The scene out of Newark City Hall shook Mayor Cory Booker’s seven league boots, at least in the eyes of some jittery supporters, who interpreted last night’s bedlam as political weakness.
But two sources close to Newark politics said Booker – noted more for twittering than brass knuckle Brick City politicking – made the right play last night.
These are craggy, bar stool veterans of Essex and not Booker fans.
It was a 4-4 lockup on the council.
Booker executed a tiebreaking vote to give his side a majority – a majority he could have used when then Council President Donald Payne, Jr. wobbled away from backing Booker on the mayor’s municipal utilities authority (MUA) proposal.
Booker’s allies say anything they did would have prompted havoc from their detractors, including a deviously regenerating Mayor Sharpe James, who wanted his son to supplant Payne in the vacant council seat.
The group that went berserk after acting Council President Anibal Ramos called for a vote on his and the mayor’s ally, Shanique Speight, is composed of a core group of Booker antagonists, including James, Amri Baraka, Donna Jackson, state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28) and former Councilman Donald Bradley.
They badmouth anything Booker does.
Instead of pushing Booker around, they got pushed around, say the old school vets, who acknowledge that a flash of Frank Hague urbanity doesn’t necessarily help the mayor’s image right now.
The move also recemented Booker’s standing as a North Ward-allied brand – to a fault.
Ramos spun the old school move as progressive politics.
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. issued the following statement regarding the City Council’s vote Wednesday on Councilwoman Shanique Speight.
“This is the time for more qualified African American women to take on leadership roles in the city,” he said. “There is no doubt that Councilwoman Shanique Speight is eminently qualified. She was twice elected to the school board, and elected to a leadership role on the board by her colleagues. My goal is to encourage more qualified women to step forward and help us solve critical issues that will be facing the city in the upcoming years.
“This is not a time to play politics or grandstand. We need leadership in this city and we need to move forward and focus on what residents really care about: the budget, public safety and jobs for our residents. This can only be done when we have a full City Council, focused on issues not politics.”
Others – including allies of the mayor’s – didn’t approve of the way Booker handled the situation, arguing that he didn’t project gravitas by simply breaking the tie then leaving without issuing a commanding statement.
“That’s not leadership,” a source groaned.
Most insiders dismissed the event as a day or weeklong story that next week won’t mean much as Booker trains his sights on a gubernatorial run, according to sources close to the mayor.
The front-page chaotic scenes at City Hall coupled with Gov. Chris Christie’s 67% approval rating among likely voters hardly constitute traction for the statewide-contemplating Booker.
The same sources point to state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) as the likely Democratic Party establishment beneficiary if Booker stands down and opts not to oppose Christie, yet despite the rumble strip evening, all signs still point to a Booker bid.
To the point that four black council people on one side and four Latinos on the other presents the picture of a racially divided city, one source noted the backroom agony of At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana.
Quintana was originally going to join the African American foursome in support of John Sharpe James for the seat, in exchange for the council presidency.
When Quintana heard, however, that his would-be allies planned to withdraw their support for his leadership position once he supplied the vote for James, he changed over to Speight, the source said.
At least one source could not unstick himself from a conspiracy theory, suggesting that Booker was keeping everyone guessing about him so he could ultimately announce he’s not running for governor, leave other Democrats with a truncated runway in their statewide bids, and have a laugh with old pal Christie, who holds the Newark purse strings.
“But that’s just me,” said the insider. “I sit here and think up stuff like that.”