Donovan: tough man 'neath a mild manner

As executive vice-president of the Schiavone Construction Company, a bridge and tunnel construction firm in Secaucus, N.J., Raymond J. Donovan used to walk through the eerie, dimly lit subway tunnel his company is cutting on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He liked to see the construction progress first- hand and offer encouragement to some of the harried workers rather than sitting in his imposing office or worrying about getting his conservative business clothes dirty.

As one of 12 children, then as the No. 2 man at Schiavone with its 1,500 workers, and most recently as the man who coordinated 1,500 staff and volunteers for Ronald Reagan's New Jersey presidential campaign, the President- elect's choice for secretary of labor has fine-tuned his skill of knowing how to get along with people while still often getting his own way in the process, associates and friends say.

"He's got a mild manner and will not step on toes unnecessarily, but he is tough underneath," says Charles Hardwick, a New Jersey state assemblyman who worked in the Reagan campaign under Donovan. Mr. Hardwick was especially impressed with Donovan's ability to encourage campaign workers by both his own example and by going out of his way to praise their efforts.

Married and the father of three children, the athletic and trim Donovan finds relaxation in jogging, racketball, and occasional antique hunting.

Despite his easygoing manner, the labor relations specialist is known as a man of indomitable will, though not outstanding intellect.

Many in the business community were privately shocked at Donovan's nomination , considering that Schiavone is a "small fish" in the stream of US business. Insiders say his nomination was a classic case of paying a large political debt. His loyalty to Reagan has been strong: Back in 1976, when Reagan's presidential bid sputtered toward failure, Donovan remained firmly behind him. And in 1980 he was back to give Reagan a big boost toward winning the New Jersey primary and , eventually, the nomination.

While Schiavone reportedly has been investigated for charges of paying kickbacks to political officials in northern New Jersey, no indictments have been handed down against anyone in that firm. Donovan has never been linked with any wrongdoing himself.

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