Newark: An Appeal To Our Better Angels Or At Least A Request To End Politics As Usual

Last night a near-riot broke out at Newark City Council, as Mayor Cory Booker did some political maneuvering and cast a highly unusual mayor’s vote to install a longtime ally of Essex political boss Steve Adubato, Sr. into Don Payne’s old seat. When it became clear what was happening, members of the audience tried to rush the stage to prevent it. There was pepper spray, possibly mace, furniture knocked over. Shouts of “Cory’s gotta go!”. An SEIU leader was charged with assault, resisting arrest, inciting a riot. I reached out to West Ward Councilman Rice for his take. If the mayor, other council members or attendees also want to weigh in, we’d be interested. – Rosi

The city of Newark reverted back to some age old political machine ways last evening and that is not good for our city, our future nor the aspirations of some politicos seeking higher office. I preface this by pointing out what I know some will say about this critique: that these are the “sour grapes” of an elected official that did not get his candidate selected to fill the vacancy on the Newark City Council created by Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr.’s ascension to his father’s seat. But my comments are a forewarning of what this vote could mean short term and long term.

There is no easy way to say it except to say that Mayor Cory Booker was complicit in engineering a power grab for a Newark City Council seat with the express cooperation of the Steve Adubato, Sr. North Ward political machine, hardly the credentials of a progressive reformer that is seeking to create a Big Tent for Governor in 2013 or Senator in 2014. The applicable statute governing municipal council vacancies under our form of government allows the council a 30-day window to select a replacement or a special election will ensue at the next General Election. There is also statutory language that allows a Mayor to vote if there is a 4-4 tie. Mayor Booker decided to vote even though there was no tie (I stayed away from the meeting to deprive the meeting of a tie and thus depriving the Mayor with an opportunity to wade into council waters at least until ALL of my colleagues had chance to even have preliminary discussions regarding an appointment) and based that decision on a general statute that allows him to vote should the council essentially “fail” to do our job. What is so cynical about his move is that he used this general, “catch-all” statute that can be used by him under almost any situation under the “strong Mayor” form of government before the council began any type of deliberation.

Moreover, the Mayor and many of my colleagues used the very levers of government to advance a political agenda. Clearly, the Mayor was “in on it,” but seemingly so was our city’s Corporation Counsel which identified this statute and our City Clerk, both of whom were not transparent to the rest of the council what they were doing procedurally behind our backs. They even provided some of us with one interpretation of the applicable statutes and others of us with another interpretation of the same applicable statute. The precedent of government departments and agencies purposefully providing partial, incomplete and/or incorrect information is, at best, malfeasance and, at worst, a dereliction of official duty or possibly misconduct.

I juxtapose this behavior with how Mayor Booker handled the last appointment/council voting controversy in 2006. In that year, both Councilman Luis Quintana and Councilwoman Mildred Crump sought the Presidency of the Newark Municipal Council. Instead of choosing sides, the Mayor showed candor, a respect for problem solving and mutual cooperation by suggesting the creation of a Vice-Presidency, thereby expanding participation, promoting inclusion and a Big Tent worldview. Last evening, he endorsed politics as usual.

Comments (6)

  1. zi985

    I believe the statute in question is “40:69A-41, Approval or veto of ordinances; attending meetings: (b) The mayor may attend meetings of council and may take part in discussions of council but shall have no vote except in the case of a tie on the question of filling a vacancy in the council, in which case he may cast the deciding vote.” This can be found under Article 3, Section D of the Newark Municipal Code

    Also, under Title III, “City Council”, Chapter 9 states that: “The adoption by the Municipal Council of any ordinance, resolution, motion, confirmation of appointment or any other official act of the Municipal Council shall require five (5) affirmative votes, unless a greater number of votes shall be required by State law. An abstention shall not be considered to be an affirmative vote.” So the only way Booker could break a tie is if there were 4 votes for one candidate and 4 votes for another candidate and he provided the 5th affirmative vote for one of the candidates. Because Councilman Rice was not present at the meeting tonight, it would be impossible for there to be a tie that would then allow for Mayor Booker to cast the deciding vote since an abstention does not count as a vote (i.e. if one of the 4 Councilmembers who backed Speight abstained last night, and the vote became 3-3, Booker could not provide the casting vote since 5 affirmative votes are needed). According to the rules, Mayor Booker should not have been able to cast the deciding vote.

    Here is a video of what took place.  

    Coucilman Rice, I’m curious as to what your specific objections to Shanique Davis Speight are and, likewise, why you are supporting the candidacy of John Sharpe James over her?  

    My guess is that this will be decided in Newark Municipal Court very soon since it appears that Mayor Booker was legally not allowed to cast a deciding vote at the Council meeting according to the Newark Municipal Code. Shanique Davis Speight would then be removed from the Newark Municipal Council and the Council would have until December 15th to fill the vacancy. If the Council is not able to decide on a candidate to fill the seat then the seat remains vacant until a special election takes place (most likely either in the June primary or in the November 2013 general election).  You (or either Councilmembers Ras J. Baraka, Darrin S. Sharif, or Mildred C. Crump) can abstain from the vote in order to not allow a 4-4 tie to take place. That way, even if there was a 3-3, 2-2, or 1-1 tie, Booker would not be able to cast the deciding vote since 5 affirmative votes are necessary for the Council to confirm Payne’s successor.  You could have attended the meeting last night and abstained, preventing Mayor Booker from casting the deciding vote.  Will you use this strategy until Dec. 15th, in order to prevent Mayor Booker from casting the tie vote in favor of Shanique Davis Speight?

  2. Bertin Lefkovic

    …if progressives in general and the Blue Jersey community in particular will be as outraged as the Newarkers described in this diary when the same bosses that engineered this power grab take the next step in making their center-right coalition with Chris Christie concrete by enabling him to run for re-election as a Democrat next year.  I am willing to bet that they won’t be.  In fact, I expect that some will endorse the measure as an appeal for pragmatism.

    That said, I wonder if this incident changes anyone’s opinion about Booker as a future statewide candidate.  If nothing else, I think that there will be enough anti-Booker votes to be found inside Newark to make it very hard for him to clear the field and be the inevitable nominee for whatever office he chooses to seek going forward.

    If anything, I think that this makes it less likely that he runs for Governor next year and more likely that he runs for Senator in 2014 as if he chooses the former path and loses, he will only be able to run for re-election in Newark, which appears to increasingly be a nonstarter for him, while the latter gives him more time to remove himself from this debacle and repair the damage that he has done to his image.

  3. carolh

    That was a power grab of the WORST kind.  Shortly before I took office, a councilman in Tenafly was caught in Newark with heroin.  He had to step down and his replacement was voted on by the Council. THAT is the how you replace a councilman until the next election.  You don’t have the Mayor vote on that unless there is a tie.  When I left office I did it just before the next election when the VOTERS could choose my replacement – not the Party, but when they replaced me they did it by vote – even though the Mayor had his own ideas on who should replace me, wrote letters to the town and in teh newspaper and had a fit over some candidates, he had to abide by the decision of the Council.  Mayor and Council, like President and Congress SHOULD be 2 SEPARATE branches of government.  What Booker did  was a blatant power grab.  VERY disappointed in Booker.  

  4. Hopeful

    If Rice is correct, the power to break ties is meaningless since it’s better to not show up than vote against. Booker’s vote is plainly in the spirit of the law: 4 of the 8 remaining council members favor one person, and Booker makes it a majority.  

    (Not that I have an opinion on who should should serve in Newark, or how evil anyone behavior’s is, but really you would think someone could write consistent laws that hold up under stress.)

  5. Babs NJSD

    Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    the rules are the rules and you make the rules work for you!

    Next time… change the rules, write better rules … but you have to vote for that.

    my 2 cents looking at it as objectively as possible

  6. Bertin Lefkovic

    It is hard to find any good guys and bad guys in this scenario, because on one side you have Steve Adubato and the on the other side you have Sharpe James.

    I get that you have to do what you have to do in this political quagmire in order to be an effective elected, Ron, and it is entirely possible that James is the lesser of two evils, but I have a hard time seeing how Newark is ever going to get ahead of the curve until these crime families are put out of business once and for all.


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