Former Newark mayor Sharpe James, target of a federal corruption investigation, has a good point to make -- if not necessarily in his defense, then at least in embroiling the former City Council in the investigation also.
Buried in Friday's Ledger story on the testimony by his former travel agent and redevelopment director was this bit --
James did not respond yesterday to requests for comment, but on Wednesday he delivered a handwritten letter to the Associated Press, dated June 16, denying any responsibility for the cut-rate city land deals now being investigated by federal officials.Sharpe James is a clever man, and he makes a good point.
"No, no, no, the mayor is not a boss or a lord or can give away municipal land," he wrote in response to an interview request from the AP.
In a two-page letter written on stationary from his state Senate office, James made no blanket claim of innocence but implied any blame for the land deals rests with the City Council, which had the authority to approve or deny the sales.
"Only the Council set prices, only the Council meet and interview developers, only the Council can convey land to developers," James wrote.
However corrupt or not, mayors and administrations do not on their own convey land to developers. In every New Jersey municipality, that responsibility lies with the governing body.
To me, James is saying he will drag the former City Council into any corruption trial. That should be interesting.
But it should also be instructive to governing bodies throughout the state: The fiduciary responsibility to protect the public's interest in these matters ultimately rests with them.
It is their responsibility to do due diligence, to ask the difficult questions, to probe the easy answers, to follow the chains of financial links and political pressure -- or face culpability when the time comes.
To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, “The realisation that one is to be prosecuted in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully.”
Ledger: "Grand jury hears from James' travel agent, ex-official"
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