Sharpe James

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Sharpe James
New Jersey State Senator
for the 29th Legislative District
In office
June 21, 1999 – January 8, 2008
Preceded byWynona Lipman
Succeeded byTeresa Ruiz
37th Mayor of Newark
In office
July 1, 1986 – July 1, 2006
Preceded byKenneth A. Gibson
Succeeded byCory Booker
Personal details
Born (1936-02-20) February 20, 1936 (age 83)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic

Sharpe James (born February 20, 1936) is an American Democratic politician from New Jersey, who served as State Senator for the 29th Legislative District and was 35th Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. James was the second African American Mayor of Newark and served five four-year terms before declining to run for re-election. From June 1999 until July 2006, James simultaneously served as Mayor of Newark and New Jersey State Senator. He declined to run for re-election to the State Senate in 2007; his term as Senator expired in January 2008. Prior to politics, James worked as a teacher, athletic director and professor at Essex County College.

On April 16, 2008, James was convicted of five counts of fraud by a federal jury and was subsequently sentenced to 27 months in prison.[1]


James earned a B.A. in education from Montclair State University and a M.A. in physical education from Springfield College. He received the 1961 Department of Physiology Award from that school, and later completed postgraduate studies at Washington State University, Columbia University, and Rutgers University. He also served with the U.S. Army in Germany. In 1988, James was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Montclair State University, and, in 1991, an Honorary Doctorate from Drew University.[2]

Public office[edit]

Sharpe James was first elected to public office in 1970 as South Ward Councilman. He was first elected Mayor of Newark on May 13, 1986, and was sworn into office on July 1 of that year. He was the first Newark mayor to run unopposed when he sought re-election in 1990 and handily won re-election in 1994 and 1998. Sharpe James became Newark's longest-serving mayor when he was re-elected for an unprecedented fifth term in 2002, a year after being named Mayor of the Year by the New Jersey Conference of Mayors.

In December 1992, James was a member of the New Jersey State Electoral College, one of 15 electors casting their votes for the Clinton/Gore ticket.[3]

In June 1999, while serving as Mayor, James was appointed to the New Jersey Senate to fill out the unexpired term of the late Senator Wynona Lipman, and won election to that seat the following November. He was re-elected for a full term in November 2001 and continued to hold both offices. His Senate district encompassed part of Newark in Essex County and all of the Township of Hillside in Union County.

Sharpe James became known in his early years as mayor for often wearing jogging suits in public and making high-profile efforts to attract development to Downtown Newark. In 1997, Newark saw the completion of the acclaimed New Jersey Performing Arts Center. In 2006, James championed the relocation of the New Jersey Devils to the City of Newark. The Prudential Center is the newest arena in the Newark metropolitan area.

In terms of housing, James' policy in the 1990s was to demolish Newark's massive, but mostly abandoned, housing projects, and replace them with small-scale public housing or market rate middle class residences.

Political life[edit]

In 1986, James challenged and defeated Kenneth A. Gibson, Newark's first African American mayor.

James became known as an example of "machine politics". He had a reputation for questionable campaign tactics, including alleged use of the police force for his own purposes, intimidating supporters of his opponents and attacking his opponents' heritage. His final reelection campaign, against then-Councilman Cory Booker in 2002, was documented in the 2005 feature film Street Fight.

On March 16, 2006, James filed for reelection but announced eleven days later he would not seek a sixth term.[4] On April 9, 2007, James announced he would not seek re-election to his State Senate seat.[5]

In 2013, Sharpe advised the election campaign of his son John Sharpe James, who won a seat on the Municipal Council of Newark.[6][7]

Sharpe also endorsed Cory A. Booker, a former foe he had defeated in the 2002 Newark mayoral race, in the special election for U.S. Senator to replace the late Frank Lautenberg.[8]

Fraud conviction[edit]

On April 16, 2008, Sharpe James was convicted on five counts of fraud by a federal jury for conspiring to rig the sale of nine city lots to his mistress, who quickly resold them for hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. James served his two-year prison sentence in a federal prison camp in Petersburg, Virginia.[9]

James's co-defendant and former girlfriend, Tamika Riley, was also found guilty on those five counts and eight others, including tax evasion.[10] After 18 months in prison, James was released on April 6, 2010. While in prison, he wrote a 17-chapter book titled Political Prisoner.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Martin, John (July 29, 2008), "Ex-Newark Mayor Sharpe James sentenced to 27 months", The Star-Ledger, retrieved March 25, 2013
  2. ^ New Jersey State Senate: Sharpe James Entry Archived 2006-02-20 at the Wayback Machine, New Jersey Legislature. Accessed July 10, 2007.
  3. ^ 1992 Electoral College Votes, National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed December 21, 2006.
  4. ^ "Newark Mayor James Won't Seek Re-Election", San Francisco Chronicle, March 27, 2006, accessed April 21, 2007. "Mayor Sharpe James said Monday he will not seek a sixth term leading New Jersey's largest city, opening the door to a young rival who lost by fewer than 4,000 votes four years ago."
  5. ^ Smothers, Ronald. ' With Usual Flourish, Sharpe James Pulls Curtain on a Career and an Era in Newark", The New York Times, April 11, 2007, accessed April 10, 2008.
  6. ^ Napoliello, Alex (October 9, 2013). "Sharpe James helping to run his son's Newark city council campaign". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
  7. ^ a b Haddon, Heather (October 8, 2013). "Newark's Book of James A Former Mayor Returns From Prison With a Memoir—and Some Endorsements". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
  8. ^ "Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James serious about endorsement of Cory Booker for Senate". Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  9. ^ Matt Rainey/The Star-Ledger. "Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James reports to prison on Monday". Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  10. ^ Laura Craven. "Newark ex-mayor Sharpe James is convicted of fraud". Retrieved 2012-05-22.
Political offices
Preceded by
Kenneth A. Gibson
Mayor of Newark
Succeeded by
Cory Booker
New Jersey Senate
Preceded by
Wynona Lipman
New Jersey Senate
Succeeded by
Teresa Ruiz