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Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Alfred E. Santangelo

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Access to this interview is subject to the deed of gift of December 14, 1993.

Interview with Rep. Alfred E. Santangelo (D-NY)
June 11, 1959
General remarks: A political man--willing to go along--a real horse trader--He trades on agriculture which he says doesn't affect the people back home, or they don't care about it anyway--he picks up friends by going along on agriculture.

"I'm a liberal. But I can see myself getting more conservative. You get so you want to see where the money goes, and where it's going to go next time. It's just like your budget at home. Yes, you do get more conservative--well, more responsible, let's put it that way. . . . (Mentioned in here that Appropriations Committee Chairman Clarence Cannon [D-MO] was conservative.) Sometimes, though, when you get outside the committee room and get back with your own group, you flop back into your spending ways." He said that the influence of Cannon was stronger in the committee room--on the Passman amendment [Otto E. Passman, D-LA] on water lilies, he voted against it in committee and for it on the floor.

"Cannon's word doesn't mean a thing. But he controls assignments and things like that. Outside, I don't pay any attention to him. . . . You fight with Cannon. . . . But I've gone along with him, too, a couple of times when he needed the votes. I've gone along. And I was the only member of the New York delegation who did. You've got to if you want to get a better assignment. . . . I called him up and said, `I'm too valuable to be wasted on this committee. I want another subcommittee, Defense or Foreign Affairs.'. . . He said, `You're doing a good job.'. . . I see him around at affairs and he'll say, `I hear good things about you, Santangelo.'" Cannon gave him the District of Columbia Subcommittee.

Regarding Cannon: "I fought with him right from the start. I got up in full committee and said, `I want to say that I certainly appreciate my committee assignment. The constituents of mine in East Harlem who have plots of ground 12 feet by 12 feet and who grow things in the window will appreciate my subcommittee assignment.' I was very sarcastic. I didn't want the damn assignment. He came up to me later and said, `We wanted you on there to represent the consumer.'" "I was disappointed in my committee assignment."

I asked him if he found himself in a minority of one on the Agriculture Subcommittee. "I'm not provocative. I'm in there for information. They're the experts in the field. I go along. . . . I got a lot of southerners to vote with me on public housing because I went along with them on agriculture."

Regarding conference: "It was my first conference. I sat there like a bump on a log. I was a duck out of water. I didn't know anything. I wasn't going to say anything, anyway. But it was fascinating to watch two men like [Jamie L.] Whitten [D-MS] and [Senator Richard] Russell [D-GA]. You know your man is going to give, but he won't--not at the first nibble. . . . You have some people in there whom you can't count on. They won't be stand-up guys. You agree to stick to a position, and then you see some guy begin to waver and compromise."

Regarding first year behavior: "The first year, you let things go by. You can't participate. But you learn by watching the others operate. The next year you know what you're interested in, and when to step in. . . . For instance, I've become an expert on the school lunch program. The Chairman said to me, `this is something you ought to be interested in.' I did; and now I'm the expert on the committee. Whatever I say on school lunches, the other members listen to me and do what I want." Then he went on to say that he learns a little more each year--Rural Electrification Administration (REA), meat inspection, Soil Conservation Service. "My father had a poultry market, and I was interested in that, so now I've become the spokesman on meat inspection." Regarding REA: "I didn't know what it was. I thought it was an automobile." Tells how Whitten got him to give a speech to a school lunch group--"Fred, you go, it'll do you a lot more [good]."

How and why on Committee? When he came here, "I had other ambitions"--He had had experience on the labor committee in New York State Legislature. He wanted the Labor Committee, but lost it to a labor lawyer. Then he wanted Foreign Affairs, and lost it to a man with seniority. He was put on Post Office and Civil Service. Henderson L. Lanham (D-GA) was killed in an auto accident, and a vacancy opened up on Appropriations. "I wanted to get on an important committee before it was too late. So I went to the man who handles patronage (sic) matters for our delegation ([Eugene J.] Keogh [D-NY]), and told him I wanted it. And he got it for me." Said he did not speak to House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX). "l was selected out of a field of eight." Why? "I had made a lot of friends, and was known as a nice guy." Among his friends, he specifically mentioned Southern Democrats; though he also mentioned that he had been active in the civil rights fight--maybe he had shown a willingness to compromise there--He appears as a very political and pliable fellow.

Regarding his problem on public housing: He voted for the Thomas amendment (Albert Thomas, D-TX) on a teller vote and switched on the roll call and voted against it. He wanted it: 1) "Because I'm on the Appropriations Committee for selfish reasons. I've got people who want to build apartments. If I'm on the Committee, they have to come to me. Now they can thumb their noses at me. That's a selfish reason." 2) Because of the need for some overall control. He switched his vote because the New York Post got after him after the teller vote, and said they hoped he would reconsider, and posed him as an enemy of public housing. "It was a cowardly vote, but it was a practical one--the bill was going to pass anyway."

Regarding Senate: A congressman looks after his district, and a senator looks after the whole state. Therefore, the senator wants to spend more money.

Regarding Whitten: "The Chairman is a brilliant interrogator." He is impressed with Whitten, Fred Marshall (D-MN), and H. Carl Andersen (R-MN).

The powdered milk and poultry for the school lunch program come from Minnesota, so Marshall and Andersen are interested in it--He says he's going to look around in New York to see if there are any poultry or powdered milk people interested so he can bring a little business to New York.

A lot of pressure to go along in subcommittee--no party votes.

When I talked with him, he had just lost an amendment to the defense appropriations bill saying that money couldn't be used to contract with companies where Army, Navy, or Air Force people were hired less than five years after discharge--anti-munitions lobby--the vote lost by one on a teller vote--He had no idea that would happen, that it would be so close--George H. Mahon (D-TX), the subcommittee chairman, said to him that he hadn't wanted to oppose it, but he had to--Santangelo said he was glad it didn't pass. "It would have embarrassed the Committee. But next year if they don't do something, I'll introduce it again." The point he was making was that a member of the Appropriations Committee will be recognized before anyone else in appropriations floor debate, and this enabled him to get the publicity spotlight on this thing--"I used a parliamentary gimmick"--subsequently an investigation took place.