POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Newark Council and Mayor Booker Re-Vote Over Vacant Council Seat

By David Cruz
NJ Today

Even long-time Newarkers were taken aback at the overwhelming police presence outside and inside city hall today. Even members of the city council were subject to police search.

The massive police presence was intended to prevent a repeat of the near riot last month when Mayor Cory Booker cast a controversial tie-breaking vote to seat Shanique Davis-Speight on the city council. A judge ordered a re-vote this week and that was the first item on today’s agenda.

The mayor was greeted with cat calls, and worse, as he took his seat behind the city clerk, prepared to cast his tie-breaking vote — again. The four council members who make up the opposition, unloaded on Booker, to the delight of the crowd.

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“This hostile takeover of the municipal council by this mayor, we cannot allow it to happen,” said Councilwoman Mildred Crump.

The mayor and his allies contend that Booker has the authority to cast a deciding vote in the case of a tie, and further contend that an abstention — which is how several members voted — constitutes a “no” vote. Under that logic, today’s vote was 4 to 4. Council member Darrin Sharif contends that city council rule 16 says otherwise.

“It specifically says an abstention is not to be counted as a yes or a no, so my understanding of a tie would be four ‘yes’ and four ‘no.’ It specifically is clear; it’s not vague on this. I know we’re due in court on the 11th but it is not for the judge to determine the rules,” Sharif said.

That Dec. 11 court date may answer that question, but there are broader questions here — what are the longer-term ramifications of this political upheaval on Booker, a would be governor or senator, and his allies, including Councilman Anibal Ramos, Booker’s anointed heir apparent. That is unclear. One thing that is clear is that Booker has lost a once loyal ally.

“Shame on you, Mayor Booker. Shame on you. Shame on you,” said Councilman Ronald C. Rice.

As expected, Booker broke the tie, then left, without comment, leaving a bitter crowd to vent.

“They only see what’s on TV. They probably think that he’s this excellent, great guy but he didn’t have to run into a burning building if he wouldn’t have laid off all the firefighters,” said Newark resident Dawn Haynes. “He wouldn’t have been shoveling people’s snow if he wouldn’t have laid off the sanitation workers.”

If you subscribe to the notion that Democracy is by its nature messy, then the mayor and the council and even the residents who were here today should be congratulated for illustrating that point with gusto. Ultimately, however, the decision on whether Speight will be seated as a council member rests with a judge.