For the Record: Author Rob Zaleski on his book, "Ed Garvey Unvarnished, Lessons From a Visionary"

Video Credit: WISC
Published on September 15, 2019 -

For the Record: Author Rob Zaleski on his book, "Ed Garvey Unvarnished, Lessons From a Visionary"

A discussion with longtime journalist Rob Zaleski on his new book about Wisconsin native Ed Garvey.

Zaleski reveals some fascinating insights into Garvey's professional life as well as his family life.


For the Record: Author Rob Zaleski on his book, "Ed Garvey Unvarnished, Lessons From a Visionary"

>> we now present "for the record" with neil heinen.

>> neil: a new book on the life of ed harvey and why it's important.

That's next on "for the record.

" i'm neil heinen.

Edgarvey was one of a kind as anyone who met him would attest.

He was wicked smart and wicked funny, a passionate progressive for whom values meant more than victory and whom family meant many more.

He had a national reputation, but was wisconsin to ther could -- core.

Rob zaleski is a former journalist who wrote for the cap times for 26 years.

He respected garvey and garvey respected him.

Before garvey died, zaleski did a series of interviews which he turned into a terrific book "edgarvey unvarnished: lessons from a vision airy progressive."

I welcome to to for the record, rob zaleski.

>> rob zaleski: thank you.

>> neil: talk about your relationship with ed and how the interviews came about.

>> rob zaleski: well it actually dates back to the early 1970s when i note in the preface to the book i would say reckless, young sports editor up in green bay.

Ed was the reckless executive directors brash young.

I think he was 31 executive director of the nfl players association.

He was referred to, i believe, by "time" magazine or some publication at that time as the most despised man in america.

>> neil: yep.

>> rob zaleski: so the union was desperate for coverage.

The media was overwhelmingly anti-union, as was much of the fan base.

And ed was looking for an outlet for their stories.

Nobody wanted to print them.

Ed would later say that -- and he said it many times -- in the union's early rocky days there were only two pro-media voices at that time.

One was the new york times, not the newspaper but the columnist red smith, the legendary columnist and the green bay daily news.

So we were a new newspaper started by striking printers at the press, and we had a circulation of about 12,000 compared to the press gazette's 48,000.

So we knew we had to find our niche if we were going to survive.

Lo and behold, the nfl union was about to strike in 1974, and edgarvey himself would call us from washington, d.c.

-- ed garvey himself would call us from washington, d.c.

And leak these stories to us.

Nobody knew it.

In fact years later nobody knew it.

We had four or five stories the ap and upi picked up.

At one point bill dwire the sports editor of the milwaukee journal said how in the hell are you guys getting these stories?

Nobody knew it was edgarvey -- ed garvey who had contacted us.

He mainly contracted john finkler whos my assistant who went on to work the athletic department but that's how my wrip that started.

We weren't friends as i point out in the preface of the book.

I never socialized with people i wrote about, but we did form a relationship of sorts.

I think a mutual respect.

So that's how it came about.

>> neil: and then -- but these specific interviews, what led to that?

>> rob zaleski: well i'll tell you, that was a culmination of events as well.

In 2008, as you may remember, i and a number of others at the cap times were downsized out of our jobs.

Ed called me out of the blue to express his sympathies.

At the time, that really meant a lot to me.

I thought that was really cool.

So we stayed in touch, and then after walk won in 2010 and fine gold was defeated by johnson -- feingold -- i was demoralized.

I admit it.

I was driving through the uw arboretum and i heard ed being interviewed on public radio.

A lightbulb flashed in my head.

I pulled aside and listened to him a while longer, and thought wow!

I wonder if he would be willing to sit down and talk about this in depth.

Maybe we could do a book on it.

I had no idea how receptive he would be to it.

But lo and behold, he was eager to do it.

I think the thing amost impressed me about ed was -- and anyone who knows him, you probably have the same feeling -- is he's very accessible.

He doesn't look down on anyone.

He had an ego!

But he was just very accessible, very genuine, not at all phony.

>> neil: but a difficult life to capture in one book, and i think you did a really, really good job.

People know him from a lot of different entry points, but i don't know how many people know he was born in burlington.

He grew up in burlington.

How did that influence the ed ed garvey that you got to know?

>> rob zaleski: well he had this sense of outrage from when he was young.

Kathleen, his daughter mentioned this to me, that she had heard the stories and pam, the other daughter, apparently felt the same way.

He just -- he was outraged by the attitude towards blacks and other minorities in burlington, which was not any different and really most cities at that time, rural cities.

I don't know.

It just caught hold at a young age.

It bothered him that he told me that he would drive with his dad through the rural areas and he never, ever saw blacks anywhere except for blacks sitting along the railroad trestle fishing.

He would hear derogatory statements about blacks and other minorities and from early age for whatever reason.

I have a sister, leanne, who was very much the same way.

I grew up in the bay view area in milwaukee.

To this day i don't know what triggered it, leanne was a rebel fighting against discrimination at a young age.

I don't know if there is a simple explanation for it.

It's just who he was.

He was edvey.

>> neil: he was also deeply influenced by the 60s which a lot of people of his age were, but in ways that might have preaged his interest in politics and environment.

When we come back we're going to talk to rob zaleski about that aspect of ed garvey's life right after this.

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-- >> i'm back with rob zaleski who has written a terrific new book called "ed garvey unvarnished: lessons from a visionary progressive."

Rob, the ed garvey a lot of people know from his political life, from his run for u.s. senate, his run for governor, and just his political activism over the years seems to have gotten its roots like for a lot of people in the 60s.

In his relationship with bobby kennedy, his relationship with dr. reverend martin luther king.

But in your conversations with him, how does he describe that time and his influence?

>> rob zaleski: well ify if there's one moment that changed everything for ed garvey was when he was president of the national student association.

He was going to school at uw and he went to attend a conference down in jackson, mississippi i think in 1960 or '61.

And he arrives at airport and he gets in a cab and he asks the cab driver to take him to this conference, and the cab driver looked at him and frowned and said, you mean the conference where and he tossed out the "n" word.

Where the "n" word people are supporters?

And garvey said, no.

I'm going to the nsa conference.

He said yeah, the "n" word supporters.

And garvey said just never mind.

Just take me.

And garvey took him and he was seething the whole time.

When he got out of the car he told me and -- i gave him a nip of tip and i proceeded to the conference, but as he was telling that story, the anger was still there.

It was fresh.

And i think that moment, that really transformed him forever.

He had heard about how racist mississippi was and the south, but i don't think he ever realized what it was like, you know, for anyone who went down there during that period until he experienced it and that changed him.

>> neil: he was prepared to work for bobby pretty aggressively here in wisconsin when bobby was killed.

>> rob zaleski: yeah.

He was -- bobby actually asked him to work for his campaign, the kennedy campaign in 1960, but then later to work for bobby.

He wanted ed to drop out of school, and ed said that was not a possibility.

His parents would have killed him.

But he definitely was in awe of bobby kennedy.

>> neil: how much did ed regret not winning office?

Did he regret running for senate and losing to caston?

And running for governor and losing to thompson?

>> rob zaleski: he definitely did not regret running against caston.

There's bad blood there.


As i noted in the preface in 1980, i had done a profile of caston, and i called garvey and asked him to describe -- called garvey and asked him to describe caston in one word and he didn't even pause.

He said amoral.

I mean there were bad, bad feelings there.

He was bitter to the very end.

Thompson, no.

He respected tommy, disagreed with him on almost every issue.

Thought he was magnificent politician knew all the angles but no.

There was i think they got along fairly well and respected each other fairly well.

I think he was disappointed that he didn't do better better than he did.

I think it was 0%39.

But no.

That one was just he called it a blip on the screen.

>> neil: how do you even describe ed garvey's politics, rob?

He could be as disappointed, frustrated and angry with democrats as with any republican.

>> rob zaleski: right, no.

He was idealistic.

I think barbara loton told me even boardered on self righteousness -- boardered on self-righteousness sometimes.

He was intensely passionate about the underdogs, the underprivileged.

That colored all his thinking.

And when democrats didn't join him on that he was appalled to the very end.

Absolutely appalled that democrats had started tapping from the same financial trough as republicans.

>> neil: you could see that idealism, that passion about civil rights, but his ability to transfer that to the environment.

That's not an easy transfer for a lot of people and through his law firm, but i think also through his personal beliefs.

He was involved in some of the most -- some of the most important environmental conversations in this state in the last 20 years.

>> rob zaleski: yeah, and i think the great influence there was a goodlord nelson.

That was his hero.

He just thought gaylord was the greatest politician of all time perhaps outside of -- and that was the influence.

I was surprised.

There's a section in the book about overpopulation.

Not too many people talk about that anymore.

It was gaylord's crusade for the last decade of his lifed i was really surprised that ed shared gaylord's concerns about overpopulation and his anger that nobody will talk about the issue because it's too explosive.

So yeah, gaylord was a huge influence.

>> neil: now the perrier water story and the crandon mine exxon story were the two big stories.

But even after those two issues, ed was able to have a perspective of the environment that it was really broad.

I think broader than a lot of people have, and that just engaged him really throughout the rest of his life.

>> rob zaleski: he was very puzzled as i am, i have to admit by the fact that we went from the 60s and 70s.

We had a republican governor warren molos who was staunch environmentalist.

Fred risser told me this story of how in the 50s and 60s about 50% of all legislators were environmentalists.

Considered themselves such.

How can you be against clean air and clone water?

This baffled ed.

He could not -- clean water.

This baffled ed.

He could not understand it at all it.

Used to be a huge issue.

Wisconsin was the second state in the country to ban ddt, which led to the eventual -- then there was a national ban and that led to the eventual recovery of the bald eagle to be taken off the endangered species list.

So that one doesn't make sense to me.

It did not make sense to ed at all.

How can people be against clean air and clean water?

How could that not be one of your top priorityies?


>> neil: when we come back i just want to talk a little bit about the the few years of ed's life about his family, his parkinson's, and act ten which were all elements of that.

We'll do that with rob zaleski right after this.

[ ???

] >> neil: i'm back with rob zaleski, former journalist with the cap times.

Now a writer, columnist, and he's written a book "ed garvey unvarnished the.

Lessons from a visionary progressive."

I always hate to tumble this right away but would amazon be a good place to get this book?

>> rob zaleski: it would.

Barnes & noble.

>> neil: barnes & noble has got it.

>> rob zaleski: mystery to me.

>> neil: mystery to me has got it.

It's really a great read, and in the last ten years of ed's life, rob, he continued to be so active politically.

He was doing fighting bob fest and still speaking out, but he also was dealing with parkinson's.

And just that element of his life when you think back on his youngest daughter lizzie who had some pretty profound autism.

He and betty incorporated that into their lives.

They were very engaged with the wasteman center and all that work.

But as you talked to ed, what did you see ins of that influence on ed's life?

>> rob zaleski: you know it was fascinating for me to watch ed talk about lindsey because the mere mention of his name caused his eyes to twinkle.

He was absolutely crazy about her.

There was no doubt about it.

He was actually -- i thought he might be reluctant to talk about her in the beginning.

No, not at all.

He was eager.

He wanted to share his great love for her and her great love for him and the whole family came around lizzie's situation and they all adored her.

Worshipped the ground that she stood on.

It was -- it was something i really enjoyed it.

I would say of all the interview sessions i had, that was one that really hit me profoundly.

Ed just thought the world of her.

I loved when he told the stories about how he went golfinged he took her in his cart at blackhawk country club.

And yeah, it was just -- it really was a very sincere and intense love affair.

>> neil: which your conversation about his parkinson's separate from that?

>> rob zaleski: it was.

That was a separate session altogether.

And again, i thought he might be reluctant to get into the details.

Not at all.

He was confused to the end why that would happen to him.

Trying to figure out what he had done wrong, but you know, we mentioned right around the time that i did the interview, the interviews with him the new york times had published a story about all the chemicals that are in our society that have never tested and a lot of environmentalists -- a lot of scientists think that the chemicals might be the smoking gun, so to speak for autism, parkinson's, cancers, you know, that have just mushroomed in our society over the last 30, 40 years.

>> neil: even talked about his dad who smoked two packs a day for all those years and died at 80 probably fromally indications from the smoking, however, today two packs a day you'd think is would have been much earlier and do chemicals play a role in that?

Other chemicals.

>> rob zaleski: and that story still cracks me up that the garvey wit where his dad told him at 82 or something that he was stopping smoking and ed said dad, i got some news for you.

It might be a little bit late.

>> neil: you actually start the book with this, rob, but walker's election in act ten.

That's the ed garvey a lot of people know, who is looking at that part in our history and just was so angry i guess.

>> rob zaleski: and maybe that's where we struck a chord.

I was angry.

It didn't make sense to me.

I didn't think barrett was the greatest candidate, but it really caught me by surprise.

The one that real you got me was feingold's defeat by over 100,000 bullets.

That really did not make sense -- votes.

To a mysterious coy tea party candidate who didn't offer that much on the campaign trail in my opinion, so we hit it off right from the beginning.

That first day when i went to his house in sharwood hills, ed was waiting for me with a cup of coffee at the front door and we went right to his study.

He closed the door and we were off and running.

>> neil: you know what i was struck by though rob, a lot of people might have expected ed to say this is why fengold lost and this is why walker won.

A lot of times i say he was angry but in a way he was also somewhat resigned.

You kind of understood the trends here and why we are where we are today.

>> rob zaleski: well he had been warning about them for years and he felt that nobody was listening especially the influence of special interest money.

He had been warning the democratic part by this.

You know, you're turning into the same party as the republicans and then when this happened it was like guys, i've been telling you this.

So he definitely was angry, but he was also not that shocked.

>> neil: yep.

We've only got 45 seconds left, so i'm just going to invite people to get the book, to read the cia story which is so interesting.

And then half a dozen or so really interesting interviews at the end of the book about people who knew ed.

Certainly, dave zweefel, barbara lawton, mark murphy and pat richter.

It's really a great book.


>> rob zaleski: thanks.

I appreciate it.

>> neil: we're going to come back and wrap up "for the record" right after this.

[ ???

] >> neil: my thanks to rob zaleski.

Thank you for joining us.

We'll see you next week on "for the record."

[ ???

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