In 1970, Steve Adubato Sr. founded what would become The North Ward Center, a venerable non-profit institution that serves residents of the city, with free preschools, health care for seniors, recreational activities for children and help for families in crisis.
The Robert Treat Academy, a charter school that opened in 1997, became Adubato's crowning achievement, and he often showed off the school, encouraging students to shout in unison, "Show me the money," to visitors, especially those with money to donate.
Throughout that time Adubato and his wife, Fran, were fixtures in Newark politics. While Fran served as the chair of the North Ward Democratic Committee, Steve functioned as the charismatic leader of a political machine that could make or break candidates, not only in Newark, but in county and statewide races.
Many who sought city-wide office in Newark would come for Adubato’s blessing, given his ability to get out the vote in Newark’s North Ward. He maintained close on-again, off-again, on-again relationships with all of Newark’s mayors from Ken Gibson, to Sharpe James to Cory Booker.
Adubato had also groomed many future leaders who worked at The North Ward Center and as well as in the North Ward’s political operation, including Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. and newly elected Essex County Register Juan Rivera.
Many of the leaders cultivated by Adubato were of Puerto Rican descent, which became the dominant ethnic group in the North Ward after Italian-Americans left during the 1960s and early 70s. Adubato embraced Puerto Rico, visiting the island so often that he was made an honorary citizen.
Adubato, who recently celebrated his 87th birthday, began withdrawing from public life in the middle of the decade. In 2015, his daughter Michele, took over the operations of The North Ward Center. With a background in special education, Michele has expanded the scope of services to adults with autism and recently broke ground for the HOPE House, which will be the permanent home of four individuals with autism beginning July 2020.
On the political side, Samuel Gonzalez, a former Essex County freeholder who doubles as Ramos’s chief of staff, was elected the chair of the North Ward Democratic Committee in 2014.
Under Gonzalez, the Committee has maintained its ability to churn out the vote. Gonzalez works closely with Essex County Democratic Chair LeRoy Jones as well as Ramos, Mayor Ras Baraka and DiVincenzo, to ensure the North Ward has representation at every level of government.
In a move that comes striaght from the Adubato playbook, the North Ward Democrats have been teaming up with Baraka as well as education advocates to support a ticket each year in the April school board election. In elections with a dozen or more candidates vying for three spots, their slate invariably comes out on top.
From the Series: Top Newark Stories of the Decade