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David Rebovich the Political "Voice of Reason"

Home News Tribune Online 10/18/07

In the purse she brought to her son's funeral, Gloria Rebovich carried a letter Rutgers professor W. Carey McWilliams wrote on July 18, 1977. It is the type of letter a proud mom might put on the fridge.

"David Rebovich has easily been the most outstanding graduate student I have taught during my years at Rutgers. Rebovich has an exceptional mind; his intelligence is subtle, even mercurial . . . He is a person of rare qualities and character, who can make a major contribution to political science," McWilliams wrote.

"That was 30 years ago," said his mother, following the Funeral Liturgy at St. Nicholas Byzantine Church in Perth Amboy. "They're saying the same thing today."

Though now it can be said of Rebovich he did make a major contribution to political science.

Rebovich, who graduated from Perth Amboy High School in 1967, died Friday at the age of 58, suffering a massive heart attack while teaching a class at Rider University where he was managing director of the New Jersey Institute of Politics.

For those of us covering New Jersey politics he was our go-to guy. A search on his name in The New York Times archives comes up with 277 entries.

"When I called it was always, "Brian, what can I do for you?' " said Brian Thompson, the New Jersey reporter for WNBC-TV.

It was the same for the rest of us. "Rick, what can I do for you?"

"He was the voice of reason in a very unreasonable climate," said Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, who attended the funeral service Wednesday at the Costello-Greiner Funeral Home in Woodbridge.

When McCormac was state treasurer in Trenton he understood it would be wise to run ideas past Rebovich. "If he supported something you did, you had it made. If he didn't, you probably shouldn't do it," McCormac said.

Lilo Stainton got to know Rebovich when she was a reporter in the Trenton bureau of Gannett New Jersey. She later switched sides and became press secretary for Gov. Jon Corzine, who attended Wednesday's funeral service.

"Dave was one of the first persons I reached out to when I came over (to the executive branch)," Stainton said.

"He understood he could be of service," she said. "He loved the game of politics and he had fun with it. He understood that nobody was perfect and he loved to tweak the imperfect. I don't know how you can replace him. No one else in New Jersey had his skills."

Thompson recalled how Rebovich knew how to answer questions from reporters in the print media, who could write in long sentences. "He knew how to speak to us in sound bites," Thompson said of those in television.

"He was a teacher, even outside the classroom," said Thompson.

Rebovich's daughter Melissa attends Rider University, and some students asked her if there was anything they could do to help. There was. Six Rider students were chosen to be his pall bearers.

To Charles Burton of Edison, a senior at Rider, it was an honor. As a student at John P. Stevens High School Burton gained an interest in politics, and from reading the papers, he recalled, "I always saw this name David Rebovich."

Burton, who explained that his father died when he was young, said Rebovich would become a mentor, a father figure and a favorite professor, who could give him the skinny on such politicians as Edison mayor Jun Choi and former Middlesex County Democrat Party boss John Lynch.

Another pall bearer, Nicholas Ballasy of Warrington, Pa., explained how Rebovich helped him produce "On The Issues," a television program produced at the university. "What you loved most was to sit down with him, kick back and relax and talk politics," said Ballasy, who took three courses with Rebovich, who peppered his lectures with humor.

I had the opportunity to experience that humor, occasionally working with him in the studio of Jersey 101.5 on Election Night, most memorably in 2000 when we left the studio wondering what's up with Florida?

Among those who knew Rebovich the longest is Georgeann Dillman, who graduated one year after Rebovich at Perth Amboy High School. While Rebovich played baseball and basketball in high school, "His studies always came first. His goal in life was to be a professor."

Dillman explained how he loved history and was particularly fond of history teacher Elsie Perlin. "She saw great things in him," Dillman said.

Corzine, who would occasionally be chastised by Rebovich in print, said of Rebovich, "He was a gentleman."

Clearly Rutgers' W. Carey McWilliams was on to something 30 years ago.