Sharpe James will serve 27 months in federal prison for directing real estate deals to his mistress, Tamika Riley — conduct considered unbecoming a public servant by a jury of his peers.
Reactions around the web to yesterday’s sentencing have ranged from anger to mild indifference. Ultimately, no one was satisfied by the outcome of the case.
Rest assured, though: Sharpe’s political enemies will get their perp walk. U.S. Attorney Chris Christie will get another notch in his pristine record. The city will see $127,000 returned to its coffers in the form of fines.
But, the sentence handed down by District Court Judge William J. Martini was not justice — and that has little to do with the length of James’ sentence.
Sharpe James was once a hero in this town, a man who fought for Newark when it seemed that New Jersey, through its highway and housing policies, was bent on destroying it. After the racially-charged 1967 riots, James was the second black mayor to arrive in office, calling for reform and admonishing an administration fraught with corruption.
Newarkers, however, had heard it before. Kenneth Gibson, James’ predecessor, took office in 1970 as a reformer, and was later indicted on fraud and bribery charges. He had replaced Hugh Addonizo, who won the Mayor’s office in 1962, accusing his predecessor of running a corrupt political machine. Addonizio was also brought up on with corruption charges for bowing to the will of organized crime.
Because of this — three disgraced mayors and forty-four years of corruption in City Hall — Newark suffers from a poverty of hope. An obstinate cynicism permeates this city to the degree that many “man on the street” interviews revealed Newarkers asking sympathetically, “why wouldn’t Sharpe take care of his own?”
We are only just beginning to see this dogged attitude chip away, two years into what appears to be a substantive renaissance in the nation’s third-oldest city — truly one of our great American stories.
But the Sharpe James sentence, too short to account for the years of undue influence, and too long to shake Newarkers’ perceptions that the establishment is trying to undermine the city’s progress — offers nothing but a sad reminder of our torrid history of corruption.