Recollections of Governor Hughes: Clifford Goldman

Transcript excerpts from interviews with Clifford Goldman (Executive Assistant to Commissioner of Comunity Affairs Paul Ylvislaker and first Executive Director, Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission; later Deputy State Treasurer and Treasurer in Byrne Administration) conducted for the Eagleton Center on the American Governor. The full interviews are available in the Video Library.


Clifford Goldman: [Dick Leone and I]…were roommates at the Woodrow Wilson School . I also worked under Dick Hughes. I actually wasn’t recruited by Dick Leone for that. He was, I think, still there but I did work under Hughes and then I worked under Cahill for a while too.

Q: What did you do for Hughes and Cahill; where were you in life at that point?

Clifford Goldman: Well, I was a young guy. I started with Hughes in ’66 so I would be 23.

Q: What were doing in life other than- you working full time for Hughes?

Clifford Goldman: Yes. I worked in Venezuela , I came back, decided I wanted to be in the poverty program, in those days and went to work for the State because Paul Ylvisaker was coming, I heard, was coming to New Jersey and I wanted to work with him.

Q: Who was he? He’s a famous name, who was he?

Clifford Goldman: Paul was like the philosopher king of domestic policy. He had been the head of the Ford Foundation’s Domestic Program. He had been a professor at Swarthmore. He was a fantastic person. And, then I did work on the poverty program. I worked on the Newark riots. I got interested in the Meadowlands legislation we were drafting and I became the first executive director of the Meadowlands Commission in 1969. And, I stayed there for two or three years under Cahill; left of my own volition. I liked Cahill’s people, they were nice to me. I got involved in the Sports Authority because of that. I was on the inside group with Cahill and Joe McCrane because of my familiarity with the Meadowlands and then I just left.

Q: So, you went into the Hughes Administration as what?

Clifford Goldman: I started out and they had a Governor’s Task Office on Model Cities Program and we went around to the different cities to try to help them apply for that money and get it. That was in anticipation of the creation of the Department of Community Affairs which was the intended, my intended position. And, my hope was to somehow get to be not only in that department but close to Paul Ylvisaker and when Paul agreed to come somehow I managed to succeed in doing that. I became his personal assistant, worked on pretty much everything the department worked on. That started in March of ’67; in July we had the riots. And, we, after a few days, when Hughes was up there with these police types we got called to go up and Paul was very instrumental in changing the course of the state’s reaction to it and negotiating a settlement of it. My job at the time was emergency food distribution, sort of a little FEMA operation we started in a couple of hours. And, then we all went down to Plainfield where Paul was a tremendous hero, that’s a great story, I don’t think we have time for it now.

Q: Why did you go to Plainfield?

Clifford Goldman: The riots started next in Plainfield and a police officer had been stomped to death and so there was the start of another riot. Paul went down there, got down there in the dark, went right into the riots, stood in the back of a pickup truck with a bullhorn and talked the people down to stop.

Q: Why did they listen to him?

Clifford Goldman: He’s just a fantastic speaker. And, he, you know, he just had a way with people.

Q: Were you right at his side?

Clifford Goldman: No, I was not. I came down the next day.

Q: You say he’s a hero in Plainfield . Why, because he stood on the back of a truck and calmed-

Clifford Goldman: Well, he calmed that and as it developed there was some weapons stolen from an armory near Plainfield and the theory was that these weapons had been brought into Plainfield. The police wanted to do a door to door search of the black community to find these weapons. They were in a fury of anger because of the death of one of their colleagues. And, the fear was that they would use this occasion to cause- get revenge, let’s say. Paul and the Attorney General went down to-

Q: Who was the Attorney General?

Clifford Goldman: Sills. Went down to see Hughes about this and he convinced Hughes that this should be called off. And, then he came back to Plainfield and the tanks, they had a personal carriers and tanks going into the black community. Paul got in front of the tank and stopped them, you know, physically. And, then calmed that down. And, then the part that was really to me inspiring was that he went down into the day room of the police station when it was all calmed down and took about two hours verbal abuse, to sort of allow the people to vent and subjected himself to this. Then he went to the hospital in Colorado, he was diabetic and he was- he had eye problems, serious eye problems. I think he was legally blind and he was going for an operation and one of the Senators in Washington, I forget which one, maybe Stennis, one like that, sent him a subpoena because the police from Plainfield had said he was interfering with police work and blah, blah, and they made him leave the hospital, they wouldn’t even let him delay this important appearance and they made him come down to Washington to be the victim of this hearing which was really stacked against him. But then Colonel Kelly from the state police went down there and stood up for them and said he saved Plainfield from a calamity and saved a lot of policemen’s lives by his actions. That killed that hearing. These were very exciting times.

Q: Sounds like it, yeah. What about Hughes and the riots, this had to have been a watershed moment in his governorship, yes?

Clifford Goldman: Well, he, I thought Hughes was just a fantastic person and a wonderful person, and on a personal level I like to tell this story. When I was hired in ’66 I did the perfunctory, you know, meet the Governor thing. It took about 20 seconds, I was nervous, you know, there was this big office and they shepherded me through and he welcomed me, “Hi, Cliff, nice to meet-” nah, nah. And, that took no time at all. And, then the very next time I saw Hughes was at the riot and we arrived like 4 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, Sunday morning.

Q: When had the riots begun?

Clifford Goldman: Thursday. And, we walked into the armory and Hughes had been up, I think, for all that time, hardly had any sleep, he looked it, he hadn’t shaved, he was tired looking and as I was walked in, he said “Hey, Cliff, good to see you.” And, I thought this was so fantastic, that he would remember me in the fog of this war that he was in after a year.

Q: It’s amazing that in politics how much remembering someone’s name means to the person.

Clifford Goldman: It certainly does, it meant a lot to me, I was astonished by it. And, I really liked, loved the guy. And, I think he started off on the wrong foot, but no one had practice in this.

Q: How did he start off on the wrong foot?

Clifford Goldman: He started out being tough and he said some things that were difficult.

Q: Do you recall one of them?

Clifford Goldman: We have to draw a line between- I don’t want to say to say it exactly but it was something pejorative and it was, you know, we’re going to use military force and police force, shut this thing down, which wasn’t the right thing to say but as I say, you’re confronted with something you don’t expect and you were not prepared for and that was his reaction.

Q: Did that evolve into something different within that brief period of time?

Clifford Goldman: It evolved when we got up there and Paul- well, I think Hughes realized by then himself that’s the reason he called Paul to come up, he realized that this wasn’t working out. People were shooting at each other, I mean, police were shooting at each other, you hear a shot, everyone starts firing, people were getting killed. I, in this role as food distributor, had a lot of contact with the community people because we used the local poverty offices and the ministers in the central ward to do this food distribution so they had a contact with us and it was very sad, you know, little children lying on the ground, being shot and couldn’t get out to get in the ambulance, couldn’t- people couldn’t get in there so I think by the time we were there, Hughes had already recognized he needed to something different and soften this, start talking to people and that’s what Paul and Hughes did.

Q: Give me a little more, talk to who about what?

Clifford Goldman: Well, I mean, the Mayor was finished, you know-

Q: Was that Addonizio?

Clifford Goldman: Yeah, Addonizio, he was broken. I saw him at the armory.

Q: Broken by what had happened?

Clifford Goldman: By what had happened. It was very sad and, you know, they were community leaders and political leaders and poverty program leaders, and ministers and there was, what’s his name, Tom Hayden who was in Newark .

Q: Really?

Clifford Goldman: Yeah.

Q: Famous left wing radical of the era.

Clifford Goldman: Right. They had a program in Newark and I had been in Newark just before the riot talking to some of these people, you know, para-military groups and Black Panthers and SDS. So, I mean, we had good contacts. I don’t know, I wasn’t key to those meetings and discussions and I wasn’t involved with them but I knew they were going on.

Q: I picture your painting as one of where talk diffuses the situation.

Clifford Goldman: Absolutely.

Q: Is that what happened?

Clifford Goldman: That’s exactly what happened, plus this food thing helped diffuse it and they brought in, Paul brought in a friend of his, Herb Sturz from New York who was a criminal justice expert and-

Q: Herb Sterns?

Clifford Goldman: Sturz. And, they set up a release on recognizance program to get people out of jail. That helped a lot, it also helped in Plainfield and that was one of the things Paul could say in that truck thing, “We did this in Newark and we’re gonna do it here.” These people were worried, their relatives were stuck in jail somewhere. So, we, for example, there was one of the high-rise projects was a scene of a lot of problems in sniping and the electricity had gone out. So, they couldn’t pump water above, let’s say the sixth floor, whatever, I forget which floor, without the electricity. And, PSE&G had tried to go fix it and were shot at. So, they couldn’t fix it, so, now, we’re talking we’re in July, so it’s hot. So, we set up a food distribution center right in front of that project and in a half an hour we had lines with thousands of people on the line. And, then they could go and fix the electric. So, I mean, all these things helped a little bit.

Q: What was Governor Hughes like to work for?

Clifford Goldman: Well, I didn’t see him personally except when we got to the Meadowlands legislation and-

Q: When was that?

Clifford Goldman: Now, we put in the legislation in 1967. It was put in by Senator Kiefer who was a Democrat from Bergen County, it had no chance of passing, I was certain.

Q: What did it do?

Clifford Goldman: It took home rule powers away from 14 municipalities in two counties and invested them in a state commission, and empowered that commission to make a plan for the Meadowlands and to carry it out regardless of local land use, zoning, whatever.

Q: Was that an old idea that had been kicking around for a while?

Clifford Goldman: It’d been kicking around since 1890, you know, there were commissions and reports every five years or so, maybe even earlier than 1890. And, when we came into Community Affairs the Division of Planning was in Community Affairs, State Planning Division and they had been working with the municipalities for some ten years producing these blue covered books, there was boxes of them, good work but it was just a way of talking about it, it wasn’t going anywhere and Paul said either we do this or we stop putting out these books. And, we decided we would do it. During the campaign for Senate in 1967 Kiefer ran on this bill and his opponent was Fairleigh Dickinson… Anyway, it was Fairleigh Dickinson and he was the son of the Fairleigh Dickinson who started Fairleigh Dickinson University . And, that was Becton Dickinson, the health care implement company in New Jersey . And, so Dickinson….issued a press release attacking this legislation and that caused us to have a big meeting and about, how to deal with this. And, of course in every one of these meetings people take both sides, automatically, but there was a person in Community Affairs named Jack Gleeson who was my first boss in this Model City Task Force. And, he was very smart, sensible, politically astute person who never said anything unless he knew he was right so when he did say something people listened to him and Jack said “Look, Dickinson’s a good guy, this is put out by some staff person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Don’t attack back, just ask Dickinson to have lunch, talk to him, he’s a wonderful guy and just, you know, tell him his staff guy was wrong.” And, that’s what happened, and Dickinson won and became a sponsor of the same legislation.

Q: Oh, that’s a great story.

Clifford Goldman: Yeah, so, I mean, it’s little things, you know, that count.

Q: So Dickinson sponsored the legislation and it then passed in the late ‘60s at some point?

Clifford Goldman: It kept going back to the, well, there’s a Republican legislature and it kept getting in the assembly nine votes where it needed-

Q: 41?

Clifford Goldman: Yeah, I mean, the Republicans had a big majority and they kept saying “Why do you keep bringing this back, you know, it’s never going anywhere.” And, I don’t remember all the details of it but it went on and on and on through ’67, through ’68 and we just kept putting it back and sending it back. And, at one point there was at the time, an issue on who owned riparian rights in New Jersey . The state claimed ownership to riparian, the riparian land is land which is flowed by the mean high tide. And there’s hundreds of thousands of acres of such land in New Jersey including the Hackensack Meadowlands and there was a dispute, the dispute was who owned the land what’s the definition of the land, and that dispute was ended by the courts in favor of the state of New Jersey . So, people had their titled threatened all up and down the coast and in these, even in these urban areas like the Meadowlands. The Republicans from the shore area, I think the guy’s name was Senator Hiering, put a constitutional amendment to cede ownership of that land to the titled owner away from the state but he couldn’t get enough votes to pass that. And, a deal was arranged, not with Hughes, but with the legislators, with Dickinson and those people, that they would give them the votes they needed for that thing if they passed the Meadowlands bill. So, both of those things passed.

Q: Still with Hughes as Governor?

Clifford Goldman: With Hughes as Governor. And, Hughes doesn’t have a veto over the constitutional amendment that passed. But in passing the Meadowlands Act they made two minor amendments, they thought were minor but we thought were major so Hughes vetoed the Meadowlands Act.

Q: After fighting for it for several years?

Clifford Goldman: Right. It was just fantastic, you know and he- I got to write the veto message and I wrote the veto message and delivered it to Morven, like at midnight and in the morning Hughes had completelyrewritten it in his own hand on yellow papers, and delivered that veto message and got them to come back and pass the Meadowlands Bill without the offending amendments.

Q: Do you recall what the amendments were or whether they were of significance today?

Clifford Goldman: Yeah, they were significant because they threatened the constitutionality of the act. You can read about it in my PhD thesis somewhere in the Princeton, and probably at Rutgers Library too, but I had all this described but I don’t remember it all now, but I thought Hughes was like a magician. He had such control over what happened in the legislature and the joke was that when he would walk in the hall and the Republican senator would see him and he would say “Good morning,” the guy would think “What did he mean by that?” And, this performance on this bill was just spectacular.

Q: You’re saying that after six years as Governor or maybe seven that Hughes knew how to play the legislature better than he probably did when he started.

Clifford Goldman: Well, I’m sure, I didn’t know him when he started it, but I’m sure. It couldn’t have been better now, this story has a, what is it, epilogue. As soon as all this was done, Hughes attacked the constitutional amendment as the “billion dollar giveaway,” depriving our school children because the proceeds of riparian lands go into the state school fund to support schools. And, he mounted this gigantic campaign that there were stealing a billion dollars from the school children. And, he had Bill Brennan, I don’t know if you remember all this, but Bill Brennan had been an assistant attorney general, son of a Supreme Court justice, who made a speech saying that some New Jersey legislators were close to organized crime. It created a huge storm of screaming by the Legislature and Brennan was dismissed from the Attorney General’s office but hired by the counsel’s office and Hughes put him in charge of this program to undo this constitutional amendment with that reputation that he had. Anyway, I remember some of the Republicans were saying “I didn’t get elected to eat crow.” But they did. And they came in and they repealed the amendment.

Q: So, the deal that enabled the Meadowlands, the other parties didn’t get their half of the deal delivered so to speak?

Clifford Goldman: Correct.

Q: At that time what did you and the others hope that the Meadowlands would become?

Clifford Goldman: Well, one of the basic premises of the Meadowlands was that the United States Corps Of Engineers, Army Corps of Engineers was going to build tide gates on the Hackensack River to prevent the floodings of the Meadowlands and then they would develop, mixed use develop, this is 20,000 acres of land, we didn’t have a firm idea of what it would become but we did have a definite firm idea what it had to stop becoming which was the worst hell hole imaginable. I mean, today you could not imagine what that place was like.

Q: What was it like?

Clifford Goldman: Well, there was the open garbage dumping all over with fires all the time. When you went around in a helicopter the creeks were multi-colored from the waste of paint, paint waste and chemical waste. There were huge sludge ponds, it was terrible, a terrible place. And, this was before the Environmental Movement really, before Earth Day and all that but there was enough awareness of the need to do something about the environment that we did put in the bill, something about the ecological balance of nature; that was the goal of this project. When we set up the commission to run the Meadowlands Ylvisaker had contacts with everyone in the country who knew anything about environment, planning, development, all of that and he had series of people come to help us, I mean, Lord Llewellyn Davies from England, top notch people, then Queen, then Princess, Beatrix came, her husband was a planner, Prince Klaus, I think. All kinds of planners from the United States looked at it. And, we settled on a planner from California named Dan Coleman who was an engineer working in coastal wetlands. And, his general theory and he was working all over the world, he worked for the Vatican, he worked in Australia, his general theory was you don’t fill wetlands, you preserve the wetlands and you build on the uplands around it. And, he had done this in California in Marin County . And, we had an environmentalist from Lehigh University, a young man named McNamara and he came, very intelligent, very easy, articulate to get to the point of, “You can do anything you want here, it’s a question of money.” He and I went around one day in February, we went by boat, we went by helicopters we had these big hip waders; we walked through all these areas.

Q: What year, do you recall?

Clifford Goldman: It would be February ’69, I think, because you could get to places when it was frozen over that you couldn’t otherwise. And, he produced a map of which wetlands were worth saving, which ones were gone, which I think, I mean he did other work, he looked at other studies and came back but even though it was a fairly quick study he got it pretty much right, I think. Because we did more studies later and he was validated. Anyway, the point of all this is one day we went to the Corps of Engineers and they had been very helpful, they came down to Hughes office to scare the legislators who had amended the bill that if these amendments stood we’ll cancel this three hundred million dollar project, this was powerful and got them to remove the amendment. Then we went to the Corps of Engineers and we said we changed our minds, we’re not doing any tide gates and we’re not filling this land up. So, they were nice about it, they had other things to do.

Q: Are you pleased or disappointed with the Meadowlands today?

Clifford Goldman: I think on the whole I’m pleased with it. It is a balance as it was intended to be. They have become- billion of dollars of development have taken place at a much higher level than was the case before. And, huge areas have really been saved. We stopped a lot of garbage dumps, that was the main thing we did in the first couple of years. We shut down and limited garbage dumps and saved the wetlands which they’re now happy to have. You can go on nature tours and canoe trips and see a great amount of wildlife. So, I think on whole it’s probably one of the biggest regional development planning activities that’s worked out.