Newark’s convicted ex-mayor threatens lawsuit if he can’t run for city council

Published: Mar. 07, 2022

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James is threatening a lawsuit if he’s not placed on the ballot in his bid for an at-large city council seat in the May 10 election.

“Should you persist in your position, which violates Mr. James’ rights, all remedies under the law will be pursued,” Thomas Ashley, James’ lawyer, wrote in a March 4 letter to City Clerk Kenneth Louis.

James is hoping to be on the ballot for the seat, but Louis has refused to certify his candidacy, citing a judge’s 2008 order disqualifying James from holding office due to a criminal conviction.

Louis declined to comment. James did not respond to a request for comment. A person who answered Ashley’s phone said he was not available to comment.

At 86, James is attempting a political comeback following his 2008 federal conviction for fraud after authorizing the sale of city land to his mistress without disclosing their relationship. She later sold several parcels at a substantial profit.

James served 18 months in prison.

He’d served five terms as mayor from 1986 to 2006 but declined to seek a sixth four-year term as the federal investigation mounted.

James, a New Jersey state senator from 1999 to 2008, has submitted what he says are 2,000 signatures on nominating petitions to run as a stand-alone candidate in the May nonpartisan municipal election. His opponents would include members of a city council slate backed by Mayor Ras Baraka, who is seeking his third four-year term.

James’ son, South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, is not seeking re-election in May.

Louis told NJ Advance Media in an interview last month that he’d received a legal opinion from a city election lawyer that James was ineligible to run due to his conviction. On Thursday, the clerk formally notified James and his lawyer of that same position citing a 2008 ruling by state Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg that previously disqualified the former mayor from holding office.

However, Ashley challenged the clerk’s position that James was disqualified even from running for office because, the lawyer argued, Feinberg’s ruling had barred him only from “holding” office.

“While the July 11th order certainly says what it says regarding Mr. James ‘holding’ any elected office, it equally and just as certainly says nothing regarding Mr. James’ ‘eligibility’ to be certified as a candidate and to run for office,” Ashley wrote. “So I dispute your understanding and application of the July 11th order to bar Mr. James from being placed on the May 10th ballot.”

The former mayor made headlines last month when he was involved in a traffic crash in which police said he struck another vehicle while pulling into a parking lot off Springfield Avenue in the city, then backed his car across the road and struck a bus shelter.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-03-08 03:28:42 -0800