Chamber limits speakers at annual D.C. dinner

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce will limit the speakers at its annual Washington D.C. dinner to just Gov. Chris Christie, a move that does not sit well with some members of the federal delegation.

According to chamber President Tom Bracken, the move is in response to a survey of members who said they’d like to see the dinner shortened to allow more time for networking.

“In response to feedback from guests who attended recent Congressional Dinners, there will be a streamlined program at this year’s dinner that features Gov. Christie as the lone featured speaker,” Bracken said in a statement. “That will mean less speeches and more time for networking. Our guests will have additional time to take part in one-on-one dialogue with members of our Congressional Delegation, state legislators and key members of Gov. Christie’s cabinet – as well as mingle with hundreds of New Jersey’s CEOs, small business leaders, college presidents, nonprofit agency executives and entrepreneurs.”

The trip is scheduled this year for Jan. 26 and is an annual rite for New Jersey’s political and business sets. In the past the dinner has featured speeches from the governor as well as both of the state’s sitting U.S. senators and the dean of the House delegation, most recently U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, (R-4).

It is followed by a networking desert as well as private parties and gatherings.

Two years ago, Christie slammed the train trip, refusing to go and issuing an edict that his staffers were not to attend.  Chhristie also did not attend the trip during hsi 2009 run for governor.  The fact that he will not be the only speaker was an irony not lost on some.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg is not a fan of the chamber’s decision, citing the dinner’s stated purpose of giving members a chance to mingle with the state’s federal delegation.

“What’s the point of a trip to Washington if the members don’t hear from their leaders in Washington?  It might as well just be a train ride to Trenton,” said Lautenberg spokesman Caley Gray.

At least one other delegation member spoken to had a similar gripe, saying Christie had co-opted the dinner for his own purposes. 

But Smith had a different take, saying the trip is about having time to network, not allowing politicians to “speechify.”

“It is presumptuous of any politician to demand to be a speaker at any organization’s event,” Smith said in an email. “This is the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s dinner and they and their members get to call the shots. Frankly, I’ve heard for more than three decades that people leave before or during the dinner because the program goes on for too long.  The night is more about networking and private conversations about the issues rather than speechifying.”

Chamber limits speakers at annual D.C. dinner