Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy taps Newark native Sheila Oliver as running mate

Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver was announced today as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy's runningmate. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
The Rev. Ronald Slaughter, pastor of St. James AME, speaks with Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, who was tapped by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy as his runningmate. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo

On the day she was officially named the Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate, Assemblyman Sheila Oliver's mind went back to Bock Avenue, the one-block street in Newark's South Ward where she grew up and where her political awakening began. 

"It was a very multicultural and multiethnic neighborhood when I grew up there," said Oliver, 65, a 13-year state Legislature veteran who served as the first African-American female speaker of the state General Assembly from 2010 to 2014.

"My family lived down the block from (the late U.S. Rep.) Donald M. Payne, and he was the president of our block association," she said. "He told me to tell my dad to cut his hedges. People cared about our block. We had politicians, business owners, an Orthodox rabbi and the national president of the United Negro College Fund living on our street. Leadership was all around me."

Sign Up for E-News

New Jersey's Democratic Party leadership was all around her again Wednesday as Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy announced he was adding her to his ticket.

"Sheila Oliver has stood up for everything that Chris Christie and Kim Guadagno have stood against," said Murphy to a sweltering crowd of more than 100 people outside his campaign headquarters in downtown Newark.

Murphy, a retired Goldman Sachs executive and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, lauded Oliver's policy positions in favor of raising the minimum wage, prioritizing property tax relief for the middle class and investing in public schools as he slammed the current Republican governor and lieutenant governor, now the GOP nominee to replace Christie.

"She's going to be an active, contributing member of our administration," Murphy said. "I'm incredibly honored to have her by my side." 

Oliver drew contrasts between the type of lieutenant governor she would be compared to Guadagno, who was the state's first.

"Unlike Kim Guadagno, I will spend every minute of my time working to make this state better for women, for children, for families and for every single constituent group up and down the state," Oliver said. 

"I have never forgot who elected me, or whose interests I serve," she said. "The Christie-Guadagno administration has done everything in their power to protect those at the top of the economic ladder, and have done very, very little to help working class people in this state. It's an administration that would try to reinstate tax fairness to millionaires, but no tax fairness to working class people. We must reject this." 

Oliver was born in Newark and graduated from the city's Chancellor Avenue School and Weequahic High School before earning degrees from Lincoln University, a historically black college, and Columbia University. 

Her more than two decades in government included membership on the school board in East Orange, her adopted hometown, as well the Essex County Freeholder Board and work as a county administrator. She was elected to the Assembly in 2003 for the 34th Legislative District, representing the Essex County municipalities of East Orange, Montclair, Orange as well as the Passaic County of Clifton.

The ballot alliance between Murphy and Oliver represents the joining of two separate socioeconomic subsets in New Jersey that also reflect a statewide and nationwide divide in the Democratic Party - one largely white and suburban and the other mostly people of color and urban. 

Murphy, a Monmouth County resident who grew up in an Irish American working-class family from outside of Boston, noted that crossing this divide is an important reason why he picked Oliver. 

"We don't want to just say nice things about leadership that's inclusive in government - we want to show that in our actions," Murphy told TAPinto Newark. "We may have come to this from different perspectives and different backgrounds, but we share that same belief that we rise and fall as one state, and frankly as one country."

Several Essex County politicians who watched Oliver work her way up in politics described her journey.

"She's got a strong personality, and you want that kind of person around you to tell you how they feel," said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincnezo, Jr. "She brings in not only urban votes to the ticket. Whether she's in Newark or Millburn, she's well respected and she knows the issues. She's going to take that respect statewide." 

Chris James, the New Jersey Democratic State Committee executive director and East Orange city councilman who served as Oliver's chief of staff, said he learned how to balance and compromise from Oliver.

"You have to work with everyone to move things forward," James said. "She knows how to do this in Trenton. But I've also seen her fight to make sure that the poorest people in our state get what they need to survive. This is a continuation of what she's already done." 

Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, Murphy's campaign manager and chair of the Montclair Democrats, said what drove Murphy's decision to pick Oliver is her qualifications.

"It's ultimately [Murphy's] choice as to what her role should be," Gill said. "But she'll be part of an agenda focused on economic fairness, which is not just exclusive to cities." 

After getting the official nominee nod from Murphy, Oliver went to a noontime service at St. James AME Church on Newark's Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., where the church's pastor, the Rev. Ronald L. Slaughter, called on those in the pews to support the Murphy-Oliver ticket.

At the same time, Slaughter called out those who he believed are trying to incorrectly take credit for Oliver being selected to be on the ticket.

"I'm pleased to say, after a personal conversation with him, that Phil Murphy chose Sheila Oliver, not the establishment," Slaughter told TAPinto Newark. "I said to him that he did not have to succumb to the machine to get [the Democratic gubernatorial nomination], and he should not have to succumb to the machine in order to chose his running mate. Her selection was not done by Joe DiVincenzo or [Essex County Democratic Chairman] Leroy Jones Jr., and they don't choose for the whole community. Sheila is experienced, but she has bucked the establishment herself. That makes her a good candidate who can help Murphy."

Jones shrugged at Slaughter's assertions, focusing instead on Oliver's assets to the Murphy ticket.

"This wasn't anything remotely close to a backroom deal," Jones said. "Sheila is an institution inside the institution of the Legislature. She knows its inner workings. It's going to be a learning process for Phil Murphy as governor, and she can help him navigate through all the nooks and crannies of Trenton. She's a true policy wonk, and she's going to play that role, too." 

Oliver's potential role as the first African-American lieutenant governor, one step away from the top spot in Trenton, was foreseen by somebody else from back on Bock Avenue. 

"Every summer when she was a little girl, she would get an award from the library because she read the most books, but she's got a tough side, too," said Jennie Oliver, the Assemblywoman's mother. "I'll take a little credit for the tough side."

That same drive forward fuels Oliver this summer for a final election test in the fall. She said she is going to be thinking about all of the other black women from Newark's South Ward who are trying to power forward in their own lives.

"We have to change the trajectory in Trenton and create a more representative government in Trenton. Take a look at the Port Authority - you go to a board meeting, you see mostly white men around the table," Oliver said. "Those guys don't take the PATH train. They don't take the bus. I'm a voice for people who don't have a voice. That's been the labor of my entire life."

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

Union County 4-H Club Reaches Out to Help after Hurricane Maria

March 17, 2018

Student members of the Union County 4-H Variety Club reached across local and state borders to help displaced pets earlier this year. Through their “4-H for our 4 Pawed Friends” community service project, they collected donations to help St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison after the organization sheltered more than 700 pets in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

A ...

LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA Cancer Recovery Program Session Begins March 20

A new spring session for The LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA program, a 12-week cancer recovery program, will begin at the Berkeley Heights YMCA on March 20, 2018. The program is a research-based physical and wellness program in which certified Summit Area YMCA trainers work with participants to achieve their goals. LIVESTRONG®  at the YMCA helps cancer survivors who find themselves in the ...

Discover Your Inner Ballet Dancer


This 8-WEEK class will be focusing on the classical technique of ballet in a fun and easy to understand manner. You can expect a full ballet class experience from working at the ballet barre, to leaping across the floor! No experience is necessary to participate. Easy to move in clothes, and socks or ballet shoes are recommended.


Diversity and Inclusion at the Summit Area YMCA

The Summit Area YMCA is more than a swim and gym. It is more than a childcare center. It is more than a nonprofit organization. It is a welcoming, safe, inclusive and globally diverse environment.

For the past 2 years, the Summit Area YMCA has been recognized as one of only 74 Y’s in the country with a Diversity and Inclusion and Global Innovation initiative. Our Y is made up of people ...

NPHS Student's Response to After School Walk-out Plan at NPHS

March 14, 2018

A group of students file into a science classroom amid a nervous din of chatter, the air is electric with excitement and nervousness. This small group of approximately 30 students are a studious bunch, largely members of the sophomore class with squeaky clean administrative histories. They are currently preparing to defy authority and stand up for what they believe in, even though they had been ...

New Providence's Allen W. Roberts School Gets Security Walk Through by Police Department after Bomb Threat

March 12, 2018

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The New Providence Police Department sent a letter to parents and guardians of students at Allen W. Roberts Elementary School after a non-specific bomb threat was reported on Monday afternoon.

It's the second threat  reported at a New Providence school in March. The first threat was reported on March 5th at New Providence High School.

Emergency ...

Avon Loses Its Last ‘Grand’ Hotel to the Claw of an Excavator

March 17, 2018

AVON-BY-THE-SEA, NJ — In less than two days, an Avon-by-the-Sea landmark that stood for 130 years was reduced to a huge pile of rubble. The Norwood Inn no longer stands on the corner of Norwood and Second Avenues — the last of the stately hotels that once graced the streets of Avon.

As onlookers gathered around the demolition site on March 15 and March 16, an excavator clawed its ...

Upcoming Events


Sun, March 18, 10:00 AM


Camp Riverbend Open House

Sun, March 18, 2:00 PM

Miller-Cory House Museum, Westfield

Maple Sugar Sunday



Sun, March 18, 2:00 PM

New Providence Memorial Library, New Providence

Surreal Places, Imaginary Spaces: A Literary Tea

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink

Sun, March 18, 2:00 PM

Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, Maplewood

Maplewood Strollers Present John Patrick ...

Arts & Entertainment

Sun, March 18, 3:00 PM

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, Plainfield

Crescent Concerts Presents Annual Festival of ...

Arts & Entertainment

JCP&L Representative Describes Utility’s Actions During Storm Quinn, Answers Residents' Questions

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – The format of this week’s  Berkeley Heights 'Here and Now' was turned on its head this week. Mayor Bob Woodruff reviewed what happened in the township following Storm Quinn and its predecessor Storm Riley, complete with statistics. He then asked a representative of JCP&L questions about the utility’s response, and how it was ...

Berkeley Heights, Here and Now: Redevelopment Updates

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Mayor's Round Table has been rebranded to "Berkeley Heights, Here and Now." This new format will continue to provide updates from Mayor Bob Woodruff, municipal offices and the Communications Committee want to hear from citizens, businesses and community organizations.

Included in this episode, Mayor Bob Woodruff addresses the status of the ...

You Want a Check for How Much!

 My first admissions gig was working for a small liberal arts college with a pretty hefty price tag.  Picture me at a college fair: name tag in place, pile of brochures ready to go.  An eager family would walk up and we’d start a conversation.  One of the first questions I’d get from parents was about cost and the moment that $50,000-plus figure left my mouth I ...

Now That The Dust Has Settled…Smart Tax Moves In 2018

Now that the dust has settled, here are some smart tax moves to lower your taxes and/or avoid higher taxes/penalties in 2018. These steps may be especially helpful if you live in high property and high income tax states (e.g. New Jersey, New York, California) since state and local tax deductions are capped.  Unfortunately all these changes mean you’ll need more time and energy to ...