Sharpe’s precedent

After Sharpe James became Mayor of Newark in 1986 (he defeated four-term incumbent Kenneth Gibson), he was able to influence the way Essex County Democratic leaders picked state legislators. His first opportunity came a month after taking office when State Senator John Caufield, a white Democrat who had been Newark Fire Director under Gibson, died. James picked Ronald Rice, a West Ward Councilman who had been among a small group of elected officials to publicly back him against Gibson, to fill the Senate seat. The following year, James claimed one of the 29th district Assembly seats — dumping five-term incumbent Eugene Thompson so that his Chief of Staff (and cousin), Jackie Mattison, could go the Legislature. One of James’ first moves after defeating Gibson in May 1986 was to endorse his friend, South Ward Councilman Donald Payne , for Congress in a Democratic primary challenge against 19-term incumbent Peter Rodino, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Payne lost that primary, but in 1988, when Rodino (who was helped by Gibson’s support in a district where white’s were the minority) retired, James made it clear that the seat would go to Payne.

Sharpe’s precedent