Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James serious about endorsement of Cory Booker for Senate

By David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger
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on October 02, 2013

Left, Luis A. Quintana along with former Mayor Sharpe James, center, and Herb Calloway Jr in this Star-Ledger file photo. (William Perlman/The Star-Ledger)


NEWARK — When word spread that former Newark Mayor Sharpe James was endorsing his long-time foe, current mayor Cory Booker, for U.S. Senate, it seemed like a backhanded compliment.

“He’d be a great U.S. Senator for New Jersey,” James said, according to a report on PolitckerNJ. “What other senator do you know who sits on Oprah’s couch, and then goes on Jimmy Fallon, and then Conan?”

But James, who has had bad blood with Booker for years, said his endorsement was no joke.

"Mayor Booker is eminently more qualified than his opponent encompassing qualifications, articulation, presence," James said in a statement to The Star-Ledger.

Booker is running against Republican Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, in a special election this month to fill the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

"Newark has given him a sense of responsibility and humility that will serve him well in the Senate in meeting the needs of all New Jersey," James said of Booker.

Still, James, who was one of Booker's earliest and most vocal critics, worked in a jab.

"He was never happy in the hands-on, press-the-flesh, day-to-day demands of local government. However, he will excel as a member of the Senate in proffering ideas, legislation and activities to improve New Jersey and America," James said. "He will make New Jersey proud and bring the bacon home."

After defeating the James machine for his City Council seat in 1998, Booker made no secret that he was after James' job as mayor.

James tagged Booker as an outsider and Hollywood darling but barely fended off a challenge from the Yale-educated Rhodes scholar in 2002. By 2006, James was facing legal troubles and did not run for re-election. Booker was elected mayor in a landslide.

The two men have had a frosty relationship ever since. They warmed only slightly when James returned from federal prison in 2010 after serving 18 months for depriving Newark of honest services by selling city property for $46,000 to his former girlfriend, who then sold it for roughly $660,000.

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