CITY OF NEWBURGH – A resolution to bring an opening prayer back to Newburgh City Council meetings failed by a narrow vote margin at Monday’s regular meeting.
The resolution was defeated by a 3-4 vote, meaning the council will continue to open its regular meetings with a moment of silence that allows people to pray silently or not at all.
Three members of the seven-member City Council - Mayor Torrance Harvey and both at-large councilmen Anthony Grice and Omari Shakur - supported the resolution.
Councilwomen Karen Mejia, Ramona Monteverde, Patty Sofokles and Councilman Bob Sklarz voted against the measure.
“I believe that God hears you no matter where you are,” Sofokles said ahead of the vote.
Sofokles called about 10 nearby municipalities, she said, and none of them opened regular meetings with a spoken prayer.
“They all believe in church and separation of state because nobody has the same beliefs,” Sofokles said.
She also expressed confusion as to why having an opening prayer is an issue when the council collectively agreed last year to open meetings with a moment of silence.
Like at many council meetings over the past year, several local religious leaders advocated for bringing back prayer during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Shakur commended the organizing efforts of faith leaders lobbying the council.
“I also hope that the church community comes out in the community and works with us on these streets with these kids and makes prayer work,” Shakur said.
It was Harvey’s idea to bring prayer back to meetings.
“I think that it’s our responsibility as elected officials to not only know our community, but know our demographics,” Harvey told the council ahead of the vote. “And we have a large contingency of Christians in this city….
“Prayer is needed. We are a very unique city and we are at a turning point in our city’s history, turning this city around from decades and decades of neglect, decades and decades of crime, decades and decades of poverty pimps robbing our city from the inside out.”