What kind of person throws a birthday party for himself and invites the entire town for free food and live music?
Local politician and real estate developer Frank “Pupie” Raia – that’s who.
Raia’s tradition of throwing a birthday party along the waterfront turns 25 this year, and Raia is looking forward to this particular event.
The party will take place Thursday, July 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. in Sinatra Park (on Sinatra Drive between Fourth and Fifth streets). It will feature free food and plenty of live entertainment.
Every year, Raia gets permission to set up in the waterfront park. The event is well attended by both politicians and members of the general public.
In fact, the event tends to attract both Raia’s political friends and foes, and is known as a place to catch up on political gossip.
“Mothers usually give their kids nicknames, and that name just took.” – Frank ‘Pupie’ Raia
For Raia, his party is another chance to celebrate another year of life.
“I guess it’s just special to me,” said Raia, who till turn 61 July 10. “I’m making it strong and I thank God I have another birthday to live.”
Raia, who helped develop several high-profile housing buildings in town, said that before his generation, his mother was the oldest-living Raia at age 61.
“I just wanted to reach my mother’s age,” said Raia. “I’ve been through a lot; I’ve had my hips replaced, and the last five years has been kind of tough.”
Raia, who is widely referred to as “Pupie,” said his mother was the one who initially gave him the name.
“My mother gave it to me,” said Raia, adding that he did not know what the name specifically meant. “Mothers usually give their kids nicknames, and that name just took.”
Still going strong after 25 years
Raia said that the parties initially began in the 1980s after former Hoboken mayor Tom Vezzetti sought to book live bands for the city’s parks. Raia’s party, which he scheduled around his birthday, was his chance to contribute live music to the city every year.
“It’s a day when Hoboken is totally at peace,” added Raia. “It’s a great feeling for me to not only have my family and my friends, but the whole community celebrating my birthday.”
Raia said that the cost of the parties has ranged from $50,000 to $75,000 every year.
“I just want everyone to come and have a good time,” said Raia. “I think it’s the best show in Hoboken, bar none.”
Raia said his parties have been a chance for people to put their differences aside.
“I would just like to see people having a good time instead of having all the fights [and] all the differences [and] everything else,” continued Raia. “[It proves] that people can live in Hoboken and enjoy themselves at peace with everybody else, and I’m glad I could [provide] that.”
Politics and development
Raia has developed the Shop Rite, various affordable housing and market rate buildings, and the Citadel, a former grammar school at Fifth and Adams streets that still has the iconic “boys” and “girls” entrances marked even though the building is now condos.
He briefly served on the City Council for several months in the 1980s. He has run for numerous offices, including unsuccessful campaigns for mayor. He most recently served as Board of Education president.
Raia, who is not a candidate for this year’s Board of Education election, refused to comment on which of the eight candidates he will support this November, although he is rumored to be supporting a ticket against candidates allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
“I’m going to be supporting [a] whole ticket,” said Raia.
Raia campaigned with Mayor Dawn Zimmer during her council election in 2007, but more recently has been allied with Zimmer’s political opponents. He has been allied with various political factions at different times throughout his career. It is likely that members of all groups will attend Thursday’s event.
Raia declined to comment on various political issues.
“I don’t want to mix my birthday in with all this other stuff,” he said. “That’s crazy. I really don’t want to. It’s never been political.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.