This year's gubernatorial election promises to be the most interesting and competitive governor’s race since the Whitman – McGreevey contest of 1997. For me, however, I will miss the company of two dear friends with whom I was most fortunate to share the highs and lows of political campaigns during my years of statewide involvement: Steve Salmore and Frank Holman, both of whom passed away during the year of the last gubernatorial election, 2005.
I don't know to what extent, if any, Steve and Frank ever worked together. They could not have been more different in terms of their respective appearances, personalities, and demeanor. In their own way, however, each represented a vanishing breed in American politics.
What made Steve Salmore unique was not just his unsurpassed excellence as a political consultant and pollster. We still have some highly competent consultants on the New Jersey scene in both political parties, most notably, Larry Weitzner and Matt Leonardo on the Republican side and Steve DeMicco with the Democrats. Salmore was distinguished by the academic perspective he brought to any campaign resulting from his years as a professor at Rutgers. His academic experience gave him a unique historic perspective into any campaign, both in terms of the history of the electorate in question and also what impact the election result would have on the future of the Garden State. When you combined that academic genius with Steve's uncanny accuracy in polling, both as the head of the Eagleton Poll and as a private pollster, and his instinct for the "right" message, you had a political consultant of the highest calibre.
By contrast, Frank Holman was the master of the ground game, the king of the grass roots. There are still excellent ground game practitioners in both political parties in New Jersey, and these individuals usually know who are the key ethnic and gender constituencies that must be brought to the polls by a successful get-out-the-vote effort. Frank was unique, however, both in his familiarity with the key players in these constituencies and his ability to communicate one-on-one with them. In short, Frank was the master "street politician" in the most laudatory sense of the term, and during his years of successful service to Tom Kean as NJGOP executive director and state chair, it seemed that he literally knew every street in the state as well.
Steve not only had an excellent understanding of campaign politics; he had a wealth of knowledge on policy issues as well. He and his wife, Barbara, a professor at Drew University, authored the definitive book, New Jersey Politics and Government: Suburban Politics Comes of Age, now in its third edition. This book is mandatory reading, in my opinion, for anybody who wants to truly understand the business and issues of government and politics in the Garden State. Barbara and Steve were a wonderful couple of intellect, warmth, and personality, and we in New Jersey are fortunate that Barbara carries on the Salmore legacy of political erudition.
Likewise, Frank was a man of patriotism and superb accomplishment. He served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War and continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve, eventually retiring as a brigadier general. He had a distinguished career in government as well, serving with distinction as mayor of Jackson Township and as Ocean County administrator. While Frank viewed campaign politics as a competition and not as war, he understood that the candidates of the election season would become the office holders of tomorrow, and therefore, the candidates should be worthy of the office they would hold.
For me, it was a joy to be a friend of both individuals. The conversations I would have with each of these two men, however, were of an entirely different mode and character.
With Steve, the telephone was the mode, and the character of the conversation was akin to a tutorial, with Steve as the master professor and me as the student. I estimate that I had at least one lengthy telephone conversation per week with Steve over a period of thirteen years. In fact, I probably met with Steve in person during this period no more than four times per year. Yet these conversations bound us together as friends in the most intimate way. One of the greatest compliments I ever received from anybody in my career in government and politics was inscribed by Steve in the second edition of New Jersey Politics and Government as follows: “To Alan Steinberg – A real mensch who has taught me a lot about New Jersey politics”.
With Frank, the telephone conversation was always short and to the point, often followed by a meeting at one of Frank’s favorite restaurants, be it in Newark’s Ironbound section or at Chick’s in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, where Frank dined on his favorite dish, breast of veal. Once you arrived at the restaurant, you were in the presence of the master raconteur himself – Frank B. Holman. His stories were informative and often hilarious at the same time. As an Orthodox Jew who observes the laws of Kashrut (kosher), I could never eat any of the foods at these establishments. It was worth delaying my dinner until I arrived home, however, just to hear Frank tell his stories about the numerous political operatives and the Damon Runyon characters he had met throughout the years. Like I said at the beginning of this article, Frank Holman was an example of a vanishing breed in New Jersey politics.
In the Woody Allen movie, Broadway Danny Rose, a group of Catskill comedians are sitting around the table at a Manhattan deli, each claiming to have “the best Danny Rose story”. I have my own favorite Frank Holman story, and while I am sure it is not the best, it gives me a warm feeling about my late friend to retell same.
It happened during the 1993 campaign of Christie Whitman for Governor. Frank was a master of ethnic politics, and he and I went together to meet with Rabbi Eleazer Mayer Teitz, the spiritual leader of the Elizabeth Orthodox Jewish community. While Rabbi Teitz did not commit himself to either candidate, he was most courteous. On the various Jewish community issues he discussed, he was far more knowledgeable than I – in fact, he was far more knowledgeable than anybody I knew. As we left the meeting, Frank said to me, in that unique Holmanian fashion, “He’s a real smart guy, Alan – you’re not going to b.s. him.” By the way, the initials b.s. in this context do not stand for “bachelor of science”!
Four years later, I would marry one of the teachers who taught in Rabbi Teitz’s yeshiva system in Elizabeth, my wife, Lynne. Rabbi Teitz himself performed the wedding ceremony. When Frank met Lynne, he took me aside and said, “How did an ugly guy like you, Alan, marry a beautiful woman like Lynne?” I responded by saying “Frank, I concur with you, but you know I’ve always been an over-achiever!” My dear friend, Frank and I then shared a most hearty laugh.
In my career in politics and government, the year 2005 was, in the words of A Tale of Two Cities, the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times took place on the September 7, when I was sworn in as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA. The worst of times took place on September 28, when Steve Salmore died, and on December 2, when Frank Holman died.
In the case of Steve, his health had been deteriorating for some time due to kidney disease. I called Barbara after I read the news to express my condolences, but she ended up consoling me, saying, “I know how much Steve meant to you.” She also asked me to be one of the speakers at a memorial program for Steve that was held at Eagleton in January, 2006. I was both honored and moved to speak at this event.
I think of Steve often these days with regard to Chris Christie. Steve had a special fondness for Chris, and he would often tell me that Christie was a man with a great statewide future. As he would put it, “Chris Christie is a comer.” As usual, Steve was politically prophetic.
I first learned of Frank’s cancer from Phil Angarone, Deputy Chief of Staff during the Whitman administration. Phil is one of the best people in the business of government and politics – one cannot have a more trustworthy and loyal friend. For Frank, Phil was a brother. The day Frank passed on, Phil called me to say, “Alan, Frank passed away. He was suffering, and he is now in a much better place.” When I attended Frank’s wake and saw the lines of people, it confirmed for me how many people felt fortunate to have known Frank – and loved him.
I know what Phil meant when he informed my of Frank’s passing – Frank, like Steve, was a person of goodness and decency who deserved heaven as his final reward. For those of us in New Jersey politics who were privileged to be friends of Frank and Steve, we will always remember the gubernatorial election year of 2005 as the year in which we lost these two magnificent individuals of the New Jersey Republican Party. May the Almighty bless their souls, and for us friends, may the memory of Steve Salmore and Frank Holman be a blessing.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.