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Power Issue: A-C

Posted December 8, 2008

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From the arts to politics, these are the 101 most influential people in the Garden State.

STEVE ADUBATO, SR.
Civic leader, political boss


Although he has announced his retirement, Adubato, 75, is still the man whose blessing Democrats seek when running in Newark. “Big Steve” has been wielding political power since he helped Kenneth Gibson become Newark’s first black mayor in 1970. These days, he prefers to discuss his social legacy, including the North Ward Education and Cultural Center, which provides preschool and adult day-care programs, and the Robert Treat Academy, a K–8 charter school whose students (98 percent Hispanic) are recruited by the top prep schools in the Northeast.—KS

ROBERT A. ALTENKIRCH
Educator


Altenkirch, 60, has been a highly visible figure on the Newark political landscape since arriving as president of New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2002. He serves as chair of the Newark Downtown Core Redevelopment Corporation (which oversees projects like the Prudential Center) and is a leader in the Gateway Project, designed to remove physical and cultural barriers between the NJIT campus and the surrounding neighborhood. Entrepreneurs cite NJIT as a top source for young techies.—LGP

ZOD ARIFAI
Restaurateur

Since launching Blu a little over three years ago, Arifai has become the New Jersey chef whose name is most on the lips of New York foodies, some of whom have actually ventured across the river to Montclair and discovered that the reports of brilliance at bargain prices aren’t hype. Fans of Arifai’s 40-seat BYO include several fellow Jersey chefs who show up on their days off. Arifai, 43, has almost unreal stamina, which, along with extremely efficient technique, allows him to meet his own withering standards day in and day out despite a small kitchen and crew. An Albanian from Kosovo who came to New Jersey as a teen, Arifai trained under eminences including David Bouley and Charlie Trotter. Blu is his baby, and he pours his heart into every dish.—EL

MICHAEL ARON
Media


As the longtime senior political correspondent for the New Jersey Network, Aron, 62, has covered news out of Trenton going back to the Kean administration. Since July, he has done double duty as interim director of news and public affairs, even as NJN struggles with staff cuts, management upheaval, and funding uncertainties. With Comcast pulling the plug on CN8’s news coverage, NJN takes on even greater weight as a statewide news organization. Aron, fully recovered from a 2006 bout with cancer, appears up to the task.—KS

BILL BARONI
State Senator


At the age of 14, Baroni got his first taste of politics when he volunteered for his local Congressman. In the years since, he went from being a chauffeur for the assembly speaker to serving as chief counsel for various New Jersey political big shots. When he turned 32, he decided to run for office himself. The Republican was elected assemblyman in a predominantly Democratic district, thanks in part to visiting 10,809 homes door to door. Aside from being handsome, colleagues say he is witty, exceedingly bright, and can be quite eloquent. A centrist, he’s made friends on both sides of the aisle. —Caren Chesler

CURTIS BASHAW
Developer


Bashaw, 48, made a splash down the Shore when he took the old Congress Hall Hotel and turned it into the crown jewel of Cape May’s tourist industry. In August, his Cape Advisors scored again, opening the Chelsea, the first non-gaming boutique hotel to come to Atlantic City since the 1960s. Bashaw’s bet on non-gamblers could turn out to be a high-risk play if the economy doesn’t turn around. —JAM

JENNIFER BECK
State Senator


While growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, Beck was told she could not compete in ice hockey with boys. She persevered and eventually played. During her first run for elected office in Red Bank in 1997, Beck knocked on every door in town—but lost. Two years later, she knocked on every door twice and became the first Republican in twenty years to win a seat on the borough council. Beck, 42, joined the Assembly in 2006 and cemented her credentials as a new-generation Republican in 2007, when she ousted Democratic incumbent Ellen Karcher from the state Senate.—JB

JOEL BENENSON
Pollster, Political Consultant


The journalist-turned-pollster is not an official part of Barack Obama’s transition team, but Benenson is likely to be New Jersey’s closest connection to the new president. Benenson, 56, was an early member of the Obama inner circle, helping the candidate shape his message and contributing to vital debate-prep sessions. The New Republic recently put him on its list of “30 people who matter most in Obama’s Washington”—along with the likes of Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, and even French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Back home in Jersey, Benenson’s clients include senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, and mayors Cory Booker (Newark), Jerramiah Healy (Jersey City), and Douglas Palmer (Trenton).— KS

DICK BENFIELD
Media


Benfield, 68, was editorial page editor of the Record for nearly twenty years. He championed preservation, came down hard on sleazy politicians, and had a hand in the demise of former governor Jim McGreevey. These days he opines on New Jersey issues for the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. —JM

DENNIS BONE
President, Verizon New Jersey


The product of a family farm in Dry Creek, West Virginia (population 300), Bone was a high school math and science teacher before switching to engineering. He joined Bell Atlantic as a systems engineer, working his way up to the top spot in New Jersey after the 2000 Bell Atlantic/GTE merger. Bone, 57, put the brakes on a Verizon move out of Newark after receiving tax breaks from the state. —JB

GLORIA BONILLA-SANTIAGO
Educator, activist


With a lifelong focus on poor and minority families and children, this professor of urban studies at Rutgers-Camden’s Graduate School of Social Work has made her mark through the Center for Strategic Urban Community Leadership, which she founded in 1992. Five years later, Bonilla-Santiago, 54, used her Center, and her influence in Trenton, to push for charter- school legislation that enabled her to open the LEAP Academy, a K–12 math and science charter school in downtown Camden that sends virtually all its 800-plus graduates onto higher education. The daughter of  migrant workers, Bonilla-Santiago is now zeroing in on the birth-to-5-year-old set, raising $3 million for an early-learning research academy.—JPC

CORY BOOKER
Mayor of Newark


“Brick City” residents remain both hopeful and skeptical when it comes to the 39-year-old leader of the state’s largest metropolis. To his Rhodes Scholar rhetoric, some say “shut up and dig.” But there’s no denying what the hard-working son of civil rights activists has already accomplished: 40 percent crime reduction, $40 million committed to parks and open space, and a new Inspector General to combat corruption. Booker is a rising national player. He co-chaired Barack Obama’s New Jersey campaign and will star in an upcoming “docu-soap” series called Brick City on the Sundance Channel. Booker swears he’ll finish his mission, despite a series of setbacks for his candidates in local elections. To this civic reformer halfway through his first term, Newark remains a city of promise and progress. —DS

BARBARA BUONO
State Senator


As chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Buono, 55, is one of the most powerful members of the legislature and the first woman to hold the job. The post did not come without a fight. It was promised to her, but that was before a divisive political spat with Senate president Richard Codey. Buono—armed with her sharp intellect and strong will—prevailed. The Democrat from Middlesex began her legislative career in the Assembly in 1994 and was the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Budget Committee before moving to the Senate in 2002.—CC

RAY CHAMBERS
Philanthropist


Chambers retired super-rich twenty years ago from his leveraged-buyout firm, Wesray Capital Corporation, to dedicate himself to helping those less fortunate. A native of Newark, Chambers, 66, has played a major role in the city’s rebirth through his work with the Boys & Girls Club and NJPAC. The graduate of Rutgers-Newark also cofounded America’s Promise Alliance with Colin Powell, and the National Mentoring Partnership. Since February, he has served as the United Nations’ first-ever special envoy for malaria.—EF

CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE
Attorney, politician


Will he or won’t he? At press time Christie, 46, had stepped down as U.S. Attorney and was deciding if he would challenge Governor Corzine for the top spot at Drumthwacket. Christie, a Republican, made a name for himself in his former role taking down some major government sleazeballs. The Star-Ledger reported that his conviction record was 130–0. You literally can’t beat that. Democrats will have to dig deep to find any dirt on Christie—aside from his oft-cited role in picking his ex-boss John Ashcroft for a lucrative consulting gig.—JAM

RICHARD J. CODEY
Senate President


The veteran lawmaker entered the state Legislature in 1974 and has been there ever since. Codey, 62, was named Senate president in 2002, making him one of the most powerful men in Trenton, though that power was challenged last year when his pick for majority leader, Paul Sarlo of Bergen County, lost out to South Jersey lawmaker Stephen Sweeney. Still, the man known for his plain speaking continues to be a formidable force, sponsoring countless bills that become law. Lauded for his fight to improve the state’s mental-health system, the West Orange Democrat once took a night job as an orderly at Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital to observe the conditions there. When his wife, Mary Jo, who suffers from depression, became the butt of a joke on New Jersey 101.5 FM, Codey went down to the station and threatened the radio host, Craig Carton. Codey was actually New Jersey’s 53rd governor, filling in after Jim McGreevey’s resignation in November 2004. He’d hoped to have the job longer but opted out of a costly nomination battle against multimillionaire governor-to-be Jon Corzine. But Codey, who is currently viewed more favorably than the governor, may try again.—CC
 
SUSAN COLE
Educator


Since her appointment as president of Montclair State University in 1998, Cole, 66,  has been a zealous advocate for higher education in New Jersey, lobbying for increased state funding to help renovate and expand aging campuses to attract additional students. At MSU, she’s presided over a construction boom that has more than doubled the square footage of campus building space. Detractors have criticized her authoritarian leadership, but even they agree she’s helped to raise the profile of the state’s second largest university. —LGP

BARBARA BELL COLEMAN and CLAUDE COLEMAN
Philanthropy, the Judiciary


Married since 1997, the couple staked a personal claim in Newark’s revitalization by making their home there and  supporting a glittering array of worthy causes. A minister’s daughter, Barbara Bell Coleman, 58, is president of consulting firm BBC Associates and particularly devoted to NJPAC and the restoration of Branch Brook Park. Superior Court Judge Claude Coleman, 68, a beat cop during the 1967 riots and former fire director, is a vigorous supporter of Leadership Newark and St. Benedict’s Prep. Rooted in service and giving, the couple shares a deep commitment to young people, the arts, and Newark’s future.—DS

BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN
Assemblywoman


Coleman is on the short list of candidates who could be tapped to run for lieutenant governor when that office is voted on this year. A  member of a powerful Trenton political family and popular in the city’s African-American community, Watson Coleman, 63, has held her seat for ten years. In 2006, the Ewing Democrat was unanimously elected as majority leader of the Assembly, where she is respected for her work on family-rights issues, gang-violence control, and tax relief.—JPC

DOUGLAS R. CONANT
President/CEO, Cambell Soup Company


Conant, 57, took the helm at a stodgy Campbell Soup in 2001 and set about getting it back to mmm-hmmm good. He introduced pop-top soup cans and a low-sodium line with sea salt to make its goodness actually taste good.  He pushed supermarkets to move his soups around—putting cream of mushroom in the cooking aisle, for instance—and distributed his soups to new markets in Russia and China. Three years ago, he made the decision to keep Campbell in Camden and now has plans to develop an office park near the Campbell headquarters—the first such development in a generation.—RS

JOSEPH F. CORADINO
Developer


With Coradino as chairman, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust has injected new life into South Jersey’s malls. Coradino, 57, brought Nordstrom to Cherry Hill, redefined the ailing Echelon Mall as Voorhees Town Center, and gave Moorestown Mall a facelift. In total, PREIT is redeveloping nearly 2.8 million square feet of shopping real estate in South Jersey. It could mean big bucks for the region’s economy.—JAM

JON CORZINE
Governor


It’s hard to imagine a governor more qualified to fix the state’s finances and less able to get the job done. The 62-year-old former CEO of Goldman Sachs entered state government with his sleeves rolled up, ready to cut borrowing and spending and bolster the state’s underfunded pension system. But with the awkwardness of a geek in a frat house, his attempts to explain his various revenue-raising plans, such as monetizing state highways and raising tolls, only raised the ire of voters. His first budget put him at loggerheads with a legislature worried about reelection and steadfastly against his plan to raise the sales tax. The showdown led to a closure of state government. Corzine was forced to compromise and learned a valuable lesson: Politics trumps financial savvy.

“He’s not driven solely by a political calculus,” says Bradley Abelow, Corzine’s recently departed chief of staff. But sometimes one needs to be. With a popularity rating of less than 50 percent, some wonder whether Corzine can win reelection in 2009.

Despite his struggles, residents seem to trust the bearded man from Wall Street and believe he wants to do the right thing. Elizabeth Holtzman, who worked with Corzine when she was New York City comptroller, says the most striking thing about him is his sense of decency. “If we had a bailout and Jon Corzine were secretary of the Treasury, we wouldn’t only be focusing on Wall Street,” Holtzman says.—CC

ANTHONY COSCIA
Chairman, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey


Since his appointment in 2003, Coscia has been responsible for the New Jersey/New York area’s bridges, tunnels, airports, and seaports. Oh, and did we mention the World Trade Center redevelopment project? Coscia, 49, is an attorney by profession (with a law degree from Rutgers). A former chairman of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, he wields a huge budget for capital projects like airport expansion and the construction of a new  rail tunnel under the Hudson River.—KS

To read about the rest of our power players, click on the links below:

D-H

I-P

R-W

Bill Baroni

Reginald T. Jackson

Woody Johnson

Will and Jack Morey

Clement Price and Mary Sue Sweeney Price

Shirley Tilghman

Loretta Weinberg

Ted and Nina Wells

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