Power Issue: R-W

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

Chief Justice, State Supreme Court

Not long after Rabner’s chance meeting with Governor Corzine while volunteering at a Newark soup kitchen, the Passaic-bred attorney began a dizzying rise to the top. Within nineteen months, Rabner had served as Corzine’s chief counsel, the state’s attorney general, and finally, chief justice of the state Supreme Court. That might sound like the résumé of a slick political player, but Rabner is highly regarded on both sides of the aisle for his integrity, solid judgment, and keen intellect. He will likely leave a solid impression on the bench: If he serves until retirement, the 48-year-old will have the longest tenure of any New Jersey chief justice.—CJP


In his twenty-year tenure as president of Stevens Institute of Technology, Raveché, 65, has been a catalyst for change, attracting substantial donations that have helped fuel investment in research, new buildings, and a broadened curriculum.  He was also the focus of a 2005 audit that raised questions about an undisclosed operating deficit and several low-interest personal loans he received from the Hoboken-based school. Still, Raveché, whose contract was recently extended, may ultimately be remembered more for his part in the development of Technogenesis, a trademarked entrepreneurial process whereby Stevens students and faculty work with industry to generate new technologies—a program that could prove an important engine of innovation for the school and the state. —LGP


The construction business is in Riggs’s blood. The Newtown native got his start working for his family’s golf course development business. He ventured into residential construction and joined K. Hovnanian Enterprises—the state’s largest builder—in 1993.  Six years later, Riggs was promoted to his current position of group president, assuming responsibility for the company’s operations in New Jersey and seven other states. Like all builders, Riggs faces the challenge of anticipating future housing demands through the prism of today’s depressed market.—JB
Assembly Speaker

His ability to corral seventeen votes from South Jersey lawmakers whenever he needed them gave Roberts, 56, enough support to loosen the stranglehold North Jersey held on the Democratic party. After nearly wrestling the speaker’s post away from Joseph V. Doria in 2001, he finally got the job in 2006. He then flexed his muscles in the very first budget by taking on Governor Corzine and his one-cent sales tax increase. Roberts brought the government to a standstill for seven days until Corzine agreed to put half the revenues toward property-tax relief. Viewed as an arm of the George Norcross political machine, Roberts has shown he is no one’s puppet.—CC

President and CEO, New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority

As chief executive of NJSEA, Robinson, 51, has $4 billion in development projects currently under way. Key among them is the new football stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which will house the Giants and Jets. In addition to the new stadium, the NJSEA is building the Xanadu Entertainment and Retail Complex, nine upscale off-track wagering facilities, and a state-of-the-art rail spur and terminal to service the expanding Meadowlands complex.—BS

Political Constutant

The telegenic Roginsky, 35, has built a high profile for herself jawing about Jersey politics on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. Valued by the state’s Democrats as a media and campaign strategist, she served as spokeswoman for Senator Frank Lautenberg’s recent reelection campaign. Other clients have included representatives Albio Sires, Steven Rothman, and Frank Pallone Jr.—KS

Managing Director, George Street Playhouse

Schmidt, 49, signed on with GSP in November 2007 after leading Wisconsin’s Peninsula Players Theatre and is already hitting his stride at the center of New Brunswick’s burgeoning arts scene. In addition to bringing focus to the theater’s management, Schmidt has taken artistic risks (last fall’s Toxic Avenger) and hosted world premieres (this spring’s New Year’s Eve). The city has plans for a new cultural arts center, which will give the theater more space and educational opportunities.—JK


Starr could not cook up a more appropriate last name than the one he already has. With a dozen restaurants in his native Philadelphia, two in New York, and now four in Atlantic City, Starr, 52, is one of the area’s most successful restaurant moguls, one who imbues every project with his own brand of “Starrdust”—dramatic, fun, sexy. As a boy he spent summers on the Jersey Shore, and in the last two years his Starr Restaurant Organization established more than a beachhead in Atlantic City, making it a more exciting restaurant town and raising the bar for everyone else.—EL


He’s only been writing his column in the Record for a year and a half, but Stile, 48, has already made a name for himself in political circles. He covered Trenton for the Record and the Trenton Times for nearly two decades. He’s not afraid to go after anyone: Over the summer, Stile broke the story that Frank Lautenberg’s reelection campaign had used the senator’s connections to buy tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert and was reselling them as a fundraiser. —JM

State Senator

Sweeney made eyes roll when he won his Gloucester County state Senate seat in 2001, spending a then-record $1.8 million to unseat longtime incumbent Ray Zane.  His primary backer was his boyhood Pennsauken friend, South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross, whose Commerce Capital Markets only four months later won a no-bid contract to refinance Gloucester County bonds worth $15.7 million. Norcross or no, Sweeney, 49, is a triple-threat on his own now—Democratic majority leader in the state Senate, freeholder-director since 2006 in Gloucester County, and business representative of Ironworkers Local 399.—RS


When Taylor joined Matrix Development Group in 1981, there was not much going on around Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike. The company helped transform the Central Jersey area into a hub of business activity with the development of CenterPoint at 8A, a 500-acre business park that is home to companies such as Sony, Lenox, and Volkswagen. Taylor, 50, became president in 1987 and diversified Matrix into residential, golf, and hospitality properties, making it one of the area’s principal developers.—JB

Educator, Scientist

Tilghman has not been averse to shaking things up as she shepherded Princeton University into the 21st century. As the school’s first female president, she has made it a mission to keep gender bias out of the hiring process.  As a scientist (molecular geneticist, to be specific), she has worked to change the way science is taught at the undergraduate level.  As an administrator, she has supported investment in fields such as neuroscience and climatology that are likely to prove critical to the school, the state, and the world. Supporters and critics agree that Tilghman’s tenure is likely to leave a significant mark on the august institution, and she dismisses suggestions that change is bad for the campus culture. “The notion that the culture will be frozen in place at a university, which should always be pressing forward into the future, is, I think, just wrong,” she says. —Leslie Garisto Pfaff


Is Tittel a powerful environmental lobbyist or a quote machine? Depends who you ask. Tittel, 51, took over as executive director of the state’s Sierra Club chapter in 1998, turning a nature group into a lobbying force, and himself into a walking soundbite.—JAM

Owner, New Jersey Devils

With new venues sprouting all around them, Vanderbeek’s New Jersey Devils invested $156 million to help build a home for themselves in Newark. The Prudential Center (aka the Rock) is intended as a cornerstone in a hoped-for renaissance that will bring condos, restaurants, theme bars, and retailers to the city’s entertainment district. But it’s not all fun and games for the 50-year-old Vanderbeek, a former Lehman Brothers executive, and his development partner, the Newark Housing Authority. The latter claims the franchise owes millions in rent resulting from construction delays caused by the team; the team claims the delays were a product of the authority’s aberrant construction schedule. The dispute is heading toward arbitration.—BS 

Wine Merchant

Professionals spit wine out after tasting it as naturally as night follows day. But who wants to watch them do it? If the spitter is Wine Library director of operations Gary Vaynerchuk, the answer is about 80,000 people a day. They don’t log onto tv.winelibrary.com segments for the expectoration but with the expectation that he will rant and rave like a gonzo Bacchus (and Jets fanatic), praising or debunking wine in often hilariously earthy terms. But behind the shtick are knowledge, passion, and a fine palate. All of the above have earned the 33-year-old Vaynerchuk guest shots with Conan O’Brien, Ellen DeGeneres, and fellow motormouth Jim Cramer of Mad Money—and, oh yes, helped him sell a ton of wine at his Springfield store.—EL

State Senator

A state senator since 1998, the Democratic lawmaker’s name has become synonymous with health care. Deputy majority leader and chairman of the Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee, Vitale, 54, has sponsored bills creating the state’s KidCare and FamilyCare health care coverage programs, as well as a bill requiring nursing aides to undergo certified criminal background checks. His well-articulated defense of the state’s most vulnerable populations usually makes reelection a cinch, but that has not stopped Vitale from being one of the hardest-working members of the legislature.—CC

State Senator

A former PTA mom who did not enter politics until she was in her fifties, Weinberg, 73, is known as one of the state’s most influential players. This Democrat from Teaneck was behind bills to ban indoor smoking in New Jersey and to require insurance companies to pay for 48 hours of aftercare for new moms, which have become models for other states. She toppled one of the most formidable party bosses in the state, Joseph Ferriero, when no one else was willing to take him on, reflecting the hardball political tactician behind her unassuming grandmotherly exterior. “She’s extremely honest, with deep convictions,” says Eleanore Nissley of Ridgewood, a longtime friend of Weinberg’s who is also a Republican committeewoman in Bergen County. “The Republicans regard her with respect as a good legislator, and the Democrats think they can’t get away with anything as long as she’s around.” —Jacqueline Mroz

Chairman and CEO, Johnson & Johnson

The son of a Broadway stagehand and a costume seamstress, Weldon, 60, took a sales job at Johnson & Johnson right out of college and steadily moved up the corporate ladder, becoming chairman and CEO in 2002. As the health care debate heats up, Weldon, who oversees a decentralized network of more than 200 companies—from baby shampoo and Band-Aids to biotech and medical devices—will no doubt take a major role in the sector’s coming evolution.—RS

Politics, Law

They met in Washington, D.C., while in high school, and married at Christmas dinner when they were both 21. More than three decades later, this Livingston couple is hitting their stride. Ted is partner and co-chair of the litigation department for Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and is often cited as one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the country (he was named Lawyer of the Year by the National Law Journal in 2006). A fundraising pro, he served as treasurer for Senator Bill Bradley’s presidential run and campaign finance chairman for Representative Donald Payne. Nina is New Jersey’s secretary of state, overseeing a broad range of state programs, including the arts, history, culture, travel, and tourism, as well as the Division of Elections. Her term—which expires in January 2010—has not always been smooth sailing: State budget cuts have knocked her departments squarely in the jaw. As for what’s next, Ted can’t talk about new clients, and Nina is focused on devoting herself completely to New Jersey. “I only have this position for four years and want to make the most of it,” she says. —Jen A. Miller

Labor Leader

As president of the New Jersey AFL-CIO, Wowkanech, 54, is the principal labor lobbyist in the state. Under his leadership, the AFL-CIO, the state’s biggest labor group, has aggressively pushed political training for its members and claims to have grabbed nearly 400 elected posts. But Wowkanech, long allied with the Democratic Party, made what observers considered a misstep in 2007 when he threw his weight behind two Republican candidates. Both lost—and Wowkanech apparently jeopardized his stature with his traditional political allies.—KS 

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




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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