Hail, hail, the band’s all here

According to its critics, the Newark City Council over the past year has mostly marched to a single drummer – one that couldn’t be found, they say, in the Spirit of Newark Drum and Bugle Corps.

In what was hardly a blow the house down follow-up to last month’s mini Bastille storming of City Hall – but a telling political vignette nonetheless, residents took to the microphone at today’s council meeting to excoriate what they see as a governing body spellbound by Mayor Cory Booker. The council sat there and choked it down for the most part, before pledging to override the administration’s axing of the Spirit of Newark.

It was none other than State Sen. Ronald Rice, defeated by Booker in the mayoral election last year but reanimated with his district 28 primary re-election just last month, who led the charge for the council to take action to preserve the corps. The traveling group of some 100+ young musicians want to go to Pasadena to compete this year. They received $85,000 from the city in 2005, remained on life support with some state funding supplied by Assemblyman William Payne last year, and appeared to be going out on a long tuba note of gloom until Rice complained.

“This is an opportunity for young people to get off the streets,” said Rice of the Spirit of Newark, which he said he helped create back in 1991. “The dollars required for this program aren’t going to raise property taxes in the City of Newark.”

The senator then gave a nod to the administration’s anticipated layoffs of large numbers of city employees.

“You’re taking away youth programs while you’re laying off their families,” said Rice.

How the council will respond over the next few months before Election Day to residents wearing “Recall Booker” buttons and given platform shoes by an invigorated Rice, remains to be seen. – particularly when it comes to the contentious district 29 senate race. Of the nine council-members, three are all out for Booker’s candidate, Teresa Ruiz. They are Council President Mildred Crump, Councilman Augusto Amador and Councilman Anibal Ramos. Four more are roundly expected to back Ruiz, including Councilman Oscar James, Jr., Councilman Carlos Gonzalez, Councilwoman Dana Rone and Councilman Ron Rice, Jr.

The team came to power together, but as the city heads into the general election, at least two elected city officials have broken ranks on the senate front, and for different reasons. They are At-Large Councilman Donald Payne, Jr., whose uncle (Assemblyman Payne) is opposing Ruiz and At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana, who is himself a senate candidate running against Ruiz and Payne.

After hearing from Rice, a visibly annoyed Councilman Payne pumped up the anti-Booker forces with the revelation that he had gone to the administration and brought to its attention the need to fund the Drum and Bugle Corps. He said he received no response.

“I said I would take a year to learn,” said Payne. “My year is up. I’m tired of this. There’s going to be some respect shown (by the Booker Administration) to this council.”

Councilman Luis Quintana put his foot down.

“I think we need to take some responsibility,” he said. “This is not about political gestures. This is about resolution.” With that the crowd came up just short of doing a retread of the marching band standard “Louie, Louie,” as voices in the audience cheered the onetime deputy mayor under Mayor Sharpe James.

Rice, Jr., the first councilperson to speak to the issue after his father’s presentation, and later Ramos, also vowed to protect the program. The latter promised to find the resources within his recreation budget. And Rice, Jr., admitting he was “disappointed” with the administration, said on the heels of his father’s public comment, “I’m going to be a good son and more than that I’m going to be a good leader for the kids of this city and fund that program at the same level it was funded last year.”

Quintana reminded people that the city requires a majority of six votes to override an administrative action, and called for an immediate vote. Crump wasted no time accepting the challenge, making what amounted to an executive decision when she announced that the whole council supported overriding the decision in the case of the Drum and Bugle Corps.

Glenn Eng, who heads up the Spirit of Newark Drum and Bugle Corps, said he was very happy Rice had prevailed on the council to save his outfit, and is optimistic about the Booker Administration – as long as the council applies pressure when necessary. How much of that pressure will be effective and how much will be election year demagoguery will be week to week all the way up to that three-way trumpet blast on Nov. 6th.

Hail, hail, the band’s all here