If Sharpe James is indicted today, he would become the fifth Mayor of Newark out of the last seven to face criminal charges. Kenneth Gibson, a four-term Mayor who lost to James in 1986, pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion in 2002 as part of a plea agreement on fraud and bribery charges. He had been indicted in 1980 on charges of giving out no-show jobs, but was acquitted by an Essex County jury.
Gibson’s predecessor, Hugh Addonizio, had spent fourteen years in Congress before running for Mayor in 1962. According to local legend, when asked why he would give up his seniority in Washington to be Mayor, Addonizio said: “Because you can make a million dollars in that job.” Despite his indictment on charges that he received over $1.4 million in kickbacks from city contractors, Addonizio ran for a third term and made it to a runoff with Gibson. His trial began eight days before the runoff, and after an eight-week trial, he was found guilty on 64 counts of extortion and conspiracy. He spent five years in a federal prison.
Ralph Villani was serving as Municipal Court Judge in 1934 when he was accused of receiving $50 for allowing a vendor to sell Easter flowers on city property. He was found not guilty and went on to win election as a City Commissioner before serving as Mayor from 1949 to 1954 (he lost to Leo Carlin, a Teamsters leader and former Assemblyman, who was defeated eight years later). Villani returned to the City Council in 1962 and served until his resignation, for health reasons, just before his death in 1974. His widow, Marie Villani, was appointed to fill his Council seat, which she held until her own criminal conviction in 1993. Marie Villani is the last white candidate to win a Newark municipal election.
Meyer Ellenstein, who was Mayor from 1933 to 1941, was indicted in 1939 on charges that he conspired have the city buy land from political insiders for three to five times its worth. A 1940 trial was halted after fourteen weeks when the Judge declared a mistrial. After rumors of jury tampering, jurors from Somerset County were brought in for the twelve-week trail. (Grace Welsh, a housewife from Somerville, became the first woman to sit on a jury for a criminal case in New Jersey). Ellenstein was aquitted in 1941, but lost his bid for re-election that year to Vincent Murphy, a City Commissioner and Secretary-Treasurer of the State Federation of Labor. Murphy was the Democratic candidate for Governor in 1943, losing to Republican Walter Edge. After losing re-election in 1949, Murphy returned to his union post; he succeeded Louis Marciante as President of the New Jersey AFL-CIO, a post he held from 1961 to 1970, when he was replaced by Charles Marciante.