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Sheila Oliver, New Jersey's First African-American Female Assembly Speaker, Battles To Keep Job

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SHEILA OLIVER SPEAKER
New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Steve Sweeney sit behind Gov. Chris Christie during a gubernatorial speech to the state legislature. | AP
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With Democrats likely to retain control of the New Jersey Assembly in the Nov. 8 election, the state's first African-American female assembly speaker is locked in a battle to save her job.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange), who helped pass Gov. Chris Christie's (R) public employee benefits changes in the spring, is facing the potential of a coup led by her deputy, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-Union Township). PolitickerNJ.com reported today that a group of African-American leaders, led by Rev. Reginald Jackson, president of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, endorsed Oliver's bid for a second term during a press conference in Newark.

"At some times there was a rumored challenge to her role as speaker, and then rumors of her being challenged from within," said Jackson. "Today we call upon anyone to reconsider their position. This speaker has taken some unfair shots, but life isn't fair and this speaker is a big grown girl. And she can give as good as she can take it."

"She has offered good and steady leadership at a difficult time in our state," the pastor added. "She has not put herself but the citizens of New Jersey first."

Oliver became speaker in 2010 after a deal between Democrats from the northern and southern ends of the state. Oliver, from northern Jersey's Essex County, was installed as speaker while state Sen. Steve Sweeney, a south Jersey Democrat, became Senate president. Oliver's full time job is as a social worker with Essex County. The Star-Ledger reports that Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo (D), a close Christie ally, is helping to line up support to keep Oliver in office.

Oliver received criticism from public workers over the summer, when she helped pass Christie's proposals to require public employees to contribute to their health and pension benefits. In addition to criticism over the summer, Oliver ended up engaged in a public battle with Christie in the late summer when the governor said he agreed to help Oliver secure Republican votes to keep her job, a charge Oliver denies.

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Filed by John Celock