ICYMI: Reality gets sidetracked when pols and lobbyists head to DC

In case you missed it, I went to Washington, DC last week to check out the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce "congressional dinner." This is what I found...

WASHINGTON - Once a year, the people who run New Jersey take a walk to the nation's capital to hear the governor speak at a special congressional dinner.

Or do they?

At the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce dinner in Washington, reality isn't always what it seems.

Held Thursday and Friday for the 75th time, the annual event is the Garden State's version of the Pennsylvania Society gala in New York City, as politicians, lobbyists, business executives, union leaders, nonprofit heads, and journalists schmooze, booze, deal, and wheel. It's one big smoky back room (except there's no smoking at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel).

The first reality check is the nickname for the event, Walk to Washington. The "walk" is done from coach to coach in the 12 cars of the chartered Amtrak train as it picks up the 800 attendees.

And even that isn't quite accurate. There's more squeezing than walking. The narrow aisles create a social lubricant so attendees can exchange business cards and collect schwag that bears no connection to its sponsors: Hand sanitizer from Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, a chocolate bar from the Mechanical Contractors Association of New Jersey, a bottle opener from the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance. 

The most crowded car was, as always, the bar car, where large men from the Licensed Beverage Association held court. Nearby, one of the state's major developers searched for a microphone so he could belt out "Fly Me to the Moon."

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