Sheila Oliver

Columbia Social Work Connection

Sheila Oliver earned an MSW in Community Organization, Planning and Administration from our School in 1976.

Sheila Oliver, New Jersey Lieutenant Governor

Path to Political Involvement

New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver cut her teeth in state-level politics first as a county freeholder (or commissioner) and then as a member of the New Jersey General Assembly, from 2004 until 2017. In 2009 she was elected unanimously to serve as Speaker of the Assembly, a move that gave her control over which bills came to the floor and how billions of dollars were spent. She was the first Black woman to serve in that role in the state and only the second Black woman to lead a state house in all of the United States. In addition to serving as Speaker, Oliver chaired the Human Services Committee, overseeing bills that impacted New Jersey’s low-income individuals and families, as well as those with mental illnesses, disabilities, and addictions.

[My social work] background has equipped me to be in the room when major policy decisions are being made, and I learned as speaker if your voice isn’t the room, you’re going to have a problem, because as we say in politics, “If you’re not at the table, then you are on the menu.”

In July 2017, New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy announced that he had selected Oliver as his running mate. With their win in November of that year, she became the first woman of color ever elected to statewide office in New Jersey, and the first Black woman Democrat to become a lieutenant governor in the United States.

Murphy went on to appoint Oliver as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, in charge of providing local governments, organizations, and businesses with support and financial aid to help improve the quality of life for New Jersey residents while also addressing issues of public concern. He said his choice of Oliver for this cabinet position was due to her reputation as a trail blazer in community leadership and the mark she had already made on the state in the area of social welfare.