The Newark Municipal Council meeting ended in chaos Tuesday after Mayor Cory Booker tried to cast the deciding vote in favor of a replacement for former Council President Donald Payne, who was elected to Congress earlier this month.
One man, Earl Best, a community activist known as Street Doctor, was hospitalized after being sprayed by police with pepper spray, he said after being released from University Hospital. South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka said his mother had also been sprayed.
Baraka said North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos called for a vote on Shanique Speight. Baraka, Councilwoman-at-Large Mildred Crump and Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif then left the dais after Ramos failed to acknowledge a motion by Baraka. West Ward Councilman Ron Rice told Patch outside city hall that he had deliberately stayed away from the meeting in an attempt to thwart a split, 4-4 vote on the nine-member body that would have allowed Booker to make the tie-breaking vote.
The council members had heard rumors previously that Booker would attempt to get Speight on the council, Rice and Baraka both said.
“They obviously planned to do this ahead of the meeting ... to me it’s a power-grab by the mayor,” Baraka said.
After Booker invoked a law that gives the mayor a vote in the absence of a quorum, an attempt was made to swear Speight in, but a disturbance broke out among audience members, prompting police to respond.
“People in the crowd stood up and said it was unlawful,” Baraka said.
Rice said communication between the two council factions had largely broken down in the days leading up to the meeting. He also said the city’s corporation counsel had deliberately kept Rice, Baraka, Crump and Sharif in the dark.
“Some council members seem to be more equal than others,” Rice said.
“The mayor chose a totalitarian, old-school way to do this. This was a blow against democracy,” he added.
Booker could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.
One man was arrested for assualt, ressiting arrest and inciting a riot, The Star Ledger reported. Speight was later sworn in by the city clerk, the paper also said.