NJ Sierra Club head Jeff Tittel, longtime lobber of 'rhetorical hand grenades,' set to retire
Anyone who has paid even a little bit of attention to New Jersey politics may recognize the name Jeff Tittel.
Tittel is the head of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club and has been known as a “one-man quote machine.” And as he prepares to retire, News 12’s Brian Donohue sat down with him to discuss some of his most memorable zingers.
“I’ve had people from international say, ‘How can you say that?’ I say, ‘Well it’s New Jersey. You’ve got to say it in a way that they’re going to hear it.’ If you say it nice, no one’s going to pay attention,” Tittel says.
Tittel has been the head of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club for more than 20 years and his efforts have often enraged the state’s politicians, made newspaper readers spit out their morning coffee and won policy battles.
One of his crowning achievements is the 2004 legislation to protect the Highlands region from development.
“I really believe, like when I testify in Trenton, if I go longer than three minutes, I’ve lost,” he says.
There is nobody better at taking complicated issues and boiling it down to a snappy phrase or what the New York Times called in 2005 “rhetorical hand grenades.”
One memorable “Tittel-ism” is when he referred to the ARC Tunnel as “the tunnel to Macy’s basement.” The ARC Tunnel was to be a rail tunnel built under the Hudson River in the 2000s.
Tittel and others thought that the tunnel was poorly designed because it dead-ended at 33rd Street in Manhattan instead of connecting to northbound Amtrak routes.
Then-Gov. Chris Christie canceled the tunnel after adopting Tittel’s moniker as his own.
“It’s a complicated transportation story, but I think I was able to sum it up by saying it was the train to Macy’s basement and it wasn’t going to do what it was supposed to do,” Tittel says.
Then there was “Viagra Falls,” which was Tittel’s way of saying what the Paterson Great Falls would turn into due to pharmaceuticals contaminating the water supply.
“It’s a lot simpler to say that than to say there are microparticles of medicine in drinking water,” he says.
And there was “Pay to Pave,” which was Tittel's phrase for a system in which road contractors contribute to politicians’ campaigns and are then hired for road projects even if they are harmful or unnecessary.
“I think the ones I like most actually moved or got something done, instead of just being cute,” he says.
Tittel says that now that he doesn’t have to hew to the rules of a national organization like Seirra Club, he can be freer to speak his mind. He officially retires on Friday.