Proper English does not always have a phrase that will accurate describe a person, place or thing. The English dictionary has to add words every year. The word “microchip” did not exist in dictionaries of 1908, just as word “iPhone” may be added to a dictionary in the coming years. Some of the additional words include street vernacular, or slang. There might be only one word that appropriate sums up Newark Mayor Sharpe James, and he might even appreciate the usage, “Gangsta”.

Notice that this is a derivative of the word, “gangster”, which would call to mind hoods that are under the employ of prohibition-era underworld figures, men with fedoras and tommy guns, who refer to women as “dames” and police as “coppers”. “Gangsta” has a different connotation. A Gangsta is whatever he needs to be to get his money, his job done, or his desires met. He is anywhere from drug dealer, to pimp, to armed robber, to mayor. The most important attribute of the Gangsta is his unapologetic way of getting what he wants, however and/or with or by the expense of whomever. Sharpe James is most assuredly, a Gangsta.

Gangsta may also be used as an adjective to describe the means and ways that someone unabashedly carries out his/her desires. “Did you see the way he took over that board meeting? That was gangsta.” “Did you hear the way he cursed that guy out. That was gangsta.”

The film Street Fight documents the 2002 mayoral race between Corey Booker and Sharpe James. The film is definitely one-sided, because Sharpe James would not allow himself to be filmed, and employed police and other personnel to ensure that he was not filmed. James was able to dispatch director Marshall Curry with a few flicks of the wrist, and an officer or staffer would strong-arm Curry from the location. That was gangsta. Booker is a fair-skinned black man. There is a very large black population which James campaigned to in Newark. He went so far as to call Booker a white man. That was gangsta. James had the Newark police take down Booker’s campaign posters a few days before the election. Damn, that was gangsta. Sharpe James is about as gangsta as a Gangsta can get.

James was so gangsta, that he was charging plenty of personal expenses to the people of Newark. Reading the charges, I was reminded of another official that was accused of misuse of city funds. However, this fellow was not in Newark, but New York City, and while he has plenty of dirt on his hands, he is not quite Gangsta material. This gentleman was Russell Harding.

Russell Harding was brought to my attention by Tom Robbins’ excellent articles in the Village Voice, detailing his numerous offenses and difficulties the Village Voice had in obtaining documentation of these offenses under the Freedom of Information Act. (Links to Robbins’ articles on Harding are at the bottom of this entry. I cannot recommended reading these articles enough.) The first time I read these exposes, it blew my mind. I was shocked that something like this could happen in this day and age where your every purchase and expense can be tracked. Sure Harding was son to then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, Ray Harding, but the expenses were up to $400,000. Robbins even devoted a segment to whistleblowing, specifically concerning the Harding case. How could this have gone on for so long?

I think I got the answer from my modest personal experience. At my previous job, the President received a fair amount of treatment that some people would consider an Executive Privilege. Granted, this is not the same as the U.S. Presidents Executive Privilege, but not completely dissimilar. At the top of the food chain, there are fewer people to answer to, and people will automatically afford you special treatment in the hope of getting closer to the top rung. I am not suggesting that he abused his position. Again, though I am not entering his name or where I used to work, I want to make it clear that to the best of my knowledge, he never abused his position. I never heard anything about him misappropriating funds or stealing money for his personal benefit.

However, I will say that he did not shy away from preferential treatment. Though he would say “we” in speeches about salary freezes and budgets, and though he like to be called by his first name, and though he wanted to be “one of us”, he did not shy away from his lofty position when it suited his taste. Case and point: The maintenance staff would shovel his walkway first when it snowed. Maybe it was an executive perk, but something about it just struck me as wrong, and frankly, not very manly. He did not complain when lunch was brought to him at his table. For that matter, he didn’t mind assessing blame to people he did not care for either. (In the effort for full disclosure, yes, I was one of those people. However, I was exonerated of all charges on every occasion, included an offense he blamed me for when I was not even present when said offense took place.) Nonetheless, everyone would turn their head when they saw what he did, they took is as matter of course with a shrug of the shoulder and say, “He’s the President.” Did the same thing happen with Harding and James?

Once all the charges against James and Harding are lumped together, they seem monstrous. However, imagine that you are working with them, working in an environment where it is understood that high ranking officials will receive certain perks. One person turns their head when one charge comes in, another person looks in the other direction when an expense is fudged, another person shrugs shoulders when a voucher crosses the desk, and so on, and so on, and so on. All of the expenses, and problems, taken one at a time, over a long enough period of time may not have caused anyone to say anything, but invoke the rationalization process.

Sadly, we know that this rationalization does not apply to those lower on the chain. Should the lowly secretary of a minor official incorrectly fill out a time-sheet, she may be called into closed door meeting and reprimanded. Should the office worker ask to be reimbursed for purchasing necessary office supplies, he can be needled about each individual item, its purpose, its importance.

The people in higher office that must act in a manner according their position often fail to live up to their title. They take for granted the fact that they are the face of the people below them, that they represent more than themselves, and more than their own interests. Very often, these people believe in their own divinity within the corporate hierarchy, whether earned or otherwise. It is the lower man on the totem pole that must act beyond reproach. He has to be a saint just to be considered competent. “If he was really worthwhile, he would have a more important job. The janitor has a job fitting with his moral fiber. The CEO has his job because of his values/character.” Sadly, that’s about as gangsta as it gets.

Russell Harding Links
The Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee:
Ticket to Ride
Party Harding
Harding’s Hustle
Low-Class Act
Bonus Baby
The Private Lives of Russell Harding
Where Are the Whistle-Blowers?
Russell Harding’s Vanity Fair
Russel Pleads Guilty
Sentenced to 63-months