by Ricardo Kaulessar
If any reader of this article can tell me when they last saw four former
Governors of the State of the New Jersey in the same room at the same event
at the same time, then maybe this writer will come personally to your house,
sing the official NJ state song (which is called ‘I’m From New Jersey’) and
do my best impersonation of Thomas Kean announcing his famous phrase, “New
Jersey and You - Perfect Together. Or maybe not.
Unless you were in attendance at the St. Peter’s College 32nd Annual
Business Symposium held at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City on November 6th.
Former governors James Florio, Donald DiFrancesco, Brendan Byrne and Thomas
Kean along with New York Daily News columnist Mike Barnacle were the
featured speakers at this event organized by the college’s Regents Business
The symposium started with Florio (N.J. Governor 1990-1994) speaking
about how the political structure in this state has contributed to tough
economic climate for businesses and individuals who reside in New Jersey.
Florio, currently Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for XSPAND.COM, a
Morristown-based consulting and software company which helps municipalities
track down lost revenues, spoke of how property taxes can be cut by cutting
down on the inefficiencies that comes with bloated government as a result of
an abundance of municipalities and school districts.
Donald DiFrancesco (2001-2002) concentrated on politics, which was
fitting for this event occurring just two days after Election Day 2003.
DiFrancisco was surprisingly optimistic considering that Republicans lost
seats in the State Assembly and Democrats gained control of the State
Senate, thus solidifying current Governor James McGreevey’s position in
power. And picking up where Florio left off about bloated government, he had
positive things to say about the size of government based on his years of
service in the State Assembly and State Senate.
“I think the system works very well. I think our legislature, by and
large is a good one. They work hard, most of them go full-time to it,
they’re not overpaid. We’re a very progressive state, we passed a lot a good
legislation that other states put on ballot,” said DiFrancesco.
Then came the odd couple of NJ Politics, Brendan Byrne (1974-1982) and
Thomas Kean (1982-1990), who both put on a live version of their
point/counterpoint exchange that they carry on in the Sunday editions of the
The Democrat Byrne started first as he stated how happy he was to be back
in Hudson County, joking that he owed his ascension to the Governor’s office
to the county top officials since “they told me that I would win…and they
Then he observed how campaigns, which “usually last three months are
actually more twenty-nine and one half seconds.” That led into a discussion
on how issues don’t matter anymore in today’s politics as he witnessed from
a number of
of campaigns here in New Jersey. But he was impressed by how Democrats
made gains in the elections.
Kean proceeded after Byrne and was even harsher about he felt about the
state of elections in this state.
“In the whole state, the candidate who spent the most money won,” said
Kean, lamenting over the power of money to take precedence over the power of
issues, of old-fashioned campaigning.
“This was a bad election.”
Kean, who has been spending much of this time in Washington D.C. as
chairman of the federal commission created by President George W. Bush to
investigate the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, was rushing out
after the morning section of the symposium to return to the nation’s capital
but took a moment to address the question of whether the stalling of
classified documents by the Bush Administration to the commission has made
him consider quitting.
“We’ll get this done…I may lose a few friends along the way. But (the
commission) is making progress.”
Mike Barnacle gave his address in the afternoon section of the symposium,
speaking on the Jesuit tradition of serving society, his views on American
society after 9/11, and the business that he’s been part of for almost
thirty years, the media.
The symposium, created in 1972 to discuss the state of the business
sector in New Jersey, an opportunity for many of the companies that were
represented at the event to engage in networking as well as an alumni event.
Michael Sleppin, president and founder of Paradigm Associates, a company
based in Jamesberg that specializes in life coaching and conflict management
training, has been attending the symposium for years and was especially
impressed by this year’s lineup of former governors.
“I think there’s more recognition that government and business are highly
integrated. And therefore, the governors are much more aware of what the
business community needs and so they can tell the business community
firsthand how government views the issues that are important to business,”
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