There was a moment at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last year when Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-34) talked up Phil Murphy in a private conversation then turned to pose for a group picture.
“Say Oliver for Governor and (Shavonda) Sumter for Lieutenant Governor,” the photographer prompted, and the group complied as the bulb flashed. That was prior to Murphy landing the critical support of the county Democratic Party chairs, and effectively ending the Democratic Primary.
Now, in a big decision for his campaign, Murphy turned to a veteran lawmaker and noted African American leader, who will make history for the second time when she assumes her place on a murphy ticket.
Oliver was the first African American woman to serve as speaker of the General Assembly of New Jersey, and will be the first African American woman to run for lieutenant governor.
Her veteran African American male colleagues in the legislature this morning emphatically championed her selection, uniformly noting her seriousness, knowledge, and preparation.
“I’m happy for Sheila,” said Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22), chairman of the Union County Democratic Committee. “Phil Murphy could not have made a better choice. Sheila Oliver is knowledgeable and well liked. She knows the issues and she is a fair person. I’m proud of the ambassador for making such a choice. He could not have done better than Sheila Oliver. She understands politics in this state, and is someone who has served at the local level, county level and state level. She is the type of person the ambassador will need because of the experience she brings to the table. She’s going to be a real asset.”
InsiderNJ asked Green what he saw as her strongest qualities when she served as speaker from 2010 to 2014.
“Her ability to be fair and to put people and issues first,” Green said. “She listens and takes her job seriously. She’s a real lady when it coms to the way she conducts herself. She is a true professional and she doesn’t mind stepping up and voicing her opinion. This is something we all can be proud of.”
State Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) from Oliver’s home county of Essex concurred.
“This decision by Phil Murphy came down to two of our beautiful Nubian queens [Oliver and Sumter], and either one of them would have done a great job,” said Rice. “It was a tough choice for Phil Murphy, but I think he made an excellent choice. Both of those ladies are very qualified, and Speaker Oliver offers a big plus. I’m ready to go to work for Governor Murphy and Lieutenant Governor Oliver.”
What is it about Oliver that Rice likes so much, InsiderNJ wanted to know.
“Number one, it’s the way she grew up, very bonded to family and very well read,” Rice said. “This is a woman who reads, and loves to read. She has experience at every level of government: as a member of her local school board, freeholder, assembly, speaker, with a proven ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans. She understands the issues and the internal politics of the Statehouse. She knows who has integrity and who lacks integrity, which is a plus for Murphy, who may not have those relationships . What an excellent choice. I’m not disappointed at all, but I think I would have been disappointed had it not been Oliver or Sumter.”
Essex has lacked a power player in State government since South Jersey hit the eject button on OLiver in 2010. InsiderNJ asked Rice what Murphy’s selection of Oliver spells for the once mighty Essex County, relegated to the B team during Governor Chris Christie’s second term.
“Oliver as LG is not just good for Essex but good for the state,” said the senator from Newark. “LG is a statewide position so it’s good for every county. Having said that, Chairman [Leroy] Jones is a good chairman. I disagree with some elected officials at the county level and I give Joe D. credit for what he does with the parks but Oliver is a truly substantive and highly prepared statewide person.”
Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7) of Willingboro doubled down.
“I think it’s a wonderful ticket that will provide real balance,” Singleton told InsiderNJ. “Sheila Oliver has worked in government at every level and has real experience and acumen. I look forward to making the ticket successful.”
Oliver’s supporters say she will galvanize African American voters in the general election.
“Obviously Sheila Oliver will do that, especially in the state’s northern pockets,” said the assemblyman. “But moving beyond gender and race in politics, Phil Murphy has selected someone with enormous acumen abut New Jersey’s governmental structure who can assume the office of governor – and that’s the most important designation.”
Of course she clashed with others in the South Jersey delegation when she served as speaker – notably Singleton’s ally Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
“I think Speaker Oliver has relationships with many in South Jersey at this point, but at this point it’s Phil’s agenda that she will be articulating,” Singleton said. “She will be part of the team. To borrow phraseology from Phil’s former life, she’s a partner but Phil’s the managing partner. At the end of the day, she will be there to move his agenda, and some that stuff [past head butting with the South] will be swallowed up by where Phil wants to take the state.”