Cory Booker's Political Maneuvering Sparks Near-Riot

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 21 2012 12:33 PM

Cory Booker's Rough Night at City Hall Included a Walkout, a Near-Riot and Pepper Spray

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Mayor Cory Booker speaks at the Tech:Crunch Disrupt SF 2012 Conference on September 10, 2012 in San Francisco

Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images.

Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark and a rising star within the Democratic party, didn't have the best night last night. We'll let the Star-Ledger, his hometown paper, explain:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

A behind-the-scenes political maneuver by Newark Mayor Cory Booker to fill a vacant council seat with his choice led to a near-riot in city hall tonight, with dozens of residents rushing the council stage and police responding with pepper-spray.
After weeks of jockeying for Rep. Donald Payne’s successor, Booker made an unprecedented personal appearance to cast the deciding vote with his council allies for Shanique Davis Speight, a longtime ally of power broker Stephen Adubato, over the angry objections of residents.
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The melee began after three council members walked out of the meeting when the acting chair denied one of them the chance to state his case for their preferred candidate, John James, who coincidentally is the son of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, the man who Booker unseated back in 2006.

With the trio out of the room, the council was left without a quorum. That's where Booker, who was waiting in the wings for just such an occasion, entered the picture. Under council rules, the mayor is allowed to step in under such conditions and cast his own vote, which Booker did for Speight. That's when the real chaos began.

After the vote, residents stood chanting "Cory’s gotta go!" as officials shouted over the confusion. But when Speight was escorted by police to be sworn in, a group of residents, led by SEIU Local 617 President Rahaman Muhammad, stormed the dais and appeared to lunge toward Speight and her grade-school-age son.
Police restrained the group as they toppled a podium and residents were caught in the rush. When Muhammad would not give way, an officer doused him with pepper spray, along with residents, reporters and at least one other officer.

Speight was later sworn in outside of the chamber and order was eventually restored, so Booker appears to have won the battle—but it's safe to say that the victory didn't go down exactly as he had planned. Regardless of whether the mayor followed the rules (and, again, it seems as though Booker did, largely using them to circumvent the quorum-denying walkout), the win will likely come at a political price given the vocal and even violent reaction it prompted from within his own party.

Phrases like "a behind-the-scenes political maneuver" and "near-riot in city hall" are also never ones a politician wants to see in the lede of a story they're the main character in. To say nothing of the fact that most of the night was captured on video (embedded below), pretty much ensuring that the footage will make an appearance in an attack ad down the road, potentially next year if Booker proves pundits right and ends up challenging New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.