Seton Hall Basketball, Jersey Politics and The Godfather Movies

I recently watched as my Seton Hall Pirates basketball team faltered in the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament. I cringed as they lost, especially because I picked the Pirates to advance to the Elite Eight. Lesson learned – don’t let emotions affect your decisions. As a double Pirate (undergrad 1986 and law school 1989), I allowed my emotions to dictate the selection process of the all-important Tournament bracket. Needless to say, my bracket is all but done.

How did I get here?

The lesson from The Godfather about not allowing emotions to interfere with business decisions rang in my head.

It got me thinking, in my typical non-sequitur kind of way.

Where would we be in Jersey politics had it not been for this astounding and astonishing movie. This epic movie was based on a novel by Mario Puzo, released on March 10, 1969 and spent 67 weeks on the New York Times best seller list, selling over 9 million copies (one copy for each NJ resident). Puzo was also the screenwriter for all the Godfather movies and transformed himself from a struggling writer, saddled by gambling debt, to one of the most legendary, award-winning writers of our time.

Of Note: Puzo was paid $5,000 upfront for his novel and was turned down by several prominent publishers before G. P. Putnam and Sons took a chance on him.

Many of us in New Jersey use the movie as a “how to” guide on succeeding or failing in politics. I can’t count the number of times I have seen Godfather I and II (let’s all agree that III never happened), but I have seen them enough that not only do I know most of the lessons and dialogue featured in the two Oscar winning movies, but they are irrevocably infused in my political DNA .

Let’s look at some of the more notable lines/moments:

1) Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer: This Niccolo Machiavelli inspired line is the all-time best movie quote and is the guiding principle in our world of politics.

Translation: We keep our good and loyal friends close, but our enemies need to be watched far more closely. A misguided interpretation of this by some is taken to mean that you treat your enemies better than you treat your friends. NOT TRUE, but as found in our Jersey Political Rules – there are always exceptions.

2) Confidence is silent. Insecurities are loud: As Johnny Fontane cried about his stalled career and failed marriage, Vito became disgusted at his demeanor and tutored him on how to “be a man,” we come to appreciate this pearl.

Translation: You don’t need to speak loudly. Be confident without being cocky – a fine line. Political leaders, much like wolves smell weakness and fear. Know your subject matter and have

command of your speech and mannerisms. Uncertainty with colleagues or shakiness on the legislative floor show the world you are not ready for prime time

3) Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.

Translation: Hate is a wasted emotion. I learned many, many years ago, in politics and sometimes in life, the opposite of love isn’t hate – it is indifference. Don’t waste time hating – dispatch the enemy, make an accommodation or just move on.

4) Revenge is a dish best served cold. I could write a Puzo like novel on this one.

Translation: I have seen some in the ruling political class wait and wait for months or years before they exact revenge for a slight or mistake made by a novice, rube or enemy. The key is they can’t see it coming and don’t ever let on that they are getting to you — but find comfort in the fact that their day is will come

5) Never let anyone outside the family know what you are thinking. Sonny’s impulsive questioning of Sollozzo about profit margins with drugs showed his interest and it spoke volumes in contrast to his father’s adamant refusal to engage in this forbidden market. This single exchange of allowing outsiders to know what you are thinking led directly to the assassination attempt on the Don.

Translation: Don’t speak openly to outsiders of thoughts or concerns unless it is done with pure calculation. Body language and words allow a seasoned professional to pick apart your vulnerabilities.

6) You cannot say ‘no’ to the people you love – not often. This is a key secret. And when you do say ‘no’, it has to sound like a ‘yes.’ Or you have to make them say NO. Michael Corleone had the difficult task of telling Tom Hagen that he was being relieved of his duties as consigliere to the family. Vito counseled his protege by saying the above line.

Translation: In politics and life, people in leadership positions make hard decisions, and inevitably we disappoint friends and supporters. You need to take the time to explain the rationale or purpose of an uncomfortable outcome. If you have not yet reached the point where you are giving the ‘no,’ but are on the receiving end, just remember that one day you might be on the other side of the table and will want, and expect, your future you to be reasonable and understanding.

Related/unrelated: Don’t constantly over promise and under deliver. This annoying habit will define your politics quickly and lead to a thinning of your herd.

Emotions and feelings are a good thing – you should just reserve them for family; because in this business of ours, emotions will lead to you being alone at a toll booth plaza.

PS: Seton Hall had a great season and the future is bright for their basketball program.

Fun Facts about The Godfather Movies:

Francis Ford Coppola was not first choice to serve as director – Paramount approached Sergio Leone and 12 others before settling on Coppola.

Coppola was paid $125,000 up front and given 6% of the gross receipts.

Paramount didn’t want Marlon Brando because of his reputation. They first sought out Orson Wells, George C. Scott, Ernest Borgnine, Laurence Olivier and others.

The role of Michael Corleone was initially thought of being cast by Warren Beatty, Robert Redford and Ryan O’Neal before Al Pacino was cast.

Paramount made Brando post a bond that he would forfeit if his behavior caused delays on set.

A real horse head was used in the infamous bedroom scene. The head was retrieved from a local dog food factory and had to be iced periodically on set.

Ford Coppola was given complete control over Godfather II and a budget of $13 million, unlike the short leash and measly $2.5 million budget for the iconic original.

Robert DeNiro screen tested for the roles of Michael, Sonny, Carlos and Paulie – coming up short for all of them. His strong screen test was remembered when time came to cast the young Vito in the Godfather II.

Clemenza was written out of the sequel when the bit actor asked for total control of the character. Ford balked and it paved the way for arrival of Frank Pentangeli.

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  • 1Prop

    Excellent article, Kevin! However, when it comes to revenge, I always preferred to be like a sniper – they never knew it was me. It is a pleasure to read your insights, rather than Alan Steinberg’s whining.

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