Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

Guilty!
Two blocks from the wood-paneled office where Sharpe James ran New Jersey’s largest city for 20 years, the former mayor made a stealthy exit through a back door of the federal courthouse here on Wednesday after a jury found him guilty of fraud for conspiring to sell city-owned properties to a former companion at a fraction of their value.

For Mr. James, 72, who had built a formidable political machine before his tawdry fall, it was a day of mixed images. After listening stone-faced to the verdict, he kissed his wife of five decades on the cheek as his former companion, Tamika Riley, 39, trailed a few steps behind.

Snared in a scandal involving the sale of houses in the city’s struggling South Ward, the former five-term mayor also presided over the construction of a glamorous performing arts center, a minor league ballpark and a glittering new ice hockey arena in downtown Newark.

He was found guilty on all five of the charges he faced, including fraud and conspiracy. Ms. Riley was found guilty of those charges plus eight others for tax violations. (Richard G. Jones, The New York Times)

Mixed verdict from the neighborhood
Barber Curtis Wright had the details before I did: Former Newark mayor Sharpe James had been convicted of corruption by a federal jury.

That was more information than I was getting from my car radio yesterday morning just before I walked into the Wright Cut Barber and Beauty Salon.

Wright was plugged in because many officers of the law — as well as the former mayor — frequent Wright’s shop. Someone called Wright to relay the verdict as soon as it was handed up by the jury.

The barbershop’s small-screen television — broadcast, not cable — was busy with the pope’s visit to the White House. There was nothing on the tube for those of us hoping for details about the verdict.

Wright’s phone, however, rang several times as his sources reported in to make sure he had heard: guilty on all counts, which — at least until the sentencing in late July — is the only detail that matters. (Joan Whitlow, Star-Ledger)

Christie’s hot streak continues
U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie had been in his Newark office about an hour yesterday morning when news broke that jurors in the Sharpe James corruption trial were ready to announce a verdict.

Within five minutes, Christie settled into a front-row seat in the Newark courtroom. Three of his top lieutenants and two FBI agents filled the bench to his left. The crowd hushed as jurors took their seats. Christie clutched his BlackBerry.

Then the word “Guilty” tolled like a bell, 18 times, across the room. As it did, Christie furiously typed the same word and hit “send.”

One e-mail to a top assistant who couldn’t attend. The second to his wife, Mary Pat. A third to his brother, Todd. Another to Stuart Rabner, former state attorney general and now New Jersey’s chief justice. And lastly to his closest friend and political confidant, Bill Palatucci.

For six years, Christie’s office had built a formidable record prosecuting corrupt officials and businessmen. More than 125 convictions, by some counts, without an acquittal.

The streak lives. (John P. Martin and Jeff Whelan, Star-Ledger)

Conspicuous silence
The shockwave from Sharpe James‘ conviction did not penetrate the cavernous hearing room where the Senate Budget and Appropriation Committee met Wednesday.

The Democrat-ruled panel, where James’ once sat as second in command, was too busy badgering bureaucrats about spending on state prisoners. A defrocked New Jersey power broker, facing up to seven years in a federal prison, was not a topic of discussion.

He should have been. (Charles Stile, The Record)

James’ losing hand
Sharpe James drove to Bergen County on a sunny afternoon a decade ago.

He didn’t come to see the sights. He wanted to tell this newspaper — and, by extension, its readers — that he was no crook, that he was just a big-hearted mayor of Newark who liked the finer things of life.

Yes, he had a Rolls-Royce. And, yes, he had a yacht and a beach house, too — all this on a mayor’s salary of slightly more than $100,000 at the time.

But the most intriguing moment of his visit occurred when he volunteered that the only reason northern New Jersey’s mostly white suburbanites cared about his Rolls-Royce lifestyle was because of his skin color.

James, who is African-American, played the race card. He went on to play it well for a long time. (Mike Kelly, The Record)

Andrews needs cash to compete
Rep. Rob Andrews could find it difficult to boost his name recognition in Central and North Jersey because he doesn’t have as much money as his better-known opponent, Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, political observers say.

Andrews had $2.2 million as of March 31, according to the Haddon Heights Democrat’s latest filings with the Federal Election Commission. On April 2, the South Jersey lawmaker announced his surprise challenge to Lautenberg for the June 3 primary.

Lautenberg had $4.7 million by March’s end, according to his latest filings with the FEC.

Asked about the money deficit Wednesday, Andrews would only say that he’s confident of raising enough money to mount an effective challenge. Though he said his support is growing statewide, Andrews said he doesn’t know how much he has raised so far in April. (Raju Chebium, Gannett)

Cresitello comes short
MORRISTOWN — Mayor Donald Cresitello is 57 signatures short of the 1,000 he needs to be considered valid to get on the ballot in the Democratic June primary for U.S. Senate.

At the end of Wednesday evening, Cresitello’s attorney, Paul Bangiola, said the campaign has 943 signatures considered valid.

Democratic officials will continue reviewing further signatures this morning for possible inclusion toward the 1,000 needed.

Bangiola didn’t say how many remain to be counted. Cresitello said he estimates that another 180 to 200 signatures need to be counted. (Minhaj Hassan, Daily Record)

The man with a plan
Donald Trump is negotiating a buyout of EnCap’s parent company and will likely spend “significant sums of personal capital” on the Meadowlands project, according to a letter he sent to the state this week.

At the same time, his organization has unveiled a $124 million budget for completing the cleanup of the southern Bergen County swamplands that are the site of the misbegotten landfills-to-golf links project.

The budget shows that Trump’s remediation plan for the 785-acre site is basically the same as the program EnCap promised but failed to do. A key component remains importing fill to cap the four old landfills. One important source would be soil dredged from the Arthur Kill, the waterway that separates New Jersey from Staten Island. (John Brennan, The Record)

What’s he looking at?
Republican Chris Myers drew criticism Wednesday from supporters of state Sen. John Adler, D-Camden, for comments made Monday during an interview aired on a Philadelphia radio station.

Myers called the economy “basically strong” during an interview on 1210 AM.

Jason Varano and Randy Brown, Democratic mayors of two townships in Ocean County, pointed to Myers’ remark as indication that the Lockheed Martin executive is “out of touch” with working families.

Myers, mayor of Medford Township, Burlington County, faces a June primary against Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly and Justin Murphy, a Tabernacle Township-based businessman. (Emily Previti, Press of Atlantic City)

A familiar face
The new guy officially sworn in as township committeeman here Wednesday is someone residents should recognize.

Frank R. Spatola Jr. filled the committee seat of Charlotte Brago, who passed away last month and had served as deputy mayor this year.

“It was a tough decision to decide who was going to sit in that seat,” Committeeman John Stanzione said.

Over the years, Spatola served six years on the Deerfield school board and three years on the zoning board. (Sandra Johnson, Bridgeton News)

Don’t mention it
The elephant in the room Wednesday was an empty seat.

The seat was the one that former City Councilman Richard Casamento sat in for almost 12 years, until he resigned in disgrace last week after he was arrested and charged with possession and distribution of child pornography. (Martin DeAngelis, Press of Atlantic City)

We on for 10?
Dan Grant, the Democratic challenger for a three-year seat on the Morris County Board of Freeholders, wants incumbent Republican Margaret Nordstrom to agree to 10 debates across the county. (Michael Daigle, Daily Record)

Several grains of truth
For weeks, rumors have swirled about Vineland mayoral candidate Robert Romano‘s past personal financial problems.

The Web site for Mayor Perry Barse‘s campaign made a reference to a bankruptcy filed more than a decade ago by Romano and his wife, Ann.

Now The Daily Journal has learned the candidate’s financial troubles are much more recent.

A mortgage company began foreclosure proceedings last year on the couple’s West Forest Grove Road home after they failed to pay the mortgage for at least three consecutive months, according to a Cumberland County Superior Court complaint. (Tim Zatzariny Jr., Daily Journal)

Ag Department execution stayed
Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday backed off his unpopular plans to abolish the Department of Agriculture and shutter nine state parks this summer, saying he is considering alternative budget reductions. (Dunstan McNichol, Star-Ledger)

Mr. Pascrelli goes to Kabul
The real battle against terrorism is being fought in Afghanistan and nearby parts of Pakistan, not in Iraq, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, said Wednesday after returning from a weekend trip to the region with congressional colleagues.

The trip included staying at front-line bases and meeting Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister. (Herb Jackson, The Record)

What favors, Delle Donna defenders ask
Defense attorneys for Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna and his wife Anna began presenting their case yesterday with testimony by former Guttenberg Municipal Clerk Linda Mart, Guttenberg Municipal and Alcoholic Beverage Commission prosecutor James Coviello and Guttenberg Municipal Court Judge Frank Leanza.

All three said the Delle Donnas never asked them for special treatment for town bar owner Luisa Medrano. (Michelangelo Conte, Jersey Journal)

Helping the other side
Call it a case of strange bedfellows.

Florence Sabrin, who is running as a rebel Republican freeholder candidate on the slate headed up by her husband, U.S. Senate candidate Murray Sabrin, is fending off a petition challenge in court today along with her running mate, Paul Mladjenovic.

But representing the two candidates, who are running under the slogan “Constitutional Republicans Protecting the Liberty,” is Bergen County Democratic Organization counsel Dennis Oury. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Mounting a defense
SOMERVILLE – Some Republicans at the outset complained that the 7th Congressional District GOP primary had the makings of a croquet contest between two patrician family names.

But in the case of the Lances versus the Whitmans, it just got very ugly.

Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) and his allies today repudiated a bludgeoning television attack launched against the veteran state senator this week on FOX television by rival Kate Whitman. In the ad, the Whitman campaign contends that Lance, a former senate minority leader, “had his chance” and “failed.” (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Big money in 7th district race
The job may pay less than $170,000, but the political war chests of the 7th Congressional District candidates who want the job have now crossed the $2 million mark.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union), who spent nearly $2 million two years ago in her quest for the congressional seat, has already amassed $1.06 million.

Stender, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, is now far ahead of any of the seven Republican contenders who are seeking to succeed Rep. Mike Ferguson, who opted not to seek reelection after four terms.

Leading the GOP field is Kate Whitman, daughter of former Gov. Christie Whitman, who has more than $434,000 in her political coffers. Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) reported raising $294,000, al though nearly a third of that came from his own pocket. (Gabriel H. Gluck, Star-Ledger)

LoBiondo’s money lead
Two candidates for Congress appear to have an uphill fight, financially speaking, against U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd.

LoBiondo has $1.4 million at his disposal, according to campaign finance reports he filed this week with the Federal Election Commission. He spent just $93,000 in the past three months, the same amount he raised during that period.

“Good for him,” Republican Donna Ward said.

The Mantua Township homemaker is running against LoBiondo in the Republican primary. (Michael Miller, Press of Atlantic City)

Welcome, Holy Father
Mr. Smith went to Washington yesterday.

So did Bishop Smith.

Both Smiths — U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Bishop John M. Smith, the head of the Trenton, N.J. diocese — were there when Pope Benedict XVI got an 81st birthday welcome on the South Lawn of the White House yesterday.

Chris Smith and his wife, Marie, both Hamilton, N.J. residents, were standing a few yards away as President Bush welcomed the pope. (Jeff Trently, Trenton Times)

Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com