Look Sharpe

I watched Street Fight last night, a documentary about the 2002 Newark, New Jersey mayoral race between four-term incumbent Sharpe James and 32-year-old city councilman Cory Booker, and there was a point at which the story reminded me of Portland’s current mayoral kerfuffle.

A month or two before the election, police raided Sights — a Newark strip club — found a 16-year-old girl working there, charged the owner with running a brothel, and picked up Booker’s chief of staff standing in the line to enter the club. Although he wasn’t actually arrested, Jermaine James (no relation to the mayor), and his association to Booker were the highlighted items in the press release on the raid from the Newark Police Department.

Mayor James went on the high moral offensive, embellishing the actual events and attacking Booker:

In a speech to mark the beginning of his re-election campaign two weeks ago, Mr. James veered from his prepared text to obliquely criticize Mr. Booker for not taking action against the aide who was in line at the club. “If any member of my staff frequents a place of prostitution and narcotics that’s illegal in the city of Newark, where 14-year-olds are doing live sex acts, they don’t even have to touch them; I’m still going to fire them,” he said indignantly with the governor and a coterie of elected officials at his side.

As a side note, that governor was named Jim McGreevey.

Then, two weeks after James’s fusillade, the owner of the club and four other current and former employees disclosed that Mayor James himself had spent an hour in the club a couple of years earlier.

In an interview Monday, Mr. Wilson, the owner, said the mayor had visited the club in May or June of 2000, the same night his son, John James, was there. The mayor, however, arrived with a man Mr. Wilson said appeared to be a bodyguard. “The first time he came, he didn’t hide it,” said Mr. Wilson. “He came in, shook hands with staff and members who recognized him.” Mr. Wilson recalled that when he told Mr. James that his son had been there earlier, the mayor laughed and said, ‘Oh, he likes these places.'”

The mayor, Mr. Wilson and others say, returned a few weeks later, but left after learning that Mr. Wilson was not working that evening.

Martin Mathis, 34, the club’s former security chief, said the mayor sat and drank a soda as several women approached. “He was definitely looking at the women that were there,” said Mr. Mathis, who now works as a medical technician in East Orange. “The girls were coming over; they were just talking to him, touching him, although I don’t think it was in a sexual manner.”

The manager, David E. L. Melvin, 31, of Jersey City, said other patrons seemed honored by his presence. “He was just there like a regular meet-and-greet situation,” he said.

After that revelation, the mayor refused to deny that he had ever visited Sights, nor did he offer to step down after having raked Booker over the coals for not firing his chief of staff (the city’s business administrator determined that the other James had done nothing to violate rules of conduct).

To me that’s the crux of the Adams story. Sanctimonious, bald-faced lying and deceit. A willingness to not only lie in the face of facts that any number of people know to be true, but to do so by wrapping oneself in a sheep’s clothing of purity and innocence. Some of the interviewees in Street Fight exclaim their disbelief that the mayor would be so stupid as to make a case out of Booker’s aide’s detention at the strip club, but then again, James went on to win the election with 53% of the vote.

James didn’t run for mayor in 2006 (Booker took 72% of the vote). He was sentenced to 27 months in prison in July 2008 after being convicted on five counts of fraud by a federal jury, for selling city property at bargain prices to a former girlfriend who sold them for a 1200% profit.