The poetry of the mayor’s phrasing leaves young audiences whispering that Barack Obama has nothing on Cory Booker, but the gruffest old time Newarker-naysayers found – or dragged – some youthful allies here Wednesday to join their baleful chants about managerial mayhem in the city.
The fact that almost half of the children participating in Newark Works’ summer employment program didn’t receive their paychecks on time enabled the anti-Booker forces to fit another generation – and another rack of feathers into their war bonnets as they descended on City Hall to berate a likewise chagrined Newark City Council.
Faced with the onslaught, the council took the opportunity to evade the frontal assaults they’ve been receiving because of their alliance with the mayor, and join the crowd for a Booker beat down.
Rodney Bruton of the city’s Central Newark Work Investment Board had the uncomfortable job of speaking for the administration about why the children weren’t paid on time. He told the governing body that there are almost double the number of children employed by the city this summer as last year – in effect reiterating the mayor’s newspaper argument that the city has mostly been a happy victim of the program’s overwhelming success.
Bruton also acknowledged mistakes – the city tried to process too much, too fast and failed – and grimly added that some of the 2,100 participants in the program neglected to hand in some necessary information, such as social security cards or birth certificates. Addressing specifically those children who did not receive paychecks, the city this week issued 1,300 checks, and 1,100 children had picked them up as of yesterday. An additional 500 checks will be issued by Friday, and 100 more checks will be issued on a rolling basis, as the city obtains necessary information from the youth workers.
But the T-shirted "Recall Booker" faction under baseball caps bearing the same slogan and shepherding aggrieved children into the chamber were not about to let Booker in the form of Bruton escape without weathering a good old fashioned hard time.
"That’s a lie," some of the children shouted in the face of his explanation. "That’s a lie."
"You’re criminalizing these kids," came a man’s voice.
Taking a break from questioning Bruton, City Councilman Ronald Rice, Jr., told the whooping crowd of about 60 anti-Booker partisans, including poet Amiri Baraka and Colleen Walton, that he was simply trying to get information.
Councilman Donald Payne, Jr., likewise attempted a cross-examination.
"We need to do a better job of training our staff," he told Bruton, unleashing a torrent of hand claps. "You need to be through that process in May."
Bruton took the blows.
"For what it’s worth," he told the council, "it’s a lesson learned."
Councilman Carlos Gonzalez wanted to know if the administration could make amends by issuing hand written checks to the children by Friday, to which Bruton said he was not at liberty to say. Councilman Anibal Ramos then also tried to make a point, when the doors in the back of the chamber were flung open and "Recall Booker" bulldog Donna Jackson entered leading a squad of children and screaming, "Today, today, today!"
Ramos sank into his chair in silence and police appeared.
"This crowd has a right today to be outraged," admitted Councilwoman Dana Rone. "Cory takes every opportunity to have press conferences when things are good. He should have had a press conference to talk about our kids not getting paid. I don’t work anyplace where I don’t get paid."
Summoned by Rone to walk the requisite public speaking plank, Stefan Pryor, deputy mayor for economic development and one of the big money hires of the Booker administration, started into an explanation that couldn’t be heard.
"Louder. Louder. Can’t hear you."
Pryor turned it up.
"First of all," he said, "the mayor has taken personal responsibility and, of course, we all embrace the effort to create the largest summer youth program These are positive, constructive jobs – now that does not excuse the errors that were made."
Hopeful of harnessing some of the Booker backlash to work constructively for the city, Rice later nominated Jackson to serve on the restaurant review board. In similar fashion, Councilman Oscar James put in the name of Tenfour Evans, another discontented old-timer, who accepted the nomination with pumped fists, and who told the clerks to make sure they pay attention when her name is called, to which one of them gave her a weary salute and mouthed a response that sounded like, "Ten four."