Stephen Adubato honored by Christie, Booker and other high profile leaders in Newark

By Lisa Rose/The Star-Ledger
on October 28, 2013

Governor Chris Christie poses with Stephen Adubato during a ceremony honoring the founder of the Robert Treat Academy.


NEWARK — A remarkable throng of political superstars gathered on a blustery morning outside the North Ward Center in Newark to honor Stephen Adubato Sr., a Democratic power broker who helped start one of the city's most successful charter schools.

Governor Chris Christie and Senator elect Cory Booker shivered in the front row during a ceremony that culminated with the unveiling of a bronze statue of Adubato.

Democrats and Republicans alike paid tribute to the 80-year-old party boss and community leader. The heady mix of lawmakers included Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.), Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R-Essex), Essex County Executive, Joseph DiVincenzo and Gov. James McGreevey.

Standing at the podium, Booker eyed the array of elected officials, cracked a smile and described Adubato as “the most prodigiously promiscuous politician that I have ever met.”

Booker went on to laud Adubato, known throughout the community as "Big Steve," as a staunch city advocate and a father figure who has “ignited the skies of Newark…One of my last acts as mayor is to say ‘thank you.’”

Christie also said that Adubato was a mentor and he too punctuated his praise with a quip. Glancing at the statue, Christie told the man of the hour, “You’re gonna have to walk in and out of this place every day and look at yourself.”

The bronze sculpture, created by artist Jay Warren, depicts Adubato sitting on a bench with two schoolkids, one of them holding open a book.

“At heart, Steve is a teacher and he’s always been a teacher and trying to make a difference for kids,” said the Rev. Edwin Leahy, headmaster of Saint Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark. “He was one of the early thinkers about charter schools. A lot of people say Steve is a liberal but I say he’s a radical. He thinks outside the box and is willing to practice politics to make things happen.”

O’Toole said that when he first met Adubato two decades ago, he considered him an adversary because of their political differences.

“We were mortal enemies but I came to realize that he was the heart and soul of the rebirth of Newark,” said O’Toole. “Every child he has touched, that’s a lasting legacy. He’s defined the futures of thousands of people in Newark.”

Adubato founded the North Ward Center in 1970, opening the center to provide residents with information about community services. The center expanded to include a preschool, child development center and a business training institute. In 1997, Adubato helped to open the Robert Treat Academy. In 2001, an adult day care center called Casa Israel was added to the North Ward Center.

Marilyn Herrera, a Robert Treat teacher, said that her attachment to the North Ward Center dates back to preschool.

“My parents met Steve when I was in the preschool lottery process and I just remember all his little sayings like ‘Show me the money,’” said Herrera. “He always encouraged us to be a part of sports and be a part of clubs. I’m hoping that kids and educators look at the statue and are inspired by his legacy.”

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