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: Brad Menkes
INTERVIEWER: Hilde Weisert
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    March 21, 1985
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (9/1985)

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(N) That's the guy who really know. 

(WIFE) About the swimming pool. 

(N) Yeah.

(I) What was his position?

(N) Well he was the principal, at one time he was chairman of the Planning Board in Teaneck. That was later. But at this time he was the guy who was pushing for the swimming pool. That's an interesting question but he wanted to do exactly what was done in the Teaneck Swim Club eventually. public land and let a private swim organization have it for a nominal price so that they could undertake something that couldn't get passed by public vote.

(WIFE) It was voted down in referendum.

(N) It was voted down several times and this was Ozzie's idea and as long ago as 61. It was up before us and I voted for it and Tommy Costa voted for it and Matty voted against it. Several articles about me in this time frame. And then we get into the 62 campaign.

(WIFE) I don't remember any as vividly as the first four years. We put another telephone in, we had people calling to get them out to vote, all over the house there were phones. It was a zoo but it was great. And we let our kids participate but they were all pretty young. They had to understand, have their supper and get to bed on time.

(I) And they did.

(WIFE) And they did.

(I) Well, that's pretty good.

(WIFE) As a matter of fact, I used to drive people to the polls, senior citizens which they weren't called then. And I'd take Peter in the car with me because he was a little kid, I had no place to leave him, and he would say, I had a picture of Brad on the visor, and he'd say that's my daddy, you better vote for him. And by the way, he always got the first spot. It was according to who filed first as to your position on the ballot. He always filed first and he got the first spot. The last election they drew for spots and he picked the first spot. As a matter of fact, we weren't even there. Roz Endicks, the town clerk, drew them up, I think and she called and she said, you won't believe this. But he got the first spot again.

(I) I guess that was meant to be.

(N) And the other principal issue in the 62 campaign, I think we were partisan vs non-partisan issue because remember I had had that debate with Gamow before and there were three candidates who were running for office in that election who ran as a team with more or less open democratic party support.

(WIFE) It was party support in the paper.

(N) And we didn't like that. We really didn't. We liked the non- partisan, most of the people like me, liked the non-partisan situation in the town government mostly because we don't think there is a party basis for running the town and we also don't like the notion that the candidate should be only the people who are endorsed by a party no matter what. Those were Bret Walsh and, did we put Walsh on our slate, we did, didn't we?

(WIFE) Yes, you did.

(N) Well there is some language about that.

(WIFE) Also the council election is separated from partisan, it is in May, never in November.

(N) Really, I guess that is the thing you really should start with is the concept of the council manager form of government. The fact that this is a very special act. It was passed in 1923. And it is hard, just as my wife says, the fact that you've never been able to run for office with a party symbol next to your name. And you are supposed to keep it out of the campaign.

(WIFE) But it came in.

(N) Well inevitably. But it is important that you run without the party label to many of us because it permits many people to run for office who otherwise wouldn't. When all you've got is talent or understanding or interest, all of which I feel is more important than which party you belong to.

(I) It came up, there was an active group favoring partisan elections in 62. Did that come up again?

(N) It has been in the back of all your elections but never so forcefully as in that election.

(I) What was their rationale?

(N) It's hard to say. You'd have to talk to them. A lot of people incidentally the concept of party politics is not a nasty thing of itself. I believe in the party system when you get above the local level.

(WIFE) Because then it is on a large scale. You need a group of people to sponsor you. But in a small town, it is not necessary.

(N) All you got to do is think about how the party candidate gets chosen. If you are not active in the party and you don't have a voice in who is running the primary, who wins in the primary, then your decision may result, or an inactive party group, can result in poor candidates because the candidate developing process is very important. The minute you get into anything bigger where people can't run for office unless they have an organization. So it is important as hell. But Teaneck is about maximum size for non-partisan functioning I would say. Aristotle said it best. He said, "A campaign. . an arena as large as one man's voice can be heard. That's a democracy."

(WIFE) Also, wouldn't you have to have an appointed. .

(N) No, those two things don't run together but what does go together is your choice of it and it comes automatically with cities.

(WIFE) So if the population reaches X number, we would be a city and then we would have an appointed board.

(N) Oh, look what we found. 

(WIFE) What now?

(N) The Fairleigh Dickinson stuff. Here's the Fairleigh Dickinson zoning article what I talked about before. Now that's out of sequence by time, those two things, and I'm sorry about that. But I am glad we found it. At least you can see it. I'll put that in the front. Now in 62 to 66, you are dealing with life and times of Harvey Scribner.

(WIFE) He is going to be honored on Sunday.

(N) So you had a town in which there were many more black people coming to town. This was the days of the blockbusting ordinance which I helped to construct with Isaac McNatt. And there was a focus on how slow it was to accomplish integration through housing and how important it was to accomplish integration to the school system and that was done by the efforts of the School Board. I don't know too much about the innards of that but that was an unquestionable focus of the town in 64, 65, 66 timeframe. In fact, here's the school board election of 1966 and that was fought on that issue. Then the principal choice the next year in 67, wasn't that with Coffee and Sather and Confer were elected. But in any event, it was this timeframe. So the council activities were taking second place to what was happening on the board in that time.

(I) The council didn't get very involved or . .

(N) Only in connection with the housing.

(I) Tell me about. the blockbusting ordinance.

(N) Well, how do you stop blockbusting? That was the question. We wrestled with the question for a long time and the principal solution was advanced by Isaac McNatt. I am not sure of the time now but I would say early 60s. The idea was very simple. It was to require a realtor, well let me tell you about the sin first, the sin is this. A black person moves in on a block. The next day, everybody on the block gets a postcard saying, we handled the sale of the house sold by Mr. Smith to Mr. Jones, your new neighbor. Everybody on the block knew what that meant.  And why don't you come and see us now while you can still get a good price for your house kind of language. Not spelled out but that's blockbusting and it is murder. And the only counter that we could develop and we were active in the first days of this is to have meetings again, the cottage party approach, but on the block at which people would come and Burr was very active in this too, Frank Burr, and effectively take a very simple position. What's your hurry? If you move out, you are going to take a loss on your house and if you don't move out, you won't. Independent of who the people were or anything else, it was a foolish economic move.

{WIFE} We had a meeting like that here where two blacks moved a few blocks away. No, one block. And the second one was about to buy a house next door to him and this black didn't want it. He moved out of a ghetto situation and he didn't want to be part of creating a new one. And they all came here and everybody was a little iffy in the beginning and we served a few drinks and they loosened up and it turned out that nobody wanted to sell.

(N) You just had to be able to convince your neighbors that you knew the facts and didn't want to sell. And that made the difference.

(WIFE) And the type of black that was in the house was an educated professional person.

(N) He was vice president of the Ford Foundation.

(WIFE) OK. I mean he was no whatever and you couldn't blame him.  He got out of one mess. He didn't want to get back into it. And they did prevent that black from buying next door to him.

(N) Yeah, but he got a bigger house.

(WIFE) A bigger house further down the block but that was all right and it worked but people finally opened up and they talked and they resolved it. It happened here on Standish Road too where blacks were placed by the N.A.A.C.P. which we did not know at the time in a house and there was a whole big fuss up and down. We walked a dog then and of course they cornered me at that point and I would say it is the biggest investment of your life. Stay put. You can't afford to move and where are you going to run? This is the beginning. PS - it quieted down. They sold after two years and whites moved back in but then the funniest thing happened on this block. I don't know elsewhere. An integrated couple moved in. She was black and a physician; he was white. There was no fuss, no nothing. Nobody objected to that. It was far enough up the block so I kept my mouth shut. But I should think they'd object to that one more. It was a long time ago. And you didn't see this or hear of it. But they didn't. Nobody moved, nobody put up a sign. Nothing. And it resolved itself.

(N) The connection with the ordinance was this. It seemed clear that it was possible to contend with this on the local block party basis so what we did was to require real estate people to register their intention to canvas an area two weeks in advance of the time that they were going to canvas and that gave us enough time to get something organized so that the canvas was not effective. A very novel idea and it worked.

(WIFE) And what about the sighs?

(N) Oh, that was earlier. That was in 57. I wasn't on . . 

(I) Now the ordinance was in what year?

(N) I'm sorry, yeah, go back. I'm sorry. I just don't remember. It was in the early 60s. Oh yes, as a matter of fact the other thing we did was to make it illegal to put a sign up that said, this house has been sold. 

(WIFE) Because in the northeast, you'd ride along those streets and you'd see SOLD signs that would scare the heck out of you.

(N) So we made that illegal.

(WIFE) And the signs could only be X number of inches big.

(N) Well you can't rule out signs altogether but we permitted a FOR SALE sign that was no larger than a certain small size but the FOR SALE sign was not as objectionable as the sign that says, SOLD.

(I) So the council was busy thinking of novel ways to cope with this?

(N) I think so. It was a challenging time.

(I) But probably although it may not have been as flamboyant as what was going on in the school system but these things were real important happening along with that.

(N) Teaneck is today pretty much a truly integrated community in that there, well there are more blacks in the northeast than anywhere else, that's historical. It wasn't until that became difficult and unusual perhaps that we moved. We may have waited too long but in fact, it would be wrong to pick out an area of Teaneck today and say that there are no blacks living there. It is not true.

(WIFE) It started in the northeast area, this is conjecture, because we bordered Englewood where there were a lot of blacks in that area so it was a natural step over.

(I) So the blockbusting had gone on there before. .

(N) That's right. We had not successfully acted in connection blockbusting in the northeast. That was, actually more in the 54 to 58 timeframe before we became elected, we didn't move to stop it. It is true that the Community Relations Board was formed in 1959 which is only one year after we came in and it was the first instrumentality to eventually come to grips with this. The Community Relations Board was a formalization of the block party concept that I told you about. So they ran the cottage parties and provided the speakers and coordinated the efforts. So this was our first. . this is the beginning of municipal involvement in the question. And I think that was something very healthy for the community.

(I) Now what about the 66 through 70 councils? 

(N) That was the beginning of Glenpointe.

(WIFE) There was a hoopla with that beyond belief. Was it then or was it 70/74?

(N) Well Glenpointe occupied the time from 66 through 78, twelve years. And if I recall correctly now, I'm a little hazy on this but it seems to me Frank became the mayor in 66. Oh no, he became mayor in 70. He was mayor in 1970. Tommy Costa was mayor in 66.

(WIFE) Who was mayor in 1974?

(N) Eleanor Kieliszek. In the late 60s, say 68, starting in there, the notion of Glenpointe was born and that started an awful lot of arguments.

(WIFE) Because they wanted to put up high rises. And everybody was screaming.

(N) Even before that, the people didn't want, people down there didn't want to move. And there was a lot of sympathy for that. It was a question of the efficient use of the land and the proper planning for the development. The idea was generally credited to Burr at the beginning of the thinking about Glenpointe but I think Ozzie Epstein had a good bit to do with it even before then. Now these guys can tell you more about the dates because I didn't keep track of it that close. This is when I stopped keeping records. But this was after 66 that Glenpointe, not known by that at the time, became the most important issue confronting the town and it stayed that way for the next twelve years.

(WIFE) That started with the planning of Route 80. 

(N) Yes, that's what stimulated Ozzie Epstein.

(WIFE) Because we were so close we abutted Route 80. And it seemed a great time to put something up there so when people got here, they would use the area.

(N) And the election of 1970 was fought on this issue. 

(WIFE) And 74.

(N) But the 70 one was the bitter one. 

(WIFE) That's when they started the scare, they wanted to put up high rise apartments there and then they, some organization 

(N) A.C.T.

(WIFE) Anyhow they threatened in various neighborhoods as far over as West Englewood, the other side of West Englewood Avenue, saying how would you like a high rise next door to you and they really scared people.

(N) No. A.C.T. was later because A.C.T. was Dorothy Silverstein. That was 74. I guess in 70 the plans hadn't jelled yet. That's what happened. In 1970 or thereabouts, we were thinking in those terms. We hadn't actively created the redevelopment agency and we hadn't developed the first plans at all. The plans were developed in 70 to 74 so the first opposition which was before 1970, revolved principally about the right of the people there to keep their homes. And there was a concensus in the 1970 election that redevelopment was appropriate in the area and that the rights of the people there were less important than the rights of the people of the town as a whole. There was a lot of argument about that. And then in the 70 to 74 time frame, the redevelopment agency and Hartz Mountain prepared a very comprehensive and intensive plan which involved, if I remember rightly, an eighteen story office building and equally tall apartment houses, high rise apartments, and the election in 1974 the issue of what will be going down there. A lot of people in this town don't like tall apartment buildings because they came from places where they existed. So they always had a fertile argument saying, you know, we don't want to live in the same kind of place we used to. And in 1974, which was the year I didn't run, the year I didn't run, the people who wanted the Hartz Mountain plan didn't win. I don't know whether there is a connection there or not.

(I) Why didn't you run?

(N) Nominally or actually?

(I) Whatever you'd like the record to show.

(N) I think the record should show that I did have a sense that I had been active for a long time and it was time for some of the more vocal newcomers to have an opportunity to try and get into the government. I said it fairly early on I wasn't going to run for that reason.

(WIFE) And he wanted to stay home with his family.

(N) Well I said that but the important part was a sense that I had been too involved for too long a time and that, well maybe my ideas weren't good. Other people should say. As I say, the campaign of 74 was fought on that issue - was the Hartz Mountain plan the right one or the wrong one - and that was when Eleanor was elected and ...

(WIFE) And that was name calling. That was the filthiest I'd ever seen.

(I) So you don't regret not having been part of that campaign. 

(N) No. I don't regret it.

(I) What was it like to watch that as somebody who had been so involved for so long and then wasn't?

(N) It was pleasant. I didn't have any involvement. 

(WIFE) He was very happy he was out.

(N) You have to also recognize that feelings were so deep and so bitter that the campaign was not rational and I don't like irrational things. That's part of it.

(WIFE) We don't like the screaming and the name calling.

(N) This was a highly emotional thing. You couldn't deal with it. And I can't counter that kind of thinking simply by talking slow. You do a lot but you can't, when people get real riled up, you can't. And that lead to many things in the 74 to 78 time period that I really don't know much about but in 1978 I decided that they really needed some help so I ran again.

(WIFE) And besides I wanted it for him. 

(I) What was your feeling at that point?

(WIFE) I enjoyed his being part of it. And especially when they had these private agenda meetings. I knew everything that was going on. I didn't talk but we were very involved and I enjoyed the involvement. And I missed it for the four years of playing bridge and going to the movies.

(N) I have only one regret about that. If I had run and won, today I would have been the longest serving councilman.

(WIFE) And now you are not. Who is?

(N) Oh no. I mean in Teaneck's history. Votee had the prior record. He was twenty six years on council.

(WIFE) He was still on the council in his 90s when he died. He used to sleep at the meetings. And when a vote came, somebody would give him a poke.

(N) If I had run and served those four years then I would today be in my twenty seventh year.

(WIFE) How long was Votee in?

(N) Twenty six. That's the only regret.

(1) That's not a bad regret.

(N) This way I got to run again if I want to break his record.

(I) Do you intend to?

(N) I don't know. It is a year and a half away.

(WIFE) He decides day by day.

(N) I'm very busy today. Really very busy. You've had more time from me than anybody' else has had in the last two/three years. Unless they paid for it.

(I) Well I have but so has history. And the posterity. 

(N) I assume you've read some of the history books. 

(I) A little bit, yes.

(WIFE) Did you read the one about TRIUMPH IN A WHITE SUBURB? 

(I) Yes. Not recently but. .

(N) Dan Moral did what you did. Talked to people. Interviewed a lot of people.

(WIFE) Yeah, and then he put a lot o£ things in there that Menkes did not say and that were not so. 

(I) Oh really?

(N) He put his own thoughts in the book. It was a synthesis but it was a warped synthesis. It wasn't a reportorial job. 

(I) How did he misrepresent you?

(N) Oh, I wouldn't like to say that.

(WIFE) We don't want to bring that out.

(I) But you are not entirely satisfied with it?

(N) It is a nice idea to have a book about the general struggle because it was Teaneck in a favorable light. But some of the things he said about me were not accurate but I didn't learn about them until after they were printed. (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)

(WIFE) .. when the busing started, but it was a big to do and people mentioned it to me or to us, I simply said, huh, that's old hat. We've been there.

(N) Yeah, there were two other developments aside from Glenpointe which made me feel I didn't want to run in 74. One of them was the fact that the government was becoming less paternal. That sounds a little funny but it is true. There were two things that happened. In the first place, there was a growth of the public unions. The unions of all the people who worked for the town. Now before that time, there was a very friendly feeling among the people who worked for the town and the council. We had a, every year the people would come in representing the workers and we'd talk and try and do our best with raises and things like that but it was a paternalistic attitude. It was more like the old plantation owner taking care of the people who worked for him.

(WIFE) They were called slaves dear.

(N) I understand that but in effect, it was a benevolent attitude and had a sense of responsibility toward the people who worked for you. Now the unions naturally developed antagonistic positions and it became necessary for us to hire a labor/ negotiator to talk to the unions on their own terms so it removed, it separated the council from the people who worked here in a divisive way. That was not pleasant. So I foresaw that being an annoyance. And also the same thing with the scavengers, with the garbage associations. That used to be more of a friendly relationship. We would speak to the people and we would have our talks and decide what we could do and we set the rates for the town. When through state pressure that became the domain of the Public Utilities Commission, everything was out of our control and so people could complain to us about their rates, and we can't do anything about it. So a lot was taken away from the council in the sense of decision making. And that wasn't pleasant either.  It seemed to diminish the, I use the word paternal, I don't know what the right word is.  A sense of personal responsibility was diminished.

 

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