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Steve Adubato, Founder of the North Ward Center. (Photo: Frank H. Conlon)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Courage

By Kevin O'Toole, December 23 2021 12:01 am

It is no secret that my Obi Wan Kenobi of politics was and is the late-master politician Stephen N. Adubato.

Big Steve was well known to often lecture his political pupils with his intense Socratic methods — he would ask a question, several times over, and loudly, until someone stumbled over the correct answer. Sometimes these quizzes were low-hanging fruit and others times I felt like I was auditioning for a part in the Grand Inquisition. Nonetheless, in hindsight, these lectures later led to some imparted wisdom or political truth.

If I had to isolate one time when he related a particularly illuminating piece of advice gleaned from parrying back and forth, it dealt with this question that I heard his booming voice ask too many times: What is the rarest element known to mankind?

The first time I heard this I was thinking natural resources – think Astatine or Organesson – who wouldn’t?

Understanding that his audience was political office holders, appointed officials and high-ranking government employees, Steve fired off this question about the rarest element known to society. Fade to black as crickets are chirping. The room stood quiet, the shuffling of feet and slight coughing was heard. After some time and a few incorrect guesses, Steve exclaimed loudly — COURAGE! Not exactly one of my top 20 choices but that was Steve’s way.

Steve was the individual who was a veracious reader of history, adored and lived by Machiavelli’s The Prince (Sorry, Governor McGreevy), practiced the Art of War by Sun Tzu, and on this day had stumped this fairly educated crowd.

Steve went to explain that it is easy for politicians and appointed officials to make the easy decisions — hire supporters, create new programs, smile and wave and take credit for the hard work of others; but it was truly the courageous ones who had to make the tough decisions, to do unpopular things – cut budgets, vote against your party or base because it is the right thing to do, fire a friend or supporter due to incompetence and so on.

He went on to add that it is easy to go for the magical carpet ride when all is going well, it is truly the ones with courage who lead the way with a prudent and just cause or purpose even if widely unpopular. Steve knew this truth because he had lived it. Steve trained young leaders to act and vote with conviction and trained many to be prepared to withstand pressure. We have all seen the packed rooms and assembly halls when an unpopular issue was presented, but Steve would counsel all that these times come and go and in the end the greater good would be forever served by the vote wrapped in courage.

Question of the day: When was the last time you did something that had tinges of courage?

Funny story: In the 90’s, in the Township of Belleville, which to this day I contend raised some of the  craftiest players in the State, had  a robust county committee (from both parties) that had a majority of the committee on the town, county, state or some other public payroll. On this particular occasion, the county committee was asked to take a hard vote that the big party bosses didn’t like. We did our headcount of the fifty county committee votes and knew it would be close. Of course, everyone will tell you that they are with you, but until the vote, which they all pray is a closed ballot, is counted, no one can predict the outcome. The open vote was started and one of the leading county committee members hit the ground with chest pains. Sammie was rushed to the hospital and treated overnight. The vote went on and the outcome determined.  When Sammie was discharged (doctor gave a clean bill) the next morning, he swore allegiance to both sides. From that point on, when the vote was a tough one, Sammie literally went to the hospital to avoid the vote. We called it the Sammie P effect.

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