Remembering Sheila Oliver
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Remembering Sheila Oliver

Jul 05, 2023


08/14/2023 06:55 AM EDT

Good Monday morning!

New Jersey just wrapped up a three-day “celebration of life” for the late Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who died earlier this month at age 71. It was a historic affair that drew thousands to the Statehouse, Essex County courthouse and the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Oliver’s hometown of Newark.

As NJ Advance Media’s Brent Johnson notes in his poignant dispatch from Oliver lying in state on Thursday, Oliver was the first elected official in the state’s executive branch to die in office since William Livingston, New Jersey’s first governor, in 1790. And the people I spoke to at the Statehouse who waited to pay their respects to her said the multi-day, traveling farewell to Oliver was a fitting tribute to a history-making public figure.

Oliver’s send-off culminated in a four-hour funeral service in Newark, which you can read about here.

There’s nothing more I can add that hasn’t already been said about Oliver. So I’m turning over a good amount of space in today’s Playbook to memories of Oliver from those who knew her well. Thanks to all who answered POLITICO’s request for stories.

Former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, Oliver’s immediate predecessor: “Sheila and I shared the same birthday (the exact same day, July 14, 1952). Until this year we would always connect with each other by phone or text to celebrate the day. I will miss that and I will miss my friend greatly.”

Kevin Drennan, executive director of the Senate when Oliver was speaker and lieutenant governor: “She was a very caring person … During the first budget negotiations of the Murphy administration, she was concerned about my stress level. She gave me a card that simply said, ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out, Repeat.’ I have carried it ever since.”

Gina LaPlaca, former staffer at Office of Legislative Services and Assembly majority office: “My first experience with Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver was when she was still Assemblywoman Oliver and a member of the Assembly Labor Committee. As a brand-new OLS staffer, I was sitting in on a hearing to discuss an increase in the minimum wage. Following a callous comment by one of her fellow committee members that lower-wage workers are merely “paid what theyʼre worth,” Sheila launched into a powerful, spontaneous speech about the value and dignity of labor and how all work is to be honored and sufficiently compensated so as to provide a decent life for those who labor, regardless of skill. I was impressed by her then, and on every other day I had the privilege to know her and work with her.”

Brigid Harrison, Montclair State University: “In 2017 we found ourselves side by side at Montclair State University in make-up chairs getting ready for the lieutenant governor debate. I was astounded to find her nervous. … I figured that she has been in public life so long that this would not be that stressful. After I reassured her, she [started] asking about my children and we spent the remainder of our time talking about my children and her extended family. I didn’t realize until that time that she had no children, but I walked away from the conversation with the sense that she wanted to focus on something real and meaningful to distract her from all of the tensions of the debate and campaign.”

Alexander Krasutsky, a Murphy aide involved in Atlantic City revitalization: “One memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life came out of a meeting … concerning an incredibly nuanced and complicated issue that had arisen in the city. … [I] had been struggling to have my voice break through on this particular issue due to the complex nature of what we were dealing with. At a certain point in the meeting I asked to give my perspective and not only did the LG listen to what I had to say, she recognized the passion and care that I have for New Jersey’s Flagship city. She validated my viewpoint not just through praise, but more importantly, by engaging me as someone with a valuable and experienced perspective. Ultimately, she engaged with me as a partner in a political ecosystem that she had far more experience with (and authority within) than I ever did.”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Matt’s off most of this week playing with kittens. Ry Rivard and I will be punning it up until he returns for Friday’s edition.

TIPS? FEEDBACK? Email me at [email protected]

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Not in America. This is not something that you do here.” — Marion County Record publisher Eric Meyer after the Marion police department raided the newspaper’s office and his home in Kansas, seizing computers and files. His 98-year-old mother died one day later after the “shock and grief.”

WHERE’S MURPHY?: No public schedule

BOBIN’ AND WEAVIN’ — Bob Menendez tests Democrats’ loyalty as feds target him again, by POLITICO’s Matt Friedman: About every 10 years, like clockwork, news articles pop up reminding New Jerseyans about that time in the early 1980s when Bob Menendez donned a bulletproof vest to testify against his former mentor at a federal corruption trial. The story, when told by Menendez’s allies, is intended to portray the senator as a hardscrabble Hudson County politician who did what’s right in the face of the powerful Democratic machine — the same machine that nurtured him and launched his career. It’s come up again and again because, well, Menendez has found himself the subject of similar investigations again and again — about once every decade. It happened in the 2000s, the 2010s, and it’s happening now.

SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT — “Murphy’s other 2023 focus? Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi,” by NJ Globe’s Joey Fox: “For most people in New Jersey politics, this year is all about the state’s legislative elections. But for Gov. Phil Murphy, there are other elections on the radar — namely, the three gubernatorial campaigns he’s responsible for assisting as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA).

Democrats are defending two governorships in Kentucky and Louisiana, and working to flip a Republican-held governorship in Mississippi. All three states may be geographically and politically distant from New Jersey, but Murphy’s perch at the DGA makes him an important player in the effort to win the three deep-red states.”

—“An update on Brad Schnure”

—“NJ joins legal battle over interstate pipeline”

—“NJ Transit engineers face long road to strike”

WHY BOTHER IF HE ALREADY TURNED ON TRUMP — Christie says no one has given him a loyalty pledge to sign, by POLITICO’s David Cohen: Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said Sunday he has yet to sign the party’s loyalty pledge because no one has given it to him. “I haven’t been presented with the pledge yet,” the former New Jersey governor said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding he thought the Republican National Committee was still verifying that he had enough donors to qualify for the event. But in answering the question Sunday, Christie did not say whether he would sign the pledge when he received it.

PRO BONO — ”Chris Christie has some advice for Trump ahead of yet another likely indictment,” by Independent’s John Bowden: “Chris Christie was on ABC this weekend bashing Donald Trump as the former New Jersey governor charts a path to the GOP nomination which he believes necessitates a direct showdown with the ex-president. Mr. Christie, who previously served as a federal prosecutor, told ABC’s Jonathan Karl on Sunday that his opponent needs to choose his words carefully going forward to escape further criminal liability. “Trump needs to be smart and careful about this, if that’s at all possible. Which is [to say] that he is a criminal defendant,” he said. It was advice that is unlikely to be followed.”

— “Kean Jr.: Restoration of SALT is priority No. 1. It’s how we’ll provide tax relief. | Opinion”

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0.04 MASTROS — “Pro-Christie PAC launches $400K ad buy in New Hampshire geared at swinging independent voters,” by ABC News’ Nicholas Kerr: “With the Iowa State Fair now underway, much of the nation’s attention will soon turn to Des Moines as Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls descend on the Midwestern city to show face and make their cases to future caucus-goers. But while other candidates pose with butter sculpted into the shape of a cow and munch assorted fried foods, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, now a GOP candidate for president, is continuing to hone his campaign’s focus on New Hampshire, evidenced in part by a new $400,000 media buy from the pro-Christie Tell It Like It Is PAC in the Granite State. The purchase marks the largest to date by the PAC.”

— “Sens. Menendez, Booker deliver $2M to support New Jersey’s low-income senior housing services”

PHIL MURPHY’S FAULT — “Dead whale washes ashore in Long Branch,” by Asbury Park Press’ Joe Strupp: “A dead whale washed ashore on Takanassee Beach Saturday evening, sparking concerns and interest from onlookers and forcing police to block off portions of the area. Residents said the deceased mammal was first spotted around 5 p.m. Saturday and remained there Sunday morning as many offered concern and surprise at the sighting.”

SILK CITY SAGA — “Paterson’s police problem,” by NJ Advance Media’s S.P. Sullivan and Deion Johnson: “Bound on both sides by the jagged path of the Passaic River, Broadway in Paterson is a 3-mile strip lined by brightly colored bodegas and local businesses, schools and churches, new construction and blighted buildings. It also showcases society’s ills: homelessness, drugs and crime that many residents along Broadway say had overtaken this gateway to New Jersey’s third-largest city. Visit this summer, though, and you’re just as likely to see a local cop walking the beat. That’s because Paterson’s police force, which has been beset by scandal and now under nearly unprecedented state control, faces the challenge of cleaning up city streets and repairing the department’s stained image.”

RED LIPSTICK BANK — “McConnell Rebuts Allegations'' by redbankgreen’s John T. Ward: “Red Bank police Chief Darren McConnell acknowledged Saturday that he’d had a relationship with a former ‘significant other’ of a department employee ‘years ago,’ but none since. The admission came two days after the police union accused McConnell of engaging in ‘numerous inappropriate and questionable sexual relationships with the significant others’ of department personnel, as well as alleged ethical lapses that led to ‘no confidence’ vote by local members last month.”

SAUDI ARABIA OPENING AN EMBASSY IN EATONTOWN — “Details Of Eatontown’s Tax Deal With Kushner Cos. Over Monmouth Mall,” by’s Carly Baldwin: “Earlier this week, Patch reported the borough of Eatontown will offer a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) tax exemption to developer Kushner Cos. for Monmouth Mall. Mayor Anthony Talerico says the tax exemption is necessary to allow Kushner to tear down huge parts of the mall and turn it into luxury apartments.”

— “LIUNA holds another big rally for Jersey City workers, this time at Newport Town Square Park”

— “New Atlantic City Housing Authority director meets Stanley Holmes residents”

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AMERICAN NIGHTMARE — ”Workers rally for safer conditions and more affordable health care at American Dream,” by’s Gene Meyers: “They called for better working conditions and demanded respect. Employees of House Services of America Cleaning Inc., which is responsible for maintenance and cleaning at the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, waved signs that read “Strike Against HSA Cleaning” and cheered each other on, with the mall as their backdrop. Anna Maria Hill is the New Jersey janitorial director for the 32BJ SEIU local.”

PUTTING ON A (ANTI-VACCINE) CLINIC — “West Orange native Kyrie Irving hosts community basketball event at St. Peter’s University,” by News 12 staff: “The stands were packed Friday and Saturday at St. Peter’s University’s gym in Jersey City for Kyrie Irving’s community basketball event. Irving likes to use this event to tap into the community and bring people together. He also gave out backpacks to students. The event also featured community day, a captivating one-on-one, cash prizes and a few NBA stars put on a show on the court.”

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