NEWARK – The Essex County Executive and Newark’s senior senator today both panned a proposal by North Ward Democratic leader Steve Adubato and a few others to dump County Chairman Phil Thigpen in favor of a longtime member of Adubato’s inner circle.
County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark) pledged their full support for Thigpen, and denounced Adubato’s attempted power play to deliver the chairmanship to his friend, Adrianne Davis.
"Steve’s a guy who wants his epitaph to be, ‘I controlled everything in my life,’ but he’s just a guy with a big ego, who wants everyone to kiss his behind like we’re out here picking a bunch of cotton bales, black, white and Latino, all of us," Rice said. "To hell with Steve."
Himself a longtime Adubato ally who came up out of the North Ward, DiVincenzo stopped short of Rice’s all-out assault on his friend and political mentor, but was clear in his disapproval.
"I don’t want all the good we’re doing to be overcast by politics," said DiVincenzo. "I want to stay on course here. Steve and I have been together for 40 years, but this is one I don’t agree with. Phil Thigpen is a good chairman, he supported me in 2002, and I’m supporting him now."
The county chairman and Phil Alagia, DiVincenzo’s chief-of-staff, denied they were playing out a piece of bad cop/good cop political theater with Adubato.
The most cynical interpretation might suggest that the boss is flexing his operation’s political muscle with the leak of Davis’s name, allowing DiVincenzo – up for re-election in two years in a notoriously fractured political environment – to step up and publicly and firmly declare "no" in a healing action.
"Don’t be cynical," said DiVincenzo. "This is about doing the right thing. This is about the people in Essex County, who are going to be at ease."
Alagia added that DiVincenzo simply responded with a sense of political realism.
"Joe D. was hearing the outrage out there over this," Alagia said. "He knew people were coming together against this, and he knew it was causing damage. Joe realized ‘enough is enough.’ If Steve went through with this, Joe felt there would have been a target on his back."
A longtime Adubato antagonist, even Rice confessed the North Ward leader was outdoing himself with his attempt to scuttle Thigpen, who’s served since 2001.
"I stand 100% behind Chairman Thigpen," said Rice. "He is a good chairman, my chairman, someone who is balanced, a former councilman from East Orange who was a track star and raised a fine family, a nice intelligent guy."
The senator, who has had his own battles with DiVincenzo and has at times been rumored as a possible challenger to the county executive in 2010, praised his would-be rival for distancing himself from Adubato on this issue.
"I think it’s the right decision," said the senator. "I think it’s the honorable decision. We don’t make people, they make us. Joe’s doing the right thing here."
Rice said he’s tired of what he sees as Adubato’s penchant to control people through a patronage system of county and municipal jobs.
"Even when people want to do the right thing, they’re held hostage," Rice said. "I will fight to make it clear that Adubato won’t control the destiny of those people I represent."
Rice said Adubato’s failure to move Davis into the chairman’s seat will add up to the North Ward leader’s second loss in the last few weeks.
"You saw Steve try to go up there to Belleville in the municipal race, and the mayor and council kicked his butt up there," Rice said of P.J. Mac Donald’s victory over Elvin Pereira in Belleville’s 3rd Ward. "They did what they had to do, which is to keep Steve from going over there."
If Thigpen chooses not to run, Rice said thecounty committee shouldget behind a candidate whom it determines not to be an Adubato acolyte.