Cory Booker was heckled on Wednesday night in the North Ward.
The Newark Mayor was trying to deliver a speech paying tribute to Newark’s Irish-Americans for overcoming prejudice and oppression in the New World when a voice from the audience hollered, “Hey, what about the Italians?”
The voice belonged to Steve Adubato Sr., the legendary Newark power broker, acting in his capacity as host of the 33rd annual St. Joseph-St. Patrick Day celebration sponsored by Adubato’s North Ward Center.
Booker, whose campaign against Sharpe James four years ago no doubt prepared him for such moments, didn’t flinch when the peanut gallery erupted.
“There were Italians in Newark?” he said. “I wasn’t aware of that.”
Yes, this Booker fellow is catching on to Essex County politics.
Every year, Adubato honors a prominent Irish-American and Italian-American to celebrate the feast days of St. Patrick (March 17) and St. Joseph (March 19). The event draws an A list crowd, as you might expect. Governors, state Senators, freeholders and newspaper reporters in search of free corned beef and pasta show up to hear honorees insult the assembled guests and themselves. Humor, some of it of the politically incorrect variety, is the order of the day.
This year’s ceremony, held in the Robert Treat Academy €” Adubato’s charter school €” paid tribute to the Rutgers University football program. Bob Mulcahy, RU’s athletic director, received an award as Irish-American of the year; Greg Schiano, the Scarlet Knights’ football coach, was feted as Italian-American of the year.
Steve Adubato Jr., a columnist and MC for the occasion, set the tone of the night when he briefed VIPs like Gov. Jon Corzine, Rutgers President Richard McCormick, Senate President Richard Codey, Democratic State Chairman Joe Cryan, State Senator Nia Gill, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole and others about what they might expect. “Nobody will say anything bad about anybody,” Adubato Jr. explained. “That’s because Dick Codey won’t be speaking.” Drum roll, please.
Adubato, of course, was kidding: It wouldn’t be a St. Joseph’s-St. Patrick’s party without a few cutting remarks. Corzine said that Rutgers’ football season inspired him to hit the gym, a practice he recommended to the burly Cryan. McCormick, who battled Corzine over budget cuts at Rutgers, noted that some observers believed he was out of favor with the Governor and was desperate to find a way back into his good graces.
Nonsense, he said, before reminding Corzine that he had picked up the Governor’s dry cleaning, as requested.
DiVincenzo tossed a barb at the night’s host, telling Schiano, “Don’t kid yourself, if you weren’t winning, you wouldn’t be here tonight.” Everybody loves a winner €” it’s just that Adubato loves them more.
Ah, yes: Remember the days when RU’s football program was a joke? McCormick hasn’t forgotten. He recalled the days when Rutgers fans “counted the number of Rutgers victories on one middle finger.”
Schiano insisted that at one point, DiVincenzo wanted him fired. “But then one year we went 4-7, but we were 11-0 against the spread. Then Joe wanted me to get a 10-year extension.”
Mulcahy noted that last Monday morning, the first school day after RU’s spring break, Schiano had his team on the practice field at 5:30 in the morning. That’s not the route Mulcahy would have taken. Being the type who celebrates St. Patrick, he said, “I’d have been getting them home at 5:30 in the morning.”
Only somebody named Mulcahy can make a joke like that.
And only at Adubato’s party.