CHAMBER TRAIN — For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s “Walk to Washington”, the annual must-attend networking event for Garden State politicos, there are a few prominent power players who choose to forgo the raucous festivities each year.
This year was no different — if not more surprising for its lack of some of the state’s headier faces. From 2015 electoral politics, to legislation in Trenton, to the slow receding of Chris Christie as a politically relevant force for Republicans in the state, officials this year had a whole host of reasons to attend — or avoid — D.C. this weekend.
With that in mind, here’s a few notable players who didn’t partake in the Chamber’s 78th annual event. (Editor’s note: the list is by no means exhaustive.)
1. For veteran event-goers, arguably the starkest contrast between this year Walk and those of previous years was the absence of one of its biggest fans, former Gov. Brendan Byrne. Byrne, a regular on the Chamber Train to and from the capitol, missed what would’ve been his 52nd straight year this year. He was there in spirit, however: Byrnes’ name was frequently on the tongues of those in attendance, including during the Chamber’s Thursday night dinner, when Republican Gov. Chris Christie paid homage to the revered Democrat.
2. One of the more obvious narratives threading this year’s Walk was the presence of those quietly competing Democratic figures clamoring to succeed Christie in the statehouse. The core of that group included Phil Murphy, a former Ambassador to Germany and chairman of the new middle class nonprofit New Start New Jersey; Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who’s already solidified support from much of his home Hudson County; Senate President Steve Sweeney, long considered a frontrunner for the post; and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), one of Christie’s most vocal critics.
Which all makes state Sen. Ray Lesniak’s (D-20) absence this year more pronounced. Though not as active in his gubernatorial ambition, Lesniak is the only one who’s made (well, technically, whose friends have made) concrete steps toward launching a statewide campaign with the formation of a political action committee in his name. The ranking state senator had very specific reasons for not attending, as he pointed out via Facebook.
3. Refer to number two for this one. Another name whispered in potential 2017 gubernatorial candidate discussions is former governor and state Sen. Dick Codey (D-27), who was no where to be seen on the trip this year. Codey is routinely trumpeted by his allies in his home Essex County as a most viable candidate for the executive post, and he himself has not closed the door on a run.
4. Like the Democrats, there’s also a shortlist of GOP leaders on the Republican side quietly mulling gubernatorial bids this year. That list includes Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), who was here — in high spirits — this weekend. But it also includes Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who was not — presumably because she had to hold down the fort back home while Christie stumped at dinner.
5. Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16), who some also say could jump into the Republican-for-governor ring in the near future, skipped this year’s Walk to grace an Atlantic County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner, where he offered his own tribute to the icon. Republicans in general seemed largely indifferent when it came to attending this year’s Walk — they contributed a lesser presence than in previous years, some say because that forever out-sized ego, Christie’s, has moved out of the picture.
(Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39), another possible Republican gubernatorial candidate, also chose not to attend.)
6. Paterson Mayor Joey Torres could be spied on the train and at the Marriott bar last night, dress shirt undone at the top button and gold chain around his neck. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, as we’ve noted, was here in a big way. So where was Newark Mayor Ras Baraka? The third spoke in North Jersey’s tri-city mayoral alliance, Baraka stayed home to deal with more important things — like the ongoing student protests over Newark’s school situation and Christie schools superintendent Cami Anderson.