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Profile: Former Basketball-Playing 'Dark Lord' of the Chemistry Industry Council

Hal Bozarth is one of the most effective lobbyists in Trenton, at least in part because he can forge alliances with apparent opponents

Hal Bozarth
Hal Bozarth

Name: Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey, where he has been a prominent, and by some estimates, one of the most effective lobbyists in Trenton for more than three decades.

Age: 65

Born, raised: In Audubon in Camden County; now lives in Springfield in Burlington County, with his wife and son.

What he did before heading the council: He was an elementary school teacher and eventually a principal in Gloucester County. He was a member of the New Jersey Education Association’s first political education committee to endorse legislative candidates. “I got involved in politics and caught the bug,’’ Bozarth said of his move to Trenton.

What you may not have known about him: Bozarth, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, was a member of the Audubon high school team that won a state championship in New Jersey’s annual basketball tournament. He later won a scholarship to Western Kentucky University where among his teammates was Clem Haskins, a future pro in the National Basketball Association. By his own admission, they did not play him much, with coaches wanting to convert him to a guard.

His staunch defense of the chemical industry has not always been liked: Bozarth often has clashed with environmental groups over efforts to toughen the state's regulations protecting air, water, and land. Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the powerful chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, has good-naturedly described him as the Dark Lord.

Why he’s been effective: Despite frequent differences, he also has occasionally forged effective coalitions with many groups that normally would not side with positions taken by the Chemistry Industry Council. They include New Jersey Citizen Action, AARP of New Jersey, and the Sierra Club of New Jersey. More importantly, his industry has been a big employer in New Jersey, although it is has shrunk in his time at the council. When Bozarth started the job, the industry employed 128,000; it is now down to about 55,000.

Better times may be ahead: With the steep drop in natural gas prices, which were as high as $14 in 2008, Bozarth believes both New Jersey and the U.S. may see a resurgence in manufacturing, particularly in the chemical industry which relies on the fuel as an essential building block for many of the products the sector produces. “It’s a game changer,’’ he said. “This will change the face of manufacturing.’’

His biggest beef: Electric monopolies, he says without hesitation. Bozarth is a strident critic of why energy costs in New Jersey are among the steepest in the nation. “They’re working on a 100-year-old business model that hasn’t changed. There’s nothing to force them to change because they are a monopoly.’’ His sector, on the other hand, has had to adapt many changes in the global economy and changed its business model numerous times, he argued.

Biggest challenge: “Figuring out how to position my clients in the legislative process and how to win,’’ he said.

How he relaxes: Playing golf with his son.

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