Atlantic City Reflections: Steven P. Perskie
Excerpts of the transcript of an interview with Steven P. Perskie (State Assemblyman from 1972 to 1978; State Senator from 1978 to 1982; Superior Court Judge from 1982 to 1990 and 2001 to 2010; Chief of Staff to Governor Florio from 1989-1990; Chair of the NJ Casino Control Commission from 1990-1994) conducted by Donald Linky for the Eagleton Center on the American Governor on June 29, 2009. The full video is available in the Video Library.
Donald Linky: As you run [for the State Assembly] in the 1971 election, how dominant was Atlantic City within the district politically?
Steven Perskie: Completely. You know, again, out of proportion to its numbers. If I’m struggling now all these years later to remember the exact numbers, Atlantic City– well, I’ll tell you the countywide vote. There were 65,000 voters- people who voted, I should say. There were many more voters. But the turnout was 65, or 68,000 turned out that year, which was a record. Atlantic City, I don’t remember the exact number, probably about 20 of the 68. But still, that was where the clout was. I mean, you had to worry about what they used to call the Fourth Ward, which was the Republican bastion of Atlantic City. A Democrat was going to carry Atlantic City, always did, but the question was by what number? It turned out, in 1971, to be an across-the-board sweep. But we spent a great deal of our time working Atlantic City.
Q: And you feel the dominant issue was simply the Farley machine [Senator Frank “Hap”] had overplayed its hand.
Steven Perskie: And had outlasted its value. Our slogan was, “It’s time for a change.” It’s time for a change. And in economics terms, in political terms, in– it’s the same kind of a– I laughed when I saw Obama doing it last year, not because I didn’t enjoy it but because I’ve seen it before. There comes a time– you know, the old saying, “There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” The converse of that is that there’s nothing weaker than a politician who has overstayed his welcome. And my father had told me before he died when– my father wasn’t living when I became a candidate. But he knew, as did I, that politics was in my blood, and he knew where I had gotten it from. And it was never in his blood. It was in Marvin’s but it was never in my father’s. But my father respected it. My father loved Dick Hughes. My father enjoyed dealing with some of the political people but never wanted it for himself. And we used to talk about it from time to time when I was in college or law school. And he would say, “Just remember.” He said, “Two things you need to keep in mind.” And I’ve never forgotten either one of them. “Number one, never let politics be your livelihood. Don’t ever be in a position where you need to win the next election in order to maintain your standard of living or maintain your family.” A lesson that I never lost sight of and that I watched other people fall victim to. “And the second thing is,” he said, “No matter who you are and no matter how good you are, sooner or later, if you stay in it long enough, you’re going to lose.” Now, he told me that before Farley lost. So when he said that to me in the 1960s, and here’s Farley there forever, that didn’t resonate then. It did later. And again, I watched other people stay too long at the fair. One of the things that I’ve always prided myself on was that I knew when to leave. I left on my own terms, at my own time at the top. I left as majority leader of the State Senate. And sooner or later, if I had stayed in long enough, I would have lost, the same as Farley did, the same as everybody else did.
Q: In that ’71 campaign, any debates?
Steven Perskie: Oh, yeah. And one, more than any other, that sticks in my mind to this day because it was so dramatic. First of all, the fact of a debate was dramatic. It was done in the grand ballroom of what now is Caesar’s Atlantic City, was then Howard Johnson’s, 750 people there. There had never been a debate, 750 people, and it wasn’t just the regular political people. It was the community. It was just the senators. There were three candidates. There was an independent. The rest of us were introduced but we did not debate. It was just for the– we had our own debate later, the Assembly candidates. And there was a moment, I’ll tell you, that it was so dramatic that it stuck in my mind all these years. It was toward the end. It was the standard kind of thing. They had opening statements. They had questions, and then they had closing statements, and each of them was timed. And McGahn did all right. McGahn was not a great debater. We had gone to dinner with him before that event to try to prepare him and whatnot, and he flubbed a few things. But he came across okay, not spectacular, not outstanding, but fine. Farley was very uptight and he did his thing, and he did it in the fashion he had done it all these years. And he was a master at some of this stuff, but he was old and he was slipping. Now, it’s time for him to close and he’s got two minutes, whatever he’s got, two minutes, three minutes, whatever it is. And he starts and he winds up in a rant. And they never even bothered to try to stop him. He went way over his time. It was televised also, by the way, closed-circuit television, in those days, channel 2 or whatever it was, to the whole community. He started rattling off names, Richard Nixon and– who was the vice president at the time?
Steven Perskie: No. Oh, I guess it was Agnew. It must have been. He just started rattling off names. The president- Eisenhower. He starts throwing out– “I know these people. I’ve done business with- I went to Chicago in 1962 and I saw”– and it was not scripted. It was not even- hardly coherent. “I know these people. These people are friends of mine.” I can see him today, stating that they’re– “These people are friends of mine.” And I looked around. Did you ever see the movie, a Mel Brooks movie, the show, “The Producers”? In that movie, they’re producing this crazy show about Hitler. And after the opening number, the camera pans the audience. And the audience is…
Steven Perskie: Aghast. I looked around and people are staring at him, wide-eyed. They didn’t know what to make of it, because here was this giant with feet of clay. It was really sad. I mean, for all of my political delight, and this is September the 15th, give or take; it was right after Labor Day. And anybody who watched it knew what they were seeing. They were seeing a man self-destruct. And it was sad, and that image has stuck with me all this time. “These people are friends of mine.”
Q: You mentioned that it was televised. But television was relatively minor factor at that time.
Steven Perskie: Yes. A completely minor factor. It was just televised locally.
Q: How did the word get out? Did the Atlantic City Press, in its coverage, start to point out the frailties of Hap Farley?
Steven Perskie: No, never did. At least that I remember, never did, except that, for example, the press endorsed McGahn. I mean, that was a radical step. They didn’t have any difficulty with it. It was a radical step. The mere fact that there was a serious election– you have to remember that, except for in 1965 when Pat took the shot that he took, in 1971– I’ll show you what you’re talking about here– Farley was elected the first time to the Assembly in 1938, ’39. I guess the first time he was elected to the Senate was in ’40. They used to have annual elections in those days. So in 21 years, by 19– excuse me, in 31 years, by 1971, 31 years, there had never been a serious election challenge, except for the one in 1965. Ever. So the mere fact that there was a serious candidate who was generally conceded to have a shot at winning– forget that by November, it was a foregone conclusion– but by September the 15 th, here’s a strong candidate that has a shot at winning. That itself was– that’s why 750 people were there, because they had never seen in the whole generation– a whole generation had grown up in the Atlantic City, Atlantic County community without having seen a serious election challenge for this position.
Q: On what basis did the press endorse the Democratic…
Steven Perskie: Time for a change. Farley has run out of gas. His style is old. The political corruption is attributable to him. If not personally, it’s the system and the structure that he designed and runs. We need a two-party system.
Q: Apart from “time for a change,” was there any discussion of what to do to revive Atlantic City? There had been some talk, I think even at this stage, as gambling as a option on…
Steven Perskie: Let me take the gambling out first. As we’ll talk about it a little bit later, Farley never could touch gambling, for a variety of reasons. [Senator] Frank McDermott, from Union County, a very close friend of his, had introduced in 1968 what became the first of the gambling bills. Farley’s position was, “Well, if they want to do it, it’s fine with me.” He, of course– that’s not what he really thought. But he couldn’t touch it. There were a bunch of reasons for that. No is the answer to your question. Nobody in 1971 had or was trying to sell any specific program to reverse the distress in Atlantic City, because there was none. Nobody had any ideas. And our effort was implicitly at that, but was more directly. I mean, I spent most of my time talking about the evils of a one-party system and the corruption and that you couldn’t get- you couldn’t develop good leadership, and you couldn’t develop good leadership programs out of a stagnant political environment. And that was all I talked about.
Q: Now that you’re elected, you mentioned that you sit down, with some shock…
Steven Perskie: Indeed.
Q: …and realize that…
Steven Perskie: Now, I’ve got to govern.
Q: …your profession may have to take second place to your political career.
Steven Perskie: And now, I’ve got to have some ideas. Now, I’ve got to have some ideas. I didn’t have to have any ideas. My idea was, beat Farley. Create a two-party system. Well, we did that. What are you going to do next? I didn’t have a clue . . . But at the very beginning, I was terrified. I was lonely. I didn’t know anybody. It turned out I didn’t even know how bad shape I was in, because it turned out that my running mate, who was elected with me, a decent fellow, a nice guy named Camasuto from Hammonton, never took to the political process and essentially disappeared on me within about three or four months. He was gone, never showed up for sessions, just disappeared. So in effect, I was by myself. And of course, we had that crazy environment in 1972 when [Hudson County Democratic Assemblyman] David Friedland engineered the election of Tom Kean as speaker. So we had this weird deal, and I didn’t know what to make of that at the beginning. I understood it better later. I had myself assigned to the Taxation Committee for the wrong reason. Actually, the right reason, theory; the wrong reason politically. I had myself assigned to two committees. And the reason that I wanted both of those committees was because, as far as I was concerned, those were the things I knew something about and that I had an interest in. I didn’t even think about the political consequences. If I had thought about the political consequences, I’d have run like a bandit. But I put myself on the Taxation Committee because I knew something about taxes. I had a master’s degree in tax law. I know what a tax structure is. I know what’s regressive and what’s progressive and what a public policy is reflected in a tax structure. I knew all of that stuff, so give me the Tax Committee. <laughs> I wasn’t looking around that corner. The other committee was county government, county and municipal government, because I’ve always been fascinated, certainly in New Jersey’s context, by the structure of government and how we can do much better than we do. So those were the two committees I asked for. Those were the two that I got. And I made some fast friends immediately on both of them…
Q: Let’s move to the ’73 election, which you’ve already talked about a little bit in passing. You obviously knew Charlie Sandman, but did you expect he was going to knock off an incumbent governor of the Republican Party?
Steven Perskie: No way. No way. When I go into ’73, I’m looking at running for re-election. I’ve done something incredibly dangerous. I have voted for Cahill’s tax program, which the local Republicans were thrilled about, because that’s going to be their campaign against me. But I’m prepared to defend it. A great story about that coming up. And the way it looks to me in the winter and spring of ’73, doesn’t matter who the Democratic candidate is; he ain’t going to beat Cahill. I’m for Dick Coffee, whom I had met by then and gotten to know very well and was running and had asked me for help and had been very helpful to me. I liked him. I trusted him, thought he’d be a good governor. So I’m for Dick Coffey and doesn’t much matter to me who wins the primary at that point, because nobody’s going to beat Cahill in the general anyway. I’m just looking for what I can do for myself. And part of what I can do for myself– at this time, my relationship with Pat McGahn [ph?] had started to fray a little bit. And I was still very much into the politics of things, so I chose– there was a vacuum that had been created– long story that isn’t central to this, but there’s a vacuum to the Atlantic County Democratic chairmanship. I step into it. I put myself out as the candidate. Nobody’s going to run against me. I become, in the primary, the Atlantic County Democratic chairman. But even before the primary, nobody was challenging me.
Q: Was that a point of contention with McGahn?
Steven Perskie: Yeah. But he didn’t have a better idea, and I had the votes anyway.
Q: Do you want to go into the sort of initial beginnings of that?
Steven Perskie: Well, when we talk about McGahn, we can do that, but this is– I want to talk about Brendan Byrne, because that’s a fun day. That’s a fun day. Let me first tell you that– because you need to know the context. I get elected in January– I go in in January, 1972. Joe McGahn and I decide we’re going to put a gambling bill in. Cahill is vehemently against it. We know it’s going nowhere but we’ve got a job to do. So we introduce a game– I don’t even remember what it said, but casinos for Atlantic City. Believe it or not, because today what I’m about to tell you, most people would say, “What are you talking about?” There was no open public meetings back in those days. After a year of effort, I got the Assembly Committee, chaired by Russo [ph?] from Bergen, to agree to have a hearing on the bill. Took me a year to get them to hold a hearing. I go into the committee. I make my presentation. They excuse me from the room. They excuse everybody else from the room, including media. With the door shut, they vote not to release the bill. And then they come out and tell me that my bill died in committee. And people I tell that story to now say, “What are you talking about?” That’s how the Legislature worked in those days. The Open Public Meetings Act was the next year. Anyway, I’d been nominally campaigning for casinos in Atlantic City, even though I knew under Cahill it was going nowhere. That’s background.
Q: Before we leave that, I guess one of the reasons the Cahill administration opposed it was because they saw it undermining the support for an income tax, in that they saw it as an alternative…
Steven Perskie: I don’t think it ever got that sophisticated. I think that it was just opposed on policy grounds. That was the way I understood it. Because I’m for the income tax, and if anything, Cahill’s going to want to reward me for my lonely support. But don’t even think about it. Dick Coffee [Mercer County State Senator] is my candidate for governor. April, 1973, he calls me on the phone and he says, “I’m going to withdraw from the primary. I’m not going to run.” He says, “I’m going to support Brendan Byrne.” “Who’s Brendan Byrne?” “Well, he’s a judge in Essex County. He used to be the county prosecutor and was on the PUC.” “Never heard of him.” “He’s a good guy. I want you to do me a favor.” It’s Coffey to me. “Byrne’s going to announce tomorrow. He says he’s asked me to put together a group of people to meet him on Saturday.” This is Wednesday. “He’s asked me to put together a group of people to meet with him in East Orange.” What turns out eventually to be Marty Greenberg’s [Byrne campaign political director] law office; I don’t know that then. “To sit with him and talk with him about state issues.” He said, “I want you to talk about taxes.” I said, “Who else is going to be there?” He says, “Al Burstein’s [Bergen Assemblyman] going to talk about education. Charlie Yates [Burlington Assemblyman] is going to talk about transportation.” This one’s going to talk about this. That one’s going to– I said, “Okay.” I said, “But I’m not committing to support Byrne.” I said, “I never heard of him.” He said, “I’m not asking you to support him. I’m asking you to come and help him out.” Fine. I don’t really care. Because after Dick Coffee is out, I don’t have another candidate and I don’t care that I have another candidate. Whoever wins the primary is fine with me. So on what turned out to be one of the more interesting days of my life, I’m flattered, frankly, at having been asked to do this, because I’m going to speak on one of the– if not the, one of the three or four major questions of tax- of state policy to a serious candidate for governor, who’s asked me to do that. I’m okay with that, at 29. Excuse me, at 28. So I go up and I have this– I sit down there at nine o’clock in the morning in East Orange, and we spend the entire day talking policy. And people are briefing him. He’s asking questions. We’re discussing. I’m in with a bunch of people that I very much like and respect. I mean, Al Bernstein is my dear friend to this day. Charlie Yates, God bless him, was a wonderful colleague for all those years. And I’m watching Brendan Byrne. Again, I never met the man. I’m impressed. I mean, everything. Style, looks, substance, intellect, curiosity, tact. I mean, figure it out. I mean, this is a terrific human being and a very good candidate. So I got a problem. He’s a former prosecutor from Essex County. My chances of getting him to tell me that he’ll support casino gambling for Atlantic City are between slim and none. So how am I going to endorse him? And I’m sitting there for most of the afternoon, trying to figure this out, because by the early afternoon, I’m already convinced that if I didn’t have that issue, this is my candidate. So three, four o’clock in the afternoon, we take a break. And what the hell? So I said, “Judge, I’ve got to ask you something.” I said, “I need to tell you up front that, no matter what you tell me, it won’t have an effect on what I’m going to do. I’m perfectly prepared to support your candidacy. But”– and I take him through the background and I– and he listens. He’s got a cup of coffee in his hand and he’s listening to me. He’s not saying a word. And I explain, you know, ba, ba, ba, “And there had been a bill introduced a few years ago but it got nowhere. I introduced it now but Cahill’s never going to do it, and it didn’t even get out of committee. But I’m going to have to campaign for it in Atlantic City in the fall, and if you’re the candidate, you and I are going to have to figure out a way we can do that.” And he said, “Well.” He said, “I got to tell you.” He said, “I don’t know if you know this.” He said, “But when they had that hearing in 1968 in the Legislature on McDermott’s bill,” he said, “I testified. I was the Essex County prosecutor, and I went down to Trenton and I testified on that legislation.” And he said, “It would really be very difficult for me now, as a candidate three years later, five years later, to say something different than what I said to the Legislature.” And I said, “Yeah, I understand that.” I said, “But this is my problem and I just want you to know we’re going to have to”– he was playing with me. What he knew and I did not, and he knew that I wouldn’t have any way of knowing it, was that when he went down there as the Essex County prosecutor, he was the only law enforcement witness in the state to testify in favor of it, which he let me stew for another minute or two before he told me about it. And he said, “You give me a bill that’s got the proper controls and the proper protections,” and he said, “I’m all for it.” Well, where am I? I drove up there this morning to Essex County to meet a guy I had never even known, with not the slightest care or concern about whether I’m going to support him or not, because it doesn’t matter. And now, not only do I have a candidate that I think would be a hell of a governor and a candidate who has a very good shot at being nominated, but whether he beats Cahill or he doesn’t in the fall, in the environments of Atlantic City and Atlantic County, my candidate for governor is going to say what I desperately need to be said, and the other candidate for governor is not. So I mean, where did I get this from? I am flying. I drove home that day. It was like– it’s still one of my best days, one of my best days. That’s how I met Brendan Byrne.
Q: You had mentioned a few of the other legislators who were in that meeting. Who else? There were a few other people from the Coffee campaign who joined the Byrne camp…
Steven Perskie: The truth is…
Q: …like Dick Leone and Lew Kaden?
Steven Perskie: Oh, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And I didn’t know them then. I mean, the only ones that I really remember from that day were the ones I had known in advance. I mean, I met Marty Greenberg that day. I’m sure Dick Leone was there. I’m certain he was there. But these were not people I had known before. They were people I got to know all that summer, and they were people who, before I got finished eight years later, were at the core of everything that I was able to accomplish. People with whom I worked or who helped me, who I helped with Byrne or whatever, but on that day, the only ones I knew were the legislators that had come up at Dick’s request.
Q: Going back to your own ’73 campaign, you mentioned that the Republicans were gearing to attack you for the tax vote. Were you running defensively on the tax vote? And how much were you using your support of casino gambling as an affirmative plank in your personal platform?
Steven Perskie: That question leads me to tell you the story that is in a memoir that I have just put together. It’s the way I close the volume, because one of the questions I was responding to when I wrote it was, “What lessons did you learn?” And the story I’m about to tell you is the central lesson of my entire political career, in response to your question. When I campaigned in 1971, taxes were easy. Cahill had commissioned this blue ribbon committee. It hadn’t reached its conclusion until December of ’71. So all I said as a candidate in 1971 was, “I don’t know. I’ll wait to see what the commission says.” I knew exactly what was wrong, as far as I was concerned, what was wrong with the tax structure. I knew exactly what we ought to do about it and that it was a broad-based income tax. And I also knew that it was political suicide to say that. So I did the politically clever thing in ’71 and simply said, “I don’t know. We’ll wait to see what the commission does,” which is what everybody else did. 1972, I vote for it without any apologies, and even at that point, understanding, believe it or not, the political risk I was taking. But I didn’t believe I had any choice, because as far as I was concerned, it was a no-brainer. And I knew, obviously, that the votes weren’t there. It would have been very easy for me to duck it, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. So now, I got a problem in 1973. How do I answer your question? I have a particularly difficult problem, because my candidate for governor, who I am now hanging onto for dear life, gets out there and says, to my utter amazement and to my utter consternation, “I don’t see any need for a state income tax.”
Q: I think he said that in Atlantic City too.
Steven Perskie: He certainly did, right after he talked about the Bateman Simon Plan being known by its initials. So here I am, you know, okay, my bed, I made it. I’ll sleep in it. And I don’t even remember now, but I had prepared or thought through the preparation of some political mealy-mouthed explanation for why I had done that, and don’t worry about it. It didn’t pass but– I don’t remember exactly. It was not going to be terrific. It was going to be playing defense. I wasn’t too worried about it though by that time in the fall, because if you remember, by September of 1973, some very interesting things were happening. First of all, that Byrne was going to be elected over Sandman was a given. No question about that. And the national climate would be– with Watergate and everything else, was beginning to suggest what eventually became the reality of a landslide. So while I was concerned and while the Republicans were still gleeful– one of the things, by the way, I told you we did newspaper ads. They expected me to back off my vote, so they prepared an ad, which they eventually ran because they were too stupid to fix it. The original version of the ad said, “Perskie voted for Cahill’s tax. Now, he says he’s not going to vote it again. Hypocrisy!” Only, by the time they ran the ad, I had said, for reasons I’m about to tell you, I had said, “I’m not apologizing.” So they changed it to read, “Perskie voted for Cahill’s tax. Now, he says he’ll do it again. Hypocrisy!” I mean, that made no sense. I still have it somewhere. Anyway, I’m preparing to go into the fall campaign to be as Fred Astaire-like as I can possibly be. Because of Byrne’s position, because of my own position, I don’t have a particularly good argument to defend this, and I’m not really, at that point, ready to defend it. I’m just trying to figure out how to get away with it. It’s September. It’s a Sunday night. It’s a League of Women Voters debate. The regular political reporter for the local newspaper is on vacation, a political pro, if ever there was one, named Prendergast [ph?]. They send a rookie, whom I do not recognize. We have our debate. League of Women Voters wants to pin us all down. I don’t get pinned down. I do my Fred Astaire, a little embarrassed about it, but I do my Fred Astaire. Standing around afterwards, drinking coffee with some of the women voters, and the reporter’s over my shoulder and I don’t see him. And we’re talking and I tell the truth. A graduated income tax is the fairest tax and here’s why it’s the fairest tax, all the things that the women voters want to hear and would have heard me, would have preferred to have heard me at the podium, but I don’t have the guts at the podium. Guess what? Front page, Monday morning. Brendan Byrne calls me at nine-thirty on Monday morning. “What the hell did you do?” A couple of days go by. The Republicans are– I mean, they were already– they’ve already written my obituary. I’m gone.
Q: What did you say to Brendan Byrne?
Steven Perskie: I told him what happened. He says, “What are you going to do about it?” I says, “I don’t know.” “Better figure something out.” Tuesday afternoon, Frank Prendergast comes back from vacation, looks at the newspaper, calls me up. “What happened?” I tell him what happened. “What are you going to do?” I says, “I don’t know.” He says, “You want my advice?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “Sit down with me and give me an in-depth interview and tell me everything that you think, for the record. What have you got to lose?” I think about that for about 30 seconds. Next day, I go to his house, two hours. I lay it all out, giving up nothing. I mean, just laying it out there. And several things happened. Sequentially. First, the press runs an editorial. This is before the end of September, mind you. Headline of the editorial is, “Spare that Neck.” And the first line is, “Assemblyman Steven Perskie has stuck his neck out a mile.” Da da da da da, barump, da da da da. “We’re not endorsing anybody at this time, but we think Perskie should get credit for telling the truth in a difficult environment.” And the concluding line is, “Spare that neck.” And they eventually later go on to endorse me. The Republicans are giddy. Only, they forgot to remember Spiro Agnew, and they forgot to remember Watergate, and they forgot to remember that as long as I wasn’t, you know, caught in a closet with a live girl or a dead boy, I’m going to get re-elected no matter what. Now, the people didn’t vote for me that November because of what I did on the income tax. They voted for me despite it. But what happened was that by total accident, the accident I have just described for you, not looking over my shoulder or recognizing a reporter, by that accident I became known in Atlantic City and then later in Trenton as the man who was not afraid to tell the truth. And it was the liberating moment of my political career; I had nothing to do with it. But from then through the rest of the time I was in the Legislature, I could say anything I wanted about any issue I wanted, and I did. And I could get away with it politically, because the reaction at home was, “Oh, that’s just Perskie. He says what he thinks.” And as long as I was producing- as long as I was producing a gambling bill, as long as I was producing whatever else the people- I could make them believe that they wanted or needed, “All of those crazy notions that he’s got about taxes or whatever, we don’t care about that.”
Q: Before or after you gave that interview, did you call Candidate Byrne and say, “I’m sorry, Judge, but I’m going to have to reassert what I”…
Steven Perskie: You know, the truth is I don’t remember. I’m sure I let him know what I was doing. I certainly didn’t apologize to him, because frankly, from my point of view, he let me down in the sense that I knew he knew better. And he was just doing the same thing I had tried to do; he was just doing it successfully. I would have preferred, and I can’t blame him for it– I mean, who knew at this point? I mean, eventually, by October, it didn’t matter what he said; he was going to get elected governor. But I don’t hold him accountable for that. In fact, I have a great deal of regard for the way he handled it in 1977 when he stood in front of the state house for a television camera and said, “I said that in 1973 and I was wrong.” And as far as I was concerned, whatever sins he had committed, that cured them.” <laughs> But by then, we were very close anyway. No, I don’t remember the conversations I would have had with him. I’m sure I did. But we just agreed to stay out of each other’s way. I mean, it was easy for him to stay out of my way on it, and I didn’t stick it to him. I mean, that was just what I think…
Q: Most, if not all of the people, I think we’ve talked with in the Byrne campaign, felt that once Sandman got the nomination, the election was pretty well secure.
Steven Perskie: Except in Atlantic; that’s correct. It took me until October. The night of the primary, I knew Byrne was going to be governor. What I didn’t know until October was that, A) he would carry Atlantic and, B) he would not be a problem for me. Keep in mind, Charlie Sandman was local. He was our local congressman. All right. Had been all over the place for all those years. So even though Brendan Byrne was going to be governor, I don’t know that he’s going to beat Charlie in Atlantic. Turned out he beat him handily. But I don’t know that until October.
Q: Was the tax issue so politically telling that if Brendan Byrne had come out and said, “I’m for the income tax,” he would have lost that election to Sandman?
Steven Perskie: No, sir. I said it then and I say it now, “Brendan Byrne couldn’t have lost that election no matter what he said about anything.” As a result of all the external features, the man the mob couldn’t buy, the climate of corruption, the Republican disaster in Washington, Brendan Byrne was not going to lose that election if he had called for a confiscatory income tax. Now, that’s hindsight. Twenty-twenty hindsight is the clearest vision. I’m sure that if we had had this discussion in September of 1973, I might have said otherwise.