In 2004, New Jersey had the opportunity to choose between two leaders, and two futures, for its sprawling medical university.
One candidate, a director of the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disorders, had an international reputation as a physician and a researcher. The other, a local business leader, had an education background but lacked a medical degree.
He had, however, something else: the support of state and local political leaders, including Steven N. Adubato Sr., the Newark power broker who bragged that he had forced out the school’s previous president.
The power brokers’ candidate got the job….
Mr. Adubato’s involvement in university affairs for more than a decade provides a striking example of the power of New Jersey’s unelected political leaders.
New Jersey’s lax campaign finance laws and tradition of giving broad regulatory power to local officials have permitted a handful of party leaders to exert control over policy, hiring and spending in their own communities and statewide.
Mr. Adubato, 72, is an unelected community leader whose political base is 2.7 square miles of Newark’s North Ward. In many ways, he is a throwback whose ability to bring home political pork and deliver services makes him as beloved as he is feared.
The University of Medicine and Dentistry, has its headquarters in Newark, and Mr. Adubato’s relationship with the school goes back more than 20 years.
He worked there as a political director, a job that helped him qualify for a state pension. His political adversaries, and some news accounts, characterized the post as a “low-show” job with few responsibilities.
Though he no longer holds the position, he has remained involved in university affairs. One trustee, Assemblyman Eric Munoz, a trauma surgeon and professor at the university, is a political associate of Mr. Adubato’s who also serves on the board of the North Ward Center.
Mr. Adubato also orchestrated the ouster, in 2003, of the university president, Harvey A. Holzberg, saying that Mr. Holzberg, who has close ties to the Middlesex County power broker John A. Lynch Jr., had a conflict of interest because he was also on the board of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, a division of the university. As the state looked for a successor, Gov. James E. McGreevey said Mr. Adubato should be consulted because the university is based in his ward. According to three people involved in the search, Mr. Adubato was less interested in choosing a candidate with national credentials to overhaul the facility than in finding someone from Essex County.
Dr. Stanley S. Bergen Jr., a former university president and a member of the search committee, said that among the names Mr. Adubato floated was John J. Petillo, a former chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey with a Ph.D. in counseling and personnel services. Dr. Petillo, who is also a former chancellor of Seton Hall University, had served on the medical university’s board when some of the questionable spending and no-bid contracts were approved. Mr. Adubato “saw John as a Newark guy,” Dr. Bergen said. “And if there is one thing about Adubato, he is loyal to Newark.”
But in an interview on Thursday, Mr. Adubato denied doing anything to promote Dr. Petillo’s presidency bid. “I had nothing at all to do with John’s getting that job,” he said.
Shortly after Dr. Petillo became president, Mr. Adubato’s center, Casa Israel, was awarded a $95,000 grant for elder care.
What a way to run the country’s largest health care university.
How many more examples of disgraceful health care governance will we need before health policy mavens acknowledge that to fix health care we will have to fix how health care organization are run.