Like an “Uncle” to So Many: James Sweeney, Businessman and Attorney, Dies

Mar 4, 2020 | Community

California Black MediaContributor

This is a developing story.

Sacramento-based attorney, businessman and activist James Sweeney, who was an avuncular and towering African-American figure in California political and social circles, has passed.

Politicians, businesspeople, media leaders, activists and others up and down the state remember him with fondness for his influential and inspirational presence in their lives. Consistently offering sound advice, they say, always giving them his unconditional support, kind words of encouragement and occasionally sharing dry “uncle” jokes.

Sweeney, who served as the regional Vice President of the Sacramento Black American Political Action Committee (BAPAC), died on Feb. 28.

His family has not released information on arrangements.

“He will truly be missed,” said Rory Kaufman, President of BAPAC, the largest African political fundraising organization in the state. “A Black man of vision, courage and insight. He stood for us and he fought with us.”

Before his role at BAPAC, Sweeney worked as Legislative Liaison to the California Office on Aging. He also ran his own consulting group called Sweeney and Associates. He was the Managing General Partner.

“James Sweeney’s leadership and wisdom will be missed,” said Betty Williams, President of the Sacramento Chapter of the NAACP.

Throughout his career, Sweeney has been involved in a number of business investments across the state, and has worked in several political capacities, including the Berkeley City Council and the state Council on Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO). He has served COMIO under four governors: Newsom, Brown, Schwarzenegger and Davis.

Sweeney attended San Bernardino high school in the Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles, where he was a basketball star.

He later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in three majors (Political Science, Black Studies and Sociology) from the University of California Riverside. He earned his law degree at the Humphreys School of Law in Stockton.

“This is sad news for our community,” said Kendra Lewis, vice chair of the California Democratic Party African American Caucus (CDPAAC).

Sweeney was a quiet force in California politics. Often working behind the scenes, he was instrumental in setting up a minimum-security juvenile detention facility for children in California named after him (Camp Sweeney). He also worked on California divesting from the African nation of Sudan because of war crimes the Arab government committed against Black citizens in the country’s Darfur region.

“In true Sweeney fashion,” Lewis said the last time she saw her “mentor,” he told her, “You have our support. Let us know what you need.”

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