The controversy surrounding the appointment of Shanique Speight to the Newark Municipal Council remained unsettled Wednesday, as members opposed to the selection charged Mayor Cory Booker and other officials of undermining the democratic process in the city.
Although Speight again earned a majority of votes Wednesday, a judge on Dec. 11 is still scheduled to hear arguments regarding the appointment, arguments which will likely center on parliamentary rules governing how the municipal council tallies its votes.
“This was done the wrong way. This was done in the dark,” said West Ward Councilman Ron Rice, who was periodically interrupted by cheers from the audience present at Wednesday’s meeting of the council. “But the light is on the situation right now.”
Wednesday’s vote by the remaining eight members of the council was a court-ordered do-over requested by Booker and the four council members who support Speight. Speight was appointed during a Nov. 20 meeting that ended in chaos after Booker, in an unusual move, cast the deciding vote in her favor. Three members of the council, saying the process was improper, left the dais in protest, while Rice intentionally stayed away from the meeting to thwart a tie vote. In the event of a tie, Booker is legally entitled to break the deadlock.
Speight was nominated to replace Donald Payne, who left the nine-member council last month after being elected to Congress.
There was a heavy police presence at Wednesday’s meeting, with officers stationed outside city hall and a larger-than-normal contingent within council chambers. Spectators entering the chamber were subject to a metal detector search by police at the chamber doors, an extra layer of security than normal.
Booker on Wednesday once again appeared at the council meeting, taking a seat next to Deputy City Clerk Ken Louis and keeping his back to an audience largely hostile to his presence. The same four council members who had voted for Speight Nov. 20 did so again Wednesday. Council members Ras Baraka and Mildred Crump voted against, while Rice and Councilman Darrin Sharif abstained.
After Booker, in a barely audible voice, again cast his vote for Speight, he was dressed down by Councilwoman Mildred Crump. Booker swiftly left council chambers as jeers and boos rained down on him.
“Shame on you, mayor,” Crump said, accusing Booker of engineering a “hostile takeover” of the council.
Prior to and after Wednesday’s vote, Sharif, conducted a lawyerly cross-examination of various city hall employees regarding council voting rules.
Sharif asked specifically how an abstention is counted given voting rules approved by the council earlier this year that appear to state an abstention can’t be marked as a “no.” With the council evenly split over Speight, the question of what counts as an affirmative vote is pivotal.
After repeated questioning by Sharif, Louis, the city’s deputy clerk, eventually admitted that an abstention can’t count towards a tie vote, which would mean Booker -- who can only vote if there’s a tie -- was barred from taking part.
“In my opinion it is not a tie, but in this situation it is out my hands,” Louis said, quickly adding that the court will ultimately decide how the votes should be counted.
‘This issue is not settled with this action today.”
The four members who support Speight were largely silent in the face of accusations by their colleagues that they took part in a rigged appointment process for Speight, who is allied with political boss Stephen Adubato. Councilman Anibal Ramos, addressing the public, did say that “At no point did anyone dictate to me or tell me how to vote.”
Speight’s opponents, however, were anything but silent. Rice said Booker has divided a governing body that formerly was “collegial,” noting that the last time there was a council vacancy and the council couldn’t decide who to select, the mayor stayed out of the fray and a special election was held.
Baraka, meanwhile, called for a motion to hold a special election for Payne’s replacement, which received support from only the three council members already opposed to Speight.
A similar fate befell a censure motion against Ramos, who Baraka said was guilty of failing to follow procedure during the Nov. 20 vote. Another motion, called by Sharif, asked City Clerk Robert Marasco to retire. Sharif and others accused Marasco of procedural missteps which council members had previously said were designed to keep Speight’s council opponents in the dark.
The Marasco motion likewise won the support only of the four Speight opponents.
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