An article yesterday incorrectly reported that former labor secretary Raymond J. Donovan graduated from the University of Notre Dame. He graduated from Notre Dame Seminary in Louisiana.
A few years ago, Raymond J. Donovan dismissed the charges of criminal activities and associations that have dogged him from the start of his nearly 50 months as secretary of labor as a "nuisance" and "throwing spitballs at a battleship."
But yesterday those charges did in fact sink Donovan when a judge's order that he stand trial on criminal charges of grand larceny and fraud prompted him to resign after more than four years of stubborn determination to stick it out.
His tenure as labor secretary was the longest for a Republican since James P. Mitchell in the Eisenhower administration, but it was one of frustration for a man who had enjoyed a spectacular career as a construction company executive and GOP fund-raiser.
When he joined the Schiavone Construction Co. of Secaucus, N.J., in 1959, the firm had assets of less than $20,000. When he left as executive vice president in 1981, its contracts exceeded $600 million and Donovan was one of the wealthiest Cabinet members.
When Ronald Reagan, at the beginning of his 1980 presidential campaign, asked Donovan to raise $10,000, Donovan responded by raising $600,000, nearly a third of it in one night when he persuaded Frank Sinatra to appear at a fund-raiser at a country club owned by the Schiavone firm.
Reagan's 1980 general election campaign got off to a spectacular start with a brilliant stroke arranged by Donovan, a Labor Day rally in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. With the Statue of Liberty in the background, Reagan was joined on the speaker's platform by Stanislaw Walesa, stepfather of Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity labor movement in Poland.
Donovan provided Reagan entree to workingmen's taverns as well as the checkbooks of rich Republicans. When Reagan campaigned in one blue-collar bar, Donovan slipped him $100 to "stand a round for the boys."
Reagan liked Donovan's style, but it didn't transfer to Washington.
Labor leaders were cool when told of his nomination, and the relationship went downhill from there. Donovan and Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, wound up not speaking to one another, with Kirkland refusing to use Donovan's name in public, referring to him contemptuously as "Secretary Who?"
Murray Seeger, an AFL-CIO spokesman, said Donovan had the worst relations with organized labor of any modern labor secretary and accused him of cutting back on nearly every labor-supported program and making "antiunion" appointments to key posts.
Charges of illegal payoffs to labor unions by Donovan and his construction firm delayed his Senate confirmation until Feb. 3, 1981, later than that of any other Cabinet officer. Even so, more than two years later a study by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee charged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had neglected to inform the Senate of widespread allegations of connections between Schiavone and La Cosa Nostra picked up via a wiretap of an organized-crime figure.
In December 1981, Donovan asked for a special prosecutor to investigate what he called "false statements, leaks and innuendos" and clear his name. The next June, the special prosecutor, New York attorney Leon Silverman, concluded that there was "insufficient credible evidence" to bring charges against Donovan despite a "disturbing number" of allegations against him.
Donovan jubilantly announced that the matter was "settled once and for all," but a month later Silverman was at it again. In a second report that September, Silverman said that there was insufficient evidence against Donovan and that the investigation was closed.
However, two years later, on Oct. 1, 1984, Donovan and nine other men were named by a New York grand jury in a 137-count indictment, which included a charge that they bilked New York City out of about $8 million in payments to an allegedly crime-controlled construction company that they had falsely represented as a minority-owned firm.
Donovan considered himself a victim of what he termed "the New Jersey syndrome," saying, "If you are in the contracting business in New Jersey, you're indicted."
Reagan consistently voiced his confidence in Donovan but in the 1982 midterm election, the White House political operation kept the secretary out of states that had critical campaigns.
One of Donovan's undisputed triumphs was his settlement of the 1981 major-league baseball strike, which one player-representative said would have been impossible without him. A leader of the Operating Engineers union said Donovan was a "fantastic" negotiator and "one of the smartest men" with whom he had ever dealt.
Friends and critics alike described Donovan as a friendly, sociable, likeable man but naive in the ways of Washington.
"Donovan's policies are defensible; it's the way the department has gone about them that has sometimes been dreadful," one prominent Republican said. "He and many of his top appointees didn't understand the subtle mating dances you have to go through in Washington, so . . . . It looked as though they didn't care."
Donovan, the son of an oil company payroll clerk, was born in Bayonne, N.J., on Aug. 31, 1930, the seventh of 12 children in an intensely Democratic and Roman Catholic family where "the most honored name after the pope was FDR," according to a family friend. A 1952 graduate of University of Notre Dame, Donovan studied for the priesthood but quit to work for an insurance company.
He began gravitating toward conservative Republicans and supported Reagan in 1976 because "I truly believed in the man and his philosophy . . . . He was saying things that appealed to the people I grew up with."
Donovan and his wife, Catherine, have three children.