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This is an interview with the Honorable Bernard Brooks, mayor of Teaneck, for the Teaneck Oral History Project on April 14, 1985 with June Kapell.
(I) Mayor Brooks, Bernie, you are known to almost everyone in Teaneck, tell us how did you choose Teaneck and how long have you been here?
(N) I came to Teaneck in 1963. I chose Teaneck, actually I chose New Jersey because my employment brought me to New Jersey. I was living in Connecticut and when I came to New Jersey, I looked around for a community that was compatible to my social goals and Teaneck was such a community.
(I) You had come directly from Connecticut to New Jersey?
(N) Yes. My first year I lived in Englewood and after living in Englewood for a year, then I came to Teaneck.
(I) Now tell us a little bit about your background. You grew up in, where ...
(N) I was born in Camden, South Carolina. I am the seventh son. There were eight girls. And my father died seven days after I was born. And I went to high school there. I went to my first year of college in South Carolina and then I went to Brooklyn College.
(I) Did your whole family move north or ...
(N) Much of my family. Some of my family is still in the south but most of my family is in the New York metropolitan area.
(I) So you started at Brooklyn College?
(N) Actually my first year of college was at South Carolina State, I won a scholarship there and that was for one year after which I came to New York.
(I) And you got a bachelors degree in ...
(N) My bachelors is in Accounting and actually that's from Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck and I have a masters in management from Pace University in New York City.
(I) And then your employment was as a consultant or as an accountant?
(N) Actually my employment history was predominantly in computer sciences. I got into computer sciences in 1960 and most of my early years were in developing systems and solving business problems using computers and that lead me into consulting and I spent twelve years with Arthur Young & Company.
(I) And now you've just started your own ...
(N) That's correct. April 1st I started my own firm, Bernard E. Brooks & Associates and it is also a management consultant firm specializing in searching for executives.
(I) Well we wish you well in your new career. So once you came to Teaneck, where did you get started in your civic interests. You've been active certainly all the time you've been here.
(N) I think several things got me started. One was of course I came to Teaneck in 1963 during the early days of integration of the school system and I became active supporting school board candidates. During that same time, there was a program that we had where it was called Friendship Day where white families would go visit black families and black families would go visit white families and I was very active in Friendship Day and I suppose one event lead to another and here I am.
(I) Well we have to dig a little bit deeper than that. You said that you have been active all your life in civic affairs and so that corning to Teaneck, this is not new to you. Now what form of activity did this take when you got to Teaneck working for the school board candidates. Which campaign did you start with?
(N) I got involved in the Coffee, Greenstone, Sather campaign. That was my first active campaign and I was involved with predominantly people from the T.P.A. at that time, Leo Gamow was one of the people that was heavily involved in it and the type of action that it took really was holding cottage parties, distributing literature and doing the whatever one does in a campaign.
(I) Doorbell ringing.
(N) That's correct.
(I) And certainly the "good guys" of Coffee, Greenstone, Sather were all elected. But you've kept this activity, school board candidate, each year ...
(N) I was always active in the school board campaigns ever since I've been in Teaneck. I've always supported some candidate and in recent years, since I've been on the council, I've been less active but I've still supported my candidates.
(I) In your early days, when you worked for school board candidates, did you also work for the political, the council elections?
(I) And what else did you do besides school...
(N) I was very active with my parish, St. Anastasia's. I've been active in a number of ways. I was active in some of the men's groups in the parish in the, as a scout leader in the Cub Scouts. I've been active in the Little League baseball. I've been also active
(I) Coach, manager?
(I) Coach and manager?
(N) No, coach. Just coach.
(I) I didn't ask you about your family. May I interrupt for just a moment to get back to family.
(N) I am married and I have five children, one boy and four girls.
(I) Well now the girls are in Little League these days too. Was it with the girls that you were active in Little League ...
(N) No, it was with my son. My girls did swimming and running and horseback riding. They didn't go baseball.
(I) Your children went to the Teaneck schools?
(N) No, my kids when they were in elementary school they went to St. Anastasia. Then my boy went to Don Bosco which is up in Ramsey and the girls went to a school called Holy Angels up in Demarest and my son graduated from Rutgers. I have a daughter who graduated from the University of Chicago and she is now at Yale pursuing her masters and I have a daughter who is at Howard University in her third year of medical school and I've got a daughter who is at the Air Force Academy Prep School and I've got a ten year old.
(I) That certainly sounds like an interesting family. I know I interrupted you in the middle of something. Talking about your activities. So that your early days were with elections and then Little League and the parish. You were talking about the St. Anastasia parish.
(N) I was about to say that I was very involved in St. Anastasia's first parish council. I headed one of their committees and
(I) Which committee was that?
(N) It was called I believe Community Action Committee and we were a committee that looked at some of the social needs of the parish and also some of the social needs of the greater community of Teaneck and we joined with groups of other religious institutions to do a number of programs.
(I) What other religious organizations, institutions did you join with?
(N) We were very involved with Temple Emeth, St. Mark's and the Rotary and several others and this was in the formation of a senior citizen housing development that's on East Cedar Lane. We were also very instrumental in creating a townwide senior citizens group. It is now a senior citizens center in Teaneck. Camille Getler who happens to be the director of that center was part of my original committee at St. Anastasia's and that was her introduction or initiation into senior citizens.
(I) Well originally there had been, the St. Anastasia parish hoped to have a housing complex right at the site of St. Anastasia but that ...
(N) That fell through because of state and federal funding kind of dried up a few years back. I suppose this goes back about eight years or more and there were plans to create senior citizen housing on St. Anastasia's, on church property but the federal funding just wasn't there and the parish couldn't afford it.
(I) So that this nucleus from St. Anastasia's then joined with the other organizations?
(N) No, actually we had already joined with the others. I mean we had been with the community at large prior to St. Anastasia's coming up with its own internal scheme and that senior citizens housing had been well under way, the broad base housing had been well under way before we conceived the idea of just housing on St. Anastasia.
(I) How large is the East Cedar Lane housing? Do you recall how many apartments there are now?
(N) I am not certain but I think it can house about 180 so I think there is about 180 units but I am not absolutely certain on that.
(I) To jump in time, now as the mayor of Teaneck, does this senior citizen housing help fill the housing needs or is there still a great need in Teaneck for senior citizen housing?
(N) There is a tremendous need in Teaneck for senior citizen housing and I am just very thankful that we were as foresighted as we were ten, fifteen years ago when we conceived those housing. We couldn't build those houses today. I mean we just couldn't afford them with the construction costs, the land costs and all of that but insofar as the community at large, we have an acute shortage of housing for seniors.
(I) In view of the Mt. Laurel decision, how does Teaneck stand with providing low cost housing?
(N) Well it depends upon whether you take the judge's point of view or the mayor's. If you take my point of view, I think Teaneck has addressed every possible social need that it could be asked. I mean we have low cost housing here, our apartments, our rental apartments can't really be considered expensive rental apartments. You have a lot of apartments here in the $300 range. $300 per month. That's affordable for most people versus $1,000 per month if you go to Fort Lee so I think we've really met the needs of low income families.
(I) You feel that these relatively low income, low rental apartments are that low because of something which Teaneck itself has done? The rent leveling ...
(N) I think so. The rent stabilization, certainly. I think that if we did not have rent stabilization, our apartments would be significantly higher but the fact that we put a cap on back in 1973 or 76, that that had a very leveling effect.
(I) And it hasn't hindered the landlords, none of them have gone bankrupt?
(N) Well I'll put it this way. We run somewhere between a 95 and a 98% occupancy so the occupancy rate is extremely high. There are landlords who claim hardship from time to time but the rent stabilization ordinance permits relief from hardship situations so they can apply for hardship and get increases if they can justify the hardship so I don't believe landlords have been unduly hurt.
(I) There have been a lot of rental apartments in many areas that have gone condo. Is that something which is going on in Teaneck now too?
(N) Absolutely. There are a number of complexes, the Maple Avenue apartments which are on the southwest corner of town, they are condominiums. There are condominiums on north Teaneck Road just before you get to Route 4 on the northern part, on the right, just as you go there; and there are a number of other complexes that are going through the conversion.
(I) Are there any regulations in town which would inhibit or prohibit ...
(N) Not really. There are certain state statutory requirements that say for a conversion, if a person is a senior citizen living in an apartment, they are given lifetime opportunities to live there. You can't get rid of them because they didn't buy so to speak. People who live in condominiums or in apartments that are going through a conversion, they have first right for purchase and if they do not purchase, there are so many years that they can live there as a rental before they can be forced to move. But these are state laws.
(I) So that is not necessarily a problem here in town. I just wanted to go back ...
(N) Well there were problems that we detected that we had to address and basically what it was that if you take condominiums that are being, apartments that are being converted to condominiums, there is something in every apartment that is called a common area, you know, a hallway, courtyards, whatever. When you have 100 individual owners, if you don't have a management corporation, who is to take care of the common areas? So that we were concerned about that. We passed laws, ordinances, that forces maintenance of common areas and if they are not done, then the township can go in and maintain the common areas and bill back, put a lien on the property.
(I) Let's go back to some of your past history. We're jumping in time here. We started with, to go back to St. Anastasia, the senior citizens, at least some of them, are living well here in town.
(N) I think so.
(I) Many of the others, they're rent subsidy programs.
(N) There are rent subsidy programs, there are tax abatement programs, the state has some laws on the books that permit seniors to get reverse mortgages. Say if a senior owns a house, they can get so much of the equity paid to them in mortgage and what will happen is when they either die or sell the house, then that goes to paying off the mortgage type of thing. So there are a number of programs for seniors, not enough. But not enough.
(I) Well, some of the other activities in your past. We've gotten into the beginnings of your political career by working on the board elections and council elections and working for the senior citizens. What else, Little League, we mentioned that. What else?
(I) I was active, I was a member of the Youth Adjustment Committee for a number of years. The Youth Adjustment Committee is a committee, this is also created by state statute by the way, it is a committee that attempts to deal with problems of youngsters outside of the courts and it can deal with problems that are not felonies or criminal type problems. If you have a situation where your youngster is incorrigible, this committee can deal with, or if the youngster has done some type of a petty crime, let's say, a petty crime would be possession of marijuana, small amounts of marijuana or the smoking of a marijuana, something of that nature. This committee would attempt to meet with the youngster and the youngster's parents and set up programs to prevent the youngster from having a repeat of whatever it was and, in some cases, the youngster was referred to a psychological counseling and the parents might be referred to adult counseling but there were attempts to put in preventive remedies to avoid the youngster from falling into the same action again.
(I) And you feel that this has been a productive ...
(N) I think it is an excellent thing. I don't know what the percentage of successes are but even if there is only success, to me that is a success.
(I) How many people are on the Youth Adjustment Committee?
(N) Approximately twelve, twelve to fifteen and it is headed by a psychologist, a psychiatrist rather, and prior to that, it was also headed by a psychiatrist. The makeup has a superintendent of schools, the principal in the high school...
(I) Are these mayoral appointees or council appointees?
(N) No, they are actually, I believe, statutory appointees. I mean the state dictates certain memberships and then there are some other that we have only one council appointment and that's a council person, we appoint as our liaison.
(I) And what else? I know you've been active in the Urban League.
(N) As a matter of fact, I've been on the board of directors of the Urban League, on the board of directors of the N.A.A.C.P. There have been a number of civic organizations I've been involved in. At one time, there was an organization called the Northeast Community Organization, (NECO) and, as a matter of fact, NECO was very active in my early days in the political campaigns. I've been very active in NECO.
(I) When you say you've been very active, again, what form was ...
(N) I've held positions like officer in NECO and then also active in promoting their programs, whatever those programs might be. In many, many cases, this was screening candidates, encouraging candidates to run, once a candidate declares - going out and working for that candidate. Developing programs for young adults in Teaneck and sometimes actually physically working with the young adults in those programs. At one time, there used to be dances, Friday night dances at the Town House and some of us used to be chaperones and things of that nature.
(I) Oh, I wasn't aware of those.
(N) This dates back a number of years. I don't believe they've been held here in the last eight years.
(I) Let's see. You've also been in, on the board of Holy Name?
(N) I served on the board of trustees at Holy Name Hospital for six years or so and in that role, I was primarily, it was a policy making role but I had the good fortune to serve on some select committees of the board - one to screen for new hospital administrator and a number of committees that may not have been quite as pleasant. Sometimes ... (inaudible) a position. What ever the case may be.
(I) Your civic activities extend beyond the scope of Teaneck too.
(N) Absolutely. I've been involved and I still am involved on the board of trustees at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York and of course I've been involved in Bergen County. I was a member of the board of trustees at the Bergen County Girl Scout Council and that was a very rewarding experience being a male.
(I) There have been a number of males in the Girl Scouts lately.
(N) Absolutely. The Girl Scouts were probably a few years ahead of the Boy Scouts in bringing both genders on to their boards.
(I) Now in addition to the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts and everything else, in addition to working, you also have been doing some teaching I understand.
(N) I teach school in black colleges for the Urban League in a program that's called Black Executive Exchange Program and this program is conducted in a number of colleges in the south. We stall a full semester's course with a visiting professor and I would go down for a week, the next week a different professor would go down and they run the program in a number of disciplines. My discipline has been computer sciences and management. They have courses in personnel, human resources, accounting and general business and I think there are about fifteen disciplines that they can teach and if a college has that particular discipline in their curriculum, we go down at no expense to the college.
(I) How many colleges are involved in this?
(N) Oh, I would say probably about thirty colleges. I myself have been to about twelve or thirteen schools.
(I) How does an organization like this get set up. Who funds it?
(N) Well first of all, it is partially funded by the Urban League. The Urban League pays for ... it is a branch of the Urban League, the national Urban League who pays for its executive director but there is no cost for the professors because our firms, our companies fund us. They fund our travel, they give us the time, so it is merely a matter of coordinating the people and the companies generally who have visiting professors also fund the program. I mean we make contributions to the, in money as well as in time.
(I) How many professors would be involved?
(N) Oh, I would say probably 200/250 maybe even more. It is a fairly good sized number and these people generally come from major companies in the northeast, generally. However, there are a number of far west companies, Lawrence Livermore Labs in California and IBM all over the place, AT&T all over the place and mostly major companies participate.
(I) Well you certainly don't have too much spare time.
(N) For interviews.
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