NEWARK – Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka defended the criminal record of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, who endorsed Baraka on Tuesday instead of the South Ward councilman’s rival, former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries.
James, 78, served as Newark’s mayor from 1986 to 2006. He did not seek re-election in 2006 in the face of a looming second mayoral election challenge from now-U.S. Sen. Cory Booker. He was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2008 and served 18 months in prison following his fraud conviction.
But Baraka, who took James on during Newark’s 1994 mayoral campaign and later served as a deputy mayor towards the end of the James administration, didn’t see James as politically blemished.
“I was at the court, and they tried to give the man 20 years. The judge said that was ridiculous,” Baraka told PolitickerNJ.com. “No money exchanged hands, there was no bribery. I didn’t see how we was convicted of the things that I went to court and saw. If Sharpe did some other things, he wasn’t charged for those things. But what he was charged for in court, I don’t see the result of what happened to him meeting whatever they charged him with. And I don’t think the judge saw that either.”
Then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie presided over James’ prosecution. With the governor now facing serious questions following the outbreak of the Bridgegate scandal and an ongoing state legislative investigation about the use of Hurricane Sandy funds, Baraka called Christie out.
“I think that it proves the type of person that Chris Christie is,” Baraka said. “He goes after people if they don’t agree with him, bullies them and at that time prosecutes them because he had the power to do so. This kind of behavior, we can’t condone. And this kind of behavior, where you give people funding who support you and punish people who don’t, this can’t be condoned. [Christie’s actions] probably exonerates a whole lot of people.”