Rare View

Insight from the one who knew the PBA president like nobody else

By Mitchell Krugel

Traveling the state, the country and even parts of the world alongside Pat Colligan gave Marc Kovar a perspective of the past decade nobody else knew. And enabled him to see so much nobody else will ever know.

Of course, nobody knew better about the secrets of Pat’s leadership than his executive vice president for eight-plus years. Opening the vault takes Marc back to July 1, 2014, the first day of their historic run.

“I don’t want to write it was scary as hell, but it was scary as hell at first, because we didn’t know where the hell to start.” Marc divulges. “We made up a lot as we went along and just got lucky.”

An illustration of how that worked came two weeks after that first day on the job. Pat presided over his first state meeting on July 15. An hour before that, he held his first executive board meeting. An hour after the state meeting, Pat and Marc held a luncheon for county conference chairs.

The PBA had never really done business this way.

“The first meeting, he got on that microphone, and he just knocked it out of the ballpark,” Marc recalls. “I think half of the room was probably saying, ‘What the hell’s going to happen here?’ And they walked out of that meeting feeling a lot better, a lot more confident in the new PBA president.”

Only now is it fitting for Marc to reveal how Pat became one of the best public safety union president New Jersey has ever known, maybe even the best union president period. Marc’s determination supplemented Pat’s charisma, creating a blend of stick-toitiveness that led to monumental achievements for the PBA and unprecedented triumphs for many individual members.

Marc can confirm that there were plans and missions that they still can’t believe they actually pulled off.

“Sometimes, we’d walk out of a meeting and be like, ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe they went for it,’” adds Kovar. “I believed in Pat. Sometimes, he’d say something I thought was a little, well, it’s not going to work. It is a little crazy. And sure enough, a month or two later, we got the bill passed, we won the grievance or we got a guy back on the job.”

PBA members knew Pat as a prominent, professional, eloquent voice. And Marc was always his voice of reason. So Marc learned so much about what made Pat an impact player.

Inside the patrol car of their leadership, they were a dynamic duo. Great detectives, which Marc notes greatly benefited members.

“He went to some kind of school to study facial expressions when he was in homicide,” Marc continues. “And he was so good at that. Like you said, a great detective. A lot of times, we’re in meetings and he would say to me, ‘Oh, that one’s lying.’ Sure enough, almost every time he said someone was lying, we’d find out they were lying.”

Marc defaults to the path Pat followed almost from day one as PBA president. Because of the way Governor Christie duped the PBA and then passed Chapter 78, which screwed with every member’s health insurance, previous President Tony Wieners and Executive Vice President Keith Dunn closed the checkbook on supporting any elected officials.

So with no hefty relationships with the state legislature to inherit, Pat and Marc set out on that famed journey to crisscross New Jersey, meeting with every General Assembly member and state senator. On the way, they stopped to meet with as many PBA Locals as they could work into the schedule.

“It was, ‘What’s the next move? Where are we going next? Who are we talking to? What county are we going to? What politician do we need to speak to?’” Marc remembers. “Because you can’t go to Trenton and call a politician and tell them, ‘We don’t want this bill passed. We want this bill passed’ without a relationship. And it worked. There were plenty of times where a bill was stopped or a bill was introduced because of the PBA’s relationships.”

Marc also extolls how the road included Pat’s idea to build a close alliance with the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police.

“So if a member got jammed up and it was a little witch hunt, it was a lot easier to go to the chief that you know and say, ‘Chief, come on, this guy, he deserves 10 days instead of getting fired,’” Marc explains. “And sure enough, it worked a lot of times.”

For all the scary and crazy times, the pinnacle unquestionably came with getting Chapter 55 passed to make the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) independent of state control. All the groundwork certainly led to this moment the day it was being voted on in the General Assembly and Senate before getting it to Governor Murphy.

Senate President Steve Sweeney found Pat and Marc beforehand in the chamber, came up to them and whispered, “Don’t worry. We have the votes.” Had it not been for Chapter 55, Marc said, there would be no more pension.

“If we had not taken control of the pension, we’d be in a 401(k) right now,” he proclaims. “Chapter 55 is going to save cops forever. People thought we were crazy. And if it wasn’t for Pat, that would not have been done.”

Congrats about how they knocked it out of the park from that first meeting, the uncanny instincts to make all the right moves and how they set out a direction and stuck with it form Marc’s lasting perspective of Pat. And there was one more view he had.

“Pat was just a natural. Just a born leader. A true, true leader,” Marc accentuates. “It was the best thing that Tony Wieners did for the organization by appointing him as president.”