Sheila Y. Oliver (born July 14, 1952) is an American Democratic Party politician, who has served in the New Jersey General Assembly since 2004, where she represents the 34th legislative district. She previously served as the Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly for two terms, from January 12, 2010 to January 14, 2014.
Biography and political career
Oliver was born and grew up in Newark graduating from Weequahic High School in 1970. Oliver graduated cum laude with a B.A. from Lincoln University in 1974 in Sociology and was awarded an M.S. from Columbia University in Planning and Administration in 1976.
She served on the East Orange Board of Education from 1994 to 2000, chosen as its Vice President from 1998 to 1999 and President from 1999 to 2000. She served on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders for one term from 1996 to 1999. In 1997, she became the first woman to launch a competitive campaign for mayor in the City of East Orange, losing the election by a 51 votes to Robert L. Bowser.
Oliver was one of the founders of the Newark Coalition for Low Income Housing, an organization that successfully sued the Newark Housing Authority and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in federal court to block the demolition of all publicly subsidized low income housing in Newark, as there was no plan in place for the construction of replacement housing for low-income Newark residents. As a result, the Newark Housing Authority was directed by a federal consent order to build one-for-one replacement housing for low-income residents.
As a part of intra-party deal making in 2003, Oliver was chosen alongside incumbent Assemblyman Peter C. Eagler to be the party-backed candidates in the June 2003 primary election for General Assembly. Incumbent Assemblyman Willis Edwards was dropped from the ticket as a result. She has been re-elected to two-year terms in every cycle since her initial election in 2003.
On November 23, 2009, Oliver was elected unanimously by Assembly Democrats to become the 169th Speaker of the Assembly. Her election made her the second woman to serve as Speaker in New Jersey history, the first being Marion West Higgins, who served in 1965, and the second African American to hold this post, the first being S. Howard Woodson, who first held the post in 1974. Nationwide, she is the second African American woman to lead a state legislature after Karen Bass of California.
On June 10, 2013, she formally announced that she would run in the special election for the senate seat held by Frank Lautenberg. She did not win any county endorsements in the special primary held on August 13 and came in last of four candidates winning only four percent of the vote.
Oliver serves in the Assembly on the Commerce and Economic Development Committee, the Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, the Joint Committee on Economic Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity, and the Joint Committee on the Public Schools. Oliver remained speaker for the 2012–2013 session through a deal made with Senator Nicholas Sacco, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., and South Jersey political boss George Norcross. Two years later, most Assembly Democrats backed Vincent Prieto for Speaker in the next session. In the current Assembly term, Oliver is designated Speaker Emeritus.
Outside of the Legislature, Oliver works as an assistant administrator for Essex County. She is a resident of East Orange.
Each of the forty districts in the New Jersey Legislature has one member in the New Jersey Senate and two members in the New Jersey General Assembly. The other representatives from the 34th District for the 2014-2015 Legislative Session are:
- Senator Nia Gill
- Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin