Sheila Oliver

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Sheila Oliver
Oliver in 2020
2nd Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey
In office
January 16, 2018 – August 1, 2023
GovernorPhil Murphy
Preceded byKim Guadagno
Succeeded byTahesha Way
Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs
In office
January 16, 2018 – August 1, 2023
GovernorPhil Murphy
Preceded byCharles Richman
Succeeded byVacant
169th Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly
In office
January 12, 2010 – January 14, 2014
Preceded byJoseph J. Roberts
Succeeded byVincent Prieto
Member of the New Jersey General Assembly
from the 34th district
In office
January 13, 2004 – January 9, 2018
Preceded byWillis Edwards
Succeeded byBritnee Timberlake
Personal details
Born(1952-07-14)July 14, 1952
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedAugust 1, 2023(2023-08-01) (aged 71)
Livingston, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic

Sheila Yvette Oliver (July 14, 1952 – August 1, 2023) was an American politician who served as the second lieutenant governor of New Jersey from 2018 until her death in 2023. A member of the Democratic Party, Oliver was the first Black woman to serve as lieutenant governor of New Jersey and was the first woman of color elected to statewide office in New Jersey.

In the 1990s, Oliver served on the Board of Education of the East Orange School District, ultimately serving as the district's president. Oliver represented the 34th legislative district in the New Jersey General Assembly from 2004 to 2018, serving as speaker of the body from 2010 to 2014. Oliver was the first Black woman to serve as speaker of the General Assembly and the second Black woman in the history of the United States to lead a state legislative body. She ran for U.S. Senate in the 2013 special election, finishing fourth in a Democratic primary that was won by Cory Booker.

In the 2017 New Jersey gubernatorial election, Oliver was chosen as the running mate of Democrat Phil Murphy. After the Murphy/Oliver ticket won the election, Oliver was sworn in as lieutenant governor on January 16, 2018. During her tenure as lieutenant governor, Oliver also served as the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. Murphy and Oliver were re-elected to their respective posts in 2021. On July 31, 2023, Oliver suffered a medical event; she died the following day.

Early life and education[edit]

Sheila Yvette Oliver[1] was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, where she graduated from Weequahic High School in 1970.[2][3] Oliver graduated cum laude with a B.A. in sociology from Lincoln University in 1974 and was awarded an MSW from Columbia University in community organization, planning and administration in 1976.[4][5][6] On May 6, 2018, Oliver received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Lincoln University.[7]

Early career[edit]

Oliver worked in both the public and private sectors. She was the executive director of The Leaguers, Inc., a northern New Jersey non-profit social services organization.[8] Oliver also taught at the college level, serving as an adjunct faculty member at Essex County College and Caldwell University.[8]

Oliver served on the Board of Education of the East Orange School District from 1994 to 2000, and was chosen by her peers to serve as its vice president from 1998 to 1999 and as its president from 1999 to 2000.[7] She served on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders from District Three for one term from 1996 to 1999, but was defeated for a second term on the board in the June 1999 Democratic primary election.[9][10] In 1997, Oliver ran for mayor of the City of East Orange, narrowly losing the Democratic primary election to Robert L. Bowser.[11]

New Jersey State Assembly (2004–2018)[edit]

As a part of intra-party deal making in 2003, Oliver and incumbent Assemblyman Peter C. Eagler were chosen to be the party-backed candidates in the June 2003 primary election for General Assembly from the 34th district.[12] Incumbent Assemblyman Willis Edwards was dropped from the ticket as a result, and Oliver and Eagler won their Democratic primary.[13]

Prior to her initial run for lieutenant governor, Oliver was re-elected to the Assembly six consecutive times following her first election victory in 2003.[12]

Tenure as Speaker (2010–2014)[edit]

On November 23, 2009, Oliver was elected unanimously by Assembly Democrats to become the 169th Speaker of the Assembly.[14] Her election made her the first Black woman to serve as speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly,[15] the second woman in New Jersey history to serve as Assembly speaker (the first being Marion West Higgins, who served in 1965), and the second African American to hold the post (the first being S. Howard Woodson, who first held the post in 1974).[16] Nationwide, she became the second African American woman to lead a state legislature after Karen Bass of California.[7]

Oliver as Speaker of the Assembly in 2011

As Speaker, Oliver backed Governor Chris Christie's reforms to public workers' pensions and benefits. Police and fire unions were furious with the Speaker, claiming that she told them the issue was still under consideration before announcing the bill would be introduced later that same day.[17] Then-Assemblyman Joseph Cryan was unsuccessful in his efforts to convince his fellow Democrats to stage a coup against reappointing Oliver as Speaker.[18] Oliver was elected in 2011 for a second term as Speaker under the terms of a deal made with Senator Nicholas Sacco, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., and South Jersey political boss George Norcross[19] in which she agreed to move legislation forward only with the advance support of 41 Assembly Democrats.[20]

Oliver served 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.[9] In November 2013, Assembly Democrats chose Vincent Prieto to succeed Oliver as speaker,[21][22] which he did in January 2014.[23] In the 2014–2015 Assembly term, Oliver was designated speaker emeritus of the Assembly.[9]

2013 U.S. Senate special election[edit]

On June 10, 2013, Oliver formally announced that she would run in the special election for the United States Senate seat which had been previously held by the late Frank Lautenberg.[24] As a candidate, she advocated for immigration reform and for federal investment in industrial areas.[25] In the August 13 special Democratic primary, Cory Booker prevailed; Oliver came in fourth place out of four candidates, winning four percent of the vote.[26]

Lieutenant governor of New Jersey (2018–2023)[edit]

2017 election[edit]

In July 2017, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy announced that he had chosen Oliver as his running mate in the 2017 election for governor of New Jersey.[27][a] Murphy and Oliver defeated the Republican ticket of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Mayor Carlos Rendo of Woodcliff Lake.[30] Murphy announced he would also appoint Oliver to serve as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, a cabinet position,[31] made under a provision of the New Jersey Constitution that allows the governor to appoint his lieutenant governor to a cabinet post without requiring the approval of the New Jersey Senate.[32]

Oliver as lieutenant governor, presenting an award to Charles F. Lowery in 2019

New Jersey law allows a candidate to run for two elective offices simultaneously, but does not allow one person to hold two offices simultaneously. Oliver, in addition to being elected Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, also won re-election to her legislative seat in the General Assembly in 2017.[33] When Carlos Rendo, during their one televised debate, challenged her decision to run for both seats, Oliver had said that she had filed to run for re-election before she was chosen by Murphy as his running mate and would resign from her Assembly seat if she and Murphy were elected.[33] Oliver resigned her Assembly seat on January 9, 2018[34] and was succeeded by Britnee Timberlake.[35]

Tenure and reelection[edit]

Oliver was sworn in as lieutenant governor on January 16, 2018.[36] She was the second lieutenant governor in the history of the state.[37] Oliver was also the first black woman to serve as lieutenant governor of New Jersey and the first woman of color elected to statewide office in New Jersey.[38] Oliver served as the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs during her tenure as lieutenant governor.[39]

As commissioner, Oliver focused on policies that supported housing programs and municipal government services, while also providing support to revitalization projects. During her time as acting governor, Oliver signed legislation related to several areas, including aid for caregivers of the elderly and disabled, financial literacy education in schools, wage protections, and restorative juvenile justice.[39][better source needed]

In 2021, Oliver ran for re-election to the post of lieutenant governor as Murphy's running mate.[40] She debated Diane Allen, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, on October 5, 2021.[41] On November 2, 2021, Murphy and Oliver were re-elected, defeating the Republican ticket of Jack Ciattarelli and Diane Allen by a 51%–48% margin.[42][43] Prior to her death, Oliver was viewed as a potential candidate to succeed Murphy as governor in the 2025 election.[44]

Death and funeral[edit]

On July 28, 2023, Oliver assumed the role of acting governor while Governor Murphy was out of state on vacation in Italy.[45] However, on July 31, she suffered a medical event and was hospitalized at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.[46] Nicholas Scutari, the New Jersey Senate president, served as acting governor in her place.[47] Oliver died the following day, August 1, 2023, at age 71.[12]

Following Oliver's death, Murphy returned to New Jersey early before ordering flags at state facilities to fly at half-staff for one month, through September 4, as a sign of respect.[48] Murphy's office also announced that Oliver would lie in state in the rotunda of the New Jersey State House and in the Essex County Historic Courthouse in the days preceding her public funeral at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on August 12.[49]

A number of Democratic and Republican politicians paid tribute to Oliver, with Representative Frank Pallone describing her as a "trailblazer in every sense of the word" who "always fought for what was right".[50] In a statement, Governor Murphy said that Oliver was "the ideal partner" to help him lead New Jersey; he added that selecting Oliver as a running mate was the best decision he had ever made.[51]

Electoral history[edit]

2017 New Jersey gubernatorial election[52][53][a]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Phil Murphy/Sheila Oliver 1,203,110 56.03% +17.84%
Republican Kim Guadagno/Carlos Rendo 899,583 41.89% -18.41%
Independent Gina Genovese 12,294 0.57% N/A
Libertarian Peter J. Rohrman 10,531 0.49% -0.08%
Green Seth Kaper-Dale 10,053 0.47% +0.08%
Constitution Matthew Riccardi 6,864 0.32% N/A
Independent Vincent Ross 4,980 0.29% N/A
Total votes 2,147,415 100.00% N/A
Democratic gain from Republican
2021 New Jersey gubernatorial election[54][55][40][a]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Phil Murphy (incumbent)/Sheila Oliver (incumbent) 1,339,471 51.22%
Republican Jack Ciattarelli/Diane Allen 1,255,185 48.00
Green Madelyn R. Hoffman 8,450 0.32
Libertarian Gregg Mele 7,768 0.30
Socialist Workers Joanne Kuniansky 4,012 0.15
Total votes 2,614,886 100.00% N/A

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c In New Jersey, within 30 days after the certification of the statewide primary election, the candidate for governor selects a running mate to join the ticket as the candidate for lieutenant governor.[28] The governor and lieutenant governor must be members of the same political party. As candidates they campaign on the same ticket, are elected conjointly, and serve the same four-year term concurrently.[28][29]


  1. ^ Kukla, Barbara J. (2005). Defying the Odds: Triumphant Black Women of Newark. Swing City Press. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-9768130-0-2.
  2. ^ Sobko, Katie (August 10, 2023). "Hundreds of mourners honor 'trailblazer' Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver at memorial".
  3. ^ "Some Distinguished Weequahic Alumni" (PDF). May 13, 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 25, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  4. ^ "Lion – A Lincoln Lion Becomes Lieutenant Governor". March 15, 2018.
  5. ^ Vazquez, Jennifer (August 1, 2023). "New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver dies a day after being hospitalized for undisclosed medical issue".
  6. ^ "Sheila Oliver". Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  7. ^ a b c Johnson, Brent; Livio, Susan K. (August 1, 2023). "N.J. Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a pioneering public servant, dies". Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  8. ^ a b "Cult-Arts Associates Schedule May 2 Luncheon". The Montclair Times. Montclair, NJ. April 23, 1987. p. A18 – via
  9. ^ a b c Assemblywoman Oliver's legislative web page, New Jersey Legislature. Accessed September 24, 2015.
  10. ^ "Only 473 Vote In Tuesday Primary Election" (PDF). West Essex Tribune. June 10, 1999. p. A-8. Retrieved July 5, 2020.
  11. ^ Wildstein, David (April 3, 2022). "Robert Bowser, East Orange mayor for four terms, dies at 85". New Jersey Globe.
  12. ^ a b c Wildstein, David (August 1, 2023). "Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver dies at 71". New Jersey Globe. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  13. ^ "How Oliver and Cryan got to Trenton". Observer. January 12, 2010. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  14. ^ Megerian, Chris. "Assembly Democrats unanimously back Sheila Oliver as next speaker". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  15. ^ "New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver dies; Gov. Phil Murphy planning return to U.S." August 1, 2023.
  16. ^ Hester, Tom, Sr. "Steve Sweeney elected N.J. Senate president; Sheila Oliver named Assembly speaker" Archived March 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine,, November 23, 2009. Accessed June 11, 2011. "Oliver will become the first African-American woman and the second woman to serve as Assembly speaker. She will be the second African-American and the second woman to hold the post.... Oliver will be the first woman speaker since Marion West Higgins (R-Bergen) in 1965. She will be the first African-American speaker since the Rev. S. Howard Woodson (D-Mercer) in 1974 and 1975."
  17. ^ Renshaw, Jarrett. "N.J. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver testifies in favor of insurance, pension overhaul", The Star-Ledger, June 20, 2011. Accessed February 3, 2018. "Police and fire unions were angered last week when Assembly leaders announced today's hearing while negotiations were still underway.Bill Lavin, president of the state Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, said union leaders met with Oliver's office on Tuesday afternoon and were told the issue was still under discussion.Hours later, Oliver and Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) announced they would introduce the bill today."
  18. ^ Brodesser-Akner, Claude. "9 things to know about Phil Murphy's new running mate, Sheila Oliver", NJ Advance Media for, July 29, 2017. Accessed February 3, 2018. "Backing the 2011 vote on cuts to public worker benefits made her deeply unpopular with many Assembly Democrats, including then Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-Union), who was rumored to have urged other Democrats to oust her in a coup. The coup never materialized, and Oliver was narrowly reelected to a second term as speaker."
  19. ^ Friedman, Matt (January 5, 2014). "New N.J. Assembly speaker, a former bodybuilder, promises to flex political muscle". NJ Advance Media for Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  20. ^ Della Santi, Angela via Associated Press. "NJ Assembly Speaker's role up in the air going forward", The Trentonian, December 11, 2011. Accessed February 3, 2018. " Sheila Oliver's first term as Assembly speaker was chaotic, culminating in a coup attempt staved off in a backroom deal that retained her as leader of New Jersey's lower house.... To get the votes she needed for a second two-year term as speaker, Oliver is said to have agreed to a demand from 13 dissenters within her party, who want to keep her from posting legislation for a vote unless it has support from 41 Democrats, a majority of the 80-member Assembly."
  21. ^ "Sheila Oliver, New Jersey's lieutenant governor and a prominent Black leader, dies at 71". August 1, 2023.
  22. ^ Aron, Michael (November 7, 2013). "Kean Remains Senate Minority Leader Despite Challenge; Prieto Takes Over as Assembly Speaker". NJ Spotlight News.
  23. ^ Seidman, Andrew (May 7, 2014). "Speaker Prieto stakes out territory in N.J. politics".
  24. ^ Zernike, Kate (June 11, 2013). "New Jersey Assembly Speaker Enters Senate Race". The New York Times. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  25. ^ "N.J. House Speaker Sheila Oliver: Time for a woman in Washington". WHYY. August 6, 2013. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  26. ^ "U.S. Senate Special Primary Election Results, August 13, 2013" (PDF). Secretary of State of New Jersey. August 22, 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 25, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  27. ^ Brodesser-Ackner, Claude (July 25, 2017). "Here's Phil Murphy's pick for a running mate in gov race". Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  28. ^ a b New Jersey State Constitution (1947), Article V, Section I, paragraph 4 (as amended, effective January 17, 2006).
  29. ^ The four-year term of office is defined by the New Jersey State Constitution (1947), Article V, Section I, paragraph 5 (as amended, effective January 17, 2006).
  30. ^ Friedman, Matt (November 7, 2017). "Murphy defeats Guadagno to become New Jersey's next governor". Politico PRO. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  31. ^ Marcus, Samantha (November 9, 2017). "Murphy makes first cabinet appointment as governor-elect". Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  32. ^ via Associated Press. "Murphy's lieutenant governor will lead Community Affairs", Seattle Times, November 9, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017. "Murphy's transition office said Thursday that Lt. Gov.-elect Sheila Oliver will take the helm of the Department of Community Affairs..... The constitution allows the governor to appoint his top deputy to lead a Cabinet post without the advice and consent of the Senate, as is required for other positions."
  33. ^ a b Racioppi, Dustin. "New Jersey elections: Five highlights from the lieutenant governor debate", Journal Sentinel, October 16, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017. "Rendo questioned whether Oliver wants to be lieutenant governor at all, since she is also on the ballot for another term in the Assembly. Oliver said she petitioned to be on the Assembly ballot before Murphy chose her as a running mate and she "of course" would resign from the Legislature if she and Murphy are elected. She would be constitutionally prohibited from serving in both posts."
  34. ^ New Jersey Legislative Digest for January 9, 2018, New Jersey Legislature. Accessed January 31, 2018. "The Members of both Houses of the 218th Legislature were sworn in.... Assemblywoman Sheila Y. Oliver, of the 34th Legislative District, has resigned."
  35. ^ Johnson, Brent. "Meet Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver's replacement in the N.J. Assembly",, January 29, 2018. Accessed January 29, 2018.
  36. ^ "The Latest: Murphy signs order aimed at equal pay for women". AP News. January 16, 2018.
  37. ^ "Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver dies after hospitalization for undisclosed medical issue". August 1, 2023.
  38. ^ "New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, first Black woman to serve as state Assembly speaker, dies at 71". ABC News. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  39. ^ a b "About the Commissioner: Lieutenant Governor Sheila Y. Oliver". Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  40. ^ a b Biryukov, Nikita (July 1, 2021). "Oliver officially joins Murphy's re-election ticket". New Jersey Globe.
  41. ^ Steele, Allison (October 6, 2021). "Abortion, women, and white privilege: New Jersey's lt. gov. debate covered plenty of ground".
  42. ^ "New Jersey Election Results". The New York Times. November 2, 2021. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  43. ^ Biryukov, Nikita (November 3, 2021). "Murphy claims win as lead over Ciattarelli grows". New Jersey Monitor. Murphy and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver...
  44. ^ Wildstein, David (February 9, 2023). "In first poll of the 2025 N.J. governor's race, Democratic race is 'wide open' and Ciattarelli is best known Republican".
  45. ^ "Sheila Oliver, New Jersey's Trailblazing Lieutenant Governor, Has Died". The New York Times. August 1, 2023. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  46. ^ "New Jersey's acting governor taken to hospital for undisclosed medical care". Associated Press. July 31, 2023. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  47. ^ Vadala, Nick (August 2023). "N.J. Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, acting as governor with Murphy out of the country, is hospitalized". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  48. ^ Biryukov, Nikita (August 3, 2023). "Governor Murphy orders flags to half-staff to mark Sheila Oliver's death". New Jersey Monitor. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  49. ^ Ignudo, Tom (August 3, 2023). "Funeral details announced for New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver". CBS News Philadelphia. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  50. ^ Sobko, Katie (August 1, 2023). "NJ lawmakers, leaders offer tributes to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver after her death". North Jersey Media Group. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  51. ^ "Statement from Governor Murphy on the Passing of Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver". Office of the Governor. State of New Jersey. August 1, 2023. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  52. ^ "N.J. General Election Results 2017" (PDF). Secretary of State of New Jersey. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  53. ^ "Sheila Oliver vows to be a 'very different' lieutenant governor". POLITICO. July 26, 2017. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy officially announced former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver as his running mate on Wednesday...
  54. ^ "N.J. Election Results 2021". Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  55. ^ "N.J. General Election Results 2021" (PDF). State.NJ.US. Retrieved August 1, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

New Jersey General Assembly
Preceded by Member of the New Jersey General Assembly
from the 34th district

Served alongside: Peter C. Eagler, Thomas P. Giblin
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey
Succeeded by