Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James believes the fight over a vacant city council seat is a polarizing factor in the city along racial lines, pitting African-Americans against Latinos. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that current Mayor Cory Booker is involved in a conspiracy to keep his son off the council and pass a measure allowing for a municipal utilities authority. James said his son, John Sharpe James, will run for a seat on the Newark city council regardless of what transpires.
James served time in federal prison after being convicted on corruption charges, but he maintains his innocence. One conviction was overturned and he is still in the appeals process. He said the charges and the conviction helped Chris Christie’s career.
“I made Gov. Christie,” James said. “I was his poster boy.”
James said while he may forgive Christie, he doesn’t agree with him. He said Christie has done a good job as governor, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when he went to comfort storm victims.
“I don’t think that’s the reason to say he would defeat a Cory Booker or a [Steve] Sweeney, the president of the Senate. Or even [Barbara] Buono, the other senator. It’s because I think he would be a tough candidate against them,” James said. “The hardest decision first is deciding to run. Second part is having that intestinal fortitude. That’s what Booker didn’t have against me in 2002 and lost and had to make that movie ‘Street Fight’ to justify the defeat.”
When James was released from prison, a New York Times article chronicled his bus ride home and quoted him as saying he was going to do the lord’s work. James said he worked with inmates after his release. When asked what the experience meant to him, James said, “I think that we’re all human and that you don’t really control your destiny. People go to jail because they commit a crime, many go to jail because of circumstances they find themselves in, many go to jail because of people they associate with. And then of course I understand that the judicial system is not perfect.”
James said he has forgiven those who gave false testimony against him, but has a hard time forgiving Booker for his actions at a recent council meeting where he cast a vote to appoint Shanique Davis Speight to a vacant council seat instead of his son.
“When the mayor walked into that council meeting against my son, who is a decorated war veteran, blown up in Afghanistan and still survived, lives with a bullet in him from being shot five times on the streets of Newark, is a graduate of Rutgers Law School and Morehouse College and he walks up illegally to cast a vote against my son, I draw a line in the sand and say that’s wrong,” James said.
According to James, Booker’s actions are also dividing Newark. “For so many years we’ve fought to bring the African-American and the Latino community together,” he said. “Now to divide this city between four Hispanics or Latinos on the city council against four African-Americans, it’s horrible.”
James also accuses Booker of being part of a conspiracy to get a municipal utilities authority passed in Newark. James said Booker joined forces with the Hispanic members of the council, including Councilman Luis Quintana, who was James’ deputy mayor.
“I created him [Quintana]. He was my aide. He was my deputy mayor. And I spent over half a million dollars to make him the first Latino elected in the city of Newark. He betrayed me for three pieces of silver from Steve Adubato and Anibal Ramos, the council president,” James said.
James claims that Quintana came to his home and told him he would be supporting John Sharpe James to fill the vacant council seat because he was the most qualified. “One week later, he’s on the other side of the team. I don’t deal with council matters. Even if he felt they betrayed him, the city council members, in saying that he would be vice president or president, why take it out on my son when we’ve been loyal to him as an individual and as a family for 20 years?” James asked.
James said his son will run for a seat on the council in the special election in 2013 and then again in 2014. He said he supports his son in his endeavors and will be at the next Newark city council meeting.
“We lost 26 lives during the riots. We had 26 tombstones at the park in the city of Newark. We’re going to turn the clock back? We’re going to create racism in order to gain control of the city council? Divide our city? It’s horrible. It’s un-American. It’s undemocratic,” James said. “And I want to sit in the council chambers and see if we’re going to go forward or backward.”