Rice, other council members sue over seating of Speight

Newark City Council members Ronald C. Rice, Ras Baraka, Mildred Crump and Darrin Sharif today filed a complaint in Superior Court challenging Mayor Cory Booker’s reading of Council rules and alleging the mayor’s usurpation of the Council’s authority in filling a vacancy on the city’s legislative body.

The move comes a day after the Booker administration appealed to a judge to keep Booker’s choice on the council or order a revote.

On Nov. 20, the mayor cast a vote and put Shanique Davis Speight on the body to fill a vacancy created by the departure of Donald Payne, Jr., who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 6 to represent the 10th congressional district. 

“I am disappointed that the mayor saw fit to undermine the democratic process and circumvent the authority of the elected body chosen to represent the interests of Newark’s diverse constituencies,” said Councilman Ronald C. Rice, leading the legal fight for the council.

“His actions are contrary to the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect and ethical conduct we agreed would be our path when the people of Newark elected us to office. Mayor Booker has violated the trust of Newark residents and sadly damaged his relationship with the legislative branch of the city’s government.”

The lawsuit alleges that the mayor, and his fellow Defendants (Council members Anibal Ramos, Luis Quintana, Carlos Gonzales and Augusto Amador, City Clerk Robert Marasco, and Ms. Davis Speight) violated state statutes (N.J.S.A. 40:69A-41 & 40A: 9-132) that limit the mayor’s participation in Council meetings, violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (N.J.S.A. 10:4-1) and the rules and regulations (Municipal Council Rule VI) governing Newark City Council meetings. The plaintiffs are seeking a declaratory judgment against the defendants and asking the court to enjoin them from appointing and swearing in Davis Speight to the Newark City Council.

Joining Council members Rice, Baraka, Crump and Sharif as plaintiffs are city residents Rahman Muhammad, Earl Best and Amina Baraka. The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Robert T. Pickett of the firm Pickett & Craig of West Orange.

Rice added, “This episode is not about the resurgence of old grudges or the fissure of new alliances in our city, but rather the disrespect shown by this mayor toward the chosen representatives of the people of Newark and his willingness to disregard the rules governing the Newark City Council, and the law, for purely political self-interest. Mayor Booker’s behavior is shameful and does not represent the leadership our city needs and desperately wants during these trying times. The people of Newark deserve better.”

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton