Home>Campaigns>Judge says James can’t return to public office

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James in 1992. (Photo: Ace Alagna collection courtesy of the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University Libraries, South Orange).

Judge says James can’t return to public office

Cites 2008 conviction and order permanently barring him from public employment

By David Wildstein, March 15 2022 12:04 pm

Sharpe James will not be permitted to mount a political comeback for the Newark City Council this year after a Superior Court Judge ruled that his criminal conviction forever prohibits his ability to hold public office.

“It’s obvious to me if you can’t hold the office, you can’t be a candidate,” said Superior Court Judge Thomas R. Vena after a short hearing on Tuesday morning.

The 86-year-old James, who served as a city councilman, state senator and mayor during a 36-year political career, had argued that while he might be barred from serving as a councilman, there was no law that prevented him from running.

An attorney representing Newark City Clerk Kenneth Louis, Kirstin Bohn, said in a filing that the court “should not be swayed” by James’ argument that the failure to list his name on the May 10 election ballot would serve to disenfranchise voters.

“To the complete contrary, the voters who vote for (James) will be disenfranchise if he is on the ballot,” Bohn said.  “They may think that they are voting for a real candidate, but their votes would be empty votes.”

Vena agreed, saying James’ candidacy would irreparably harm the rights of the other candidates who might go on to serve on the council.

He said James’ arguments lacked merit.

But James believes that the order barring him from holding office was invalidated by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that overturned honest services convictions of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.

At his sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge William Martini noted that Newark didn’t lose any money as a result of James pulling strings to help a woman, Tamika Riley, buy unkempt and empty properties from the city and then resell them a profit.  Martini, in a stiff rebuke to then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, said that James didn’t personally profit by the deal.  His crime, Martini said, was not disclosing his relationship with Riley.

“Once again we witness the New Jersey Courts and the biased press running the bus over Sharpe James,” the ex-mayor said.  “It’s me today, it could be you tomorrow.”

James, who first won a city council seat in 1970 on a slate with the city’s first Black mayor, Kenneth Gibson, remains hugely popular in Newark.  Many political observers think he would win one of the four council seats.

Vena’s ruling allows Louis to conduct a ballot drawing for the non-partisan municipal election on Wednesday as planned.

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