The New York Times
The People v. Sharpe
EDITORIAL, nytimes on
the Web, July 14, 2007
Sharpe James, the former mayor of
Newark who was indicted this week on corruption charges, has for years exhibited
a finger-in-the-eye arrogance. Still, the 33-count indictment against him
is stunning, most of all for the list of luxuries he allegedly charged to
taxpayers of his impoverished city. Among the standouts: multiple
tropical vacations and a trip to Florida to test drive a Rolls-Royce.
Mr. James maintains that he is innocent of all the federal charges and will have
his day in court. But some of the explanations he has offered up border on
the preposterous. Take, for example, his trip to a beachfront resort in
the Dominican Republic, for which federal prosecutors say he billed the city
$1,440. Mr. James claims he wanted to see if the tropical gardens could be
replicated at the train station in Newark.
Then there were the trips themselves which, according to the indictment, were
billed to his city credit cards. They included $3,500 for a visit to
Martha’s Vineyard, with an extra $207 for a ferry reservation for the Rolls;
$297 for a trip to Maryland to inspect a yacht he wanted to buy; and $2,989 for
a penthouse suite on a cruise after he had left office.
Mr. James, 71, was also charged with allowing Tamika Riley, 38, a frequent
companion, to buy nine parcels of city property for a small fraction of their
worth. The former mayor, who was released on $250,000 bail, faces up to
eight years in prison.
It would be a sad career arc for Mr. James, who was originally elected in 1986
as a reformer. In his two decades in office, he served as a high-profile
cheerleader for Newark and presided over a downtown resurgence highlighted by
construction of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and a new arena for the
New Jersey Devils. Much of the time, though, there were rumors of
corruption swirling around him.
Newark’s voters gave their verdict on Mr. James last year when they elected Cory
Booker to replace him. Mr. Booker vowed to take the city in a different
direction, and he has been doing so. Still, the prosecution of Mr. James
is a chance to learn how much damage he did, and perhaps to reclaim some money
for a city that needs all the financial resources it can get.