Governor Tom Kean: From the New Jersey Statehouse to the 9/11 Commission

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Long before Bill Clinton spoke of "triangulation," a term that referred to a centrist governing style, prior to Tony Blair repositioning the British Labor Party midway between Thatcher conservatism and militant trade unionism, and far ahead of George W. Bush referring to his agenda as "compassionate conservatism," there was Tom Kean. From the moment of his election to the New Jersey state assembly in 1967, through his guidance of the 9/11 Commission nearly three decades later, Kean consistently displayed a knack for bipartisan leadership.

In this first political biography of one of the nation's most popular and successful governors, Alvin S. Felzenberg tells the story of a remarkable career that culminated in an unexpected and crucial contribution to the country-chairmanship of the 9/11 Commission. Felzenberg describes how, early in his political career, Kean worked to transform New Jersey's legislature in the aftermath of court rulings that mandated redistricting in accordance with the "one man, one vote" principle. He discusses Kean's efforts to relieve the urban crisis that followed in the wake of the 1967 Newark riots. He relates how Kean was able to use the New Jersey governorship-purportedly the strongest in the country-to transform a so-called "rust belt" state into a leader in education, environmental responsibility, and economic growth.

Kean's successes in these and other areas caused leaders outside New Jersey to follow in his path. Together with his fellow governors, Kean forged a national consensus on domestic policy between Democratic congresses and Republican presidents, in the process winning for himself a leadership role in his own party. Kean's story serves as an uncommon case of how a Republican loyal to the historic roots and principles of his party can not only win election in a "blue state" but effectively govern it.

Starting from the example the governor set on the state level, Felzenberg's account traces Kean's career to positions of trusted authority on the national stage. After several years of advising presidents, Kean was appointed chairman of the 9/11 Commission. In this role, he made the bipartisan, Congressionally mandated commission one of the most successful in American history.

Drawing on interviews with Kean as well as with state and national leaders, including former presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton and former New York City mayor Ed Koch, Felzenberg not only provides a marvelous biography, but also offers a unique look at American politics during the last four decades of the twentieth century.

About the Author:

Alvin S. Felzenberg was Principal Spokesman for the 9-11 Commission and for its non-profit successor organization, the 9-11 Public Discourse Project. More recently, he was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Felzenberg held several senior level posts on Capitol Hill, served in two presidential administrations, and, in the 1980's, was New Jersey's Assistant Secretary of State. His writings have appeared in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Weekly Standard, Christian Science Monitor and other publications and he has been a guest on major public affairs television and radio broadcasts, including CNN, Fox News, C-SPAN, and National Public Radio. Felzenberg holds a Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University and an M.A. and B.A. from Rutgers University.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In 1981, Republican Tom Kean became New Jersey governor in the closest election in the state's history. Four years later, he was so popular that he won reelection by the largest margin of votes in the history of the office. When he left the statehouse in 1990, he retired from political wars to become the president of Drew University. But Tom Kean's most significant job still lay ahead. In December 2002, President George W. Bush appointed him to head the independent commission investigating the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, a position that required political finesse and bipartisan confidence. Governor Tom Kean recapitulates the career of an American public servant who seems to transcend controversy.
The Star Ledger

"The life and times of New Jersey's 48th governor, his many pluses and few minuses, are explored in detail in Alvin S. Felzenberg's voluminous biography of Tom Kean.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813537993
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 578
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Alvin S. Felzenberg was Principal Spokesman for the 9-11 Commission and for its non-profit successor organization, the 9-11 Public Discourse Project. More recently, he was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Felzenberg held several senior level posts on Capitol Hill, served in two presidential administrations, and, in the 1980's, was New Jersey's Assistant Secretary of State. His writings have appeared in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Weekly Standard, Christian Science Monitor and other publications and he has been a guest on major public affairs television and radio broadcasts, including CNN, Fox News, C-SPAN, and National Public Radio. Felzenberg holds a Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University and an M.A. and B.A. from Rutgers University.

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Read an Excerpt


From the New Jersey Statehouse to the 9-11 Commission
By Alvin S. Felzenberg

Rutgers University Press

Copyright © 2006 Alvin S. Felzenberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8135-3799-1

Chapter One

The Early Years

The Boy in the Photograph

In the parlor of a stately home in Greenwich, Connecticut, rests an album of photographs. They record the wedding reception of Elizabeth Stuyvesant Kean and Edward L. Hicks III, on October 29, 1942. One picture depicts a group of bridesmaids. Standing among them is a small boy in knickers. He is Thomas Howard Kean, age seven, brother of the bride. Family friends remembered him as Beth Kean's "bratty little brother," the mischievous little boy with a knack for crawling under dining tables and biting guests on the ankles. "Oh, he could be a pest," Beth Hicks recalled. "And he knew how to get my mother's goat." Tom Kean fully shared that opinion. "The only way they could ever get me to quiet down was to cram me into a suit," he would say sixty years later, reflecting back on his sister's wedding.

Beth Hicks had not planned for her brother to appear in this photograph. Nor could she have stopped him. Tom had been standing in a corner, watching as the photographer fussed with his equipment. Just as he prepared to snap the shutter, Tom ran across the room and joined the group. Though Tom Kean would gain plenty of attention inthe course of a public career that would span five decades, at this stage of his life, he was still struggling to command it in a family with five other children, in a household headed by a congressman, and at a time when all the adults in his life were preoccupied with news from a world at war.

As a child, Tom Kean exhibited none of the easy manner and poise he would demonstrate as an adult. "I was shy, often lonely, and generally unsure of my place in the world," he wrote. The story of how such a child grew into a man so comfortable in front of a camera or behind a podium, whom total strangers would come to know as their "friend Tom," took many turns. It began in New York City on April 21, 1935, at 11 East Seventy-fourth Street. It was there that Thomas Howard Kean was born. He would later joke that his mother might have ended his political career before it even began had she followed up on an idea she had to dub him "Bunny." (He was born on Easier Sunday.) Other relatives came to his rescue when they assigned him a more suitable nickname, "Tommy."

A Distinguished Lineage

The instant he drew his first breath, Tom Kean became part of several of the most distinguished families in American history. One newspaper, announcing the wedding engagement of his parents, lamented that it lacked the space to list all of his father's illustrious forebears. Any chronology of the Kean family reads like a history of the United States seen through the lens of a family that helped shape the nation's destiny, with each ensuing generation adding a chapter of its own. Tom's father served for twenty years in the House of Representatives. His grandfather and great-uncle had both been U.S. senators. Among his ancestor's were five colonial governors. The signatures of Kean forebears adorn the nation's founding documents. Through ties of kinship or marriage, the Keans are related to some of the nation's most notable dynasties, such as the Livingstons, the Winthrops, the Fishes, the Morrises, the Alsops, and the Roosevelts.

The story of the Keans in North America began with the arrival of British mariner turned merchant James Kean in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1750s. James's son John Kean, born in 1756, was the first of Tom Kean's ancestors to be born in what would become the United States. A merchant by trade, John Kean was a partner in the firm of Lavien & Co. (One of the principals, Peter Lavien, was a half brother of Alexander Hamilton, who would himself have close ties to the Keans.) An early supporter of American independence, John Kean engaged in revolutionary activities that led to his imprisonment aboard a British warship during the seizure of Charleston Harbor.

Kean was elected to the South Carolina Assembly in 1781 and to the Continental Congress four years later. His casting the decisive vote on a committee that recommended banning slavery from the Northwest Territory remains a source of Kean family pride. John Kean married Susan Livingston, niece of New Jersey's first constitutional governor, William Livingston, in 1786. President George Washington appointed John Kean the first cashier of the Bank of the United States. John Kean died in 1795 in Philadelphia, at the age of thirty-nine. His widow returned to New Jersey with her young son, Peter. She purchased William Livingston's home, "Liberty Hall," in Union Township. It would remain the Kean family seat for generations.

If walls could talk, Liberty Hall would keep historians well occupied. The young Alexander Hamilton took up residence there while he prepared for his college entrance examinations at Francis Barber's school in nearby Elizabeth-courtesy of a clergyman acquaintance of both Livingston and Barber. In its parlor, future chief justice of the United States and governor of New York John Jay wed Livingston's daughter Sarah. Out of one of its windows another of Livingston's daughters eloped with a young army officer named William Henry Harrison. In the early days of the Republic, a row of presidents beginning with George Washington frequented Liberty Hall. Martha Washington took rest there en route to her husband's inauguration as the first president in New York City.

From the time James Kean arrived in South Carolina, the Keans took pains to retain the proper pronunciation of their name, which rhymes with rain rather than with green. Tom Kean's grandfather, U.S. senator Hamilton Fish Kean, refused to have a mountain peak named in his honor in the Canadian Rockies lest passersby mispronounce it. In his capacity as executor of Hamilton Fish Kean's estate, Tom Kean's father, Robert W. Kean, granted permission to Newark State Teachers College, which relocated on the late U.S. senator's property, to change its name to Kean College upon the condition that its trustees retain the traditional pronunciation.

The Keans had reason for concern. In 1884, after congressman and future U.S. senator John Kean, Tom Kean's great-uncle, obtained a post office for a growing Monmouth County community in his district, the village named itself Keansburg in his honor. By the time it incorporated as a borough in 1917, local residents had taken to pronouncing it Keensburg. Family lore holds that the Kean name and its pronunciation originated in northwestern Scotland. Robert W. Kean observed that well into the twentieth century the area north of Glasgow contained Keans who pronounced their name Kane. After Tom Kean had been elected governor, a genealogist in the employ of the Irish Tourist Board provided him with evidence that his family name may have had Irish origins. The researcher found that families who spelled their name Kean and pronounced it Kane hailed from Counties Derry, Galway, and Waterford.

Tom Kean could trace his long-standing interest in history to the influence of his father, who often related the narratives of the Kean family and of the United States as if they were one and the same. They often were. Born in 1893 in Elberon, New Jersey, where his mother's family retained a summer home, Robert Winthrop Kean was the second son of future U.S. senator Hamilton Fish Kean and the former Katharine Winthrop, a direct descendant of the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. His parents named him in honor of his maternal grandfather, Robert Winthrop, a sometime associate of J. P. Morgan. Robert Winthrop had married the daughter of Moses Taylor, one of the richest Americans of the nineteenth century. Taylor helped finance the Civil War and later served as president of City Rank. Thanks to his mother's fortune, Robert W. Kean and his descendants became beneficiaries of sizable trusts, which contributed substantially to their incomes.

Through his Kean forebears, Robert W. Kean could lay claim to partial ownership of two New Jersey utility companies founded by his grandfather, Colonel John Kean (son of Peter Kean and grandson of the Revolutionary War patriot), the Elizabethtown Gas Company and the Elizabethtown Water Company, and more than one bank. Colonel John Kean served as an officer of several railroad companies that maintained operations in central New Jersey (as would several of his heirs) and as president of the National Bank of Elizabeth, which his father, Peter Kean, established. Active in Whig politics, Colonel John Kean was an ardent supporter of Henry Clay for president. Once, he presided over a large New Jersey gathering which a highly inebriated Daniel Webster addressed. Through the Kean side of his family, Robert W. Kean inherited sizable landholdings. He would give two hundred acres to the town of Livingston. Saint Barnabas Hospital currently sits on land once owned by Robert.

As Elizabeth ("Elsa") Stuyvesant Howard's middle name connotes, her forebears had been in the New World long enough to have regarded the early Keans as pesky immigrants. Her ancestor Peter Stuyvesant presided over the transfer of ownership of Niew Amsterdam from the Dutch to the British government, which promptly renamed it New York. Like the Keans, the Howards spent much of the year in New York City. During the summers, they took up residence in Hyde Park, where Elsa's mother, the former Rose Post, and her great-aunt, Mrs. Frederick Vanderbilt, occupied positions at the summit of what one society editor called the Hudson River valley's "highbrow coterie." Among Mrs. Vanderbilt's social circle was her neighbor, Sara Delano Roosevelt, whose son, Franklin, would be the cause of much discussion, annoyance, and aggravation in Robert W. Kean's household. Sara Roosevelt and Rose Howard belonged to the same Manhattan sewing circle, a group of socially prominent women who met in each other's homes to make clothes for needy children as they exchanged gossip.

Elsa found Sara Delano Roosevelt to be anything but the cold, domineering, and dictatorial figure historians made her out to be. Robert W. Kean, who knew Sara as a friend of his maternal grandmother, shared these sentiments. While they held similar opinions of Sara, Robert and Elsa differed in the regard in which they held her daughter-in-law. Elsa considered Eleanor Roosevelt a neighbor and clubwoman, attempting good works. Robert W. Kean objected to Eleanor's outspokenness. He conveyed those sentiments to his son Tom in the form of a campaign button he passed along to him. It read, "We don't want Eleanor either." Tom's sister Rose Lansbury attributed her father's aversion to Eleanor more to partisanship than to male chauvinism. She noted, for instance, that although her father professed to dislike opinionated women, he greatly admired Republican congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, who was known for having a tart tongue.

Robert was also an admirer of Theodore Roosevelt and a distant relation though an aunt who married a first cousin of TR. Growing up, he joined his Roosevelt cousins for summers at Oyster Bay and social events in Washington and New York, as did Eleanor and Franklin, his contemporaries in age. It was not until the 1920s that clashing political ambitions led to fissures in family relationships. In 1920, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., campaigning for the GOP, referred to Franklin, then running for vice president on the Democratic ticket, as a renegade. Four years later, Eleanor, anxious that her husband remain politically viable after he contracted polio in 1921, vigorously campaigned for the reelection of New York governor Al Smith, whose Republican opponent was Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Most of the Oyster Bay Roosevelt clan, of which Robert W. Kean considered himself a member, thought Eleanor had crossed a line when she alleged that as assistant secretary of the navy, Theodore Jr. had been implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal.

A Father in Politics

When Tom Kean was three years old, his father won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Robert W. Kean's decision to change careers, forsaking the life of investment banker for that of a congressman, heavily influenced how his youngest son would grow up. In the twenty years prior to his election to Congress, Robert W. Kean had led a relatively quiet existence as a partner in Kean-Taylor, a Wall Street investment company that his father had founded. That vacation had allowed him ample time for family life and recreation. As a junior congressman during the Great Depression and in the years preceding and during World War II, Robert W. Kean had little time for much outside of his work.

Home movies taken in the 1920s show a youthful, athletic Robert W. Kean swimming with his older children in the Atlantic Ocean at Elberon or at the family swimming pool in Livingston, pursuing winter sports at various locations, and playing tennis. Those taken after the births of his younger children primarily depict him at family get-togethers. Because of the nature of his father's responsibilities and the seriousness with which Robert W. Kean took them, Tom Kean found himself a witness to great events as a child, but with few companions with whom he could contemplate or discuss their significance.

Robert W. Kean had grown up surrounded by politicians. As a boy, he became fascinated by what he observed and by the tales he heard old-timers tell. When he was six, the New Jersey Legislature named his father's brother, John Kean (the oldest son of the colonel), to the U.S. Senate. Through his friendships with Republican senators Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island, Murray Crane of Massachusetts, and Joseph Foraker of Ohio, John Kean quickly became a Senate insider, He served on the Foreign Affairs and Interstate Commerce committees. He usually followed the powerful Aldrich's lead in opposing efforts to reduce tariffs and increase regulation of corporations. Foraker remembered Senator John Kean for his vigilance in seeing that "nothing improper was enacted."

While John Kean was in Washington, his brother Hamilton Fish Kean (father of Robert W. Kean) looked out for the senator's political interests back home. As a child, Robert W. Kean accompanied his father on his political rounds. He would always remember one particularly active Civil War veteran, who had lost an arm in battle, Major Carl Lenz, then chairman of the Essex County Republican organization. Patriotism and reverence for the sacrifices Americans made during the nation's wars were values each generation of Keans instilled in the next. Upon the United States' entry into the First World War, Hamilton Fish Kean delivered a passionate address about the war's aims at Liberty Hall as he presented the American and New Jersey flags to the New Jersey National Guard. Robert W. Kean's daughter Rose said that the Fourth of July was more important to her father than Christmas. Every year, on that day, he would recite the Declaration of Independence aloud to his children from the text printed in the New York Times. Afterward, he would take them with him to the center of Livingston, where he delivered an annual address. On the way back home, he habitually declared that he had "made the eagle scream."

In addition to his father, uncle, and Civil War veterans turned politicians, Robert W. Kean took his inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt. During the Spanish-American War, when he was five years old, Robert W. Kean was presented with a portrait of the Rough Rider by Howard Chandler Christy. When he was ten, while at a gathering at the Roosevelt homestead at Oyster Bay, Robert caught the president's eye. After a religious service on the battleship Kearsage, TR grabbed Robert's arm and, over the boy's mother's protests, marched him off to a stag luncheon. A year later in 1905, Kean's uncle, the U.S. senator, arranged for Robert to serve as a Senate page for one day so that he could observe Roosevelt's inauguration at close range. He and his Roosevelt cousins sat behind the president on the reviewing stand throughout the inaugural parade.

Under the watchful eye of his uncle's private secretary, Donald H. McLean, Robert W. Kean attended the 1912 Republican convention. There he got a close glimpse into the raw-fisted tactics that forces close to incumbent president William Howard Taft used to squash ex-president Theodore Roosevelt's hopes of wresting the party s nomination away from Taft. Roosevelt won all nine nonbinding presidential primaries-including New Jersey's-that year. Robert W. Kean believed that the former president's demonstrated popular support entitled him to the nomination. His elder's disagreed. Once among TR's most ardent backers, John and Hamilton Fish Kean disapproved of Roosevelt's "trust busting" and of his attempts to curtail corporate power.


Excerpted from GOVERNOR TOM KEAN by Alvin S. Felzenberg Copyright © 2006 by Alvin S. Felzenberg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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