Parsekian remembered as a principled reformer

Ned Parsekian, who passed away on Monday, only served two years as a state Senator.

But those who remember Parsekian recall an independent, vocal liberal whose political career was shortened by the circumstances of the times, and whose life-long designs on the governor’s office may have been thwarted by his outspoken stands against politics as usual.

Elected to the Senate in 1965, Parsekian lost just two years later, when an anti-Democratic wave related to voter disenchantment over their creation of a state sales tax and a general feeling of dismay over the Vietnam War knocked many Democrats out of office.

“He was not the kind of guy who would go along to get along,” said Leon Sokol, a Trenton insider who learned the political ropes from Parsekian’s running mate, Matthew Feldman.

“He spoke his mind and did what he thought was right,” said Sokol.

Parsekian’s forthrightness and ethical rigidity held up his confirmation as director of the Department of Motor Vehicles for three years. During his tenure as acting director, he stirred controversy by saying that politicians had asked him to bend department rules to fix driving records and hire their cronies for patronage positions and issue.

In 1966, however, Democrats did turn to Parsekian as their second choice to run a Senate campaign against Republican Clifford Case – a race that a challenger was widely expected to lose barring a candidacy from former Gov. Robert Meyner, who had rejected the nomination. But Parsekian refused to ingratiate himself with party leadership.

As the New York Times reported at the time, when Parsekian was indicating that he was not interested: “Governor Hughes plans an extensive effort this week to convince Mr. Parsekian that, paradoxically, his political future would be served best by what promises to be a losing campaign.”

Parsekian’s law partner, Melvin R. Solomon, said that Parsekian rejected the offer because was told he would have to support the Vietnam War to become the nominee.

In his 1969 quest for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination, Parsekian was quoted eloquently summing up his ideals.

“There is a revolution in political thinking that demands recognition of the electorate as human beings who desperately need and want to be heard, and who have become impatient with rituals, legal fictions or idle motions,” he told the New York Times.

He went on to criticize one of his opponents in the race, former Gov. Robert B. Meyner, who bad brought him into state politics in his administration in the 1950s. (Meyner had already served two terms, but was able to run again since New Jersey law at the time only banned serving more than two consecutive terms).

Parsekian wound up coming in fifth of six candidates in that race, winning six percent of the vote statewide. Meyner went on to lose to William Cahill.

Former Gov. Brendan Byrne started out in politics around the same time Parsekian did.

“Ned and I were part of a group of Young Turks who sort of came into being after Meyner was elected Governor in 1953,” he said. “A lot of us got into the state government in various aspects of it as part of our reform, and Ned was one of them.”

Byrne recalled that Parsekian fought against the practice of senatorial courtesy – which held up his permanent appointment to the DMV and squashed his nomination to a judgeship. Senatorial courtesy, however, continues to this day.

“I thought Ned was always a little naïve, but he was for the right things, he said.

Lobbyist Alan Marcus covered Parsekian in the 1960’s as a reporter for the now-defunct Hudson Dispatch. He recalls an unabashed liberal who always spoke his mind.

“I always found him very accessible, very quotable, and if I couldn’t find him he would always find me,” said Marcus.

And, in at least one respect, Parsekian was omnipresent. As the director of the Division of Motor Vehicles, his name graced more documents than any other official in the state.

“He saw that as a springboard. I think he always dreamed about being governor, but there were a lot of Democrats back then who dreamed of it,” said Marcus.

A memorial service for Parsekian and his daughter, Nancy Hamilton, who passed away two months ago, is planned in at the Westside Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood on August 29th. Parsekian remembered as a principled reformer