Middlesex County News

North Brunswick: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker Bans Press From Mosque Town Hall Q&A

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, talks to around 150 Muslim Americans at a Mosque in North Brunswick Friday night. Credits: Charles W. Kim photos
Credits: Charles W. Kim photos
Middlesex County Freeholder Shanti Narra speaks during Friday night's event. Credits: Charles W. Kim photos
Credits: Charles W. Kim photos
Credits: Charles W. Kim photos
Credits: Charles W. Kim photos
Credits: Charles W. Kim photos

NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – While U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, didn’t have a problem with members of the press covering his opening remarks during a town hall meeting at the New Brunswick Islamic Center on Livingston Avenue Friday night, he closed the questions and answers session of the meeting to the press.

Around 150 members of the Muslim community, and a few local Democratic officials, came out to the center to hear Booker at the town hall-style forum, which according to a flier for the event, was “open to the public.”.

Booker’s Press Secretary, Tom Pietrykoski, arrived with the senator just after 7 p.m. and told members of the media that the section of the meeting with questions from the audience would be closed to the press, saying those gathered would be “uncomfortable” having an honest conversation with the senator if the media recorded and reported on it.

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Pietrykoski said the members of the mosque requested the restriction, yet no mention of that was made when TAPInto South Brunswick and Cranbury arrived to cover the event and was warmly welcomed by the center’s president.

The news organization went to the center Friday night due to a Jan. 5 email press advisory sent from Booker’s press office.

The email included the image of the flier, but did not include any restrictions on covering the event.

Two video cameras were set up at the rear of the gathering to capture the first part of the program with remarks by Booker, Passaic County Freeholder Assad Akhter, the first American Muslim to hold that office, and newly appointed Middlesex County Freeholder Shanti Narra.

Narra was formerly a North Brunswick Councilman before replacing Freeholder James Polos who resigned this fall to head the Middlesex County Improvement authority.

The cameras were taken down before the question and answer period and it was not clear if they belonged to a news organization.

Center officials passed out blank index cards for audience members to write questions down for Booker during the round of remarks.

The tone of the evening centered on the rhetoric of Republican President-elect Donald Trump who campaigned on creating some level of immigration restrictions on Muslims, including a registry for those coming into the country from nations tied to terrorism following several radical Islamic attacks here and abroad.

Many American Muslims have expressed fear about those restrictions and Booker used his remarks to try and allay those fears.

“These are American citizens that have this worry,” Booker said. “I just want everyone in this room to know that I believe in an America that is about patriotism and I believe I am surrounded by patriots in this room.”

Booker then described a bill he introduced in the U.S. Senate this week that would make such a registry based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, or country of origin, illegal.

Called the “Protect American Families Act,” the bill prohibits creating a registry on that basis.

Booker said that there is a law from the George W. Bush administration that was passed after the terrorist attacks on 9-11 that required non-citizen visa holders from certain countries to register with the federal government.

According to a press release from Booker’s office, some 83,000 individuals from 24 countries with Muslim majorities registered under the law, but the law did not yield any convictions.

In addition, some 13,000 of those individuals were deported, the release said.

Booker said that President Barack Obama used his executive authority while in office to remove the list of countries from the law in an attempt to weaken it.

Obama also announced last month that he was repealing the regulatory framework of the law.

His bill, however, would render the law illegal, if passed by the Republican controlled senate and U.S. House of Representatives, he said.

Booker is joined in sponsoring the bill by eight other Democratic senators including former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, D-VT, and Elizabeth Warren, D-MA.

Following his remarks, TAPInto South Brunswick and Cranbury left the event for the closed question and answer session and could not get comments from attendees.

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