The Internecine Undercurrents of Essex County’s Codey, Oliver and Jones: A Thumbnail History


Following redistricting and state Senator Dick Codey’s separation from the old 27th Legislative District, Nia Gill of Montclair went after the senate seat and secured it for two years in 2001.

Come 2003, a fight erupted in Essex County as Assemblyman Leroy Jones – the future county Democratic chairman – opposed Gill in the Party Primary as the newly minted senator attempted to secure a full, four year term.

Jones ran on the line with Essex County Freeholder Sheila Oliver of East Orange, and Peter C. Eagler of Clifton. Financed in part by state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20), Gill beat Jones, but it was a split ticket outcome, as both Oliver and Eagler (who replacd Willis Edwards) also won their assembly seats.

In 2005, Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-34) of Montclair supplanted Eagler as Essex dominated the 34th District.

That same year, South Jersey began making its move on Codey, seeking to replace him with the late state Senator John Adler (D-6). To throw Adler off his trail, Codey made the South Jersey lawmaker Senate Judiciary chairman, which infuriated state Senators Sharpe James and Ronald L. Rice.

Flirting with South Jersey, the pair got behind Gill as an alternative to Codey, but the revolt only lasted for a day, as the sitting senate president coaxed in his county allies.

In late 2007, when Adler rushed a nomination by Rice of Newark Councilman Luis Quintana to the Sewerage Authority, Codey could sense another movement afoot against him. But this time, future Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), not Adler, had him in his sights.

In 2009, Sweeney summoned the votes to dethrone Codey by getting support from Essex County. In order to empower Sweeney and get rid of Codey, Essex put up a little-known assemblywoman from East Orange named Oliver.

Jettisoned by South Jersey in 2013 in large part because she would not push a charter schools agenda – and because she did not finally get along with Sweeney (or Governor Chris Christie), Oliver appeared headed for permanent back bench duty.

But both Oliver and Codey found themselves huddled up in fierce reanimation mode – and ultimately significantly re-empowered – first as mutual 2014 backers of Ras Baraka for Newark Mayor in defiance of the county party organization, and then as the early players of an unlikely movement that would become known as Murphy for Governor 2017.

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