Steve Adubato, an army veteran and former teacher, is the founder and creator of the North Ward Center, The Robert Treat charter school, Casa Israel, and various other charity organizations. He is a one of a kind political power broker and social provocateur and is viewed by many as New Jersey’s Greatest Political Teacher and Mastermind – the original powerbroker. I felt compelled this morning to write about this wonderfully complicated human being. He schooled me and hundreds of others on what life in politics is all about and I impart a little of what he taught me.
For starters, more than anything, Steve loves his family and the Jersey Shore – sometimes not in that order.
I don’t pretend to know Steve the longest or best, I have known him since 1993 and have heard about his political and community exploits since the 1980s.
Steve and I share a special and unusual bond, but that was his magic, he made everyone feel that way—when he needed you.
Simply put, Steven N. Adubato was the single most intelligent and powerful political force that New Jersey has ever witnessed. Presidents, US Senators, Governors, Congress members, mayors and various other elected officials from all walks of life, would seek an audience to maybe get political advice and support. He knew how to work a room or a person, regardless of size or stature. Very successful individuals, both in the corporate setting, as well as the political one, would wait for hours to meet with him and it was enchanting to see the dance and political romance that would take place.
Akin to the Don in the movie The Godfather (and Steve would love the comparison) Steve would sit at the head of the table at the North Ward and make imaginative political decisions and deals that would impact thousands of people. He relished the aura of power that emanated from those meetings. Steve was a planner and a plotter, and he held endless meetings utilizing his sometimes annoying Socratic methodology. Steve would demand and achieve the impossible, and during those rare times you said no and disappointed, he manipulated or motivated you and imposed (depending on your perspective) on you to say yes or deliver the next go around.
A common misunderstanding about Steve is that he wielded a huge political club for the sake of aggregating political power – to feed his ego. The truth is he used political levers and made monstrous political deals to get funds to budget his community based organizations. He was the first true believer in the re-birth in Newark, he bet his life (case in point when he was the first to openly back challenger Ken Gibson over incumbent Mayor Hugh Addonizio in the aftermath of the Newark Riots) on it and he kept the North Ward a vibrant place where dreams no longer died but had hope and rare inner city opportunity.
For Steve, politics and the ever fluid nature of this business was like trying to conduct an orchestra. Watching Big Steve conduct his political orchestra was like watching the great Arturo Toscanini conduct Beethoven’s Symphony #9.
Steve’s formula for success was simple – the more money he could attract, the better the odds that the poor kids of Newark had a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty, by getting off the streets and obtaining a better education. Graduates from his charter school are the most sought after students at the highest rated private high schools in the country.
The more money the Center received meant more for senior citizens, often the minority community, who could
receive better healthcare, transportation and services.
The more money to the Business Institute received meant more for minority women, mainly single mothers with limited education, who would get training for a career and job placement. He took welfare moms and made them tax papers—as he was fond of saying, what is more American than that. Steve is a true patriot.
Anyone who knows Big Steve knows that he never considered himself an Italian-American; he was and is an American of Italian decent. By Steve’s own account we are all Americans first and what this country stands for should be foremost.
Steve, here are some lessons that you have taught your pupils:
- Only fight the fights that you can win and those that are worth fighting for
- Hustle out every vote and never take one vote for granted
- When dealing with a group on a goal or mission – have frequent meetings with reportable deliverables
- If you arrive on time – you are late
- Don’t give a job or instruction to someone that you haven’t or wouldn’t do yourself
- Don’t take only a gun to a knife fight – take a bazooka and always have a nuclear option
- When asked for a favor or appointment, don’t say no till the absolute last moment – that crossroad might never be reached, so why disappoint
- After a win or a loss, don’t gloat or agonize for more than a day – the next fight comes rather quickly
- Don’t have unreasonable expectations of people, most will disappoint you
- There is no sure thing in politics, but when making an important decision, don’t ever be emotional—be dispassionate like a surgeon.
- Politics is an illusion and so called political power is fleeting and temporary
- Politics is hard to define or explain – it is at best a real world upside down and inside out
- When taking on an opponent – your first line of attack should be against his strong suit
- Love politics for the good that it can do for people.
- Courage is the most rare element known to mankind
- Loyalty is the most prized attribute
- At the end of the line you are defined by the family you keep and the friends that you make
- Never show an opponent everything you have – it’ll show them your limitations
- Politics isn’t always pretty and sometimes nasty – but the ends always justify the means and whatever you can do today—do it today!
- In the end, we are not Italian, Irish, Korean, black, white, or Hispanic – we are all Americans First
Words can’t do justice to define or somehow quantify what Steve has meant to me and our community.
Steve – we are better people because of your courageous and unique skills. You are our modern day Renaissance man, today’s answer to Machiavelli’s the Prince with shades of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
Thank you Steve for a lifelong education.
This column was first published on May 1, 2017 on InsiderNJ.