Sharpe James gets behind Phil Murphy for governor


Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James. | AP Photo/Mike Derer, File


TINICUM, PENNSYLVANIA — Sharpe James, the former longtime mayor of Newark who did prison time for corruption, is supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy.

“When you find a good man, you tell everyone. Phil Murphy for governor,” James said at the New Jersey Democratic delegation’s hotel for the Democratic National Convention.

James — who did an 18-month prison stint for steering city land to a former girlfriend two years after he finished serving 20 years as mayor — glad-handed with Democrats after Murphy spoke to the delegation. The former mayor couldn’t remember the last time he went to a national convention.

Six years after his release from prison, Democrats showed no hesitance to associate themselves with James, who remains influential in Newark, eagerly seeking him out for handshakes and pictures.

Murphy, in fact, said he campaigned with James Friday at two Newark senior centers.

James said he “talked to all” of the Democrats considering a run for governor — there are many — but that he settled on Murphy after the candidate wrote him a personal note after reading the book James wrote after prison, “Political Prisoner.”

“I’ve talked to all of them. There’s not one I hadn’t had dinner, breakfast or lunch with or met two or three or four times. But when all was over, the smoke cleared,” James said. “This guy took the time to write a letter and said 'thank you I read your book I’m interested I’d like to take time sit down and meet you some time.' I was flabbergasted that someone would do that.”

James was accompanied by his longtime aide, Calvin West. Rumors have circulated for weeks that West was on the Murphy campaign’s payroll. Murphy, however, said that’s not true. Not yet, at least.

“At this moment in time I believe the answer is not yet but that’s something that we’re looking at very seriously,” Murphy said.

The James endorsement comes as Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany who before that worked as a Goldman Sachs executive, works to reach out to New Jersey’s black community.

Murphy noted that he is a board member of the national NAACP.

“People, I hope, can tell I’m not just saying things because it’s politically expedient,” he said. “But that they can see that I’ve had experience in the community and that I understand deeply what the issues are.”

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