SOMERVILLE, NJ – Forty-one years ago, a young man recently graduated from Rider College purchased a one-car showroom in Frenchtown with a Mobil gas pump out front.
When he wasn’t selling Pintos, he pumped gas to help pay the bills.
Steve Kalafer’s toil and hard work paid off, laying the foundation for what is today’s highly-successful Flemington Car and Truck Country, an expansive family of 16 auto/truck dealerships and service centers on Routes 31/202 in Flemington.
Other enterprises followed for the successful businessman, including his beloved Somerset Patriots baseball team, now in the midst of its 20th anniversary season. Founded and owned by the Kalafer family, it is the most successful franchise in the independent Atlantic League, having won six league championships, with nearly 400,000 fans coming to TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater each season.
A film producer with multiple Academy Award nominations, he was awarded the Actors Fund of America Medal of Honor in 2013.
Acknowledged as one of New Jersey’s wealthiest and most successful businessmen, he is a high-profile community leader, supporter of good causes and a generous philanthropist.
Kalafer’s reputation precedes him, so when he speaks, people listen.
Kalafer was guest speaker at Tuesday’s monthly luncheon hosted by the Somerset County Employers Legislative Committee at Verve Restaurant, Bar and Bistro, an event that drew dozens of businessmen and women, lawyers, financial planners, Realtors, medical professionals, politicians and representatives of non-profits.
Kalafer noted that the stock market has been at record levels recently; property values have increased, and that more people seem to be working.
“But, you feel uneasy, don’t you,” Kalafer said, as most of the luncheon attendees raised their hands.
“Well, you should,” Kalafer added.
“New Jersey is finally at its crossroads,” he continued, blaming the state’s elected officials for kicking the can down the road, avoiding the tough decisions needed to put the state’s fiscal house back in order.
He offered a bleak and blunt assessment of the state’s perpetual fiscal crisis, and scolded its elected leaders for lacking the courage to make the tough decisions, even though they promise to do so while campaigning.
“We have to confront the truth,” Kalafer said.
People are fleeing the state and lawmakers have no solutions to solve the pension crisis, school funding and the country’s highest property taxes, according to Kalafer.
“Family assets are on the line,” Kalafer said.
He was highly critical of Gov. Chris Christie and his role in the government shutdown three weeks ago precipitated by a standoff with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, (D-Hudson). Prieto opposed Christie’s demand that the state should determine how much money Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield be allowed to keep in a reserve fund before turning it over to the state to fund drug and substance abuse programs.
Prieto balked, defending the status quo for the insurer and characterizing Christie's demands as extortion. Prieto had the budget up for a vote three times and left it open the third time he put the bill up. The Senate refused to vote on the budget. Democrat members of the Assembly refused to cast a vote on the budget until or unless a Horizon bill was done.
Government workers stayed home Monday, July 3 while the Governor went to the beach and shuttled back and forth by helicopter between the Shore and the Statehouse until the impasse was settled.
The compromise allows state regulators to set a cap on Horizon's reserve fund next year. The bill sets a range 550 percent to 725 percent of risk-based capital, within which Horizon can maintain its reserves. The company has been within that range for decades. If that amount is exceeded, the insurer will use that money to benefit its subscribers. It also requires the state Senate and state Assembly to each appoint a member to the insurer’s Board of Directors.
“He wanted to steal $300 million from Horizon,” Kalafer said. “We had a Governor who many of us supported, somebody we thought we could trust; he was trying to steal from us."
Kalafer also said those seeking public office, and those who get elected have to tell the truth and endure the consequences.
He offered an anecedote about a conversation he had with former Governor Jon Corzine while he was still a U.S. Senator during a lunch visit in Washington.
Kalafer said he asked Corzine how he intended to deal with the state workers’ pension benefits crisis if he were to be elected governor.
“He looked up and said ‘You have to understand, I have to get elected first,’ ‘’ Kalafer said.
“It’s time for government to keep their promises. If they don’t, take your wallet and leave,” Kalafer said.