Saturday, January 31, 2009
The NJ Schmooze Cruise
A rite of passage among the New Jersey political elite for over 70 years, the annual Chamber of Commerce train ride attracts more than 1,000 lawmakers, lobbyists and corporate officials each year to wine and dine with the New Jersey congressional delegation in Washington.
During the four-hour ride, and at a dinner that took place Thursday night in Washington, New Jersey's business community was once again able to gain extraordinary access to the state's political structure, from legislators to county executives to Governor Corzine.
In a break from the past and tradition, 3 GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, Christopher Christie, Steve Lonegan and Rick Merkt, all decided to boycott the chartered 14-car Amtrak ride. Sponsored by business leaders usually friendly to Republicans, the candidates criticized the annual "Walk to Washington" as an exclusive "schmooze cruise" of insiders and lobbyists.
"I call it the tax-and-spend express," gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan told the Star-Ledger. "I went once about 10 years ago and I never went again. This is where all the party insiders, the lobbyists come together. I'm not part of that and I'm running to change it."
Chamber President Joan Verplanck criticized the candidates decision to boycott the event, and attempted to defend the elbow-rubbing session to the Star-Ledger.
"Times have changed dramatically," Verplanck said. "It's less fraternity party and more college mixer."