FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Anthony Puglisi
January 28, 2010 973-
ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO HONORS
ASSEMBLY SPEAKER SHEILA Y. OLIVER FOR BECOMING THE FIRST
AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN TO LEAD A BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT IN NJ
Newark, NJ – On Wednesday, January 27th, Essex County Executive Joseph N.
DiVincenzo, Jr. honored Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver for becoming the first
African-American woman to lead a branch of government in New Jersey. Oliver, who
begins her fourth term as Assemblywoman, took the oath of office as New Jersey’s 169th
Assembly Speaker on January 12, 2010. She is also, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures, just the second African-American woman in history to
lead a legislative house, following Karen R. Bass of California.
“New Jersey reached an important milestone with the swearing in of Assemblywoman
Sheila Oliver as Speaker of the State Assembly. We are proud that Ms. Oliver has
ascended to such a prominent position and that she has become the first African-
American female to lead the NJ Assembly or Senate,” DiVincenzo said. “This is just the
latest of a lifelong list of achievements of Ms. Oliver, who has served the public at every
level of government in the State and has represented our residents with passion and
understanding,” he added
“On my 18th birthday, I registered to vote and that was the day I became engaged in the
governmental process and have not relented since,” Speaker Oliver said. “This is a
historic moment for me and NJ, and everyone here has contributed to my journey and
equipped me to do this job. The Essex delegation is strong and unified and we will
continue to do the best for the people in Essex County and the State. There is a lot of
work to do in New Jersey and I can assure you that you will see productivity coming
from my office,” she added.
Speakers during the program talked about Oliver’s experience in government and ability
as a strong leader. Wishing her the best, the all pledged to work with the new Speaker to
address the difficult issues facing New Jersey.
“This is a wonderful recognition for a true leader. Sheila Oliver is a strong leader and in
these tough times it is good to partner with her on the Assembly side as we work to move
New Jersey forward,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney said.
“Sheila Oliver is a powerful, articulate, progressive woman. We are proud to stand with
you and we will continue to support you as you serve as Assembly Speaker,” NJ State
Senator Nia Gill said.
“The Freeholder Board is excited for you and proud of your accomplishments,”
Freeholder President Blonnie Watson said. “You did an excellent job when you served on
the Board of Chosen Freeholders, but it was evident that you would move on to higher
levels to continue serving the citizens of Essex County and New Jersey,” she added.
“Sheila Oliver has stood as a great role model and forerunner for all of us and, now, she
will be a great Assembly Speaker. I am so proud of her and I know that she will continue
to do great things for New Jersey,” said Acting NJ Attorney General and former Essex
County Prosecutor Paula Dow.
“There is nothing more powerful that an idea whose time has come and we know this is
Sheila Oliver’s time. We are proud that she is one of our own from Essex County and we
know that she will continue to do an outstanding job as Speaker of the General
Assembly,” Essex County Administrator Joyce Wilson Harley, Esq. said.
“We congratulate Sheila Oliver for this historic achievement. We know that she will do
an excellent job and she has the support of the Essex Delegation behind her,” Essex
County Democratic Committee Chairman Philip Thigpen said.
Speaker Oliver, who presides over the 214th Assembly, was first elected to the Assembly
in 2003, and re-elected in 2005, 2007 and 2009. She represents the 34th Legislative
District, which includes Clifton, East Orange, Glen Ridge, Montclair, and West Paterson.
In the 2008-09 Legislative Session, she served as Deputy Speaker Pro Tempore, chaired
the Human Services Committee, and served on the Higher Education and Labor
committees. She served as Assistant Majority Leader in the 2006-07 Legislative Session.
She also represented New Jersey on the National Conference of State Legislatures’
Standing Committees on Human Services and Labor and Economic Development. Of the
50 states, nationally, there are only five women who lead lower houses, and only six who
serve as majority leaders.
Speaker Oliver co-sponsored the law creating the Department of Children and Families,
and sponsored legislation signed into law that requires that the Department of Human
Services report physical assaults and deaths at state psychiatric hospitals on its website
and report deaths to the Public Advocate. She has also sponsored legislation creating paid
family leave, amending the State’s wrongful death law, providing specialized social
services and medical treatment for persons in the criminal justice system with mental
health issues, and providing affordable auto insurance for individuals with low incomes.
County and Municipal Leadership
A resident of East Orange, Speaker Oliver currently serves as Assistant Essex County
Administrator and is the former Director of the Essex County Department of Citizen
Services and the Department of Economic Development, Training and Employment.
Prior to joining the New Jersey Legislature, she served as an Essex County Freeholder
from 1996 to 1999, and as president of the East Orange Board of Education for seven
years. Speaker Oliver has served on a number of civic boards and commissions and
remains an active volunteer. As a former faculty member of several colleges and
universities, she has spent most of her career developing and implementing programs
designed to address issues of urban development; education; poverty and economic and
social opportunity for disadvantaged populations. She recently joined the Board of East
Orange General Hospital, and was a 2007 inductee in the Women’s Foreign Policy
Institute for State Legislators. A co-founder of the Global Women’s Leadership
Collaborative of NJ, the Assemblywoman has worked with women leaders throughout
the State in organizing cultural exchanges with women in Ghana, West Africa.
Assemblywoman Oliver holds a Master of Science degree from Columbia University,
and a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, from Lincoln University.