|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.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||April 2, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (5/1/1984)|
(I) Well that is three goals that have been reached. The library, the swimming pool and Glenpointe. But Lake Hackensack, that hasn't quite been reached yet.
(N) Lake Hackensack, the ultimate goal has not been reached, but a good deal has been done. The project never came to an end and, as a matter of fact, at this very moment we are planning to develop the water portion, I am sorry the land portion of the project. Now I would say that the reason the plan never came about was in the main because there were two polluters of the river who fought against the putting up of a dam to stop the flow of their pollution to the northern reaches of the river. One of them was the Public Service Electric and Gas Company which was thermally polluting the water and is still polluting the water despite the fact that the state had to order them to put in coolers. There were taking in the water from the Hackensack River to do their cooling and letting out warm water which was killing a lot of fish life in the river and I must say that early on, I am talking about the turn of the century, 1900, there was a very, very active fish life and other animal life along the river and there was a lot of swimming along the river, it was also very clean at that time.
To understand the problem of the river, the river is a tidewater river and twice a day the tide comes in and goes out. Over the years, Newark bay became very polluted and there was a lot of pollution along the river. The tidewater would bring all this pollution in to the northern reaches and the river became almost dead. There very little crustation the river, there was an overabundance of plant life which was taking the oxygen out of the river and there was an abundance of pollution. Two private sources and through the Hackensack River coordinating Committee which I originated bringing the six towns along the river, that is Teaneck, Hackensack, New Milford, River Edge, Oradell and Bogota, they should have done it with Bogota, into the Hackensack River Coordinating Committee as well as the county.
We did stop most of the polluters along the northern region of the river, in fact we did stop all of the polluters along the northern region from polluting the river, but there was still some sewage coming in from the lower region and the second polluter was at that time called the Bergen County Sewer Authority, now I believe it is called the Bergen County Utility Authority, and they were treating some of the waste coming from all the towns, the varied towns that were members of the Bergen County Sewer Authority. They had a three stage treatment but the state felt that they needed a five or six stage treatment to bring clean water back into the river. And they were opposed toward putting a dam along the river. The dam, by the way, was supposed to be between Bogota and Hackensack just north of the Susquehanna Railroad Bridge. And they were opposed tot he dam because the river would stop the pollution at that point instead of dissipating it along entire river.
In other words, Public Service and the Bergen County Utility Authority, instead of stopping the pollution said we will minimize it by spreading it along the entire river. The state had ordered both of them to stop the problem that they were causing buy evidently the state doesn't seem to be as strong as either Public Service Electric & Gas or the Bergen county Sewer Authority because they have not succeeded. so the part of putting the dam has been delayed to some time in the future. But that doesn't mean that the project cannot continue. For one thing, we acquired then acres of land in Teaneck which is now called Brett Park and I must say that the cost of acquiring this land was no cost to Teaneck because they acquired 50% of the funds from state's Green Acres Program and the other 50% of the funds from the Spaces Program so they got some ten acres, some ten marvelous acres of land, park lands, at no cost. And the county acquired some fifty or sixty acres, mostly along Hackensack, part of which was donated to us from the Federated Department Stores from three acres land and a good part of which we bought with county funds, some of it through the state and some it through federal funds and this part, the development of the Hackensack Park, was planning many years ago but no action was taken and now action is starting all over again. We are pushing hard to get it going.
We think there is a Board of Freeholders that is dedicated to the development of this, of the park, and we will go ahead with developing it. I also believe that we could do something about the water even without the dam because I think we could dredge the river so that at least the muck is out of the river and that there will always be water in it whether the tide is in or not. Now there is virtually no water above Teaneck when the tide is out and not much water in Teaneck but if we dredged it, there would always be from three to ten feet of water and it could be used for boating and so on and so forth. As a matter of fact, some ecologists from Fairleigh Dickinson University felt that we should not put up a dam altogether to just dredged the river and keep the same ecology we have now but I am no so sure that is the best idea.
It is true if we put up a dam, the ecology will no longer be a brackish water ecology and will become a fresh water ecology but we have to remember that many years ago, there was a lot of fresh water ecology and it was only with the influx of the salt water and the pollution that it became a brackish water ecology and that is something that some ecologists do not understand that the importance is to maintain an ecology. It doesn't have to always be the same ecology. Of course if a particular ecology becomes very scares and rare and is threatened by being wiped out altogether, that's a different matter. But normally ecologies are always changing from one type to another type. Nevertheless I believe that any type of development of the river and its banks for a recreation center would be certainly better than none. Another thing that I had in mind for many years is that some day we may need the water for drinking water and the sooner we develop it, the better off we will be so if we need it, we can convert it to a reservoir for drinking water and for that, of course, we would certainly need to have a dam.
(I) Before we leave your planning activities entirely, can we just go back tot he north Teaneck Road Task Force.
(N) Oh yes. Well that is something that has just come to an end or at least that one phase of it has just come to an end. Many years ago when I came on to the Planning Board, I was an advocate of upgrading north Teaneck Road, that's north of Route 4. A good part of Teaneck is very nice. To this day it is a beautiful town physically. But the two areas, one which I mentioned before, the Glenwood area which was deteriorating rapidly, and the north Teaneck Road area which was a conglomeration of small store with lack of parking problems, bad parking problems, needed develop upgrading to at least reach the point that Cedar Lane is and maybe better. We had a lot of problems with Cedar Lane earlier and by proper planning, we were able to upgrade the area and today, Cedar Lane does not have many problems but Teaneck Road went downhill. It is an adage of planning that over a period of years, if you don't go uphill, if you don't upgrade the area, it is going to downgrade and the area had deteriorated substantially.
There had been many reports, or several reports anyway, over the years about upgrading it and that's all they every remained were reports. No action was ever taken. So the Teaneck Task Force was originated maybe with the same idea in mine, maybe no, and I hope not, that it would be another report and nothing would be done about it. The Task Force studied the area and came up specific plans for developing the area by upgrading the area and putting on new facades and through planning change, certain uses into other uses and to develop a theme that would make the whole area cohesive. But this time instead of just coming up with a plan, they recommended that a private non-profit organization be set up to oversee the development of the plan, to see that it came to fruition. In a sense, a redevelopment agency but not one involving the town and certainly not one involving condemnation or any type of eminent domain. The duties of the Task Force, as I said, have come to an end and hopefully, and I believe they are now setting up the private corporation, to carry forth the plan to fruition and I honestly believe that if they do a good jog, and I think they will do a good job, that this will be the one area of town which today is not upgraded because Glenpointe has been upgraded, that will be developed in a manner that would be proper for Teaneck.
(I) There are so many other interests that you have. Some of your civic interests and social interests. You alluded to the Teaneck Political Assembly at one point. Would you care to elaborate on that?
(N) Well, as I mentioned earlier, the Teaneck Political Assembly was an outgrowth of the Good Government Group but there are a number of elements that favor the good things such as the upgrading of the schools, such as keeping the township non-political and honest, who have not involved with the Teaneck Political Assembly for one reason or another and I suspect in some ways it was a power play. They wanted power and they saw they couldn't get it. But at one point, the Good Government Group and I want to go back because it is an interesting anecdote, was supporting three candidates for the Board of Education. One of the candidates was Milton Bell; one of the candidates was Lamar Jones, and one of the candidates was Semour Herr. A person who was very prominent in town, and I won't mention the name because at this point I see no real purpose behind it, came to my home where the Good Government Group was meeting and suggested that we not support Milton Bell because the town would never support two Jews and a Black for an office.
They suggested we support another person who also later became a councilman in Teaneck instead. When we refused to do that, he said 'Okey. support Dr. Bell but don't support Lamar Jones, the black fellow.' and I don't know whether it was bigotry that was behind his idea or just the fact that he wanted us to support his candidate. Needless to say, we stuck to our guns, supported Bell, Jones and Herr, and there were overwhelmingly elected and made wonderful trustees for the Board of Education. But this man, and other people who had political alliance with him, were not included in the Good Government Group and we felt it was somewhat divisive that these elements were really not for different things than we were. I mean they were for upgrading the schools and good government, that they be included, and in order to include them, we started an umbrella organization which was called the Teaneck Political Assemble or the T. P. A. and for many years, the T. P. A. was a very strong factor both in people who were elected to the Board of Education and people who were elected to the Teaneck Council.
The thing that I always found interesting about the T. P. A. and, in fact, about the Good Government Group before it was that once they elected a candidate, the organization itself does not try to pressure the candidates to support their views. They elected the best people that they could get or at least the best people they perceived, and once they were elected, they didn't try to pressure them so in that sense, it was not a political organization. it certainly wasn't an organization that tried to use its muscle attained to electing its people. They were very successful in electing people but they were more interested that the people they elected should vote their own consciences and their own minds than to get the views of the T. P. A. and that's why I thought it was a wonderful organization. There were many, many divisive strains in the town above and beyond the original one that started the T. P. A. There were extremely conservative and were very much involved that the town should not vote in integrated school. Without going into it
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that took place, the view of the Teaneck Political Assembly that everyone in the town was entitled to a fair and equal education came about and a good part of the struggle was depicted in a book TRIUMPH IN A WHITE SUBURB which would make interesting reading and I would recommend that book, but the T. P. A. in time went out of the business only because there were less strains. A lot of the problems of integration became lesser problems. Most of the people who didn't like integration, moved out of town and other people came into town and the character of the town and the people and the thinking of the people changed and so there were minimal amounts of problems. There are always problems of course and there fore there was some feeling that there was no need for a T. P. A. any longer.
(I) I'd like to jump to a totally different area. Some of your associations, for instance, with Fairleigh Dickinson. I know you have received some honors. For instance, you were honored by the T. P. A. as Man of the Year at one of the dinners and you have been active in Town and Gown and received an honorary degree from Fairleigh Dickinson.
(N) Well, I'll speak about some of my activities. I don't think we should speak about what I've received because I don't think that is too important. I think it is important that we have Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck. For some reason, even though the University has been here for a number of years now, Teaneck was never really a college town. It was never welcomed with open arms by the people of the town which is regrettable because Fairleigh Dickinson University has a lot to offer the people in town and, in fact, did offer them a lot. For instance, they were very much involved in the Teaneck School system.
The Fairleigh Dickinson put task forces from time to time into the school system to give special insight and special training and special programs into the school system but the people, to a greater sense, seemed oblivious to this. Fairleigh Dickinson University had their scientists do studies of the Hackensack river about the cleaning of the river and so on and so forth. There were many, many such services. Through the medium of the Town & Gown society, we hoped the bring a lot of these benefits of the university to the town and those people who became involved with Town & Gown did enjoy many of those benefits. Others enjoyed them too but didn't know that they were getting them. My involvement with the University actually came a short time after I came into Teaneck when the University was having some financial problems and they called upon me to give them some advice in a financial area. They found out that I had some knowledge of investments and so on and so forth and I examined their investments, much to my horror, they were so conservative that they were getting 2% or 3% on their money which was pretty safe but the University was going broke. They didn't have many endowments to start with but the endowments they had were very improperly invested and so I helped them in this area. I tried to help them with Town & Gown Society to bring the University to the town.
The University has been very good to me and I tried to be good to the University. I lectured for many years at the University on subjects such as environment and ecology, on business in the School of Business, but whatever fees I received I always returned to the University because I felt that they were in need of whatever money they could save and I was always happy that I was able to do this. I am still with the Town & Gown, I was president of the Town & Gown for several years and I am still on the Board of Town & Gown and I still act as an advisor in certain areas to the University such as the building of a cultural and recreation center which hopefully will take place in the not too distant future in Hackensack and the Teaneck campus which was not the original campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University have become by far the largest and the most influential of the campuses and in fact the president of the University lives in Teaneck even though the offices are in Rutherford. At one time, we swapped land, at that time I was chairman of the Teaneck Planning Board, and we swapped land with the University so that the land on the side of the street across from the University became township owned land and land that we owned on the University side became University land but the land that was owned, that is now township land, was supposed to have been developed in conjunction with the University and at one time we talked about building a museum there. There was a lot of enthusiasm in some quarters but unfortunately when you deal with politicians, they are usually not great cultural people and this has not come to be. In fact, the land was never developed at all for any purpose. But since it is next to a part, many people think it is part of the part and so be it. At least it is open space which is of some benefit.
(I) You mentioned the museum that didn't come about. But you have become very active in the Bergen County Museum.
(N) Yes. Yes. I mentioned after I left the Teaneck Planning Board, I really wanted to get into a cultural area. My interest all my life had been in cultural areas and earlier on, I mentioned that the FACT was in fact a wonderful , wonderful organization. We had unbelievable programs and many people came out of those programs to go on to Broadway, to go on to the Metropolitan Opera. For instance, George Shirley who started with us went on to be a renowned singer with the Metropolitan Opera. jerry Jarrett who was our director of dramatic plays went on to play Tevya in Fiddler on the Rood on Broadway and a number of other things on television. Other people went on to other areas. But when I became the chairman of the Teaneck Planning Board, my time would just not allow me to the job. it was a tremendous job to do this. It was really a full time job and I didn't even have time to work, to make a living, but I was doing the job in FACT.
I resigned from FACT and turned it over to other people. And unfortunately they could not keep it going because no one had the time to devote that much time to it. We really needed an impressario to come and do this and that would cost a lot of money. But my interest in cultural things never waned. I didn't mention before but I will mention now that I really sort of started in life when I was yen years old, I was writing, I started writing and I was published. And between the ages of ten and eighteen, I wrote for many people who later became famous in show business. People such as Zero Mostel who started with me. He was a painter at that time, not a comedian, but a set designer for a group, a theater that I had, at that time his name was Sam Mostel. Obviously nobody's name is Zero. And Sylvia Fine who later married the comic Danny Kaye and became a writer herself and Pete Seeger and I wrote with Woody Guthrie and as I point out the many people, I was a very, very successful writer until I had to make a living and then because I wanted to eat and because my family wanted to eat, I became an engineer and made a living but could not spend as much time in the arts as I wanted to.
But after I left the Teaneck Planning Board, the Bergen County Planning Board insisted I became a member and I guess in order to induce me to become a member, the first day that I was a member of the Bergen County Planning Board, they elected me the chairman so I really couldn't get out of it. But after a few years, my yearning to be in the cultural areas became stronger and I joined the Art Committee or what was then the Bergen Community Museum. I must say it really was not much of a museum at that time. It was really a showcase for local art groups which, of course, has a place. But I had ambitions and visions of making this an important museum and ultimately after I went on the Board of the Museum, I resigned as the chairman, actually it was right in the middle of my term, I resigned as the chairman of the Bergen County Planning Board after seven years to devote all my time to the Bergen Museum.
I also retire at that time because I just did not have enough time. Although I was quite young but I didn't have enough tome to work at a living and I couldn't dedicate myself to both jobs, so I decided it was more important to dedicate to the museum and let making a living to other people so I resigned as the president of my company and devoted myself to the Museum and the museum is well on its way to becoming and important museum. In this last year, it had two exhibitions of national acclaim. One was an exhibition for Reuben Nakian, one of the world's great sculptors, and the New York times said it was unbelievable that a suburban museum could mount an exhibition of such depth and such quality and the other was our Japanese exhibition that both had the same acclaim and for this year, we are doing a number of different things in different areas. I think one of our programs of national, even international, note will be that for the first time we intend to gather the paintings of every great Jewish artist of the twentieth century and have an exhibition at the museum. This will be the first exhibition the museum has ever had that will last more than one month. It will be during the month of September and October in 1984 and I look forward to what I think is going to be a very, very exciting event.
(I) You've talked about some of your songwriting abilities. How about giving us some examples. I know you've composed a cantata.
(N) Well, we talked about the Teaneck Political Assembly earlier and every year the Teaneck Political Assembly honored a citizen as the Citizen of the Year and this year, I think this may even have been the first year of the award, they were honoring Jim Brett, Former Mayor Brett, who I mentioned before was a wonderful man and I felt that in honor of Jim Brett, I should write a cantata which I did and I called it The Dedicated Man. This cantata was sung at the dinner for Mr. Brett. Senator Case, the United States Senator, who made it a point usually not to travel on Sunday but he did travel from Washington that Sunday to specifically attend the affair for Mr. Brett and to hear the cantata, and that pleased me to no end. But earlier I wrote a number of different parodies to songs about different people in Teaneck, different things they represented. For instance one of the people who was very much involved with the Teaneck Political Assembly and the good government group before that was Fay Geier. Fay was completely dedicated to working at the PTA's and was then a candidate for the Board of Education. Her husband, Marty, was very supportive although was not quite as much involved as Fay, and he was in the provision business. I mention the business he was in because if I do a little bit of one of the songs that I wrote so that you will understand what it was all about.
If you want to be a smarty
Take my good advice Marty
And dissuade your close relation
For the Board of Education
You will suffer, you'll discover
Gain a Trustee, lose a mother
Dad can have it if he'll risk it
But I think he'd rather wrestle with a brisket
Look for trouble, you will find it
Could be fun if you don't mind it
Making all those big decisions
Are more difficult that cutting your provisions
You would give a might yell
If Fay were built like Milton Bell
and Marty what would you say
If Fay would look like Teddy Ley
Even Stevenson the Parson
Doesn't look like Mr. Larson
Why should you expect your son
To have a mom like Hendrickson
It involves more than education
There is busing and integration
Opinions honest and also phony
You needn't travel to New York to small baloney
I'd like to say that many of the other names that were mentioned - Milton Bell, Teddy Ley, Parson, Larson, Hendrickson, they were either members of the Board of Education or they were running for office of the Board of Education. I also wrote another song for Fay which essentially said:
When the Board election come
You'll find the need is dire
You'll want a candidate that's good
To fulfill that desire
Fay Geier, Fay Geier
Get out to vote Fay Geier
She'll help us solve the problems that
Exist or we acquire
Fay has experience and so
We recommend you try her
Fay Geier, Fay Geier
Get out to vote Fay Geier
(I) Fay was not elected to the Board of Education. How about some of your other songs.
(N) Well I sort of tired to parody some of the different things that were happening in town, some of the different problems that were happening. For instance, a group of citizens came complaining about their roadway, the holes in their roadway and the fact that it had never been paved, and that they wanted it repaired and the council asked the township manager to repair it and he said, 'Oh, of course we'll be glad to repair it, not to repair it but to rebuild it. We can't repair it but we will rebuild it because if we repair it then next year the holes will pop out again. But of course the people who live on the street will have to pay an assessment to pay for it.' the usual reaction when you said this was "Oh, we really didn't want it anyway.' But in any case, the citizens say,
There are holes in my roadway
Dear Council, Dear Council
There are holes in my roadway
In my street there are holes
And the Council would say
Well fix them dear Werner
It's your job to fix them
Well fix them dear Werner
Go out fix the holes
And Werner would reply
With what should I fix them
Dear Council, Dear Council
There's no base to fix them
Dear Council the holes
With tar and a shovel
Dear Werner, Dear Werner
Just go out to River View
And fill in those holes
But we can't repair them
Before first we pave them
And we'll gladly pave them
If he'll pay the tolls
And the citizens replied
I want you to pave them
Dear Council, dear Council
But if I must pay
Won't you please leave the holes
This happened in many streets. It happened on Winthrop Road and other streets. The same story. They wanted the repairs but when they were assessed, they no longer wanted it.
(I) Have you any other songs?
(N) Oh yes. We had. I mentioned Max Hasse earlier. Max Hasse was a very much involved in the Boy Scouts and as I mentioned before, he was for swimming pools except when we wanted one to be built in the town and so on and so forth so I wrote a little think about Max.
Shake hands with Uncle Max my boy
Shake hands with Uncle Max
He says he'll vote for anything
If you will pay the tax
Unless it is a swimming pool
He says it is a lark
And unless it is another school
Unless another park
And then it would go on to the line, if it is a jitney or minibus or a new library, he will make a fuss. If it is a center for recreation play, he will yell off referendum the project for to slay. He supported everything except when you wanted something specific and then he seemed to oppose it. At one time, I was high on Max until I saw him functioning and then I lost my enthusiasm for him as you can see by that song. And there were a number of other songs I wrote about Brad Menkes and about Werner Schmidt and we had a councilman, Sam Bartoletta and Sam was an extremely, extremely conservative person. Really opposed to doing anything for any of the people in town. And we had a township attorney, his name was Leland Ferry, and he was always getting all kinds of flack and problems from Sam Bartoletta, so I wrote a little thing for him. Sam Bartoletta was also the president of a trucking company just so you will understand and I said
Look there sits old trucker Sam
Riding on a Ferry
When it's time to end a meeting
he looks very merry
Sam could hardly wait for a council meeting to end and immediately he would say, 'I move that the meeting be adjourned.' He just couldn't wait to, for it to end. At the same time, sitting on the same council with him was a former mayor and a councilman but he was quite old at that time and he sat next to Mayor Feldman. His name was Votee and Milton Votee had a park named after him later but at this time, he used to fall asleep at every meeting and when it came time to vote, Matty Feldman would step on his foot and if he stepped on it once, Votee would vote Aye and if he stepped on his foot twice, he'd vote Nay and then go back to sleep again so there were a lot of funny things about that and when we talk about sleeping, we had a man on the council, Jack Walsh. Jack was a very bright fellow but often, and very active in the Democratic party, which didn't sit too well with a lot of people because Teaneck is a non-partisan town even though many people are Democrats and many people are Republicans and so on and so forth. But Jack would often become bored with meetings and close his eyes and so I wrote
Are you sleeping, are you sleeping
Brother Jack, Brother jack
I hear that you're the smarty
Of the Democratic party
Quick with a crack to answer back
Makes me dizzy, you're so busy
Brother John, Brother John
While I'm writing ditties
You're producing kiddies
What goes on, what goes on?
Jack had, being a Catholic of course, had a large family and he was very sharp and bright except that he did become very bored with the council meeting. Jack in many ways was a strange sort of a politician even though he rose fairly high in political circles, he was one politician who didn't really people. He felt uncomfortable with people and therefore if he had to go to a party function you know where there were many people and let's say it cost $100 to go, he would also buy me a ticket so I could accompany him so he wouldn't be along. He was comfortable with his friends but he was uncomfortable with other people which is sort of strange for a politician. And many other people were involved in the songs. For instance Matty Feldman who, with whom I later became very close and we are very good friends to this day, but I won't sing the whole song but I was very angry about how he voted with the pool and I said
Matty Boy - How are you voting
if you don't vote nay, we'll demand a referendum
We're agin the U.N.
We're again public swimmin
We're agin all the ideas
Of that League full of wimmin
We want no taxes
No improvement in schools
All the planning's for monsters
Not for us Gori fools
Teaneck woman - we've got to stop her
If we don't succeed we'll advertise in the Shopper
Don't want no progress
Don't want no improvement
Just send us some money
To help loosen our movement
The really involved a group led by a fellow named Gori who were opposed to just about everything liberal and really this didn't involve a swimming pool at all. It had other things that involved the swimming pool and they were against Matty Feldman doing anything even though Matty voted against the pool for reasons I never could dissern, he was absolutely wonderful guy as far as everything else was concerned and he was a very liberal man, still is, great for schools and there ultra-conservative groups often opposed him. As a matter of fact, there was, years later there was a fellow named Kivie Dornfeld who was an ultra-conservative and there was some rumor in town that some people wanted to change the government from one that elected a Board of Education to one that were the council appointed the Board of Education and Kivie came before the Teaneck council and was accusing Matty Feldman who, by the way had a fantastic sense of humor, still has a fantastic sense of humor, of being the person who wanted to change of government so that they appointed the Board of Education and Matty didn't say a word, just listened and his face became redder and redder and then when Kivie Dornfeld finished, Matty with a red face shook a finger at Kivie and said, 'Kivie, I am sorry you said all those terrible, terrible things about me and here I was just going to appoint you to the Board of Education.' So Matty often converted things that were very serious subjects to humor and it was fortunate that he did because he had a very evening effect on the community. Even though he himself was liberal, he had many many friends among the all different groups in town and he still does to this very day.
(I) I want to thank you very very much Ozzie for all the information and for the entertainment you've given us today.
(N) The pleasure was all mine. Thank you.
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