NEWARK – That fragile world of political decorum – sustained by public egos keeping one another in check, rituals of politeness and restraint suppressing everyone’s underworld of agony and envy – crashed inexorably Friday night at the North Ward Center as it does annually.
“I’ve been speaker for 73 days, and it feels like it’s been 73 years,” admitted Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange). “I’m only dealing with a Republican governor, a senate president who thinks he’s a Republican governor, a majority leader who thinks he’s the speaker, a minority leader who insists on calling me dear, an out-of-control deficit, and unions who want to run me out of town.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) doubled over with laughter in a crowd crammed alike with the aging and cherubic faces of older operatives and political crumbums, and those connected to the new axis of power, including Sweeney, Oliver, DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa, and state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank).
Towering side by side in the crowd stood State Republican Chairman Jay Webber and State Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski, studiously paralyzed, grinning like gunfighters glad they don’t have to draw as the barbs flew all around them.
“This event always gives us a chance to see Republicans no one’s ever heard of, like, uh, what’s his name…? – Goodwin – Tom Goodwin,” said staccato Steve Adubato, Jr., to which new state Sen. Tom Goodwin (R-Hamilton) gave a sheepish wave.
Hosted by North Ward Democratic Leader Steve Adubato, Sr., the event – dubbed the St. Patrick’s and St Joseph’s Celebration -hinged on a heavy dose of requisite jokes about sex and age and potency with aging handfuls of political warhorses packing the ante-chamber at the North Ward Center.
As his daughter, Michele, undertakes the latest addition to the community service institutions Adubato founded – a school for autistic children, and Adubato’s charter school agenda finds a ready-work mate in Republican Christie – Adubato honored Democratic Essex County Administrator Joan Codey Durkin as Irishwoman of the year and old Republican pal former state Sen. Bill Baroni as Italian man of the year.
Baroni earlier this month left the state senate seat now occuied by fellow Hamiltonian Goodwin, and started his new job as Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy director of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, a move that occurred with minimal fanfare by the mainstream media but that made him an obvious target in this crowd.
Joan Durkin’s son, Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, immediately went on the offensive.
“This is a guy who left a $50,000-a-year job and insecure pension system in a bad economy and went to a $250,000-a-year job and a great pension system,” said Durkin. “That, my friends, is profiles in opportunity.”
Irish born and adopted by an Italian father, Baroni protested only a little the Italian designation when he seized the mike moments later.
“It’s great to be here at the North Ward Center,” Baroni told Adubato. “Otherwise known as your campaign headquarters against Dick Codey.”
It seems Adubato, whose face is all over the Newark area on billboards advertising his celebrated charter schools, grabbed Baroni’s ear on a telephone call one day and demanded to know if Baroni had seen the billboards and whether he believed they’re effective.
“Sure, Steve, it worked for the Ayatollah,” Baroni told him.
Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno was originally scheduled to be in attendance but couldn’t make it, and when Baroni asked, “Where’s the lieutenant governor?”, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) raised her hand.
“She asked me to be her stand-in,” she said.
“That’s as close as you’re ever going to get to that job, too,” Baroni shot back.
“She (Guadagno) must have gotten that confidential memo from criminal justice,” state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) had cracked earlier.
Of course, at these Adubato events the laughter in the room always treads vaguely at the edge of madness.
What are people thinking on the drive home, or when they look in the mirror when they get there? Was there something more to a joke? Is the event a theatrical opportunity to make symbols hard enough for people to get messages that would otherwise be permanently buried?
Joan Codey Durkin was the only person named Codey in the room. Former Governor Richard J. Codey was not in attendance this year, wounded following the Adubato-blessed coup that forced him off the Senate President’s throne. Codey’s political people also stayed away from the North Ward.
Meglagomanical at the microphone, Adubato junior, after introducing the North Ward-grown state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) first, followed by a lengthy list of attendant pols and operators, as an afterthought noted the presence of U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York).
But the Adubatos also absorbed punishment.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker in his turn at the microphone landed sufficiently torturous verbal gongs on the crown of the elder Adubato to finally straighten the back of the younger version momentarily – long enough for Booker to protest, “After what he’s put me through, it’s my one chance to get back at him.”
The Adubatos appeared to accept this explanation, and the boss at the end of Booker’s beat-down said simply, “He brought a reputation. People are proud.”
This produced a hearty round of applause for Booker.
One wouldn’t have known he’s up for re-election in six weeks. Last year in an election year, Christie and Jon Corzine jousted verbally at the pleasure of the gaping crowd, staging a statewide conflagration in one small room, but on Friday evening there was no Clifford Minor to counterbalance Booker’s presence, as he had at a North Ward event three year ago during the infamous Adubato-Booker cold war.
This time, the elder Adubato was mostly subdued, focused on the spectacle, as if the surreal drama all around him expressed that part of his own unconscious political mind, which gave him pleasure to discern in the physical realm – if only it could lead to new strategies and projects.
Durkin told a story about meeting Adubato years earlier.
“What you need in politics, kid, is sincerity,” Adubato had told him. “And if you can fake that, you’re going to make it.”
When Baroni unveiled a picture of the Lincoln Tunnel with Adubao’s madcap face on it as his first contribution to the New York-New Jersey Port Authority, the political mastermind led the way with laughter.