Christie’s Pick Of Dem Powerbroker’s Republican Niece Confirmed


By John Celock

The Democratic-controlled New Jersey Senate unanimously confirmed Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) nomination of the Republican niece of a Democratic powerbroker for a state judgeship.

The Senate’s confirmation of Cranford Deputy Mayor Lisa Adubato (R) to a state Superior Court judgeship came as part of a package of judicial confirmations Thursday to end a judicial shortage in Essex County. Adubato, who was nominated last month by Christie, is the niece of Steve Adubato Sr., the founder of the North Ward Center in Newark and a longtime Democratic Party powerbroker in New Jersey and Essex County.

“I’ve known Lisa for many years. She is wonderful,” state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) said during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday morning. “She is a dedicated lawyer. I could not be more excited for you Lisa that you finally made it.”

Lisa Adubato is the daughter of former state Assemblyman Michael Adubato (D-Newark), who was praised by senators during the hearing. An Essex County native, Adubato lives in Union County but will serve as a judge in Essex County. The Essex County judicial vacancies have accumulated in recent years following a series of disputes between Essex County Democratic state senators and Christie over judicial nominations and picks for other state posts.

Steve Adubato Sr. is one of the most powerful Democrats in Essex County and the state, owing to the vote-gathering machine he built up in Newark’s North Ward and his creation of the North Ward Center, which provides education and social services in the city. Adubato’s long time ally, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo (D) is a long time Christie ally. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), who has worked with Christie on education issues, is a former pre-school teacher at the North Ward Center and has been described as an Adubato protégé.

During her confirmation hearing, Adubato thanked her family for their support but did not mention her uncle. She did note that the Statehouse was a “special place” for her father.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nick Scutari (D-Linden) said that Steve Adubato Sr. pressed for his niece’s nomination and confirmation, saying that Adubato came to his office several times to push for his niece. Lisa Adubato’s nomination was backed by Union County’s three senators – Scutari, Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) and Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) – which was needed for Thursday’s Senate vote to occur. Kean and Lesniak also briefly spoke in support of Adubato Thursday.

O’Toole noted Steve Adubato Sr. during the Judiciary Committee hearing, calling him by his nickname “Big Steve,” saying that Adubato and his wife would be “honored” by their niece’s confirmation.

Lisa Adubato, who practices law in Cranford, was elected to the Cranford Township Committee in 2011 and reelected in 2014. She has served as deputy mayor in 2014 and 2015 and currently serves as the township’s finance commissioner. She will have to resign from the Township Committee to assume the judgeship.

Cranford Republicans will need to submit the names of three potential Adubato replacements to the Township Committee within 15 days of her resignation. The Township Committee will then have up to 30 days to appoint one of the three to serve until the results of a November special election are certified by county election officials. Typically the party will submit the names of the preferred successor and two placeholder candidates. Republicans control the Cranford Township Committee.

The remaining two years of Adubato’s current term will be filled during November’s election, along with the election for a full three-year term on the Cranford Township Committee.