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The Power 100 (No. 10 - 1)

By , - Last modified: February 6, 2017 at 6:56 AM
10. Chris Paladino (17)
10. Chris Paladino (17)
He’s a regular on this list and regularly goes up high. For good reason. He essentially created a campus where there was none at his beloved Rutgers University. And while some feel the opening of The Yard and the new academic buildings at Rutgers signal he’s getting close to the finish line in New Brunswick, others think the head of the New Brunswick Development Corp. is just getting started. Issues around the state are beckoning. Said one insider: “Getting involved in Atlantic City may not have been his first choice. In fact, it may not have been his choice at all. But when the governor asks, and Jon Hanson asks, you go. But there’s a reason they ask: Chris is as good as it gets when it comes to public-private partnerships and rebuilding urban areas.” His ability to do that across the state could have a lasting impact for generations of New Jerseyans. “What he has been able to do in New Brunswick over the years is amazing,” another insider said. “If he can be a part of the team that gets Atlantic City a new life, he’ll deserve to move up even higher on the list.”
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He’s a regular on this list and regularly goes up high. For good reason. He essentially created a campus where there was none at his beloved Rutgers University. And while some feel the opening of The Yard and the new academic buildings at Rutgers signal he’s getting close to the finish line in New Brunswick, others think the head of the New Brunswick Development Corp. is just getting started. Issues around the state are beckoning. Said one insider: “Getting involved in Atlantic City may not have been his first choice. In fact, it may not have been his choice at all. But when the governor asks, and Jon Hanson asks, you go. But there’s a reason they ask: Chris is as good as it gets when it comes to public-private partnerships and rebuilding urban areas.” His ability to do that across the state could have a lasting impact for generations of New Jerseyans. “What he has been able to do in New Brunswick over the years is amazing,” another insider said. “If he can be a part of the team that gets Atlantic City a new life, he’ll deserve to move up even higher on the list.” A year ago, we speculated whether Booker would be a vice presidential candidate in 2016. Now, we’re speculating on whether he’ll be a candidate for president in 2020. While it’s certainly too early to predict the future, it’s easy to see what’s happening in the present: Booker not only has established himself as the top U.S. senator for the state, he has positioned himself as one of the national leaders of the Democratic Party. “Has anyone done more to raise his profile since the election?” one insider asked. “He wasn’t afraid to challenge some of the cabinet nominations and he was the most visible politician at the women’s march on Washington.” The trick moving forward is to balance his efforts between Washington and New Jersey, something the former mayor of Newark has done well since moving to Washington, D.C. (Did you see him at the opening of the new Hahne Building?) Expect to see a lot of him in both places moving forward. “He’s an incredibly skilled and talented politician,” one insider said. “But we already knew that. The rest of the country is now finding out.” The question isn’t whether Degnan deserves to be high on the NJBIZ Power list, but how high his influence would register on a list in New York. Degnan, the chairman of the Port Authority, wasn’t afraid to battle New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he felt Cuomo was slowing attempts to get a new $10 billion bus terminal built in the city, saying it was a New Jersey project and not a Port Authority project. “I will not stand by and be silent about such an attempt, nor will I submit to his interference,” Degnan said. Straight talk and a willingness to confront challenges head on is what you get from Degnan. This latest, most public effort, had him drawing rave reviews from many. “He moves way up just for taking on Cuomo over the bus station,” one insider said. “That’s a pretty (gutsy) move. He went toe-to-toe with Cuomo, and there aren’t a lot of people who would have done that.” A deal has been struck and Degnan remains in charge at the port. Most feel Cuomo will try to remove him. Our guess: If he does, Degnan won’t go without a fight. The Gateway project, the building of a new tunnel to Manhattan, is bigger than just the biggest infrastructure project the state has ever seen. “If it goes through, it’s the biggest construction project in the country,” one insider said. “We’re talking $25 to $30 billion dollars. An incredible amount of jobs and contracts.” And Coscia is running point. “There’s really no better choice. Tony has the political clout to get everyone to the table and the knowledge to understand the details of the project.” It’s all in day’s work for Coscia, who runs Windels, Marx, Lane & Mittendorf and oversees Amtrak. Said another: “In light of the incontrovertible connection between mass transit and the viability of numerous New Jersey businesses and the dependency that thousands of New Jersey residents have on the train network, there is no doubt that Coscia’s Amtrak role has far-reaching consequences, and therefore his inherent power. However, with the new administration in Washington, he will have to use his political skills to move the Gateway project forward and not have it become a missed opportunity, as the ARC tunnel did.” His dreams of being governor are gone. Sweeney found out early how hard it is for a South Jersey politician to win over the north. The consolation? He gets to keep the second-most-powerful job in state government: state Senate president. “He’s not going anywhere,” one insider said. “All of the deals may result in a change of the Assembly speaker, and Sweeney may not get a say in that, but he’s staying where he is.” That may be a good thing. Sure, he and Phil Murphy were rivals for the Democratic nomination, but that was in the past. By the time a new governor is elected, it will be the distant past. Sweeney, who has been able to work with Christie, certainly should be able to work with anyone. And the heavy presumption is that it will be a Democrat — Murphy. Can they get along? Why wouldn’t they? Politics make for unusual alliances. “They may be different guys, a union leader compared to a Wall Street guy, but they share a lot of the same ideas,” one insider said. “I think they will be able to find common ground, especially after eight years of a Republican.” He joins Norcross and Gov. Christie as the third member of the Always Top 10 Club. He’s back again this year. How could he not be? He says he’s stepping away from the day-to-day operations of The Hampshire Cos., though those who know him insist he’s still the first one in the office. And the depth of the projects he’s involved in matches anyone in the business. It’s no wonder so many seek his counsel. A long list of power players just come to talk. The list starts with the governor. The duties Hanson helps perform for the good of the state (thanks to his longstanding relationship with Christie) are more than enough to keep him going. From American Dream to Atlantic City, he literally has impact up and down the state. And he’s clearly engaged. “I’m always amazed at the details he knows about every deal he’s involved in,” one insider said. “If he’s slowing down, I don’t see it.” Hanson himself has said his influence might wane a bit once Christie leaves office. If that’s the case, his time as a power player is winding down. Others aren’t so sure. “If Murphy is as smart as he appears to be, why would he ship someone with that level of gravitas out?” an insider questioned. “It just doesn’t make sense.” We agree. He is one of only three people to have made the Top 10 on each of the previous five rankings. In fact, he’s been No. 2 the past four years. But if you think Norcross’ power in the state is waning, well … you already know the answer. “Here’s one way to look at George,” one insider explained. “You can compare his portfolio in one sector to just about anyone in that sector. Then you realize this: He’s got like 11 portfolios.” Health care … politics … real estate development … anything that has to do with any part of Camden. And that doesn’t take into account the connections he has through his family, including brothers Phil (a powerful attorney) and Donald (a member of the U.S. House of Representatives). This far-reaching influence is felt throughout the state. “It’s simple: If you want to get something done in South Jersey, you need to make sure you have a buy-in from George. If you don’t, you don’t have a chance.” Power? Norcross defines it. And when he uses it, it’s almost like a scene out of a movie. “I was talking with George and I mentioned I had an issue that was holding me up,” one insider said. “By the time I got back to my office, there no longer was a holdup. That was impressive.” The third-most-powerful person in business in New Jersey doesn’t currently have a job. Let’s start there. It’s the reason Murphy is not higher. It’s the reason some feel he should be lower. We’re good with the spot we’ve picked. Not just because we think he will be the next governor of New Jersey, holding his presumptive spot through a challenge in the Democratic primary and the general election. But also because we were stunned with the precision and power he displayed near the end of 2016, when he convinced two very powerful people (Stephen Sweeney and Steve Fulop) to drop out of the race for governor, a job they both clearly coveted, more than a year before the election. That’s power. It’s also smarts, which is something anyone who meets Murphy clearly sees that he has. “Of all the candidates that have come to see me, and they all have, he was clearly the brightest and best prepared,” one insider said. “Holy cow, this guy knows his stuff,” said another, though he didn’t actually say “cow.” Our unofficial definition of power always has been the game of phone tag. Here’s how it goes: If you saw you had missed calls from the governor and Phil Murphy, who are you calling back first? The answer is slowly shifting to Murphy. The same reasons he has held the top spot in the previous five Power 100 rankings remain true: Whether you like him or not, agree with him or not, he is still the sitting governor in the state that gives the sitting governor more power than any other. That’s why Gov. Christie is still No. 2, despite his inability to reconnect with voters (even a pledge to fight drug addiction didn’t move the mark on his polling) and inability to control the Legislature (see his failed attempts at getting a book deal and punishing newspapers) and even a growing inability to control his own party. Said one insider: “Christie has some formidable enemies — and that’s without acknowledging he’s at 18 percent (approval rating).” But there’s no denying he’s still powerful. One insider points to the stalled extension of the Urban Enterprise Zones, which could add a huge expense to some companies. “It’s a $500,000-a-year issue. I’m going to be paying $500,000 a year more in sales tax. The guy can cost a lot of people a lot of money. The governor is formulating the priorities of the state for how the money is coming and how the money will be spent. It’s the most powerful governorship in the nation. Until 1/1/18, he and his team will be incredibly powerful.” He has divested himself from Kushner Cos., the family business in New Jersey. And he’s moved to Washington, D.C. So, how is it that Jared Kushner has done the seemingly impossible: Knock the governor with the most power in the nation out of the top spot on the NJBIZ Power 100 for the first time?
The answers are surprisingly simple: In his role as senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump, Kushner will have incredible power and influence over many decisions that will impact not only New Jersey businesses, but New Jersey residents.
Let’s start with the Gateway Project, the proposed new tunnel to Manhattan. It not only would solve a commuting issue that will hamper the state’s future, it would bring an unprecedented number of jobs and construction contracts to the state. And, while it would be the biggest infrastructure project the state (if not the country) has ever seen, it may also be just one of many, considering the president’s pledge to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.
“Imagine the infrastructure jobs that will come here,” said one insider. “Isn’t that what this is all about? Creating jobs.”
Then there’s health care. Whether it’s repeal, replace or reform, Kushner will have the president’s ear on an issue that impacts every New Jersey company.
“If you’re on Medicare or Medicaid, Jared will have a big influence on you,” said another.
And let’s not forget about the job of U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. Expect Kushner to have influence in that selection, as well.
If you think having someone with so much power live so far away would be a problem for the state’s business executives, think again. Kushner was an almost universal selection for the top spot by those consulted for our rankings. One big reason: He’s a known quantity.
“The guy has got real Jersey bones on business,” another insider said. “He’s totally familiar with the landscape: the key players, the key areas, the key issues.”
And many, quite frankly, were impressed by the power he already has shown. “If he’s the guy who pushed Chris Christie out of the top spot, that’s pretty powerful,” said one.
Another put it another way: “He’s the reason why Chris Christie is still governor.”

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