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NJ pols’ annual train ride to D.C. no longer a ‘rolling cocktail party’

Amtrak train Amtrak train (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Amtrak train (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce train trip to Washington, D.C., takes place on Thursday.

The original idea behind the journey, which began 81 years ago, was to organize a group of businessmen to travel to the nation’s capital to honor New Jersey’s Congressional delegation.

According to Tom Bracken, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, it’s grown into something much bigger.

“It is the premiere networking event in the state. A lot of substantive discussions are had on the train. A lot of old acquaintances are rekindled on the train,” he said.

“If you think you need to be seen, it’s the place to be. If you want to shake hands there’s plenty of that. If you want to get stuff done, you can do that. You can meet people and have substantive conversations.”

Back in the day, there was a good deal of consumption of alcoholic beverages on the train, but Bracken said that’s no longer the case.

“Over the years, the train trip has matured. The rolling cocktail party aspect is really a thing of the past,” he said.

As you might imagine, being on a train for several hours provides a great opportunity for political candidates to mingle with movers and shakers.

Ben Dworkin, a Rider University political science professor pointed out that’s “it’s really one of the few opportunities to bring all of the people most involved in government together in one spot.”

He said representatives from the business community, nonprofit agencies, advocacy groups as well as elected officials are on the train.

“Especially if you’re trying to get well known, it is a great opportunity for you to greet and meet and introduce yourself.”

Dworkin said “it is a chance to press the flesh, and to have a social setting and a positive setting in which you get to talk about the things you want to do.”

Bracken said Democratic businessman Phil Murphy, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, Assemblymen John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, and Jack Ciattarelli, R-Somerset — all candidates for governor — will be making the trip.

Once the train arrives in Washington, there are several receptions and a big dinner featuring a speech by Gov. Chis Christie.  Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno will not attend because she will be serving as acting governor in Christie’s stead.

When asked what Christie may discuss, and if there was any theme for the evening, Bracken said “we never give any of our speakers any guidance.”

“They know what the event is and we leave it up to their good judgment to speak appropriately to the audience about any topic they choose.”

He noted while the majority of those making the trip are Chamber members, the journey is open to anyone who would like to pay the $699 fee.

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