Newark power broker and 'political sensei' Carl Sharif dies

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for
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on October 01, 2015

In this 2004 photo, Carl Sharif discusses Cory Booker's election win on Cable Vision in Newark as Booker watches on at right. Sharif died Wednesday at 75


NEWARK — Carl Sharif, a former city school board president and famed political strategist, has died.

The longtime South Ward power broker, former mayor Cory Booker once called his "political sensei", had battled a lengthy illness. He was 72.

Sharif's deep roots in city politics dated back decades, beginning with a job on the staff of an aide to Mayor Hugh Addonizio in the 1960s. The civil rights movement was in full swing, and before long, long-simmering racial tensions would thrust the city into full-blown chaos.

Longtime local organizer and attorney Junius Williams said that while others in his age group hoped to spur change through outspoken demonstrations, Sharif largedly preferred to work in the background, soaking up knowledge from early black politicians like Larrie West Stalks, Calvin West and Irvine Turner.

"He sat with people in that generation, to learn how to put together campaigns. He was familiar with how they came to power as elected officials," he said.

Sharif used that knowledge to turn himself into one of the city's premier campaign architects, helping Kenneth Gibson become its first black mayor in 1970.

He accepted a job in Gibson's administration, serving as an aide and trusted advisor, and was appointed to a seat on the city's school board. His tenure hit a rough patch in 1981, when he, a brother and three of his sons were charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and weapons charges in connection with attacks on two men. All were eventually acquitted, and Sharif publicly alleged that his arrest was politically motivated.

Sharif eventually left his appointment with Gibson to focus on campaign work, cultivating an image as a powerful political force, unafraid to tap his distinctive baritone to speak truth to power.

"He was always the kind of person against the machine. He was the one kind of always on the outside, organizing," said Shavar Jeffries, who tapped Sharif to manage his unsuccessful mayoral campaign against Ras Baraka last year.

"He had a critique that he felt often times, many of the people in political power, they ended up serving themselves and not the people."

In more recent years, Sharif was best known as the architect of Booker's swift rise to power, helping him build name recognition during his campaign for Central Ward councilman, and managing the now-U.S. senator's successful 2006 mayoral run.He was also the father of Darin Sharif, who represented the Central Ward from 2010 to 2014.

Muhammed Akil, the executive director of Newark-based education reform group Parent Coalition for Excellent Education, issued a statement saying Sharif had been instrumental while serving as an advisor during the organization's early days.

"After listening to others, Carl was often the last person to speak - and had a special way of incorporating different points of view into one overall vision," Akil said. "For someone who was so deeply involved in so many campaigns, Carl was not political - he was straight forward, he was honest, he was bold and he truly cared."

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