. I would very much appreciate your perspective on all that.
Sheehan: I can tell you, I mean they had the [highway] pillars in the [river] [. . .]. It came to a stop. And it was not the shining hour for the Rutgers students either, I might add. But in any case that was an area where the entire community of both political parties and layers of government all got together. I mean we had at that time now Governor Cahill. We had then Secretary of State Ed Crabiel who was a hold over until Cahill got his act together or his team together. We had [Senator] Pete Williams. We had [Congressman] Ed Paton. We had all of the assembly and senate and all of the county, and J&J was leading the private sector, and I was leading the governmental sector. And I mean we were back and forth to Washington so often. One of the highlights or happy memories, I'm not quite sure how to say that, there must have been 17 of us in a meeting in Washington representing, as I say, every level of government, and the Army Corp of Engineers, and the Coast Guard, and all the federal agencies that were around – candidates for the assembly walked across the Raritan and had their pictures taken. Bill Hamilton and Joe Valenti to point out the ridiculousness of this [position that the Raritan was a navigable waterway] [ . . . ] above the railroad bridge. [. . .].
Berkhout: So I don't understand what was the controversy about Route 18? What had to be stopped?
Sheehan: The federal rules said that you cannot, you know, interfere with a navigable waterway.
Berkhout: So this was to build a bridge across it?
Sheehan: And the only way you could move traffic in or out of New Brunswick. I mean with the Rutgers people we went down, I guess Rutgers sent people down to, where is it, West Virginia where they have that rail system between two campuses to see if that kind of a thing would work, but the water was not navigable, and that was the key argument and the answer was where it had once been navigable, I can't even say it, before the railroad bridge, but the railroad bridge made it moot, but in any case it took everybody. And there we are all around the table like this. Every vested interest you could think of with whatever hat on, and finally we've got a go. Everybody nods their heads. Thanks for your time. Can you believe it?
Listokin: So it was a determination that it was not navigable or . . .
Sheehan: We were all in this room yes. Everybody's got every piece of paper that they need, and what isn't needed comes tomorrow. We weren't back in New Brunswick before roadblocks were removed. So the 18 bridge – and by that point, J&J had made that it a prerequisite. they weren't going to build a world headquarters if they couldn't get people in and out – and so that was an ongoing fight where I had everybody on my side, and I was still losing. I mean it was difficult, and it ultimately, you know, we got the approvals and permits from everybody, and we had the bridge. You get stuck on it everyday now.
Berkhout: So it was built then in the early seventies?
Sheehan: Um-hmm. But the pillars had been there beforehand.
Listokin: So you've spoken about J&J. Before you had spoken briefly about Rutgers, but again where was Rutgers in this redevelopment effort?
Sheehan: Well, Mason Gross and after him Ed Bloustein were very supportive and interested in New Brunswick now that they had people who weren't running as a platform anti-Rutgers. I mean that was the secret to success in earlier years. Rutgers didn't pay any taxes. I mean it was John Lynch, Sr., and I can't remember now even when it was it was certainly before my time, but he through the legislature got a $5,000 in-lieu-of-taxes payment to the city, and that had been the case for last 20 years, we got $5,000.
Listokin: And that being a very low amount obviously?
Sheehan: Yes. It has been significantly increased. [Then Assemblyman Robert] Wilentz was very helpful in increasing those payments, but so anybody that ran for office in New Brunswick or perhaps even in the county, although I'm not sure of that, but certainly in New Brunswick, ran against Rutgers. You know, a "dirty rotten Rutgers" speech.
Listokin: And that was because of this low tax payments and the impacts of the students with the housing that you mentioned earlier?
Sheehan: Yeah, I mean what did the city get from having – Rutgers wouldn't even admit they were in the city. They contributed nothing. They didn't live in the city so they weren't even tax payers, and they were nothing but a drain. And that's the way the alignment went, but you know, we – as I say, I wasn't shy with my tin cup, and we were willing to talk to Rutgers and work with Rutgers, and certainly Mason Gross and Ed Bloustein in return, I mean, Ed made – I can't remember his name, the planning director?
Berkhout: Bill Wright?
Sheehan: No, no before him. Oh I want to say Kleinmitz, but that's not it. As I told you I'm terrible at names, but in any case, he and his staff and his graduate students did a lot of work for and about the city of New Brunswick, and that kind of thing just wouldn't have happened before.
Listokin: What guys doing studios and . . .
Sheehan: No looking at the land. The land off Route 1 by Farrington Lake. Looking at Farrington Lake itself. Looking at various infrastructure improvements. Oh, he had his hand in everything. I can see him, but I can't think of his name. But, so, yeah, but they were late to the table, but not always their own fault. They weren't invited to the table either. So lots of wrongs on both sides, but yes, Rutgers did become a partner.
Listokin: The hospital? And I realize it was then Middlesex General Hospital?
Sheehan: Middlesex and St. Peter's, the hospitals were key. In many ways they were certainly not more important than Johnson & Johnson, but the hospitals unlike Johnson & Johnson and unlike Rutgers, their employees – one, ran the whole gamut from somebody who sweeps the floor to the neurosurgeon; two, a large percentage of their employees, both of the medical staff and of the maintenance staff, lived in New Brunswick. So the hospitals were our largest single employer, and the employment runs the gamut, which was very important. It wasn't only the bottom or only the top. They had a long history of service to New Brunswick, and although they didn't pay taxes either, they did pay their water bill, and that was significant income. I mean it's hard to believe how little money we had, and how difficult it is to make infrastructure improvements. I mean everybody loves to come and dedicate a building or have their picture on a wall, but to replace a sewer that's a hundred years old and leaking that ain't too glamorous. The condition of our stuff was deplorable. I mean the trucks were a zillion years old. Half of them didn't work. The police department had no – I mean now everybody has a cell phone, then they had only a handful of walkie-talkies and they didn't work, because they didn't have batteries. There was no training provided for the police department. They did have training for the fire department, but we had in both cases, most particularly the fire department, we had a paid fire department, and I mean, I had arguments with the mayor and the fire personnel in Highland Park, for example, you know, why can't you get a new truck? You have to borrow our ladder truck. Why aren't you getting a new truck? And, you know I said, well anytime you want to take over our payroll, I'll buy you all the trucks in the world, and that's not to denigrate the volunteer firemen. They're wonderful. I, at one point, had suggested that perhaps we hire women firefighters so that we wouldn't have to pay them to sleep on the job. I mean when there's a fire, nothing is more important than a fireman. But if there's not a fire, and there's a dormitory, I'm paying these guys to sleep. If we had women, their wives wouldn't let them sleep there, and I wouldn't have to say – you know we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. But that – and that was again true of so many of the cities. You know payroll costs precluded them from making infrastructure improvements, capital improvements. The people of New Brunswick like any place else were entitled to adequate public services, and that – if we had one slogan that was it. The streets should be clean. Their snow should be removed. They should be safe from fire or crime, and whatever it took in terms of beg, borrow, or stealing we were ready to do to make that happen.
Listokin: And I guess the basic problem was as ratables left who didn't grow, and there was such a heavy dependence on local resources to pay for services, and the resources just weren't there.
Sheehan: That's right. That's back to the warehouses.
Listokin: If I can just turn to some of the other actors. We've mentioned J&J. You mentioned Rutgers. You started to speak about the state, and I think with Paul Ylvisaker as the founding commissioner of DCA that dovetails with . . .?
Sheehan: That was the best fortuitous thing. He needed to make his mark, and where was I, the perfect laboratory. He had a check. I took every one I could get, and as I said, got more than my share and that was supported by Governor Hughes, and it was supported again by Governor Cahill. I mean, just to the funny side stories, when I was mayor of New Brunswick, Pat Kramer was Commissioner of Community Affairs, and when I became Commissioner of Community Affairs, Pat Kramer went back to being the mayor of Paterson. He was Republican, I was a Democrat, and neither of us was ashamed of that. We were kind of proud of it. But we worked together. I mean you talk about the urban crises in the cities in the seventies, that was not a partisan issue. I mean if you lived in the city you were in need.
Listokin: The county?
Sheehan: Well the county, I've come down on both sides of that. In some instances, I think to myself, you know, we pay the freight. The tax bill that goes out in my name supports the county, and we have no choice, except to dole it out. There's no where on there that says the freeholders are getting collecting x or y or z. So as the taxes go up, it's the mayor's problem, and you know, there are prisons, there are hospitals, there are parks, now because there wasn't then, but now there are county colleges. Some days even then and since, I've said well it makes no sense to have 567, excuse me, now 566 municipalities and 21 counties. If there's one thing we've got too much of is government. Why don't we have county regional government? But then I look at what they're doing, I think that doesn't work. Does not work. We have regional services, but for a current question, for example, we're worse off with school districts, you know, 617 school districts. They've put in a county superintendant of schools, but all that has done is add another layer.
Berkhout: Yeah, they don't have any power.
Sheehan: There's no – there isn't a county director of school, which in my heart makes a lot of sense, but I'm not going to talk about the educational issue, but, I'm not sure, I've never really been comfortable with what the counties contribute versus what they cost. I mean, we had a proposal in the depths of despair here when we were, you know, trying to get Route 18 built. Trying to get J&J to stay. Trying to save what little is left in retail downtown. One of the freeholders said, "Well, you know, we've got all this land out there at Camp Kilmer. Maybe we should move the county administration building? I mean how is that going to help New Brunswick? And, you know, he got kind of laughed off the table on that. But he was dead serious, and then his next thing was, "Well, you know, we really have to renew, maybe we should build an arena in downtown New Brunswick."
Berkhout: Now being discussed.
Sheehan: [Yes] [ . . .]A big, walled-in arena, 365 days of the year, has to turn on the lights, and you're lucky if you have 17 days of the year with events. So the county, as an institution, could have played a pivotal role and did not, in my experience.
Listokin: The business community, other than J&J like local banks and others . .
Sheehan: The business community, well J&J, I think from the very beginning of their involvement, you know, because I worked with John a lot. How redevelopment could work? And where it was working? Was it Frank White – somebody up in Connecticut whose name is Frank White?
Listokin: With the Greater Hartford Project?
Sheehan: [Yes, yes] [. . . ]. You know we talked to them and so on, but a key position for J&J was they were not going to do it alone. They didn't want to be that far out front. They were getting more than their share of brick bats for what they were doing, and if it was going to be sustainable, it had to be a group effort. And, you know, that drive helped drive New Brunswick Tomorrow, and so on the other side of it, as I said, one of, I think the hallmarks of my administration was bringing everybody to the table. I mean the ministers and the priests and the rabbis were key in the term of the unrest when the school, university, or the high school, or Job Corp, many of them were out on the streets. They were key in restoring order, maintaining peace, and that involved communication, and they were part of the development. I mean the churches in this town and the temple, were significant institutions with long histories, and they had a lot to lose. I mean, they were already losing their congregations, but they came back for services. I mean, half of New Brunswick or half of North Brunswick came to St. Mary's. Half of Highland Park came to Anshe Emeth, and so that they were part of New Brunswick Tomorrow. And the banks, thank God for my sake and New Brunswick's sake, in those days there were not all the mergers. [. . . ] We had Magyar Bank, we had New Brunswick Savings Bank, and both with corporate offices here, and they too had something to protect, and a future to look for, and so the religious community, the financial community, the retail community such as it was, the local businesses. You know, you had Jack Gushin who took on the Parking Authority and was a mover and a shaker. Sid Sokoloff had a little jewelry store on George Street. Fantastic willingness to step up and be part of a group effort, and it was, I don't want to say gave J&J coverage, but it gave J&J the opportunity to be a part of something that clearly was to their benefit, given the decision to stay.
Listokin: The neighborhoods, the ethnic communities, where were they in this process?
Sheehan: Well the Black community if you can call that, which of course we did at that time. We were fortunate, much more fortunate than many other places in that we had a strong middle-class second or third generation Black population in New Brunswick, and so there was a stability there that, certainly, burning down the town wasn't going to help them or their children or their families, or their jobs; and the Hungarian community had a very stable set-up over here in the fifth ward, and again they had a little bit of an age problem because those houses in the fifth ward in particular were little teeny houses, and – but the difference there was Momma was still living in it, and, you know, I come along and I'm taxing them out of their home. They've lived there for 65 years and there, suddenly – but they're the only taxpayers around, everybody else is gone or it's tax exempt, and so the Hungarian – and part of that was helped by the tradition that we carried on in that the city commission had been, and under us was, and then the subsequent mayor and council were ethnically diverse. Let's see, it was Smith, Cahill, Cooper, Valenti, and Sheehan. Smith was Hungarian. Cahill was Irish. Valenti was Italian. Cooper was Black. Sheehan was not only Irish but a woman, which really gave pause to the ethnic communities. I mean, thank goodness for me my father didn't live in town. He wouldn't have anything to do with petticoat government.
Berkhout: Petticoat government?
Sheehan: [Yes] [ . . .], he wouldn't have voted for a woman. The city government really reached out to represent everyone. Gave a sense that everyone had a voice, and in some ways even more so under the commission form, although if you're a council – we were a strong mayor - council [form of government] and an improvement in terms of maneuvering and getting things done. The ethnic communities were very important, and the most important piece of that were the churches and the temple. I mean we have more national churches than I had ever seen anywhere before in my life. You know we had a Hungarian Presbyterian Church, we had a Hungarian Catholic Church, we had a Polish Church, we had an Italian Church, we had a German Church of more than one denomination. I mean it wasn't just Catholic or just Presbyterian, or just Unitarian, or . . .
Listokin: And the effect of that is you had leaders in these churches and connections to the communities so they could understand – getting back to the redevelopment?
Sheehan: Absolutely. And it also meant that they, not only were they at the table, but they had a part in saying you know, why not here? Or what about here? You couldn't think or do much about redevelopment when you had your finger in the dike. And that's what I was. I had my finger in the dike, and until you stabilize the downtown and the tax base you couldn't go out into the neighborhoods, but they – subsequent to me – they were able to do them. You know fix up programs and sidewalks and curbs, potholes. It couldn't all come at once, and lots of people were impatient, but it couldn't come at all until you had a stable base.
Listokin: So if I can talk some on sort of the what?
Sheehan: Yes. Because I've talked entirely too much. I'd kill for a glass of water if that's possible.
Berkhout: Oh let me get you some. I'm sorry. Or I could get you some Poland Springs or something.
Sheehan: Oh my goodness. Tap – New Brunswick tap water is okay by me.
Listokin: And I'll talk for a few minutes while we wait. It has been described to us of J&J being influenced by some of President Johnson's pronouncements on the state of the cities, and then looking at what were some models in the United States. In part, being attracted to what had begun in Hartford as part of the greater Hartford process where, you know, industry and government came together. That then leading to the creation, I'm going to just mention some things and then I'd like to get your take on New Brunswick Tomorrow, and the concept of partnership, the public and private partnership, the concept of "You need this holistic approach" of the development, which then was spun off as the development arm of DEVCO, and then New Brunswick Tomorrow subsequently then focusing on, you know, the softer side or the social side. You know coordinating at that end. J&J's decision to remain in some of the early projects, the Hyatt, etc. So I just sort of mention that to set the scene. Like what do you think were some of the key things of – now getting this redevelopment started?
Sheehan: Well, as you may already have said, key was the decision of Johnson & Johnson to stay. Concurrently, with that the completion of the Route 18 bridge that will move people. I think we're too – oh, thank you so much – two key elements – I talked earlier about stability. Until you had a stable base you couldn't go anywhere. I mean, you could dream in the style of the time, but it wasn't going to happen if you thought the building was going to burn down. So I would go from there, I think you had city government trying desperately to stabilize and look for resources wherever they were. I think we benefitted by at that time they had the Kerner Commission Report, and I think I was the only elected official mentioned favorably in that whole report. But that helped open the doors for other bits and pieces of aid.
Listokin: So that may have encouraged some state investments when you say "Open the doors."
Sheehan: Um-hmm. State and federal.
Listokin: The Urban Development Action grants?
Sheehan: Yeah, they come later, but yes.
Listokin: That came later.
Sheehan: And the, what do they call it . . .
Listokin: Where was HUD in all this? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development?
Sheehan: HUD worked through – see we had a very difficult time because Nixon's program really wanted to end HUD, and Jim Lynn [ . . .]was the Secretary of HUD, and I met with them because around that time is when they put in what they call Section 8 housing, which was the new urban renewal. Off with the old, on with the new. And I said what about this project and that project? I mean we sat around this table. They offered me a cigar. I wasn't interested in a cigar, I wanted a check. But what's going to happen. This housing, this proposed, and . . .
Listokin: And you were fearful of like another Memorial Homes?
Sheehan: No it wasn't so much that. I was fearful that the federal government was no longer going to support housing, and there wasn't anybody else going to build housing in the cities. There was no market, and no financing for anything but subsidized housing. Senior citizen housing, subsidized housing, and now we have Section 8. I declined a cigar, and he said, "Pat, you don't have to worry. It's all in the pipeline. You're going to get it." Well, it was not in the pipeline, but . . .
Listokin: In the pipeline as far as getting that New Brunswick would get some housing money?
Sheehan: Housing monies.
Listokin: And that was Section...?
Sheehan: Section 8. And the Department of Community Affairs had a young man, [Bruce Saks] – in fact his wife worked for Rutgers [ . . .] – but in any case, he worked with Marilyn Berry-Thompson who was the governor's Washington office director, and you know the key is always in the details, and this Section 8 had formulas – I didn't understand then, I don't understand now, and I don't really ever want to understand them, but the formulas for giving out the money are key on any program, but particularly a federal program, and somehow Bruce figured out a way so that the age of the housing stock was factored into the formula as to how much money you would get and when you'd get it. That was like a gold mine to the city. Not just New Brunswick, but all the cities, because our housing stock was old. 30, 40, I mean the house I lived in . . .
Listokin: Was this a Community Development Block Grants or this was Section 8?
Sheehan: This was Section 8, and doing the formula through [Senator] Pete Williams' office and Ed Patton, no, I guess by then it was Dwyer, doesn't matter. Through our congressional offices and the New Jersey office, the Department of Community Affairs in New Jersey helped craft the formula that made Section 8 work for the cities, despite the national intention that not a nickel of that money was ever going to go to the cities. The cities were in Democratic hot – you know, let's carve then off and forget them. So that was, you know, a key. Now we've gotten totally off on, I've forgotten what your question was.
Listokin: No, no, no. I'd like to hear, you know, what you thought were some other key steps or actions. You mentioned J&J staying, the state cooperating, the change in the formula, any of the particular projects like, you know, the Hyatt or the Golden Triangle, I mean that you feel particularly significant?
Sheehan: Well of course they were significant. Any new construction in any city was significant, and what goes along with that is an addition to the tax base, which in much of the other stuff we didn't have, and also stability in terms of infrastructure improvements, sewer lines . . .
Listokin: And those were monies that were now coming from the state and federal government that allowed you to do it? Is that correct?
Sheehan: Right. And our own bond issue, and commitments from the downtown area to work with us and to work with New Brunswick Tomorrow and be a part of it. You know DEVCO really came later, you know the spin off, as it were. Later than my involvement as I said I'm the kid with the thumb in the dike. [ . . .]
Berkhout: About the benefits of the new constructions bringing in additional funding.
Sheehan: [Yes] [. . .], it brings in jobs. It brings ratables, and it's dependent on a city that's safe, a city where the garbage gets collected, and all the basics that each of us are entitled to are in fact given that there is some concern and commitment to public service. I mean it's as trite as that. You have to want to have it work, and you have to be willing to listen to people. And you have to be able to work with them. If it's, you know, my way or the highway, that doesn't move the whole ship forward, and ends in impasse.
Listokin: I know many of the projects used payment in lieu of taxes. Your perspective on that?
Sheehan: You mean like a tax abatement for real estate and development? I'm not as well versed in that as I could be because my bugaboo fairly or unfairly was the payment in lieu for tax exempt land. That's not the same as the incentive for tax abatements for construction. You know, and we didn't have any construction, so I didn't have to worry about tax abatement.
Listokin: So did that change over time? The payment in lieu on the tax exempt. You know from . . .
Sheehan: That's the hospitals, university, and the churches.
Listokin: Did that change some over time?
Sheehan: Well, every time, I know, I testified, I think I mentioned earlier Bobby Wilentz and Moose Foran were in the assembly, and they had me down to testify to get the payment up, and I think every mayor after me continued to do that so I think there's some rationale, it's not just that token $5,000 dollars that it was in Senator Lynch, Sr.'s, time. Which was a big deal, don't misunderstand me. I mean that at least broke the log jam so that there was an admission on the part of the state.
Listokin: So that number went up some?
Sheehan: Oh [yes, yes] [ . . .], and I think it has continued to go up every year. One that we could not get up in the public housing law at the federal level there are, I think, three or four categories; Alaskans, and, you know, it's hard for me to really remember, but the fourth category of assistance, payment in lieu, is public housing school children. And you think, thank God, because like we have 1,000 kids in our school system, and not one dollar behind them in terms of support. They never funded that provision, ever. Never, ever was funded. So getting the law, whatever that law happened to be, was always only half the battle, and you had to see that it got funded, and that's why the other levels of government were so important to the urban mayors who were really struggling.
Listokin: The big changes occurred after you were mayor, but New Jersey grappled with changing the way it was funding schools, and ultimately that Robinson/Cahill decision and ultimately the Abbott decision . . .
Sheehan: Um-hmm. Right, right, that's all after me.
Listokin: How did that play into or what influence did it have on the redevelopment?
Sheehan: Well, I don't honestly know. I can't say from my own personal experience. I know for a fact that the schools in the cities were under funded, and however you could work out an adequate tax base to support a youngster in school could only be of help to the cities. I know from example, because I struggled with the federal government to get some funding where they'd never funded it, if you have a tax base that provides – I'm sorry, I take that back, if you have a community that provides 1,000 youngsters into your school system, and not one dollar of tax base support behind that that only stands to reason that the cost of educating those children fall on the 30 percent of your tax base that is taxable, and generally in case of the cities on those least able to afford it. You know, you're talking about primarily a senior citizen population trying to fund schools because they live in New Brunswick and not in North Brunswick or Livingston or what have you. So that I have a natural tendency to think some kind of whether it was the Cahill decision or the Abbott districts and whether they are perfect or imperfect, I don't know. I mean, I haven't been that close to it, but something certainly.
Listokin: If you can speak briefly on the outcome, you know, from the redevelopment. I guess if you were to give it grade, you know what...
Sheehan: Oh I'd give it a 1,000 percent, are you kidding? I go to George Street Palyhouse. I go to the State Theater. I eat in all the restaurants. I stay in the Hyatt.
Listokin: Oh, so I don't lose the thought because I lose a lot of thoughts.
Sheehan: Oh, tell me about it.
Listokin: The cultural center in all this – did that come somewhat later after . . ?
Sheehan: Well, there were bits and pieces around. I noticed you talked to Eric Krebs and to Dave Harris. Both of them were very intimately involved in the social service, cultural, or whatever you want to talk about, and it's back to the same story. I mean those kinds of institutions brought people back into New Brunswick who had grown up here. And I can tell you, personally, having had at least half dozen different conversations over some opening or something, not so much now, but when they were first around, "Oh, you know that's the first time I've been in downtown New Brunswick for 20 years. Isn't that amazing?" You know, and I lived here for 30 years before that. So that the rumor and the sense of fear, I mean, they're going through that right now trying to get people into downtown Newark with the PAC Center and so on. I don't know when I've ever been to a meeting on almost any subject in any place in New Jersey where at least half the people, maybe that's high, at least a third of the people grew up in Newark, and almost 80 percent of them haven't been back since, since they left, who say, "Oh, when I was in Newark."
Listokin: So, if I can go back to, you know, what was accomplished, and maybe if you can speak some with 20/20 hindsight – things that could have been done differently or, of course we all have 20/20 hindsight.
Sheehan: Well, I suppose something that all of us would have liked was that it could have been faster. Very, very slow. I've used that in speeches as mayor you become very, very grateful for the smallest favor. You know one step forward is like a miracle. Part of that are the overlapping jurisdictions we have in New Jersey. I mean New Jersey is the most over organized state that there is. Like the third or fourth smallest, and what was it 617 school districts and 566 communities, and 21 counties so that, you know, in many ways we can't get out of our own way. I told you, we had everybody who was anybody around the table on the completing of the Route 18 bridge and it wasn't 24 hours later before someone said, "Oh, we have a – by the way, I think we need this, and so it defies logic, but I think if – and I'm not saying that it could have been done faster, but I think that that's a frustration that everybody has. And the other thing I think is that there's a natural tendency, of human nature if you will, to want to be thanked or to want to be appreciated, and, you know, I don't mind you disagreeing with me, but at least give me credit for trying or caring or spending the time or something, and so when bricks are thrown figuratively or literally, you know that hurts. I think that that's part of human nature. And you know, with any evolving process there was some of that as well. You know, I've had more than my share of screaming fights with you name anybody. It goes with having the mouth, but we were able at the end of the day to go and get a pizza, or go and get a beer, or go and get a cup of coffee, and I think that that was very, very critical, and we could have and should have had more of that, and I don't think that that's true today. Not to say New Brunswick, but everywhere. I mean whether it's the cable news or the – excuse me – the blogs, but every word of every sentence is questioned, and every rumor is not only believed, but is spread and magnified. I didn't have that to contend with, and I also – and we were talking about people who helped, and I left out both the radio station and the newspaper, and today I know they don't have either of those, but I had both of them.
Berkhout: What was the radio station?
Berkhout: Oh, that still exists.
Sheehan: I know, but it's not a hometown WCTC station.
Berkhout: Oh I see, and then the Home News.
Sheehan: The Home News, which was also a hometown newspaper, and is not any longer. I mean you read the papers as much as I do you know what's happening in newspapers and the radio stations the same. But at that time, they were key pieces, and they were organizations that not only supported the redevelopment and New Brunswick Tomorrow and what we wanted to do, but they kept a fishy eye on it, and they maybe didn't swallow it whole, but you could talk to them and say look, this is what we're planning. This is how we're trying to proceed. This is where you could help, and, you know, neither of them gave me a blank check, but you could talk to them and reason it out, and sometimes bring them to your way of thinking or agree to disagree, but it was civil. I don't think that exists today, you know?
Listokin: If we can . . .
Sheehan: I'm sorry.
Listokin: That was how transferable is what has happened in New Brunswick to other urban areas?
Sheehan: Of course, I like to think we're unique and made a miracle, but over and above that there was a certain confluence of stars that I'm not sure you can replicate. A time of unrest where public institutions, for the first time, had to kind of look at themselves in the mirror and say, you know, how can we help, we've been hindering for too long. And a willingness on the part of a new and young administration to ask for help and admit that they didn't know everything.
Listokin: And this when you said a new and young administration in . . .
Sheehan: New Brunswick, New Jersey. Us!
Listokin: Yep. You said it.
Sheehan: You know, I mean, if it had been Mayor Paulus and his administration who knew everything and had been here for 27 years, they wouldn't – and I don't mean this in a personal way at all, but just as an institution – they would not seek to talk to kids on the street about what they needed and wanted in recreation. It's just totally against human nature.
Listokin: So, I guess, the timing of your new administration that you had mentioned again, I guess, some of the unique factors the Bill Ylvisaker and the creation of Community Affairs, doing you favors wanting to make it's mark, you know.
Sheehan: Which again was coming out of, you know, a general – I mean when I became Commissioner of Community Affairs, we were able to establish a national organization, but when Paul became, if he wasn't the first nationally, he was certainly not only the first in New Jersey, but among the first nationally, and that was an idea that spread. There was no voice for the urban areas, the distressed, the old, the warehouses of our country within state government. You know insurance agents had better lobbyists, if you will, than cities.
Listokin: So, am I hearing more I would say a unique aligning of the stars and . . .?
Sheehan: In some ways, yes. That's not to see that I wouldn't hope and think it can't be replicated, but if you look again, we had a manageable size, five and a half square miles. It was like one ward in Newark, 50,000 people our resident population – not a strong base. And the fact that we had 125,000 daytime population was a plus in terms of buying and selling and activity, but was a minus in that they strained all the public resources, whether it was parking, or shopping, or whatever. So, but, I think we see on a national level, at least I do maybe or maybe I'm making it up in my head, but I think there is a tendency for Obama and his administration on a much broader and grander scale with much more, I mean, I thought I had several wars on my hands, but I mean I really didn't have war in that sense, but a willingness to look at new things, new ways, ask for help, and say we can't do it all, that's pretty rare, and I think that that is a key part of it. Booker, Cory Booker, in Newark is doing much the same thing. So, yes, I think it can be replicated. The bigger it gets, the more convoluted the problems are, but the more difficult it is, but, by and large, people don't want to [actually] run their city or their town, they want to feel safe. They want things to work the way they're supposed to, you know, the sewers to drain, and the potholes to be fixed, and a sense that somebody cares about their wellbeing. They don't want to go out and do it, but they don't want to be shut out of it either. So yes, I think it can be replicated, but it takes a lot of good will and hard work.
Berkhout: Could I just get a little bit of chronology again. You became mayor in 67?
Sheehan: Right. Correct.
Berkhout: And you served until when?
Sheehan: 74. I served seven and a half years of two terms.
Berkhout: And then John Lynch came in as mayor?
Sheehan: No Al Cooper came in as mayor.
Berkhout: Oh Al Cooper, okay, and how long was he mayor?
Sheehan: He was mayor to the end of my term so that would be the balance of 74. He was not elected mayor, he succeeded me. I left in February to go to Community Affairs.
Berkhout: I see.
Sheehan: I had not – I had already indicated that I was not going to – I thought to run for a second term was very important to me to prove I wasn't a fluke if you will. But I thought two terms. I made the contribution.
Berkhout: So then he came in to finish your term and then John Lynch ran.
Sheehan: No then Dick Mulligan.
Berkhout: Dick Mulligan. And how long was he mayor do you know?
Sheehan: I think he was mayor for one term.
Berkhout: So Lynch didn't come in until the late seventies?
Berkhout: And while you were mayor were you then working at J&J?
Berkhout: And what was your position?
Sheehan: I was a – let's see, I started out in what was then personnel, which is now Human Resources. Again wage and salary surveys, statistical analysis, hiring rates, and so on, and then Jack Mullen started the Government Affairs Department, and I moved over there, but to be honest with you I can't remember, I think that's when I came back after Community Affairs.
Berkhout: Oh, you went back to J&J after you were at DCA?
Sheehan: [Yes] [. . . ]. See, while I was mayor, a part-time job that it is, I continued to work at J&J, but I had to quit my job when [I was appointed Comissioner] – DCA was a full-time job.
Berkhout: Right, okay. But then after DCA you went back to J&J?
Sheehan: Um-hmm. Well after the Hackensack Meadowlands I went back to J&J. I went from DCA to Executive Director of the Hackensack Meadowlands Commission.
Listokin: Our last item of information, you know, where else, whom else should we talk to, and, you know, do you have files of things we can look at?
Sheehan: I have plaques – plaques and pictures. But files, no. I didn't – you know, some old speeches.
Listokin: You've seen the people that we've spoken to and that we will speak to are there glaring omissions of – I guess, some of the mayors?
Berkhout: I then, I don't know either Al Cooper or Dick Mulligan.
Sheehan: Well Dick Mulligan is in Wyoming, so I don't think you can talk to him. Al Cooper who was original partner of the New Five, yes, he lives down in Skillman, and I would certainly suggest your talking to him.
Berkhout: Okay. What did he do in your government before he took over the end of your mayoral . . .?
Sheehan: He was – first he was a Commissioner, one of the New Five, and then he was a Councilman. [ . . .I guess] He was council president.
Sheehan: We're the only two survivors. I guess, I don't know that Dick Sellars ever comes up. He's another J&J person, but in all honesty, I mean, John Heldrich knows it all. I mean I did the background – every time I see him he tells me he still has that book for the Hartford Project and possibilities and way to proceed, and so on. You know my thumb in the dike again, I guess.
Berkhout: He said Sellars was not well to be able to speak to him.
Sheehan: Okay. And you have Bob Campbell on the list.
Berkhout: Yes, we're seeing him tomorrow actually. So many of them are dead.
Listokin: Well, if anybody comes to mind.
Sheehan: [ . . . ]. Harvey Holtzberg.
Berkhout: Who was Harvey?
Sheehan: [Retired President of the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital]. Tony Schrobel. Tony Schrobel is a very good one to talk to. He was President of the Franklin State Bank in those days, and I can't over emphasize the importance of the banks, and the sadness I had in my heart with all the mergers.
Sheehan: No "r." It might be Schrobel. Don't hold me to it.
Berkhout: Okay. He lives in New Brunswick?
Sheehan: No. They used to live at Colony House, but since his wife died, he's maybe out with his son, I'm not sure where he lives right now, but he was president of Franklin State Bank and he was a colleague of Mayo Sisler's and you have what their bank has evolved into right there.
Berkhout: Bank of America?
Sheehan: No where the Y is – where the Y was. Right next door. I don't know what that bank is called.
Berkhout: Oh, okay.
Sheehan: But the Mayor's office could probably get you his number, Tony Schrobel.
Sheehan: And I guess the Magyar Savings Bank, Liz, is too young. I mean she's active now. I think she's on the board of the George Street Playhouse. Reverent Hildebrand is deceased But Rabbi Fields and [Rabbi Miller] . . .
Listokin: He's affiliated with which entity?
Sheehan: The temple up here on Livingston Avenue, Anshe Emeth.
Listokin: The one on Livingston Avenue?
Sheehan: Everybody I know is dead. But those are couple of names that come to mind. I mean the walked the streets with us. They're very important.
Berkhout: Hmm. Yeah.
Listokin: Well, thank you.
Sheehan: Just one other subject I was talking about banks, just to stress how unfortunate we all are in not having bank headquarters in New Jersey or whatever. I did the first housing bond issue for the HFA in New Jersey, and just prior to that they had the bond issue for the Meadowlands, and almost at the eleventh hour, all the New York banks pulled out, and so we lost the financing for the Meadowlands, and the governor was able to call together the New Jersey banks and they were – I mean otherwise it was dead, or was to be killed, and it was the New Jersey banks that stepped up and hence the Meadowlands got to be built. And without taxpayer money I might add. And then when they did the housing bond issue that we offered it to the New Jersey banks, and we met right here in the New Brunswick City Hall, and we had Bob Ferguson, Fidelity Bank, we had First Jersey out of Jersey City, Tom Stanton [oh, it doesn't matter,] and then there was another bank . . .
Berkhout: Core States or Summit?
Sheehan: No, I don' remember those particularly. I remember the two First Jersey and Fidelity in Newark, and . . .
Listokin: Commerce Bank?
Sheehan: No, it was before Commerce. I tell you I'm really old. Anyway, my point is – and some of the New York banks as well. And they met here, and we were introducing the bond issue, and we were talking about the state of New Jersey and it couldn't be better, and you've never seen a group of grown men – needless to say there were no women in the group – sitting on their hands and the silence get longer and longer and longer, and it was going to fail, because we had no financing. [ . . . ] Tom Stanton stood up and said "Well, I'll buy 10 million," and that broke the logjam, and we had a successful housing bond issue. There is no Tom Stanton today.
Listokin: It was just viewed as just too risky or too new?
Sheehan: And who am I to support housing in New Jersey? And you wouldn't get the bank president from North Carolina to come up and help you in buying it. That's what I'm saying to you, and this international, global reach, you know, that Rutgers, for one, is so proud of, leaves something in the dust in terms of community responsibility.
Sheehan: So I'm sorry, I took too long, I enjoyed running down Memory Lane with you.
Listokin: Actually – your comments on the banks. We did some study on what was called the Philadelphia Plan. This was the Philadelphia banks, who were one of the first to offer mortgages if there was an urban area, if there was a foreclosure on the block. They didn't just say, "That's the end of it, etc." And it was Philadelphia banks, which had a tradition of, you, know, Philadelphia and that, savings banks, and so those were all bought out by the national and regional banks, and we lost that immediacy of people . . .
Sheehan: That's exactly what I'm talking about.
Listokin: Of people sitting around the table and saying what are you going to do to help Philadelphia? Or, I know, that neighborhood and it's, I can vouch for it . . .
Sheehan: That's what makes me feel so sad. I mean there was a lot of greed and a lot of speculation and a lot of bad, bad stuff with this current mortgage crisis, but there was also a lot poor souls that – I mean who in your right mind would sign up for a no money down, no principal payment due mortgage? But there doesn't always have to be a penalty for stupidity, and nobody can – they can't talk to anybody because the minute mortgage went in the front door, it went out the back door and was sliced and diced up.
Berkhout: You know what there's one thing I forgot. I have a little form that I need your signature on, because we . . .
Sheehan: Now I told you, you were going to need those movies!
Berkhout: Just to get your permission . . .
[end of recording]
Note Interviewee's changes indicated between [ ].