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Riot breaks up Newark council meeting

Nov. 21, 2012 at 4:40 PM
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NEWARK, N.J., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- A dispute between Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and other political leaders over a vacant city council seat turned into a riot at a City Hall meeting.

Booker cast the deciding vote Tuesday night for his choice to fill the seat formerly occupied by Donald Payne Jr., The Star-Ledger of Newark reported. Payne was elected to Congress earlier this month to fill the seat formerly occupied by his father, who died in March.

The mayor, a national figure as a black Ivy League graduate and Rhodes Scholar who chose to get involved in politics in a struggling city, said he had an obligation to vote in the meeting to fill a quorum. The audience at the meeting included Amiri Baraka, the controversial African-American poet activist, whose son, Councilman Ras Baraka, opposed Booker's choice.

With Booker's vote, Shanique Davis Speight defeated John Sharpe James, son of a longtime Newark mayor. Sharpe James, under investigation for fraud, announced in 2006 that he would not seek a sixth term after winning a controversial victory over Booker in 2002.

During Tuesday night's meeting, Ras Baraka and two other council members walked out after the acting president refused to let Baraka speak, leaving the council without a quorum. As police escorted Speight in to take the oath of office, members of the audience, who had been chanting "Cory's got to go," rushed the podium, the Star-Ledger said.

Police used pepper spray in the scuffle that followed.

New Jersey state law allows mayors to vote in council meetings to break ties or when there is no quorum. Booker had been waiting outside in case either situation developed.

"This truly was an out-of-body experience," said Councilman Darrin Sharif, who had joined the walkout. "The mayor, who goes all around the country to talk about democracy ... literally in the back of the room, hiding in the shadows."

SEIU Local 617 President Rahaman Muhammad, who allegedly led the rush on the podium, has been charged with assault, Police Chief Samuel DeMaio said. He said the use of pepper spray will be reviewed internally by the department.

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