Police had to resort to pepper-spray to end an unruly city council meeting in Newark last night, after a procedural move by Mayor Cory Booker caused angry citizens to storm the stage in protest—an evening of mayhem that should lead to tremors in a possible fight against Chris Christie.
To give you the background on the scene, courtesy of the Newark Star-Ledger: the council was meeting to nominate a replacement for Donald Payne Jr., who gave up his seat two weeks ago after being elected to Congress. Booker was looking to nominate an ally, Shanique Davis Speight, to the empty slot. His opponents were pushing for John James, the son of former Newark mayor Sharpe James, who Booker beat in 2006 to claim his current job. When a councilman supporting James attempted to speak, he was not recognized by the acting chair, so he and three other council-members walked out in protest, leaving the council without a quorum.
That's when Booker stepped in. In the absence of a quorum, council rules allow the mayor to sit in and cast votes. Anticipating just such a moment, Booker's chief of staff had planned ahead, making sure the mayor was at the council meeting—for the first time ever—to take action. Speight was nominated to the empty seat and Booker cast the deciding vote in her favor.
That's when the mayhem started. Residents grew furious over what looked like back-room cronyism orchestrated by Booker and his allies, and began chanting "Cory's gotta go." When Speight entered the chamber to be sworn in, dozens of citizens stormed the dais and had to be pushed back by police. One man was even arrested. Speight had to leave the room to be sworn in elsewhere.
No matter which way you look at his maneuvering—and his staff insists he followed all the rules—this incident won't look good for Booker the next time he runs for office. Booker is widely expected to challenge Chris Christie for the New Jersey Governor's chair next year, and the Republicans already have their first ready-made campaign ad. Booker's own constituents turning against him and losing their minds over a shady deal to pack the city council with his friends? That's not the image that America has come to expect from its superhero Twitter mayor. (@CoryBooker has been unusually silent since the meeting last night.)
With Christie riding high for his "state before party" approach to hurricane relief (a new poll this morning finds his approval rate at 67 percent), and Booker's food stamp challenge suddenly overshadowed, the episode gives Christie the opportunity to label the mayor as partisan hack.