Assembly Speaker Oliver Fires Back at Christie’s Reference to Her at Town Hall

At yesterday’s town hall meeting in Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver found herself the target of Gov. Christie’s ire. Although he did not mention her by name, Christie blasted the speaker for standing in the way of his school choice agenda, referring to her as the “African-American female speaker of the Assembly.” NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider sat down with Sheila Oliver (D-34) to get her reaction to the governor’s remarks.

Oliver said that while it was appropriate for the governor to engage in a public policy discussion, he did not have the right to invoke her ethnicity and gender.

“What does it matter that I was an ‘African American female speaker’?” challenged Oliver. “If we’re going to have a public policy debate about public education in this state, that’s where the focus should be not on my ethnicity or on my gender.”


A spokesperson for the governor stated, “We’re sorry that the speaker misinterpreted the governor’s remarks that way.” In response, Oliver said, “The governor’s words were precise, they were methodical. Anyone who watches the tape from that town hall at St. Luke Baptist Church in Paterson yesterday knows precisely what the governor was insinuating.”

Yesterday’s remarks may have a negative effect on the relationship between the speaker and the governor. She said that unlike the governor, she has always tried to work with him in a bipartisan manner without resorting to name calling.

“I left that to his wheelhouse, but I think there comes a time when enough is enough,” she said. “The governor likes to say we’re all adults and the adults are in charge. Well, what the governor did yesterday reflects he’s not acting as an adult.”

Oliver said she views Christie’s town hall meeting as a form of entertainment much like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno or the Late Show with David Letterman.

“I think the governor feels he has found a formula and an effective formula for communicating with New Jerseyans. We certainly like to be entertained. I view his behavior as nothing more than theater.”

Standard and Poor’s released a report today that raises concerns with Gov. Christie’s proposed budget, citing the uncertain impact of the superstorm Sandy projection and revenue projections that could be difficult to meet.

When it comes to moving New Jersey’s economy forward, Oliver said the governor has had one singular mantra — tax credits to corporations.

“At the federal level, we’re now at 7.7 percent unemployment. We’re still hovering at 10 percent [in New Jersey],” said Oliver. “The Democrats have tried to work with the governor to effectuate some policies that can help us grow, broaden and expand opportunities for the creation of jobs.”

Recently, Christie picked up endorsements from Democrats like Harrison Mayor Raymond McDonough and Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long. And in East Brunswick, Mayor David Stahl announced he’s leaving the Democratic Party. Oliver said those mayors are hedging their political bets, hoping to be rewarded down the road.

“If the governor’s numbers hold and he is popular and it looks like the electorate in New Jersey is going to return him into office, they want to be positioned well so he’ll remember who these friends were when he needed them.”

The governor’s popularity notwithstanding, Oliver is confident the Democrats will maintain control of the Assembly and the Senate.

“Time and time again, New Jerseyans when polled they have no difficulty with Democrats holding the legislature.”