At the first class of Politics 107 this morning at Essex County College, some of the students chuckled when they read the list politician guest lecturers slated to speak to the municipal government class over the course of the semester.
“One of these dudes is going to jail,” said Klon Julu, a 27-year-old Political Science major from Newark, after taking a look at the syllabus.
Indeed, one of the several mayors slated to speak at the experimental class was Mims Hackett, the recently arrested Orange mayor and, as of this afternoon, former Assemblyman.
Hackett was asked to speak at the class before he was charged with accepting bribes, but as of right now he’s still scheduled to appear as a guest lecturer – tentatively, at least. While he may decide not to attend, Professor Akil Kokayi Khalfani hasn’t yet withdrawn the invitation.
“Yeah, we’ll work through those parts,” Khalfani responded to the student, drawing some laughter from the class. “I don’t have a direct answer for you right now.”
The class is perhaps one of the more positive aspects of Sharpe James’s legacy. It’s put on by the Urban Issues Institute, which James founded, and the New Jersey Urban Mayors’ Association. It’s taught by Khalfani, who is Acting Director of the Urban Issues Institute and Director of the Africana Institute, along with Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith and Professor Joseph Youngblood. Last year it was taught by James himself.
The course is aimed to teach students about the “importance, structure, duties and responsibilities of local government in providing the delivery of essential services to its constituents,” according to its syllabus.
While it’s hard to imagine Hackett taking the time to address a group of about sixteen students, the question of whether or not Hackett will attend is up in the air. Dates have not yet been set for when each politician will attend.
Eleven mayors are slated to appear before the class, among them Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer, Paterson Mayor Jose Torres and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy.
Khalfani said that Hackett will still be relevant to the course if he stays on as the mayor of Orange – something the Star-Ledger reports that he’s likely to do. And while the issue of corruption itself is not built into the curriculum, Khalfani encourages his students to ask tough questions of the guests.
“I don’t want to put a muzzle on the students,” said Khalfani, who also said he would be open to having Sharpe James as a guest.
Some of those students said they hope Hackett does show up. They’ll have some questions for him.
“I would ask him about ‘how does it feel to cheat taxpayers?’” said Terrel Walden, 21, a junior Jurisprudence major at Montclair State who’s enrolled in this class as an elective. “On the other hand, he might not have done it. This is still in the beginning phases.”
Klon Julu was boggled by the small amounts of money involved in the bribes.
“I mean, you guys are making $100,000 a year and you’re taking $5,000 bribes?” said Julu. “You’re sacrificing your job. You sacrificed it for $5,000.”
Khalfani said he’s not particularly worried about his students developing cynicism about the political process after seeing the recent parade of alleged corrupt public officials, many of whom were from the urban municipalities that the class teaches about. In fact, for Julu the effect is the opposite.
“When I saw the syllabus and the people who were slated to be here, I sat down and said to myself ‘this is going to be good, especially with the stuff that happened last week.’”