Our Culture Inchoate: Torres' Mentor #8
Updated: Oct 19, 2019
A fictional pro-life democratic congresswoman from New Jersey stands her ground in the face of intra-party adversaries. One of three Lou Picone interviews.
LION RADIO INTERVIEW OCTOBER 11, 2018 3PM
SUSAN JAMES (SJ): Hi Listeners! This is Susan James, Roving correspondent for Lion News, filling in for the vacationing Sam Hanratty on his daily radio show. A special and unique treat today, so I forgo the standard opening comments with an introduction of a man who has helped shape New Jersey politics certainly, and national politics probably, for almost 65 years, spanning the administrations of John F. Kennedy to the present day.
Louis Picone is a staple of New Jersey politics and has had clients ranging from Governors to Presidents, and currently serves one client: Congresswoman Honoria Torres, representative of New Jersey’s 16th district to the House. Mr. Picone joins us by telephone from his office in Eastfield, New Jersey. Welcome, Mr. Picone.
LOU PICONE (LP): Just Lou, please!
SJ: Okay, Lou, thanks for being here…
LP: Can you hear me all right? Is this good?
SJ: Perfect, sir.
LP: Just Lou, Susan… is it Susan? Or Sue?
SJ: Susan is fine, Lou. I must say it is exciting to have you on the show today.
LP: Oh, the pleasure is all mine, Susan. I don’t do live interviews, for a zillion reasons, but mostly because I am not the candidate. I am not the story. Congressman Torres is, though.
LP: Yes, yes of course! Forgive an old man. Pushing 90 now, hehe. Am I shouting?
SJ: Sir, you’re fine. I am also impressed, as I know our listeners must be, that such a democratic party stalwart has agreed to be on this show.
LP: Well, my motives are not entirely social, hehe. Hanratty’s media reach, especially in Northern Jersey, is quite big. Honoria Torres is in a pitched battle and I thought this could help get the message out.
SJ: To republican listeners?
LP: Sure. I have lots of friends, and many are republicans.
SJ: Lou, just to temper the conversation and give our listeners an idea of the extent of our interview, have you and I ever met?
LP: Oh, gosh, I, I don’t think so. I would remember you, I am sure. I admit I don’t watch LION NEWS that much… how are you feeling, by the way. I am very sorry you were ill.
SJ: I am much better now, thanks for asking. I have been back full time for three months, between TV and radio.
LP: Well, that’s grand. I admire your work, Susan. I liked your reports you did on the Iran deal, and that piece on the Horn of Africa, um, yeah. Good stuff.
SJ: Why thank you, Lou. Kind of you to mention that… but we do not know each other, correct?
LP: No, Susan, we started talking about four hours ago when your office called me about the show today…
SJ: Yes, and we appreciate you being available. We were impressed you answered your own phone, the one listed.
LP: I’m a worker bee, Susan, hehehe, I answer my own phone.
SJ: Have you ever met Sam?
SJ: Sam. Sam Hanratty. Host of the show. Icon of LION News, TV and radio.
LP: Oh, no, gosh, sorry. I mean yes, we have met. He wouldn’t remember me, though. Twice. Huge occasions with lots of free food and phony people, hehe, you know, non-political but hyper political events. Strong handshake. Didn’t recognize me, but I think he knew my name. He is quite gregarious, very friendly. Regular guy.
SJ: But you are not otherwise acquainted?
LP: Oh, no. He’s a busy guy. I guess you want to establish that there is nothing personal, one way or the other, in this interview.
SJ: Yes, sir, we do. And that there are no restrictions on your part, or mine.
LP: None whatsoever, Susan. If I don’t want to answer a question, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear it, hehe.
SJ: (Laughing) That will work, Lou. What I would first like to talk about is your story. Even though you are likely the most consequential democratic party operative in a very blue state, no one knows much about you, except that republicans fear you and democrats admire you.
LP: You are being too kind, Susan, but I don’t think anyone fears me… most do not know me.
SJ: Oh c’mon, Lou. You worked on Adlai Stevenson’s campaign while a soldier overseas in the mid-fifties. You were on Kennedy’s campaign staff in New Jersey in the 1960 race, with Kennedy winning the electoral and popular vote. You were established in the New Jersey democratic party and you weren’t thirty yet.
LP: Yep. Seems like yesterday. I never thought we’d be here, now, let me tell you.
SJ: Different times?
LP: Oh, yes. I miss fedoras, hehe.
SJ: (Laughing) tell us about your first inkling to campaigns.
LP: Well, it was in context to the times. I was too young for both WWII and Korea. But the draft was still on, and if you went to college you had to sign up for what we call now ROTC. I did so gladly. Never thought twice about it. My dad was a teamster, drove trucks for a living, and finally got a permanent job with UPS. First one in either family branches to go to college. My Mom stayed home with me and my three sisters. I was the oldest. Went to college on a football scholarship.
So I graduated from St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, the town I grew up in, in 1955, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army. Degree in Marketing. Went to Motor Transport School and was off to Germany for about two years.
SJ: Motor Transport?
LP: Yeah, I had taken a bunch of tests when I reported to Ft Benning, and I don’t know if that factored into the equation. I was sitting in a row with five other guys, now officers, none of us could shave, fercryinoutloud, and they said (effects gravelly voice) “You six assholes go to Motor Transport School.”
SJ: (Loud laughter) That’s a riot!
LP: Oh, I am very sorry, I hope you blipped that out…
SJ: No, we’re on satellite, and that got through; but no matter, Lou, really.
LP: My apologies, won’t happen again, God willing. But it really happened that way.
SJ: So you went to Germany.
LP: Yeah, the Army had its way of doing things, and they needed Motor T officers, so off we went. Straight to Germany. I never turned a wrench in my life. Didn’t need to, though. Everyone was very serious then. A lot of reconstruction. And we could walk between each of the four sectors fairly easily. There were partitions, but not the barbed wire and shoot ‘em down walls that came into being in 1961. We spent a lot of time in the field, doing maneuvers, and as Motor T we supported all troop movements throughout Europe. Heck, it was mostly administrative, and wasn’t bad duty. They all loved Americans. Especially our money, hehe.
SJ: The Stevenson campaign?
LP: As ’56 wore on, we junior officers got pretty salty. We were just big kids away from home. But we took out jobs very seriously. And I was basically apolitical. Couldn’t care less. Our president had been an Army officer, so there were lots of ambitious field grade and general officers running around. I avoided those people if I could.
SJ: Why the democrat candidate, Adlai Stevenson?
LP: That came like a slap to the head. Literally. I was serving with three other boot lieutenants in Motor T. One was black, and that guy had to prove himself to everyone, every day, except his peers; well, I guess some of them, too. Roosevelt Powers. Good man. Played the piano, his father was a minister; Powers had a first rate education, too. Anyway we were in garrison, in the office, so to speak, a metal Quonset hut. Powers, he did not allow himself to be called Rosie, Powers was sitting behind his desk and, uh, reprimanding a private in his platoon for some stupid thing the kid did. That stuff went on all the time… the stupid stuff, and depending on the gravity either the platoon sergeant handled it, the company first sergeant, the lieutenant, or the company commander, generally in that order. If the CO was involved, there would be loss of pay or rank or even jail time. Since Powers was doing the talk-to, it was serious enough.
Well, Powers does his thing, and the kid, might have been 19 to Powers’ 23 or so years, is standing at attention in front of the desk. The platoon sergeant and first sergeant are standing behind the kid, casually. I am behind them, the CO is out of sight behind me. Except for me, the others were there to evaluate Powers or act as witnesses. This kid, this private, had a bad reputation for being a complete idiot.
Seemed routine, but it is still fraught with tension. Powers does fine, text book dressing down, no emotion, just disappointment. I recall thinking this is what should fatherhood should be like…
Before Powers dismisses the private, he asks him if he understand that what he did was wrong and could get someone killed, and the kid spits out, “Yeah, I got it, boy!”
SJ: Uh, oh. But this was the fifties.
LP: Yep, But he was an officer, and color ain’t supposed to matter. Both the first sergeant and the platoon sergeant start barking, but even quicker Lt. Powers slaps one hand on the desk, lurches forward, and with the other smacks this kid on the side of head so hard he goes down. And doesn’t get up. I mean he belted him as hard as he could, which was pretty damn hard.
SJ: Oh, no!
LP: Oh, yes. Nobody does anything for a second or two. Powers sits down, calm as hell. The CO then nudges me aside and steps into the middle of the area. The kid shakes his head, looks at the CO, and says, “Did you see that, Captain?”
And the CO says, “I didn’t see anything. Did you, First Sergeant?”
And the First Sergeant says, “No, sir. I’ll take it from here, gentlemen.”
SJ: So what happened? And why did this make you a democrat?
LP: Well, the First Sergeant took care of it, and I don’t recall any other problems with that private. So the three of us, the CO, Powers, and me, go for a walk. It seemed aimless to me, but there it was. The CO talked the whole time.
His name was Weissman. Yes, he was Jewish. His father was a lawyer for the Army during WWII. Had some rank, too, and saw first hand the fundamental problems with integrating men of color and even of faith. What he told us that day rang true. He loved Ike, we all did, but there was something else we needed to aspire to, as a nation of people and laws. I don’t think there was one statement or argument that shaped my mind… but the CO did something to support his lieutenant that impressed me beyond words.
SJ: Wow. Did that happen regularly?
LP: Let’s not make this into some epidemic of racism and physical confrontation. It was over 60 years ago, and everyone actually got along pretty well. The rank thing was important to the CO and to the Staff NCOs. It probably had something to do with that, too.
SJ: So you started to talk up Stevenson’s candidacy…
LP: We talked world affairs and geo-politics all the time. Our jobs, our lives, were dependent on good judgment by elected officials. After I came home, I sold vacuum cleaners door to door, hehe. Got married. By the time 1960 rolled around, I was ready to get more directly involved in the process… but not as a candidate. Never interested I that.
SJ: Lou, we need to take a short station identification break. Can you stay on the line?
LP: Sure thing.