HUDSON COUNTY, NJ - Raymond J. Donovan, who died last week at age 90, was best known on a national level for serving as U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Ronald Reagan. But Donovan left his mark in Hudson County for a number of reasons, and is largely responsible for the one and only appearance Reagan made in Bayonne.
Reagan didn’t plan to stop off in Bayonne during his 1980 campaign for president. But Donovan, considered a friend of the GOP standard-bearer that year, suggested that he meet “real people.”
In his memoir, Reagan said Donovan brought him over to Barrett’s Tavern. “And I’ll have to admit it was one of the more memorable moments of the campaign,” Reagan recalled. “We not only couldn’t get in on the floor of the barroom, they were standing on the bar. Finally, it was so jammed there that we had to go out on the steps and speak to the people outside. But it was a wonderful evening.”
Donovan was well-known for bringing heavy-weight political figures to Bayonne for drinks.
In 1981, after he was already appointed to the Reagan cabinet, Donovan brought GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Kean to McHugh’s Tavern to dispute a claim that Kean was “above” drinking in Bayonne – a stop during which Kean offered to buy everyone in Bayonne a beer.
As a young man, Donovan attended a seminary with the aim of becoming a priest, working summers as a laborer before eventually taking a job with the American Insurance Company. In 1957, he became a partner in the Secaucus-based Schiavone Construction Company, working in labor relations, finance and real estate.
“I knew him very well as a young boy” said former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell. “He was a staple at Schiavone Construction on Paterson Plank Road and Hops Lane.” Elwell said the company was particularly concerned with safety in the neighborhood.
“The men at that company would watch the children go to and from school to be sure no one was hurt by cars. There were no crossing guards at Hops Lane in those days,” Elwell recalled.
Donovan was the co-chairman of the New Jersey Reagan campaign in 1980, raising far more money than he was expected to, which may have been the reason for his being appointed to the Reagan Cabinet where he served from 1981 to 1985.
In what some considered a politically motivated prosecution, The New York Attorney General accused Donovan and several other Schiavone executives of fraud and grand larceny, charges for which he was later found “not guilty.”
Elwell said, “I will never forget his words to my father ‘Where do I go to get my reputation back?’”
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