We have met the enemy….The race for Newark’s mayoralty has begun. Oh goody. Sharpe James is running for his sixth term. Where, oh where do we begin with this man? America’s last sitting mayor who is a Movement veteran, he makes $213,000 a year, more than any American governor. What a great mayor he must be! Since Newark is humming along so well, James can afford the time to also be a State Senator. Four Rolls Royces. Imprisoned cronies and subordinates, bribery and theft. Kleptocracy on the Passaic. (not the Hudson. My bad.)
In 2002’s race, James met his first serious challenger, City Council member Corey Booker, a young black man raised in Newark’s white suburbs by Movement veteran parents. Stanford, All-American football hero, Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law Grad. For all that he realizes that racism still exists, Booker, representing Newark’s poorest ward, believed that the crime, drugs and nihilism that bedevil the inner city could be tamed without waiting for the rapture and the end of racism. More, he believes that Newark’s black mayor James and its moribund black leadership are more responsible for urban blight and the long term failure of Newark’s ghetto than any white person or institution, however racist. Booker did things like camp out and fast in front of open air drug dens to both protest lack of police protection and live out his commitment to his constituents. He lived in a RV so he could respond immediately to any problems in his ward. Imagine that. Focusing on the black input into, and black solutions to, black problems. There’s lots of ways for blacks to stay busy cleaning house while we wait for the white folks to buy a vowel.
James ran on a platform of squashing any dissent from within the black ranks and of letting his beleaguered constituents eat the cake of impoverished black identity. He called Booker ?white boy,? ?faggot,? and claimed he was ?a Republican? supported by ?the Jews? and ?the Klan?. The off duty policemen in James’ security detail roughed up Booker supporters and the documentary film crew following the campaign (I supplied commentary for the film); they ejected Booker supporters and journalists from public spaces where James campaigns. Booker supporters lost their jobs, their licenses, their parking permits. James affected fury that Booker, what Bull Connor would have called an outside agitator, ?maligned? Newark?s inner city as blighted, that people suffered there. He was shocked, shocked that anyone would claim that there was a lost tribe of poor blacks somewhere in Newark who weren’t quite living the dream. Watching the footage was like watching Eyes on the Prize but with blacks as the truncheon-wielding thugs.
It?s not that Booker is necessarily right; he?s young and somewhat callow and certainly has a lot to learn. (Apparently, he’s covering his ass more since the last election, remaining silent on the business-development-at-the-expense-of-the-hood type issues that were his stock in trade last campaign). It?s just that James refuses to give him his due as a fellow black man (shaking Booker’s hand might be a good start), as a valued son with a valid right to speak. James won?t debate Booker on the merits, instead lowering the discourse to name calling and subject changing.
Here?s the other thing: what are we to make of a community which can be made to believe that a Stanford and Yale Law grad, a football hero, Rhodes Scholar and teetotaling vegetarian who voluntarily lives in the projects is someone to despise, a stranger? “[He] acts like us, talks like us, but is not us,? was one mild James broadside. “You have to learn to be an African American, and we don’t have time to train you.” Ugh. Al Sharpton stumped for James, “saying that reform leadership is only valid if it grows from within an established, on-site political community. He illustrated with an analogy about how when Moses died, Joshua was picked to lead the Hebrews, as opposed to someone from Pharoah’s army,” one observer noted. The allusion, with its enemy army image, meshed with Sharpton’s declaration that Booker was “sent” to Newark and bankrolled by mysterious “outside” money.? Jesse Jackson called Booker a ?wolf in sheep?s clothing.? Check out the ever venomous, never at a loss for bile black racists here and fasten your seat belts: Newark Part Deux is going to be a very bumpy ride.