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

NARRATOR:
Bernard Brooks
INTERVIEWER:
June Kapell
DATE OF INTERVIEW:   
April 14, 1985
TRANSCRIBER:
Jackie Kinney (12/1985)

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(I) Let's start with your background again. How did you work up to become mayor of Teaneck? We've got you just doorbell ringing and having cottage parties for candidates. What made you decide to run yourself?

(N) The I-95 redevelopment issue was the thing I believe that caused me to run for politics. I was on the Planning Board and there was a council election I believe in 1972 and I ran for council supporting the I-80/95 redevelopment concept and I lost by ten votes. At that time, I lost by ten votes, I outpolled the then sitting mayor, Frank Burr, who had lost by more than ten votes. I tried again four years later and I became a council person and I served on the council for four years.

(I) Go back to that first council race. That was a very heated time in the town. What are some of your recollections of that race? Who were your running mates at the time?

(N) My first year, I was running with Frank Burr, Irwin Markowitz, Frank Hall, Ted Ley and myself and we had a slate or whatever one calls it. There were a number of people running in opposition to the I-80/95 plan,. Most of those persons who were in opposition won.

(END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)

(I) So you lost by ten votes. Can you go into a little more of the campaign at that time?

(N) Well actually the campaign was centered around one issue. Although there were many issues the town had to face, the emotionalism of the campaign focused primarily on the I-80/95 redevelopment and it focused on the fact that for the first time, in Teaneck, we were going to have buildings higher than three and a half stories and the plan was for a hotel about ten stories, perhaps at that time fourteen stories, or an office building that was approximately the same height and also for an apartment building of approximately the same height. The idea was that the plan was that you had to build high because there was going to be so much cost going into preparing the ground, that the only way to be economical for a developer was you'd have to go high. In retrospect, if we look at what has happened down at Glenpointe today, that's been borne out. The hotel is very successful, it's high. The office buildings are quite successful, they're mid-rise. The residencies are a total failure because they are ground apartments and generally speaking, people who are going to pay between $180,000 to $350,000 for an apartment will go for a high rise apartment in this area. They do not go for the type of apartments that we have. In any case, the opponents of the high rise concept of the plan won and we, dealing with the plan that we have today, somewhat modified, because once they got into office and did get a developer, the developer asked for certain changes and the changes were mostly in height.

(I) Well there has been a considerable amount in the papers recently about the problems and the proposed solutions at Glenpointe. Is there something you can comment on that?

(N) Well I can certainly comment on the problems. The problems are obvious. The apartments are not selling very fast. Now one has to ask a number of questions as to why aren't the apartments selling. General marketing would say that if you have something in inventory and it is not selling, you reduce the price or you offer incentives to make the items move faster. That is not happening in the sale of the residences at Glenpointe. In effect what is happened recently is we've had price increases in that the apartments are not selling and the developer has raised the price. I am sure there are many different opinions as to why this is going on but I only have a concern about it. Now there are a number of condominiums that, there are supposed to be approximately 300 condominiums built in this first phase. Right now, we have approximately 100 that are built. They have 200 more to go, really about 177 left to go. I am very concerned. I'd like to see those.

(I) Aren't the foundations already there?

(N) The foundations are laid for not all of the 177 but I believe about 80, 80 to 90 additional units. I would very much like to see those, at least where the foundations are, I'd like to see those built. Whether they are built to the current design or a new design.

(I) There is also talk of a lake, originally a man-made lake. And there seems to be some dispute of ...

(N) Well actually the problem on the lake has been more of a county planning board problem than a developer problem and we've had problems getting things through the county planning board and down to the state on a timely basis and certain permits, stream (inaudible) permits and everything had expired and they had to be renewed.

(I) Why is there so much difficulty in getting this through the board? Is Teaneck derelict or is the county planning board derelict in its ...

(N) Well I, let's just say that someone has let all things fall through the cracks and it has not been Teaneck. It has not been Teaneck. I think Teaneck has done everything that they could possibly have done in moving this along and I think in this instance that the developer has done everything prudent to move this along but it hasn't moved and I think that the breakdown is outside of Teaneck and outside of the developer.

(I) OK. Now let's get on to something else. All right, outside of Glenpointe, what do you see, you didn't become the mayor immediately. You spent four years as a council member. What did you see as the prime problems in Teaneck in those years before you became mayor?

(N) I think I would say the issues that I was most concerned about and I am still very concerned about would be first the quality of life in Teaneck and I'll talk about what I mean by the quality of life. And Secondly, efficiency in government. I think what we've got to do is say that the tax pie can only get so big and we can't keep going to citizens and saying, we are going to increase your taxes.  We can't do that because first of all, our population is getting, becoming an older population. We are getting an older population which means the people have a tendency to be on fixed income or their incomes won't be increasing as much as one, if the population was half their age. Therefore, we've got to find a way to provide the services to the community, the same services or more, at a reduced cost and I think one of the ways to do that is by coming up with some efficiencies in government. One of the things that we did when I became mayor was to institute a series of management consultant reports. We studied the Fire Department, Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the REC Department and whatever. Some of the things we found, now first of all I've got to say that I was very much the initiate of these studies and my intent was or the rationale was that certainly Teaneck is a well- managed town but even in a well-managed town, you sometimes need someone from the outside to look over your shoulder, to help you manage better. Some of the things that they've come up with are some of the obvious.

(I) Such as

(N) For example, in the DPW we found that the town which is natural is divided up into four quadrants which are the northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest. But in the DPW, each street got the same amount of attention. In other words, they were swept to the same frequency or not swept to the same frequency. Now the consultant pointed out that that's inefficient because you need to sweep the streets that need the attention more and the streets that, some little cul de sac that nobody ever drops a piece of litter on, why do you sweep that with the same frequency as you sweep Teaneck Road? So that has brought about the opportunity for a cleaner town. Now, one would say, isn't that kind of obvious? It's obvious when someone points it out to you but when you are there every day, handling the day to day matters, you can't. Almost the precise problem occurred with the Police Department. Police Department of course has the town divided up into four quadrants or so many stations. Each station gets the same amount of police coverage irrespective of the crime ratios, each police shift is the same size shift, so you got as many police on duty at 9:00 AM in the morning as you have at 3:00 AM in the morning and it is obvious the crime percentages vary from shift to shift so we have recommendations to reschedule policemen, reschedule the use of cars, get better control of the inventory. Now what do these things do? These things, one, do improve the quality of life in Teaneck but they also save the township money and if we can avoid cost, we can do more with our resources without going back to taxes. Quality of life, the things that concern me, Teaneck happens to be in my mind one of the greatest communities I have ever seen. It is a place where it is easy to be black; easy to be Jewish; easy to be Indian; because nobody holds it against you. As a matter of fact, people respect you for what you are. As long as you respect yourself. And I think that that is certainly not the case in other communities that I am familiar with here in the state of New Jersey. Since it is such a great community, I don't think anyone should ever be intimidated in the township of Teaneck. And when I say intimidated, whether you are a senior citizen or of any ethnic persuasion or religious persuasion, I don't think there should every be any tolerance for anybody intimidating people and I'll give you a couple of examples. There are some streets in this community that at three o'clock in the afternoon between three and four o'clock, if you are a senior, you wouldn't feel very comfortable on because when the high school gets out, the kids go out en masse and they are insensitive to people who are around them. I think that that is to be corrected. I think that there are times mostly in the summer when even if you are not a senior, you don't want to walk by Rocklin's and I think that that needs some correcting. I mean I think that that's kind of intolerable. There is no place for that.

(I) Over the years, there have been so many plans for recreation centers. Centers in the different quadrants. Yes, one to address the young gang on Cedar Lane.

(N) I think what happened a few years ago was first of all the town had no money. I mean we were not broke but we had no money. When the state income tax was brought in, there was an imposed cap on how much money you could spend which also meant a cap on how much money you could raise through taxes and that severely hampered what we could do here in Teaneck. For a number of years, we didn't trim the trees, we didn't repave streets, we didn't maintain our buildings and this is one of the things, for the last three years, we've been struggling trying to bring the town back to the level that it was prior to cap days. And we've been reasonably successful. This year we are going to catch up with all our tree trimming. It will be a few years before we catch up with all of our street maintenance but we are moving as fast as we can. So since we couldn't maintain streets and maintain buildings, we obviously were not going to maintain kids. I mean that's really what it gets down to which might have been one of the most valuable resources, we ignored them because, I am assuming that the councils that were sitting then felt that they had other priorities put on them. Also, the nature of, when I look today, the nature of what happens to young people I believe is changed over time. That if we were to roll the clock back to 1963 when I came to Teaneck, the whole youth mix was quite different than the youth mix now. I mean we had a high school or a school system that had about 8,000/9,000 youngsters in it. We now have a school system with about 5,000 youngsters in it. We have youngsters who are very, very interested in working with computers today. A lot of youngsters. Whereas in 1963, if this occurred, this would have been predominantly the gifted child. Now the common child is interested in that. So there are a number of programs established in the Rec Department that would be attractive to a wide range of youngsters and we've also, we are in the process of creating industrial arts council where those youngsters who are interested in vocational art, it is like vocational studies but not in the high school framework, this would be in the community framework, where if they want to go and repair chairs, they can do that and they can make money at it and they'll have instructors there to teach them. So I think there needs to be some, by the way this program costs the township nothing, the industrial arts program. Absolutely nothing.

(I) How does one set up a program that costs nothing?

(N) With great difficulty. First of all, there is a grant, a community development grant, for the director and some instructors. Most of the people in the program are voluntary workers.

(I) Is this already in operation now?

(N) It is in the process of being established. Put into operation. 

(I) Whose sponsorship, is this the Rec Department?

(N) Actually its under the, we have a director of youth services, Mr. (inaudible) and he has been in place now for approximately eight years and he is supposed to be focusing purely on activities for the youth that might be outside of the Rec Department or sometimes inside the Rec Department. 

(I) Where do they have programs like this?

(N) They are going to have a facility that they can use. We haven't resolved precisely the location of that yet. Probably at the Town House.

(I) It doesn't mean building a new building?

(N) Oh no. It will be an existing facility, either the Town House, the Rec Center or a school. And they'll run different programs.

(I) There is another area of considerable concern in the town. The latch key children.

(N) Oh absolutely. And that's something that the council and the Board of Ed have recently established a joint committee to address and for the time being, that committee is being headed by Lucille Steiner, Councilwoman Steiner. And

(I) Well she's had background on the Board of Ed and certainly P.T.A.

(N) Absolutely. And she is very concerned about latch key children and she has been probably the driving force on the council to get us to do something about that. 

(I) Well, can you give us some idea of what exists now in town? 

(N) Actually very little. There are two programs, first of all there is nothing township sponsored. I mean the township sponsors nothing other than those programs, the formal programs, (inaudible) so anyone can take advantage of those but they are not specifically focused on latch key children. But there is a program at Bryant School and there is a program I believe at Whittier School where the community people have gotten together and they have daycare in conjunction with school so you can drop your kid off at seven o'clock in the morning and then you can pick them up I think at 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening so that after school they have programs and before school they have programs.

(I) Well this came out of Working Parents Association at Bryant some years ago. And they are now in the process of trying to get the council to, and the Board of Education and/or to sponsor more of these programs in all of the schools.

(N) What will happen is the school board seems to be amenable to opening up the schools for the program. The Board of Education is a bit reluctant to provide money other than for the facility. The council has somewhat the same problem. It is difficult for the council to sponsor a program where you don't have equal access or the potential for equal access by everybody in the community. And most of the programs that were brought to us are very limited, specialized. They tend to be specialized to people within a certain community and they tend to say that we have a restriction on the number of youngsters that we can handle and that makes it difficult for us to take township money to say, for 140 kids, from one section of town, that we will provide programs for them when we know that the problem is townwide and we are not doing something for everyone.

Actually, I am not sure that the township should be doing this. I think that parents have a certain responsibility and I understand that you have situations where both parents work or you have a single parent and that parent works. I still think it is the parent's responsibility. And I would encourage all kinds of groups to help parents and there are a lot of structures there, supporting structures. There are religious institutions that can get into this and help and they should. I think that is part of their obligation. But not necessarily the burden of the community.

(I) There are other council and mayoral concerns. Recently there was a conference on mayors. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

(N) Yes. The idea grew out of, we in Teaneck, from time to time, work with other mayors on a one on one basis. We've been working with several mayors in the noise problems that we have from Teterboro Airport. We've worked with the mayor of Bogota worrying about the safety along and Ridgefield Park worrying about the safety along Route 80. And from time to time, there is always some specific issue where one community wants to work with another. We thought it would make sense if we got all 70 mayors together and discussed issues that were common to all of us - senior citizens, young people, safety.

(I) Taxes?

(N) Taxes. And what happened, we had approximately 30 of the 70 mayors at our first mayor's conference which I think was quite an undertaking and I think it was quite a good representation of the mayors. I believe that we should hold this conference next year. We will probably have closer to 70 because the people who walked away, walked away with the feeling that it was very, very well worth while. We couldn't in some cases we couldn't terminate conversation. One of the issues that was discussed at this conference was the issue of latch key children. I mean we discussed issues of teenagers and young adults, we discussed issues of seniors and what's going to be happening in the senior areas, and this was more than just a discussion. Out of this conference, we are developing a reference document. A reference document will be what are all of the sources available to you in the county, state or federal if you have a concern about seniors, or young people or whatever the case may be. So that a mayor or someone in a town who is seeking certain information will have instant access to a directory as to where to go.

(I) The county doesn't provide something?

(N) No. Actually one might ask why didn't the county host this mayor's conference but you know, Teaneck, has always been a foresighted town and a town of leadership and it is no different today than it ever has been. If we see a need to do something, we'll do it and if the county wants to get on board, fine, we welcome them. But we are not going to wait.

(I) So you feel that this is productive enough to

(N) Yes. I would like to see it become an annual event because there are, we all deal with the same problems or similar problems and a lot of times, we are doing something in Teaneck that someone is doing in Closter and we are reinventing the approach. Where by sharing, we can just piggy-back on something that someone else has already done.

(I) To get back to taxes for a minute, how do we stand on our taxes?

(N) I think this year for example, we have a tax increase in the municipal portion of the budget if I am not mistaken of less than $0.05 on the dollar. It is probably more like $0.03. Which is significantly low. One of the things that's happened to us is that we are beginning to see some of the revenues from Glenpointe. If Glenpointe gets out of the courts and begins to pay their taxes, we'll be bringing in approximately $3,000,000 this year in taxes. That can go a long way toward offsetting future raises.

(I) Back in the early days, the question arose, one of the problems people thought would arise was that the money that Glenpointe generated would be offset by the need for further services down there. Has this occurred?

(N) No. Actually the studies showed even in the early days that the services were going to require less than $1,000,000 I think. Something like $300/400,000 in estimated incremental services. And the revenues should have been about $5,000,000 from Glenpointe. One thing you find is that Glenpointe adds hardly no children to the school system.

(I) Yes, there were concerns that the place would be saturating the school in that area and things haven't worked out.

(N) Glenpointe requires very little police protection.

(I) There was a serious problem with water and flooding in that part of town for quite a while. Has that finally been resolved?

(N) Part of the development of Glenpointe was the reconstruction of storm drains and sewers in that area, putting in a new pumping stations and the flooding in that area has been significantly reduced. One might still find one or two pockets but basically it is gone. If you remember driving down Glenwood Road, I mean it used to be like a little river. You don't see that.

(I) We can have our little rivers right here on some of these days with the rising water table. It is getting to be a problem in this neighborhood. There used to be little, if you will forgive me, brooks running through the area and the same thing happened in many parts of town.

(N) One of the things that we do often, if we don't have money, we go to Community Development to get money for such programs such as that so it is, if there are flooding problems, it should be formally brought to our attention and sometimes you have to constantly bring it to our attention because that's an area where we don't have the money but we usually get funds, outside funds.

(I) What else haven't we covered yet? Now Teaneck is coming into the computer age too.

(N) Yes. In what we've done in the municipal building, we now have our tax records computerized and the actual assessments are computerized. We, there used to be times when we would go through some master assessment like every five to ten years and the entire town would be in an uproar. We don't do that now. We assess constantly and it is basically done by the market value. If a house in a community is sold for a certain price, that immediately effects the assessment on the neighbors.

(I) If my next door neighbor sells the house for X dollars,

(N) Say $20,000 more than your house is assessed ...

(I) Now maybe they've made additions and corrections and put on another room, why should that effect the next door neighbor? If they've upgraded and nobody else around has?

(N) Well when an upgrade occurs, generally it occurs because there has been a building permit issued so if the upgrade has occurred because a building permit, then that is taken into consideration. If it has been an upgrade without getting a building permit,

(I) Then they are in trouble. I see. I wondered whether it was just blanket

(N) No, generally speaking, because if there is a market sale price for a house, you can determine whether something has happened to it, if they went through the normal township procedure.

(I) Teaneck always had a certain percentage of turnover every year. And that figure escapes me now. But is there still a ...

(N) Yeah. Usually we have about 350 houses per year that sell. And that's been fairly constant. You would think that it would be higher today because of the aging population but there are a lot of people in the senior ranks who are holding on to their house. What's happening in many cases is kids are coming home because the kids can't buy a house so they come back.

(I) That's interesting. There are some other, must be some other things in town, in the area.

(N) Well we've implemented word processing in the Town House, in the municipal building. The township engineer, the planning board, most of the offices in the municipal building. They have access to word processing now. That may not seem like a major step but when you look at the volumes of reports that are typed, and some of these things are fairly lengthy, we never had word processing and now we have.

(I) We've pretty much covered the town of Teaneck. 

(N) I think so.

(I) And your activities. I want to thank you very much, Mr. Brooks. 

(N) Thank you. 

END OF TAPE

 

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