Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver’s (D-34) dismantling of Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson at yesterday’s hearing packed considerably extra punch because of Oliver’s history.
When she served as speaker, Oliver opposed the expansion of charter school education and failed to booster for the controversial Opportunity Scholarship Act as an alternative to public schools, spurring the wrath of the bosses, including powerful South Jersey Democrat George Norcross III.
At the time – this was 2011 – Norcross wondered aloud why Democrats didn’t get more vigorously behind charter schools.
He didn’t speak Oliver’s name specifically but PolitickerNJ that week reported the back story.
“’It’s time for Sheila to step up – like Steve Sweeney – and be a leader,’ said a South Jersey source, reflecting on the speaker’s unwillingness during the course of her leadership tenure during these months of Chris Christie’s governorship – to serve as animated saleswoman for controversial policies that divide her Democratic caucus.
“Those undercurrents beset the room last night at Rider University when Norcross, long the mysterious equivalent of Loch Ness to those bruised detractors who cross him politically, stepped up to a microphone to talk about necessary changes in public education.
“The issue is a critical and well-publicized area of disagreement between Oliver and Norcross, key players in a Democratic Party thrown into turmoil when Christie and the GOP stood united on public worker pension/benefits and healthcare scale-backs, while peeling away the Democratic votes they needed by teaming with Sweeney, Norcross, DiVincenzo and a public union-backed, conscience-stricken Oliver.
“As Christie now publicly drives an argument on the benefits of merit pay for teachers and charter schools, the speaker continues – at least publicly – not to support the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) voucher pilot program, which Norcross and Adubato of Newark staunchly back.”
Oliver held onto her speakership back then – for one more two-year term – but never got on board with the fast-track expansion of charter schools – one of the cornerstones of Anderson’s One Newark Plan.
Notwithstanding her own doubts, rooted in a commitment to public education, Oliver did not want to be dictated to or rushed on a plan that, however functional for a handful of power brokers – Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker (whom Oliver would unsuccessfully challenge in the 2013 U.S. Senate Democratic Primary) among them – did not include deep buy in from the people.
So Anderson’s inability to be accessible and accountable to the people and to Oliver herself when the speaker requested face time, rankled the Newark South Ward political product turned East Orange assemblywoman.
And came back with a particular stinging vengeance yesterday…