Stephen N. Adubato, Sr., a hugely respected and beloved Newark political leader who built a powerful political machine in Newark’s North Ward while delivering an extraordinary level of services to his community, has died after a long illness. He was 87.
Adubato, known as “Big Steve,” began his career in politics in 1962, at age 30, when he was elected to the Essex County Democratic Committee in a contested race for a North Ward seat.
He became Newark North Ward Democratic Municipal Chairman in 1968.
He spent fifteen years as a history and government teacher in the Newark public school system, and served on the executive board of the Newark Teachers’ Union.
He later became the legislative representative of the New Jersey Federation of Teachers, a post that put him in the proximity of legislators and other state officials as the political arm of a powerful public employee union.
He first rose to statewide prominence in 1969 when Adubato led a revolt against a decision of New Jersey AFL-CIO president Vincent J. Murphy decided to remain neutral in the race for governor between Republican Rep. William T. Cahill (R-Collingswood) and Democrat Robert B. Meyner, a former two-term governor.
Adubato, a strong Meyner supporter, led a protest against the decision that caused Murphy, a former Newark mayor and gubernatorial candidate who had run the union for years, to leave the convention hall.
In 1970, Adubato found the North Ward Center. The model non-profit, which won national acclaim for decades, provided educational, cultural and social services to Newark’s North Ward.
It also became the nucleus of a massive and old-school effective political machine, delivering enormous pluralities to candidates of his preference.
That year, Adubato took a massive risk and endorsed Kenneth Gibson in the race for mayor of Newark. In doing so, Adubato moved against the two-term incumbent mayor, Hugh Addonizio, a pillar in the city’s Italian American community.
Gibson defeated Addonizio in a runoff and Adubato’s political clout in Newark was solidified for a generation.
From the North Ward Center, Adubato influenced elections in Newark, Essex County and New Jersey for decades.
When Adubato founded the North Ward Center, he delivered services to what was still a predominately Italian-American section of the state’s largest cities. Over time, as the North Ward became increasingly more Hispanic, Adubato moved with the time and built an organization that shifted its focus to a new demographic.
Adubato also served as a mentor for countless New Jersey political leaders, including Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman Kevin O’Toole, State Senate President Pro-Tempore Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Essex County Chief of Staff Phil Alagia, Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin, and countless others.
His brother, the late Michael Adubato, represented the North Ward in the New Jersey State Assembly from 1974 to 1992. His son, Stephen Adubato, Jr., is a prominent television and radio personality who was just 26 when his father helped him secure a State Assembly seat in a Montclair-based legislative district.
In 1997, Adubato founded the Robert Treat Academy, one of New Jersey’s first and most successful charter schools.
Adubato was a graduate of Seton Hall University and attended law school there.
In addition to his son, Stephen, Jr., he is survived by his wife of 66 years, Fran,the former North Ward Democratic Chair, and two other children. His daughter, Michele Adubato, currently serves as CEO of the North Ward Center.