A longstanding feud between Governor Chris Christie and state Chamber of Commerce president Joan Verplanck, right, has gone in favor of Christie.
Verplanck, roundly considered one of the most powerful businesspeople in the state, announced on June 24 that she will step down as president as of July 31. In a statement, Verplanck said that she is “looking forward to my first summer off in 32 years.” She has been president of the state chamber since 1995 and an executive with various chambers of commerce most of her adult life. “I am also looking forward to exploring new opportunities as they present themselves in the fall,” she said.
But later that same night, at the state chamber’s June 24 open house in Trenton, Verplanck stated that after years of contending with breast cancer — she has had 37 treatments to keep the disease at bay — she would like to explore new things. She also denied that her exit has anything to do with a sour relationship with the governor
The rift between Christie and the state Chamber of Commerce has been anything but secret. From the moment he announced his candidacy, Christie made a public point to say that he had no interest in making nice with the chamber, nor Verplanck. Christie snubbed her for his transition team in favor of Debra DiLorenzo, president of the South Jersey Chamber, upon election; then he snubbed her by boycotting the state chamber’s annual bus trip to Washington, traditionally considered an important public debut for new governors in New Jersey.
On the record, Christie (Republican) stated that he was too busy to attend the bus trip, but most pundits in the state acknowledge the friction generated by the chamber’s support of former Democratic Governor Jon Corzine’s candidacy. Verplanck, in fact, was a leading candidate for lieutenant governor under Corzine, before he sided with state Senator Loretta Weinberg.
The Star-Ledger, which regularly reported on the growing distance between the governor and the chamber, has reported that Christie has told state business leaders that he could not be on friendly terms with the chamber so long as Verplanck was in charge of it.
Christie’s office has refused to comment publicly on Verplanck’s departure.
For its part, the chamber has been supportive of the governor’s actions so far. In April Verplanck wrote an op-ed piece published in a number of state papers that wished Christie well in his plans for economic recovery. Before that the chamber praised Christie’s 2011 budget proposal, as well as his plans to cut $300 million from the state’s debt. The latter piece was written by chamber chairman Dennis Bone, president of Verizon NJ.
When Verplanck steps down next month Dana Egreczky, president of the State Chamber Foundation, will take over as acting president. Bone has stated that the chamber will begin seeking a permanent replacement for Verplanck immediately.
Verplanck was the first woman to serve as president of the chamber, taking over in 1995. Over her 15-year tenure she has built her reputation through her advocacy of the state’s ports and its education system, the latter a favorite Christie target. She helped create the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which offers workforce training and preparation to K-12 students.
She also served on several boards and committees, including on the executive committee of the U.S. Chamber Foundation and Nation’s Port.
Prior to taking over at the state chamber, the 64-year-old Verplanck was president of the Morris County Chamber, and before that in charge of chambers in Rhode Island.
#b#New Jersey Chamber of Commerce#/b#, 216 West State Street, Trenton 08608; 609-989-7888; fax, 609-989-9696. Joan Verplanck, president. www.njchamber.com