LONG BEACH — The City Council said goodby to James H. Wilson Tuesday in an emotional, 30-minute tribute to the 16-year councilman who was convicted last month of mail fraud.
It was Wilson's final meeting as the council's 6th District representative, since he plans to resign before sentencing Friday in federal District Court in Los Angeles. A convicted felon cannot hold public office.
Wilson, 58, was convicted April 16 on 21 fraud counts for accepting $54,000 from a fireworks manufacturer in exchange for his support of fireworks legislation. He faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine on each count. On Monday, a federal District Court judge denied a motion to overturn the verdict, saying it was well supported by the evidence. Wilson said he will appeal the verdict immediately after sentencing.
The council, which has formally asked for leniency in Wilson's sentencing, presented the councilman with a commendation for his years of "dedicated service."
Mayor Ernie Kell called Wilson a personal friend whom he will not forget.
Councilman Thomas J. Clark said: "we'll look at the good you have performed. . . . Jim, you've been very good for this council."
Councilman Wallace Edgerton said he was "very, very proud" to have served with Wilson. And Councilwoman Jan Hall said, "I don't think I've ever met anybody who could so articulately express the humanness of people."
City Manager John E. Dever, who does not usually express his feelings in public, called Wilson "a man of great personal integrity and somebody I've turned to when I've needed advice."
Wilson has shown "great compassion" for members of the city's professional staff, Dever said, adding, "I've always considered Jim one of my best friends, and, Jim, we will continue to be best friends."
Wilson nodded at Dever, then sat quietly as representatives of several central-city organizations also honored him.
Joseph T. Brooks, who helped recruit Wilson in 1970 to run for the council, said a jury's verdict was less important to him than the councilman's performance in office and his intent to do right.
"Jim would not have done anything that he knew to be wrong or illegal--and to me that is more important," Brooks said.
Frank Berry, president of the Long Beach chapter of the NAACP, presented Wilson with a plaque on behalf of four large organizations in the black community.
Will Be Remembered
Others told Wilson, the only black ever elected to the Long Beach council, that he would not be forgotten. "Jim is still capable and can be an asset to his community," said Lillie Wesley, who said she had known him for four decades.
At one point, Wilson received a standing ovation from nearly all of about 100 people at the council meeting.
"One of the things you find out when you're in trouble is who your friends are," Wilson said after the speeches had been made. "I guess I'm one of the luckiest people in the world because I have so many."
After Wilson resigns, the council will declare a vacancy and must call a special election within 120 days.