NEWARK, NJ - Some city council members took offense with people in charge at the Newark Public Library because they did not get good seats when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited on Sunday.
The justice visited the library last weekend to promote her new children's book and spread the love of reading to youngsters. About 400 people attended the event in the James Brown African American Room at the library, the library director said.
Some council members used their time for closing statements during the council meeting Wednesday night to broadcast their displeasure with being seated in the back of the room. They said they had difficulty seeing and hearing Sotomayor.
"This is wrong, and we fund this library," said Councilman At-Large Luis Quintana, who later added, "I want us to be treated with the respect and dignity that we deserve."
The council levies taxes that help fund the library through the city’s annual budget. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, meanwhile, appoints at least four members to the Newark Public Library Board of Trustees. While the mayor is allowed to be a sitting member on the board, he appointed an alternate to serve in that role instead.
“We haven't funded the budget for them yet, right?” asked South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James after Quintana voiced his displeasure with the library. Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver responded no.
Newark Public Library Director Jeffrey Trzeciak said the library did not determine the seating arrangements for the event on Sunday. Trzeciak said he sat about 10 rows from the front.
“It was a highly scripted event and we were given very specific guidance from both the office of the Supreme Court justice as well as U.S. Marshals,” he said when reached by phone.
Trzeciak was sorry if the council members were upset by their placement. He said the library appreciates everything the city does for it.
“I hope that alternately what is seen is that the library is helping to contribute to elevate the profile of the city,” Trzeciak said. “What we managed to do was get a Supreme Court justice here, which was not an easy task.”
The Central Ward councilwoman, McIver, found it “interesting” that people at the library told her they were not responsible for the seating arrangements.
"We did speak with people from - representatives from the Newark library - who said it was at the request of the host that attended for us to be seated like that,” McIver said. “I mean, I don't know what kind of confirmation we have on that, but that is the response we got about it. It was very much interesting."
The United State Marshals Service is a law-enforcement agency in the federal Department of Justice and is responsible for protecting federal judges. The Judicial Security Division said through a marshals spokeswoman that it wasn't aware of any seating arrangements during the event.
“The U.S. Marshals did provide security during the event in question," the division said in a statement sent to TAPinto Newark. "However, we have no knowledge of the seating arrangements and did not play any role on making such determinations.”
Meanwhile, Quintana took offense because he saw his political opponents and people associated with Rutgers University sitting in the front. He said the mayor’s mother had to sit on the side as if she were “collecting tickets.”
"Folks at the library, if you're listening...respect the office that we hold," Quintana said during the council meeting. "Respect us for that respect and don't put us in the back like...we're just outsiders."
Council President Mildred Crump echoed those sentiments. She understood the event was geared towards children, but said the auditorium was big enough for council members to at least sit in the middle "to get the full effect of being in a room with this great woman."
"This is not ego. It's protocol. I see people shaking their heads,” she said, later adding that someone also took the mayor's seat.
At the same council meeting, residents raised concerns about the county's contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the closure of a local homeless shelter. None of those concerns were addressed in the council members' closing statements.