Newark's Living Mayors: Sharpe James

Jan 30, 2017

Programming Note: Sharpe James will join us this Friday, February 3rd at 8pm as Newark Today Presents "The Four Living Mayors".  He will be joined by fellow former mayors Ken Gibson, US Senator Cory Booker and current mayor Ras Baraka for what will be a historic night.

Five term Newark Mayor Sharpe James
Credit NJ Advance Media

Mayor Sharpe James served as Newark’s south ward councilman before defeating Ken Gibson in a close 1986 election.  It would end up being his closest election as city mayor.  He was such a presence he ran unopposed in 1990.  James went on to serve five terms, eventually becoming a state senator.  

“Today I call for one Newark.  A Newark working together for better tomorrows, and continue to fight against crime, drugs, auto theft, and activities that impair our quality of life,” James proclaimed during his last inauguration address in 2002.

James would serve as mayor and state senator until deciding not to run for reelection. In 2008 he was convicted of fraud and spent 18 months in federal prison for selling discounted plots of land to his mistress, who flipped them for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  To this day Mayor James says he’s innocent.

“No corruption, no bribery, no kickback, there’s no financial gain to Mayor James,” he told WBGO in a 2013 interview.

On March 28, 2006 Mayor Sharpe James announced he wouldn't run for a sixth term.
Credit NJ Advance Media/The Star-Ledger / Courtesy of Newark Public Library

When released from prison, James came back to Newark and penned a memoir titled 'Political Prisoner'.  He says his legacy lies in the institutions he helped bring to Newark like Prudential Center and NJPAC.

“We are a city that is pregnant with potential.  I just hope that the elected officials understand that this is a pregnancy in the city of Newark with great potential for delivery, and that we all come together, work together, become the extended family that I always talked about and move this city forward.” 

Ever present in Newark, he advised his son John James to a seat on the city council. Mayor Sharpe James, considered by many to be the city’s greatest cheerleader, says he wouldn’t change anything he did in his twenty years as mayor. 

“I live here, I pay taxes here, I love Newark, I wear Newark on my sleeves.”