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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

Hammonton Insider: Assemblyman Michael Torrissi Jr.

by Craig Richards, Dan Russoman, Kristin Guglietti

Michael Torrissi Jr.

HAMMONTON—Michael Torrissi Jr., spreads his time between his business, obligations in Trenton, and the various organizations he supports. Torrissi, his chief of staff, Brian Woods, Gazette publisher Craig Richards and News/Sports Director Dan Russoman gathered in Hammonton last month for a one-on-one discussion on various topics with our Assemblyman.


The Hammonton Insider is targeted to be a new informative feature in The Gazette each month. Readers are encouraged to send suggested individuals they would like to see interviewed in The Insider. Send your thoughts and ideas for consideration to Craig Richards at


MICHAEL TORRISSI JR.:

State Assemblyman for the New Jersey 8th District.

RICHARDS:

What do you like about the position?


TORRISSI:

I spent almost 10 years on Hammonton Council. I believe it was 2010, that I ran for an unexpired term. Later I took one year off and then went to the assembly in ‘21. Coming from council, I will say that it was a good thing to have experience. I see a lot of people just running for higher office without experience. I was a local in the organization, did almost 10 years on town council, and it really did prepare me. An ordinance in town comes up. It moves forward and you vote on it. The same thing happens in the state, but at least with the state, I feel as if you can affect the lives of more people, it’s not just our district. I have tried to work across the aisle. I tell everybody, “Look, if there’s 10 things the Democrats have, you’re not going to fix it.” If I go water down two or three of them and take the worst things out and make it more manageable, that’s a victory for us, and that’s what I like doing. I do have some respect even though I was a freshman after my second year, they’ll listen to me. They’ll take the call. Brian will say, “We don’t just throw grenades on every little issue. When we do something, it means something.”


RICHARDS:

Do you think your success comes not the letter that follows your name, but the fact that you’re just seen as the hometown guy?


TORRISSI:

The success in the district or?


RICHARDS:

No, the success in your political career.


TORRISSI:

Look, my family’s been here a long time. I have a good reputation. And I believe overall success, whether it’s Hammonton or statewide, is also my business. You’ve seen the trucking company. We’re very successful. We’re able to do that. There are almost a thousand employees. So, if you take those thousand employees and the families that I’m responsible for, let’s say it’s 1,200, 1,300 people, I have to get up every morning and make sure we do the right thing for the company: that we’re here tomorrow. It’s the same thing in politics. That’s why I try to tell everybody. It’s easy. The first year I was experienced as far as dealing with being in the minority, I was the lone Republican on town council. It’s easy to vote no to everything. We started with form base code. There was all the crazy stuff. “No, no, benches were backwards.” All the things. And you could just say crazy stuff. But when you have to effectively make sure that the garbage is picked up, the streets are clean and the bills get paid, you have to do that. And that’s what I tell everybody. I try to still do that even though I’m in the minority. I was in the back row in the state house. It could just lob nonsense in from left field. Nobody likes that. It could be fun to do that and watch, but I don’t think you ever get anywhere doing that. And I’m hoping that people see that and know that. I’ve heard this… when somebody who doesn’t really speak often, when they do, you should listen to them. I try to be that person and talk sense. I mean, I do like to kid around, but you still have to take it from a more serious level.


RICHARDS:

What would you say is your main goal to accomplish while you’re in this position? What do you think you have accomplished that you’re proud of? And what do you think you still want to accomplish?


TORRISSI:

So right now, Hammonton, before I was in the assembly, was kind of marginalized, like the hot potato that nobody wanted. We got pushed from District 9, Ocean County, District 8, Burlington and then came back. It seems we were always—I don’t say a problem, but Hammonton is vocal. But there are some people that see us as a problem because it’s a lot of people that call even in our office, Hammonton, people call. They want to know what’s going on. They want to stay involved.


RICHARDS:

They’re active.


TORRISSI:

And I feel like we were never properly represented, and for what, 50 years we didn’t have the representation in Trenton? I finally broke through with Burlington County and Hammonton has a seat. By the votes that we get out, just out of Hammonton alone, you can say has kept me there two elections in a row, and Senator [Jean] Stanfield and I think Ryan Peters, they won a very close race in Hammonton, had a big plurality and you can say that we carry that. And I believe the Chairman of Burlington County, Sean Earlen, recognized that gave me a chance. And I believe my chance wasn’t just me alone. It was the town of Hammonton saying, “OK, let’s give them a seat at the table.” It kind of worked out that way.


RICHARDS:

And so, you’re saying one of your biggest items to be proud about is, Hammonton has that voice in Trenton.


TORRISSI:

It has that voice, and it wasn’t just me alone. Prior to me it was years of council people and freeholders and different [people of] Atlantic County dating back years. You go all the way back to I think Garfield, DeMarco here and he was once, one time chairman in Burlington County? I think he said he lived in Chatsworth in the woods of the Cranberry. [Laughs] So we’ve always had a long history and we kind of re reestablished that. I always look at Hammonton as being part of the Pine Barrens, not the shore. We kind of get tossed up and we were never really in District 2 before. In a lot of the shore communities, there are issues, whether it’s Atlantic City, Somers Point, Margate, Ventnor and Linwood, all that. They’re all the same. Their communities are entirely different than Hammonton, and also Folsom, Egg Harbor City and Mullica, our communities and up 206 with our neighbors, Shamong, Tabernacle and Medford. I believe our issues are more alike, and it’s easy for me when I stand up for Hammonton. I’m standing up for Medford, right up the 206 quarter of the Pine Barrens. And getting back to your original question is, I feel we can do so much more for Hammonton now. We did a line item in the budget. We’re still waiting for it to be put into use. It was a quarter million dollars for Hammonton Park. We’ve gotten other different things that we’re attaching directly to Hammonton that we never saw on the state budget before. And the longer I’m there and more involved in all these committees and different things, we’re able to get Hammonton to be on the receiving end of government dollars. One of the things I said, I vote for different things for North Jersey. You say, “Why would you do that?” I say, “Well, we got to give if we [expect to] get a fair share or a fraction of it to come here—” We weren’t getting anything. So now the money’s going out. It’s going out whether you like it or not. It’s going somewhere. I’m trying to direct it to our district and up and down 206 is what we’re trying to do now with Hammonton being one of those benefactors of that.


RICHARDS:

So, what are you looking forward to in the coming years? You’ll have elections coming up later. So for now what’s the plan?


TORRISSI:

Elections are in two years. We just got reelected this past November. Just got sworn into the new term last month. So I got a full two years.


RICHARDS:

So next couple of years, focal point, I mean, you already mentioned there, just expanding Hammonton’s presence, our district’s presence. Any particular projects or things that you would lean to that you really want to see happen?


TORRISSI:

So I’m on two committees. I’m on the Assembly Oversight Committee, which the last two years, we’ve really dealt with the ABC liquor laws. I don’t know if you were aware the governor wanted to kind of scrap it, and these are one of the things we did a lot of meetings as far as watering it down to protect local bars, and businesses that have been here 50 years. You can’t devalue a liquor license. I understand you have breweries, wineries and everybody’s different. I believe we’ve passed some legislation, which I was part of that everybody’s happy with.


RICHARDS:

I’m not in favor of watering down liquor.


[RICHARDS and TORRISSI laugh]


TORRISSI:

What the governor wanted to do was not good for anybody.


RICHARDS:

You were making it practical.


TORRISSI:

Yeah. We’re practical, updated, but everything takes time. So I’m on that committee. There’s still some work to be done with that, and I got moved to the consumer affairs committee. So that’s new for me.


RICHARDS:

Before we go to that one, why should people care about the work that’s being done on the liquor?


TORRISSI:

It will affect locally whether it’s Hammonton or Medford. You have establishments like I said that have been here 50 years and the liquor licenses vary in New Jersey. You go from North Jersey here it could be from a $2 million value to maybe a quarter million dollars here. Banks used that during COVID. Most businesses relied on that as an asset where the banks knew they had that in order to get their inventory. I believe some people coming out of COVID are still not fully recovered. And you devalue that, then they put them out of business. And some of these establishments have been around for a long time. Nothing against the governor [who] thinks anybody, me and you can just start selling beer out of the corner here. Just open it up. But we got to come to some kind of agreement. You just can’t put all your establishments out of business in favor of redoing the whole thing.


RICHARDS:

There are just some crazy rules.


TORRISSI:

Yeah. So we’re kind of just getting that meeting in the middle and kind of working it out for both sides. It’s not 100 percent done, but we made a step in the right direction where he was happy.


CHIEF OF STAFF BRIAN WOODS:

The main law as New Jersey has is a limit per town. So every 3,000 residents, you get a liquor license, which makes it so, you live in a town with some stable bars. Those liquor licenses are worth a lot. So what the governor wants to do is just scrap the cap completely, which would bottom out every value of the liquor license. They would all just be whatever you, like $5,000, whatever, instead of the $500,000 that they’re probably worth. So, it affects a lot of businesses overnight. There’s some, a lot of cities and towns that don’t use liquor licenses. They pocket them because they’re hoping they get revitalized 20 years down the line, so Camden has dozens of liquor licenses that businesses have just held on for decades because the theory is that maybe one day Camden will be nice and this will be worth a lot more.


RICHARDS:

But in essence, growth and opportunity.


TORRISSI:

So what we said is OK, let’s be able, if you’re a touching town or a community or a county, we’ll just start [allowing for] people to buy them, let’s start transferring licenses. Not saying go from Newark to Hammonton, but you would go to a touching county or community.


WOODS:

Yeah. So they passed a law to allow a town to pretty much put it together, a business development growth plan and buy the liquor license from a surrounding community and sell it to a business owner that wants to open up. So the theory was if a certain percentage of all liquor license are pocketed, let’s see what happens if we allow those to be moved around before we scrap the entire thing.


TORRISSI:

Yes. Well, that should help. Where Hammonton is touching Camden counties. Maybe we can buy one from Camden and come to Hammonton and it works.


RICHARDS:

The second committee you’re talking about.


TORRISSI:

Consumer Affairs. We have not met yet. We’re meeting January 29, so it’s new to me. I got put on that. I am in my third year now, I’m still in the lower end.


I know I asked before for transportation because of my background, but I’m looking at Consumer Affairs. Not to talk it down.


RICHARDS:

But you’re starting to get out of freshman hazing.


TORRISSI:

Yeah. I’m moving up.


DAN RUSSOMAN:

Because why put the trucking guy on transportation?


TORRISSI:

Yeah. We don’t want to do that. [Laughs]


RICHARDS:

Well, what’s some things outside of that? Where’s some things you’d like to see moving forward? I mean, what gets you excited about what you’re in and what you’re doing? I know representing the area and giving them a voice, but what also keeps you in that role?


TORRISSI:

I do it because people I say, “If not me, then who?” There are not very many good, successful people, whether it’s just in life, the community or business. It’s a lot and people get burned out. They get tired because driving to Trenton to get beat up every day, knowing you’re in the minority. You’re not going to be able to get all—your wish list is not going to be there. You’re going to hear, no, 99 percent of the time. I’m there for that 1 percent to do this.

You just got to get up every day and say, “OK, I’m not leaving New Jersey. Not leaving Hammonton. But you got to fight for it to try to make it better.” And if some people don’t get up every morning and do that, it’s over. Unfortunately, I thought we were going to do better in this last cycle. So now I, drive to Trenton for two years waiting for the governor’s race. And maybe things will change when we get a Republican governor and I’ll be even higher up the hierarchy and be closer.


WOODS:

Not getting the majority, you could still affect change because two years ago under [Jack] Ciattarelli when he ran for governor, Republicans got close. They put a scare in Democrats.

They lost a lot of seats. They might get us in two years. So you guys have been talking about property tax relief until you’re blue in the face, and this is what people want. So to the last two years, they passed a bunch of legislation, a bunch of things that gave money back to people and property taxes, and, that wouldn’t have happened.


TORRISSI:

So, they know we’re standing ready to come over the walls. That’s why I think they were so friendly to me.


RICHARDS:

I think people still need to understand that yes, you have a focus on the district you’re in, but the overall decisions we make for the entire state still affect all of us.


TORRISSI:

Yes.


RICHARDS:

You’re playing roles in that too.


TORRISSI:

Yes.


RICHARDS:

It’s not just, “Oh, I make Hammonton votes.” You make quality of life New Jersey votes as well.


TORRISSI:

Yes. So it’s mainly the majority of New Jersey and then we try to take certain things back to the district.


RICHARDS:

Well, in the aspect of pioneering, like you said, all this foundation that was done for you to even get to where you are, there were many pioneers before you. Some of pioneers don’t get to see the promised land. Some of them don’t even get to play in the game, but they set you up to be able to get in there and at least start staking out some land. So that seems to be very advantageous.


TORRISSI:

Yeah. I mean, I hit the ground running the first day in the assembly versus a lot of other people that did not serve anywhere. And I tell everybody, Hammonton is one of the best training grounds. It was definitely AAA. When you come from Hammonton Town Hall to the State House, it was like, oh, this is a little bit easier. [Laughs] But that’s credit to many of long nights at Hammonton Town Hall over the past 20 years where there’s arguments, there’s fights, but because people care. It wasn’t just people being stupid. People were passionate. They cared what they believed in and it put in a lot of long nights and a lot of arguments and different stuff. But as we tell everybody, when we go to leave Hammonton, we’re all Hammonton and stick together.


PUBLISHER’S NOTE: There’s nothing wrong with passion. So many towns across the country die because there isn’t a vision, a passion, a community. We’re not short on that in Hammonton.


Transcript edited by Gazette Staff Writer Kristin Guglietti.


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