Hearing Tuesday in convicted mayor’s suit to run for Newark city council in May 10 election

Published: Mar. 14, 2022

After having filed a lawsuit to get on the ballot for city council in Newark’s May 10 election, former Mayor Sharpe James is now seeking to postpone Wednesday’s scheduled drawing for ballot positions until the suit is decided.

City Clerk Kenneth Louis, who refused to certify James’ candidacy based on a judge’s order barring him from holding office due to criminal convictions in 2008, said delaying the ballot drawing would require rescheduling the election and lead to “chaos.”

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., before state Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena in Newark, according to James’ lawyer.

The lawyer, Thomas Ashley, is seeking a temporary restraining order to block Louis from drawing for ballot positions pending a decision on whether James, 86, is eligible to run for one of four at-large council seats. James dropped off what he says were 2,236 signatures on nominating petitions, more than the 1,664 signatures necessary to be placed on the ballot for a city-wide race.

But Louis has refused to certify the former 5-term mayor to run, citing a July 11, 2008 order by state Judge Linda Feinberg that James was “forever disqualified from holding any office or position of honor.” The order followed James’ convictions for federal wire fraud and other offenses earlier that year.

The convictions involved what prosecutors said was a scheme to steer the sale of city land to a person they identified as James’ mistress, who then resold the properties at a profit. James, who insists the woman was not his mistress, served 18 months in federal prison, though the courts overturned one of the five counts on appeal.

In the suit filed on Friday, Ashley contends that although the 2008 order bars James from “holding” office, it does not prohibit him explicitly from running for office, which Ashley asserts is a form of free speech protected by the Constitution.

“We argue that he has a First Amendment right, certainly, to run for office,” Ashley said.

Louis declined to comment on the lawsuit’s assertion that James is barred from “holding” office, not running for it. But he said if the motion is successful and the ballot drawing is delayed, that would require rescheduling the May 10 election due to requirements under state law.

“It would throw the whole process into chaos,” Louis said.

Ashley said in an interview Monday that if James wins his legal battle to be on the May 10 ballot and wins the seat, they will seek to overturn James’ four remaining convictions, in the hope that he would then be able to hold office as an at-large councilman. The swearing-in is July 1.

James served as mayor from 1986 to 2006, overlapping with his tenure as a state senator from 1999 to 2008.

He’s seeking to run for at-large councilman in the officially non-partisan May 10 race as a stand-alone candidate, without running mates. He would be competing for one of the four at-large seats with Council President Luis Quintana, Councilman C. Lawrence Crump, Councilman Carlos Gonzalez, and Louise Scott-Roundtree, members of a slate backed by Mayor Ras Baraka. None of the four responded to requests for comment Monday.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction


published this page in News and Politics 2022-03-15 03:12:18 -0700