Riot in Newark City Council?
November 21, 2012 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Can someone explain to me why there was almost a riot in the Newark, New Jersey City Council last night?

The basic story, as I understand it, is that Mayor Cory Booker used a rather unprecedented but legal parliamentary maneuver to get his favored candidate appointed to the City Council.

The Star Ledger has coverage here, and Slate has some analysis here, but neither of them says anything about why this was such a contentious thing to have done.

What's the deal? Why would anyone care enough about this particular city council appointment to want to start a riot about it? Coverage seems to suggest that the local head of the SEIU led the charge--literally in this case--but again, I can't find anything about why they'd be even involved.
posted by valkyryn to Law & Government (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Reports have the council being evenly divided between Booker's "supporters" and his "opponents" in this vote; Post-appointment, assuming all the votes go along partisan lines, with Speight on the council, Booker would be able to get the council to agree to whatever he wants.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:28 AM on November 21, 2012

Newark's city government has been notoriously corrupt for decades. Booker was/is an outsider. This is all about payoffs and patronage.
posted by empath at 10:31 AM on November 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: From wikipedia:
Political corruption
Newark has been marred with episodes of political corruption throughout the years. Five of the previous seven Mayors of Newark have been indicted on criminal charges, including the previous three Mayors: Hugh Addonizio, Kenneth Gibson, and Sharpe James. As reported by Newsweek: "... every mayor since 1962 (except the current one, Cory Booker) has been indicted for crimes committed while in office."[90]
Addonizio was mayor of Newark from 1962 to 1970. A son of Italian immigrants, a tailor and WWII veteran, he ran on a reform platform, defeating the incumbent, Leo Carlin, who, ironically, he characterized as corrupt and a part of the political machine of the era. During the 1967 riots, it was found that Addonizio and other city officials were taking kickbacks from city contractors. He was convicted of extortion and conspiracy in 1970, and was sentenced to ten years in federal prison.[91]
His successor was Kenneth Gibson, the city's first African American mayor, elected in 1970. He pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion in 2002 as part of a plea agreement on fraud and bribery charges. During his tenure as Mayor in 1980, he was tried and acquitted of giving out no-show jobs by an Essex County jury.[92]
Sharpe James, who defeated Gibson in 1986 and declined to run for a sixth term in 2006, was indicted on 33 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, and wire fraud by a federal grand jury sitting in Newark. The grand jury charged James with spending $58,000 on city-owned credit cards for personal gain and orchestrating a scheme to sell city-owned land at below-market prices to his companion, who immediately re-sold the land to developers and gained a profit of over $500,000. James pleaded not guilty on 25 counts at his initial court appearance on July 12, 2007. On April 17, 2008, James was found guilty for his role in the conspiring to rig land sales at nine city-owned properties for personal gain. The former mayor was sentenced to serve up to 27 months in prison.[93]
Sharp James is the convicted felon whose son's appointment was derailed by Booker.
posted by empath at 10:33 AM on November 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

The appearance of illegitimacy plus the city being large enough (and, as mentioned, corrupt enough) that there's a well-developed political machine that can mobilize for a partisan fight - literally, as it turns out. The circumstances would be completely different if a special election broke the tie.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:34 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

People tend to get angry when there's a coup, particularly if they're part of the group displaced by the coup. The fact that this may have been a coup accomplished by legitimate parliamentary maneuvering and that the displaced political faction might be, um, less than squeaky-clean, doesn't change the coup dynamic. In fact the more corrupt the deposed party is, the more likely it will generally be to put up a violent opposition to its deposition.
posted by The World Famous at 10:39 AM on November 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

As mentioned above, this goes back to Newark's previous mayor, Sharpe James, and people that backed him and continue to back him now, despite corruption and jail time. Folks were trying to nominate James' son to the spot on the council, which is why Booker moved to block his appointment. Sharpe James is still extremely popular, and while Booker is also popular, he's still very much an outsider. Basically, this is more of the same. The clusterfuck of Newark politics continues.
posted by crankylex at 10:55 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can watch the movie Street Fight for background on the contentious relationship between Booker and Sharpe James.
posted by cushie at 10:55 AM on November 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Newark would hardly be the only American city where that state of affairs obtains. Why would that be so contentious in this particular case?

Sharpe James was (is) the Richard J. Daley of Newark. His is the established "ruling family" to which many Newark residents owe their political loyalty and, in many cases, livelihood. To a degree, Booker was seen as just a person who was being "allowed" to run Newark temporarily before the Sharpe machine returned. Booker just maneuvered Sharpe's son out of a city council seat, akin to if Harold Washington had killed Richard M. Daley's political appointment.

Booker basically just screwed over a rival, established political machine using a slick parliamentary maneuver when they previously thought they had him cornered.
posted by deanc at 10:58 AM on November 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am all for trying to kill the machine politics and backroom dealing that plagues city politics, but there has to be a way that doesn't involve stooping to these kind of tactics.

In fairness, one of Booker's opponents decided he was going to "boycott" the city council meeting because he thought this would be able to help twist Booker's arm, but the absence of a quorum allows the mayor to cast a tie-breaking vote. Nothing happened that the pro-James coalition couldn't have avoided if they had tried.
posted by deanc at 11:01 AM on November 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I can't find anything about why they'd be even involved.

The SEIU has longstanding ties with the James machine. In 2006, SEIU 617 -- run by Muhammad -- switched allegiances and supported Booker. It looks like they've switched back.

What's the deal? Why would anyone care enough about this particular city council appointment to want to start a riot about it?

Money. Patronage jobs. And lots of both. And let's have no illusions here -- even the good guys have promises to keep and constituencies to serve.
posted by dhartung at 12:03 PM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Money. Patronage jobs. And lots of both.

Ah ha. I hadn't known that sort of thing went down in Newark. My current city doesn't have much patronage to speak of, nor did the unincorporated semi-rural area where I grew up, and certainly no political machines in either place. I knew that Chicago and Philadelphia, but I didn't know about Newark.

posted by valkyryn at 7:07 PM on November 21, 2012

Mod note: Some comments deleted; specific helpful info about this incident and related relevant context only please.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:30 AM on November 22, 2012

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