Look for a fourth candidate in the race for Assembly Speaker: Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) has spent the last two days testing the waters to seek the post. Oliver is the Assistant Essex County Administrator, which means strong ties to County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Newark Democratic leader Stephen Adubato. Essex County has the state’s largest Assembly delegation – nine votes.
Oliver would become the second African American woman to run for Speaker, joining Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing). Watson Coleman said on Wednesday that she would run. Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), the Democratic State Chairman, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) are also looking at the race.
Oliver’s chances of becoming Speaker could be boosted by a leadership change in the upper house, where Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) is considering a challenge to Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland). It is unlikely that Essex Democrats would get both slots, and more likely that they would if the Senate Presidency goes to South Jersey.
The 57-year-old Oliver is seeking her fourth term in the State Assembly this year. She represents District 34, which includes East Orange, Montclair and Clifton. She is a former Essex County Freeholder and East Orange Board of Education President, and lost her bid for Mayor of East Orange in the 1997 Democratic primary by just 51 votes. She is currently the Assembly Deputy Speaker Pro-Tempore and the Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee.
Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) announced on Wednesday that he would not seek re-election. Roberts has been an Assemblyman since 1987 and the Speaker since 2006.
New Jersey has not had an African American Speaker since Howard Woodson (D-Trenton) left in 1976. And the state has not had a woman Speaker since Marion West Higgins (R-Hillsdale) held the post in 1965.