Proven policy wonk, impassioned public speaker and social worker by trade former Speaker Sheila Oliver of East Orange will run for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket with gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, InsiderNJ has learned.
Having first assumed her seat in the General Assembly in 2004, Oliver served as speaker from 2010 to 2014.
The choice by Murphy reflects the candidate’s decision to go with a seasoned veteran from Democratic Party voter-rich Essex County who has already run for statewide office as a 2013 U.S. Senate prospect.
The assemblywoman – an African American who grew up in the South Ward of Newark – beat Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-36), Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35), and others, for the position on the Murphy ticket.
The choice is also a victory for Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones, whose endorsement of Murphy last year proved a critical part of the candidate’s evolving alliance, who pushed hard for Oliver. Sources say Jones worked the phones avidly for Oliver. Among all 21 New Jersey counties, Essex produced the highest vote totals for Murphy in the Democratic Primary (35,779), compared to Hudson (32,084) and Bergen (21,236). Should a Murphy-Oliver ticket prove successful in November, the assemblywoman’s Essex-based 34th District seat would open up and give Jones an opportunity to select his own ally to replace her.
Names in that mix include Freeholder Britnee Timberlake and East Orange Councilman Chris James.
“A no-brainer,” Jones told InsiderNJ of Oliver’s candidacy last month. “No disrespect to any of the other candidates, who all possess their own unique qualifications and skills, however, Sheila is the whole package,” said the chairman.
Oliver’s selection also could prove to be good news for Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19), who is seeking to supplant Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32), and, sources say, can likely expect Essex County Democratic support in his effort.
During Murphy’s perusal of LG candidates, some public sector unions expressed doubts about Oliver, given her leadership role during the overhaul of public pensions and benefits, but the long-serving
assemblywoman also was able to demonstrate her own solid relationships and overall history with labor groups. As speaker, she found herself on shaky ground with South Jersey when she resisted charter schools in defense of public school education.
Oliver did not leave her job as speaker on good terms with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) – another 2017 gubernatorial hopeful – and saw another fledgling candidate,
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, as talented but yet ready to be governor.
She was an early backer of Murphy.
InsiderNJ first reported on Oliver as an LG prospect, and that story can be found here.
Early on Monday, after weeks of speculation, sources told InsiderNJ that they suspected Oliver was in a good position to get the nod for LG. One Democrat noted that as a former speaker, Oliver possesses a strong, insider’s understanding of the mechanics of the statehouse and the politics of Trenton, which should well serve Murphy, a former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and former Goldman Sachs executive who is running for governor as an outsider.
Her political history shows strong party organizational roots, with a relationship extending back to her childhood with the Payne family, and more recently strongly developed ties to Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and county government, where she works, but additionally for years she has stood out as a locally revered leader in East Orange with a strong and independent voice. Her 2013 run for senate, for example, flew in the face of the county party organization, as did her 2014 endorsement of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
Sources emphasized throughout the process that the promotion of the intellectually curious and willful Oliver would give the party establishment a chance to recruit a controllable commodity for the seat. Her departure would also create an opening for a deputy county administrator, the county job Oliver now holds.
Throughout, a question lingered: would Murphy be ready to get saddled with someone who could potentially go off the reservation, even as Essex sources jeered that Sumter – apparently Oliver’s chief competition for the LG spot – was a Republican at one point, and lacked the experience of Oliver, a former speaker.
“She wants it,” an Essex source said of the veteran assemblywoman.
And she got it.
A press conference was expected for Tuesday*, sources said; as Murphy’s rival for the governorship, Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, looked ahead to a much-buzzed about Wednesday breakfast in West New York where Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo is expected to be in attendance. Rendo appeared to have an edge as running mate on Guadagno’s ticket.
- Editor’s Update: The presser is actually scheduled for Wednesday, according to the Murphy Campaign.