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Rhetoric Heats Up Following Newark Council Brawl As Booker Responds To Controversy

Opponents Rip Into Mayor, With Some Even Questioning Fire Rescue Heroism
Cory Booker (credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Bing)

Cory Booker (credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Bing)

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NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A group of Newark City Council members is threatening a lawsuit following Mayor Cory Booker’s contentious move to fill a council seat with his deciding vote.

The mayor’s decision resulted in a chaotic scene inside the council chambers on Tuesday night. Booker, however, defended his move and said he acted in the “interest of good government.”

The chaos broke out when Booker and his allies in the City Council appointed Shanique Davis Speight to take over the seat vacated by Councilman Donald Payne Jr., who was elected to the House of Representatives earlier this month.

Speight could be seen falling when union leader Rahman Muhammad and others rushed the stage. Speight was ushered out and eventually sworn in by the City Clerk.

Muhammad spoke to CBS 2′s Christine Sloan as he was released from police custody.

“I went and reached to grab the Bible to stop the swearing-in ceremony. I did not put my hands on her,” Muhammad said.

The incident erupted because four council members, namely Councilman Ronald Rice, Councilwoman-At-Large Mildred Crump, Councilman Darrin Sharif and Councilman Ras Baraka, claimed the mayor intentionally deceived them to get his own person appointed.

They had been supporting the son of former mayor Sharpe James to fill the seat. The elder James was also at the meeting and back in City Hall on Wednesday. James, who recently served an 18-month prison term for fraud and conspiracy, came to support his son and is now accusing Booker of going after his family.

“Why did I go to jail? I went because Cory Booker cut this relationship with the U.S. Attorney — then Christopher Christie.
They made this deal,” James said. “Now he’s out to destroy my son.”

Governor Christie’s office called James’ remarks “bizarre.”

James even went as far as questioning whether Booker saved a woman from a burning building earlier this year.

“Even Alfred Hitchcock wouldn’t believe that,” quipped James.

Booker, though, said his actions were “designed to ensure the continuity of the legislative process.”

“It was imperative that the Mayor and the Municipal Council immediately take the necessary steps to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr.,” Booker said in a statement. “The likelihood of a deadlock among the eight remaining members has been apparent for quite some time.”

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The mayor went on to state that under state law, he has the authority to vote for a candidate. Booker asserted that members forced his hand “by their voluntary absence or departure from the dais.”

However, unhappy and angry residents in attendance rushed the council stage, which prompted police to use pepper spray to try and restore order to the situation.

In a press release, the council members said Booker’s vote “represented a usurpation of the council’s consideration process in general and involved the use of taxpayer-funded city departments for the promotion of a political agenda.”

Booker also criticized Councilman Ronald Rice, who the mayor said “remained outside of City Hall” and “purposely did not attend the meeting in order to avoid a tie vote.” Rice, however, retorted and delivered some stinging criticism of Booker.

“It was the most anti-democratic thing I have seen in this city in decades and I was appalled, that as somebody who considers the mayor a friend and as an ally of sorts over the years, this was I think him at his lowest — at his worst,” Rice told 1010 WINS.

Booker said in his statement that his administration is “prepared to take all necessary legal action to protect the efficient operation of city government.”

CBS 2 also reached out to the Newark Police Department, but did not immediately hear back.

What do you think of the mayor’s response and the situation itself?  What will happen next?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below…