Some electricity still down but political power not out in Newark’s North Ward

NEWARK – The worst storm in New Jersey history wrecked the state this week, and this morning Steve Adubato stood at the front of a room and watched the well-oiled, functioning gears of the North Ward machine.

In droves, Democrats – many of them delivered by bus – poured into the Flamboyan Manor and kept coming.

They needed an overflow room in the basement wired with sound.

A few blocks away, men in coats stood in long lines holding gas cans praying the gas wouldn’t run out before they made it to the pumps. The cars backed up on 21 bumper to bumper.

The politicians here weren’t immune.

“I still don’t have power,” said Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-29). “The East Ward is up but there are a few houses still without, including mine.”

“I don’t have any gas,” state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) said.

But they were here, them and Essex County Democratic Chairman Phil Thigpen, along with all the other foot soldiers, ward captains and party brass in the Essex County Democratic Party, personally rousted to attend this long-planned pre-Election Day rally by North Ward Party Leader Adubato himself, who manned his cell phone all day yesterday.

Seventy percent of the North Ward lacked power.

“Electricity,” Ruiz clarified, lest anyone confuse storm damage with a minimization of political clout.

Rallying for President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Democrats wanted to put that flip switch on display this morning, demonstrating not simply the capacity of their machine, but a charged argument for government in the aftermath of Sandy.

Their chief target?

A Tea Party-influenced Republican Party and a nominee for president who suggested FEMA should be privatized.

“Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction,” Mitt Romney said at a CNN debate during the Republican Primary. “And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

Asked if that included disaster relief, Romney said: “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids.”

Democrats here tore into the remark with relish.

“You tell that to the National Guard, you tell that to FEMA response teams, you tell that to all those people who are going to get resources from the federal government,” said Menendez, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Running a double-digit lead over his Republican opponent, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13), Menendez said Romney-Ryan would simply reinforce the policies of the Bush era.

“We saw how those who didn’t believe in FEMA responded to Hurricane Katrina,” Menendez shouted to applause. “Mitt Romney represents those polices that got us into this mess.”

Many elected officials attended the Adubato-organized event, including U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6), Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28), Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28), Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-34), Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, At-Large Newark Councilman Donald Payne, Jr., At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana, and East Ward Mayor Bob Bowser.

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton