In Memory of
January 3, 2018
Alan Sagner, Who Revitalized the Port Authority, Dies at
Alan Sagner, a prodigious fund-raiser for liberal
candidates and causes who served as chairman of the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey and of the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting, died on Wednesday
at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 97.
The cause was cardiac amyloidosis, his daughter Deborah
After serving as the finance chairman for Brendan T.
Byrne’s successful 1973 campaign for New Jersey
governor, Mr. Sagner was appointed state transportation
commissioner by Mr. Byrne, who died the day after Mr.
A Democrat and a homebuilder by profession, Mr. Sagner
headed the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the
mid-1990s. He was the unsalaried chairman of the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey from 1977 to 1985.
“Alan was one of the strong, fair public servants of our
time,” said Peter C. Goldmark Jr., who was the Port
Authority’s executive director during Mr. Sagner’s
tenure, when it was transformed from a sluggish agency
into an energetic vehicle for regional economic
“He worked on the political side of the street in other
parts of his life,” Mr. Goldmark said, “but I only saw
him in public service — and he was superb: generous,
fair, farseeing and, thank God, with a sense of humor.”
In addition to his government posts, Mr. Sagner was a
founder, in 1960, of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee,
which favored self-determination for that country until
the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and Fidel Castro’s
public embrace of socialism. And he was an investor in
The Nation magazine, when Victor Navasky was installed
as its editor in 1977.
Mr. Sagner was a board member of Business Executives for
National Security, a nonpartisan group that seeks to
moderate government spending without jeopardizing
economic or military security, and an early supporter of
J Street, the liberal Washington-based lobbying group
formed in 2007 that supports a two-state solution to the
Alan Louis Sagner, a grandson of immigrants from Eastern
Europe, was born on Sept. 13, 1920, in Baltimore to
Samuel Sagner, a men’s clothing manufacturer, and the
former Mary Rappoport.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of
Maryland and a master’s from Columbia. He sought to
enlist during World War II, but was rejected because he
His wife, the former Ruth Levin, died in 1995. In
addition to their daughter Deborah, he is survived by
another daughter, Amy Pouliot; a son, John; eight
grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. He had a
brief later marriage.
Mr. Sagner left the family garment business early on to
become a homebuilder with Martin Levin, his
brother-in-law. He was drawn into politics in 1960 by
Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, who waged an
unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential
nomination that year.
At the Port Authority, where he succeeded William J.
Ronan, he pressed for expansion of PATH rail service and
other mass transit improvements, lost a court challenge
to letting the supersonic Concorde land at Kennedy
Airport, and supported the modernization of outmoded
In 1984, he and the Port Authority were honored by the
Broadway Association for improving conditions in Times
Square, near the authority’s bus terminal.
“You have a special problem,” the Rev. Robert G.
Rappleyea of Holy Cross Church on West 42nd Street said
in his invocation at the ceremony: “The Holland Tunnel,
the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge. In
fact, you have so many problems you really need Moses.”
Mr. Sagner, who was Jewish, replied in kind. “If you
could bring Moses back and divide the waters of the
Hudson so those traveling could travel dry-shod,” he
said, “I might change my religion.”
Alan Sagner interview
5.16.2006 (Center on the American Governor)