By David Cruz
Contrary to what you may have heard, there is actual work that goes on here. Sessions covering everything from affordable housing, the Transportation Trust Fund to community policing – even a session on humor in politics. Some of these sessions attract hundreds and – in some cases – count towards special certifications.
“Three things you have to accomplish while you’re down here,” explained first-year executive director Michael Darcy. “One of them is to learn something new that you can take back home that will help solve a problem. The second is get to know someone new, so you’ve taken a new networking contact home with you, and third is, when you get back home, tell people what you’ve learned; tell people what you’re going to change based on what you did down here during the conference.”
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner estimates that he’s been to 40 of the 100 annual conferences. “During the day time it’s all business,” he said, “then at night time there’s all different receptions where people showcase themselves for whatever office they may be running for. Obviously, you can’t 100 percent separate politics from government, so government during the day, then there’s political events, or ‘showcase’ events as I call them.”
“Oh, it’s changed substantially over the last 10 years,” noted Assembly Minority leader Jon Bramnick. “They used to call it a drunkfest. I just think that now with video cameras and social media, people would be exposed so quickly that I think you have to be so careful, that’s true in life, generally, they just get you at a bad moment and that’s the end of your career.”
Before security at the Borgata shooed the press away, we were able to talk to Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who – rather than hosting – was making the rounds of other “showcases” on both sides of the aisle. We asked if she’d seen any progress on replenishing the Transportation Trust Fund. “I haven’t heard any yet. I hope that there is,” she said. “We all know something has to be done, so I’m waiting to hear what the legislature comes from so far. I don’t think they’ve gotten that far. I think we still have a little time left before the session ends. I’m hopeful that both sides get together and solve the problem.”
While he wasn’t here – again – this year, governor Christie was a topic of conversation. In this case, his recent comments on Syrian refugees. He would reject them, even those as young as five years old, which, depending on who you talk to is reasoned – or xenophobic.
“We’re very complacent,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi. “We’re very soft. We’re not accustomed to what is going on in the Middle East, Europe and other parts of the world right now and sop we do have to be extraordinarily cautious. That’s not to say that we should not be able to help those who need our help.”
At a round table of former governors Jim Florio said he understood where Christie was coming from, adding that he didn’t think children under five should be suspect. “I mean you’re not going to have those people do terrorist activities,” he said, “but I’m sensitive to the fact that people are very concerned as they should be, so I think the discussion over the next several months has to be should we retreat from opening our borders to people.”
The conference continues through tomorrow, after which everyone will go home, facing pretty much the same problems they faced when they got here but armed, hopefully, with some tools to face them more effectively.