NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The visit by Assembly Minority Leader John Bramnick Tuesday came down, in the end, to small businesses.
Bramnick, a Westfield Republican who has served the Assembly’s 21st District since 2003, said that a lot of what he learned came from lessons while working for his father at their Plainfield store Lazarus’s.
It was there, he said, that he learned about hard work and community relations.
“Downtown business owners are on the front lines,” Bramnick said.
Even as a youngster at his father’s store, he learned how to listen and interact with the public, and how to serve.
“I would find myself with nothing to do, and he’d tell me, do something,” Bramnick said. “So I ate a chocolate bar. So he said, I meant do something that did not damage the profit of the business. I was 10 years old.”
Bramnick met with about a dozen New Providence business owners and local officials at the Prestige Diner.
He and diner owner Jimmy Vardas set a light tone for the meeting with banter about naming a lunch special after Bramnick.
Vardas said he would not charge tax on the sandwich, a reflection of the Republican’s opposition to tax hikes.
Bramnick said Vardas should include tax in the price of the sandwich, “93 cents for the burger and 7 cents for the taxes.”
“That would a very small burger,” Vardas said.
Vardas and other business owners said their efforts help keep the local downtowns vital and support local activities.
Al Elefante, owner of Elefante Music, said local business owners need help competing against the Amazon.com’s and big box stores of the world.
Bramnick said he understands their situation because it was the emergence of big box stores that led to the demise of his father’s store.
Customers will seek better prices and other services that smaller stores might not offer, he said.
While state government can work with loc al towns to devise programs that raise awareness of local businesses, it is a tricky move for the state to side with one area of retail commerce than another, he said.
The best way for state government to help businesses is to change the culture of the state and make it easier for businesses to grow and located here, Bramnick said.
That is what Gov. Chris Christie has done. Bramnick said.
“The state is moving in the right direction,” he said. Recent figures show that 70,000 private sector jobs have been added and the number of public sector jobs declined.
More important, Bramnick said, Christie changed the way things are being done in Trenton.
He did not follow the traditional path to the governorship as most New Jersey politicians, he said. Instead of serving in local government and working his way up, Christie came out of the U.S. Attorney’s office.
As a result, Bramnick said, he is a straight talker, and does not couch his opinions in the traditional political talk of “we will work with all parties to find a solution.”
That approach has not worked in the past, and Christie is setting is own more successful path, he said.
Former New Providence Councilman Vincent Vyzas asked Bramnick if there was state support for dismantling parts of county government or eliminating it altogether. He said there was some interest in local control of county parks, for example.
Bramnick said Sen. Tom Kean Jr., of the 21st District filed legislation that called for the end of county government, but admitted it is a tricky proposition.
In Camden County there was a proposal to form a countywide police department, but it went nowhere.
Bramnick said while police services could be an example of a countywide service, he wondered if that would be limited to road patrols or park police, and then noted that county sheriff departments have different roles that include court and investigative duties, which might be difficult for local police departments to duplicate.