Can Bill Gormley’s night become New Jersey’s version of the Al Smith Dinner?

More than 1,000 people were in Atlantic City last night to pay tribute to Bill Gormley, the powerful former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman who spent nearly thirty years in the Legislature before his retirement last February. The event, which raised money for the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, featured remarks from Governor Jon Corzine, former Governor Brendan Byrne, Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, and U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.

Curtis Bashaw, who was the master of ceremonies for the dinner, seemed to have captured the essence of Gormley in his question to the audience: Who was Bill Gormley’s best friend in Trenton? Whomever the Governor was at the time.

Byrne was, as always, entertaining – he said that as Governor, he was blamed for increasing crime in Atlantic City by building casinos. Of course, he said, before casinos, there was nothing worth stealing. Byrne said that he and Gormley always got along, but that they disagreed on the Pinelands legislation; on the way down the Garden State Parkway, Byrne said he noticed that the pine trees were no longer shaking – and attributed that to Gormley’s departure from the Senate.

Byrne also said that he’s often confused for other ex-Governors, noting that a child recently told him that it’s important to wear a seatbelt.

Christie poked fun of the controversy concerning his award of a $30 million no-bid federal monitor to his ex-boss, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. He asked the lawyers in the room to raise their hands, and told them that the line for federal monitor contracts forms to the right.

Corzine painted Gormley as a great horse trader, and said – perhaps sarcastically – that New Jersey can thank the former Atlantic County Senator for monetization.

Gormley took the night in stride, telling a few stories, suggesting that had he stayed, Atlantic City would have had two new tunnels this year, and ribbing a few friends.

For example, Gormley told of his meeting with a constituent, who asked him if he was the guy who raised the income tax, raised the sales tax, and voted to confirm a liberal Democrat as the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Gormey said he replied: “Yes, that was me. And I was happy to help Governor Kean.”

Can Bill Gormley’s night become New Jersey’s version of the  Al Smith Dinner?