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


Free Citizenship Workshop to be Held This Saturday in Elizabeth

March 19, 2018

ELIZABETH, NJ - A free Citizenship Workshop will be held this Saturday, March 24, at the Santa Isabel Lutheran Church from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. located at 908 East Jersey Street in Elizabeth.

The Citizenship Drive is an annual event that assists eligible residents to apply for naturalization. Immigration attorneys will be present to screen eligibility and trained volunteers will assist in the ...

Teacher Training at Trailside

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ  - Teacher Training programs at Trailside will be offered this spring for teachers of students in Kindergarten through grade twelve starting March 15.

Project WET, a teacher training program for teachers K – 12 will be offered on Thurs. March 15 from 9 a.m.. to 3 p.m.  This workshop will provide the necessary tools, resources, and lessons for teachers ...

Daylight Savings Time Begins this Weekend - Remember to Turn Your Clocks Forward

ELIZABETH, NJ - The winter months are about to come to an end. You know spring is definitely around the corner when Daylight Savings Time begins. A reminder to everyone to turn your clocks forward one hour tonight when you go to bed. Daylight Savings time officially begins at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. 

While many will dread losing that hour of sleep, that extra hour of daylight will be ...

Elizabeth Rotary to Hold “Pancakes to the Beat” Fundraiser

ELIZABETH, NJ - The Rotary Club of Elizabeth is holding their 44th Annual Pancake Breakfast on Saturday, March 24 from 8 a.m. to noon in the cafeteria at Victor Mravlag School #21, located at 132 Shelly Avenue, Elizabeth.  

Entertainment will be provided by School #21’s, Third Grade Recorder Ensemble. Tickets are $8 and include a full pancake and sausage breakfast. The ...

Union County Students to 'March for Our Lives' Saturday in Union

March 19, 2018

UNION, NJ – Students from all over Union County will be walking from Burnet Middle School to Town Hall on Saturday morning, March 24, in an anti-gun violence march.

Led by steering committee chairman Colin Sumner, the march, which has the support of Senator Joseph Cryan, Moms Demand Action, Union County Chapter, and the Union County Freeholders, is not aimed at taking away guns, but ...

Hillsborough: Suspended HS Athletic Director Charged with Theft

March 20, 2018

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Suspended Hillsborough High School Athletic Director Michael Fanizzi has been arrested and charged with the theft of $10,704 in athletic event receipts over a four-year period from 2013-2017, according to Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson.

Fanizzi, 53, a resident of Conover Way in Hillsborough who had been athletics director for 14 years,, had been suspended ...

'Trying' explores age, youth and points of history in poignant production

‘Trying’ explores youth, age and points of history in poignant production

By Liz Keill

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The George Street Playhouse presents an engrossing, two-character play based on the real life of Francis Biddle, former Attorney General.

Biddle, a Harvard educated lawyer, served under Franklin Roosevelt and later Harry Truman during the Nuremberg Tribunal. His ...

Union County Celebrates Arbor Day 2018 with Free Trees for Schools

March 20, 2018

In recognition of Arbor Day 2018, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is once again partnering with the Union County Shade Tree Advisory Board to sponsor the annual Arbor Day Tree Planting Program, which provides free trees for participating schools.

“The Arbor Day tree planting program is a Union County tradition that provides students with important hands-on lessons about the ...