Thursday, April 17, 2008


He's guilty. Sharpe James was mayor of Newark for 20 years, which is 8 years too long for any big city mayor. He did a lot of good for Newark. His first two terms in office were better than good, when he had something to prove about Sharpe James. From the start he flaunted the kind of lifestyle that holds a mesmerizing, vicarious appeal for people who will never drive luxury cars, take sumptuous Caribbean vacations, & party at the homes of pop music stars & professional athletes, & which angers powerful people who prefer to hide behind false modesty.

During his 5th run for mayor in 2002 against a surprisingly strong Cory Booker (elected mayor in 2006), I took to calling Sharpe James "Mayor 99%" after he accused Booker of "not being black enough." Insulting to every resident of Newark. By then, James presented an image of a Newark that was 99% black, at least after regular business hours. This perception may have seemed like a necessary corrective when Kenneth Gibson took over city hall in 1970 from the corrupt Addonizio regime, but it turned out to be a lousy long term strategy. Newark is actually a little over 50% African-American now with a growing Hispanic population, & is badly in need of more middle class property owners of any race or ethnic group. I thought James practically invited white folks to enjoy Newark's new & improved downtown attractions & then leave. He did this not out of pride in Newark as a great center of African-American Culture, but to maintain his personal power, perks & privileges a little longer. Meanwhile, gangs far more violent than the old organized crime had taken over large swaths of the city, shooting children, terrorizing neighborhoods, making a mockery of the police & of common decency. The gangs imitate video games the way the mob used to imitate movies. James' own core constituency - the thousands of people earning decent wages on the city payroll, Newark's faithful middle class - finally abandoned him.

Yet, based on the evidence making it into the newspapers, I 'm not convinced the government case against Sharpe James & his ex-girlfriend Tamika Riley was all that strong. It had more than a hint of the conspiratorial "they" being out to humiliate James. If it sends a cautionary message to other politicians, I suppose it was worth it. But we're supposed to think, "Well. this fraud must be just the tip of the iceberg, so throw them in jail." Problem is, they didn't show us the rest of the iceberg. So if two more black people from Newark go to prison, what's so unusual about that?

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