Newark Mayor Takes Taxpayers for a Ride | Citizens Against Government Waste
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Newark Mayor Takes Taxpayers for a Ride

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact

With a salary of $186,000, one would think that the mayor of Newark would have no need for taxpayers to pay for his vacations.  Think again.  Even though former mayor Sharpe James had an annual travel expense budget of $25,000, he is currently under investigation for adding $150,000 for numerous expenses and exotic vacations.  The globe-trotting has been chronicled by The Star-Ledger of Newark. 

James claims that he chose to travel extensively in order to promote the city of Newark, “As the last of the civil rights mayors in America, I had to travel and sell this city and tell the world about the Newark success story.”  His “economic development” trips included the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Martha’s Vineyard, South Beach, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. 

One of the most ludicrous expenses was a $6,500 five-day trip to Rio de Janeiro.  James claims that this “official” excursion, taken in the last week of his tenure, was a follow up to a 2004 lecture given by James at the request of the State Department.  However, Victor Tamm, a specialist for the United States Embassy in Brazil, noted that the visit was merely a courtesy call made by the former mayor.  He added that the visit was not necessary as a follow up to any lecture.

In order to pay for his extravagant lifestyle, Sharpe James had not one, but two credit cards issued by the city of New Jersey.  One card was billed to City Hall, while the other card was issued by the Newark Police Department.  According to James, two cards were absolutely necessary because, “if one account gets rejected, they use the other card.”  The police department account was used November 2003 through June 2006.  However, records revealed that James opened the account eight years ago. 

Lavish trips were not the only outrageous purchases made by Sharpe James.  Tickets to New York Giants games, Cirque du Soleil, Broadway shows, and boat shows in Chicago cannot be spun as beneficial for the city of Newark.  Furthermore, in the last days of his administration, James and his higher level officials compensated themselves with $650,000 for unused vacation and sick days. 

State and federal authorities are currently sifting through the mountain of purchases.  The current mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, says his own staff’s investigation has revealed “an egregious and unacceptable use of public funds, especially in light of our urgent community needs, current fiscal crisis, and common values.”  Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio said, “Not another dime of taxpayer money should be sent into Newark until we are assured that proper fiscal controls are in place and this money is not being misspent.”

The situation in Newark has gone from bad to worse, as the city’s surplus recently turned into a deficit.  Meanwhile, Sharpe James continues to serve as a state senator.  However, his activities may mean that he will be taking one more taxpayer-funded trip:  to the pokey.

  -- Katherine Walkenhorst


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