N.J. Democrats plan to replace Assembly speaker

Assemblyman Vincent Prieto has backing to be new speaker.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto has backing to be new speaker.
Posted: October 24, 2013

TRENTON A majority of Assembly Democrats are poised to replace Speaker Sheila Oliver, an Essex County Democrat, with Assemblyman Vincent Prieto in the next legislative term, they announced Tuesday.

In a statement signed by 41 of the 48 Democrats who control New Jersey's 80-member Assembly and released by Prieto (D., Hudson) and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D., Camden), Democrats said Oliver had "met each and every challenge with the grace, compassion, and determination that is becoming of a great leader."

However, "the next legislative session will bring an entirely new set of challenges and issues confronting our state," the statement reads.

"In the interest of bringing to the table new ideas, new energy, and new advocacy for the principles of the Democratic Party, we hereby express our support for a new leadership team" with Prieto, the chairman of the budget committee and member of the Assembly since 2004, serving as speaker and Greenwald continuing to serve as majority leader.

The Democrats who signed the statement face reelection Nov. 5. An official vote to choose the speaker for the new two-year term will not be held until a legislative reorganization meeting in January, at the start of the next session.

A call to Oliver's district office was directed Tuesday to a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, who said he could not comment on the statement.

Oliver, who waged an unsuccessful primary bid for the U.S. Senate seat recently won by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, has served as speaker since 2010. In an interview in July, she said she was undecided about seeking a third term as speaker.

Dissension between Democratic power brokers has raised tensions within the party, including over endorsements in the gubernatorial election.

Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who is Oliver's boss in county administration and was involved in a deal that led to her becoming speaker in 2010, endorsed Gov. Christie over his Democratic challenger, Middlesex State Sen. Barbara Buono.

George E. Norcross III, the South Jersey Democratic power broker and a part owner of The Inquirer, has not endorsed Christie but has not lent much support to Buono's candidacy either. He did not return a call Tuesday.

Two Democratic sources cited DiVincenzo's endorsement of the Republican governor as reason for supporting Prieto over Oliver.

DiVincenzo said Tuesday that the decision by Assembly Democrats to back Prieto "has nothing to do with my support for Chris Christie."

"This has to do with politics," DiVincenzo said, adding, "I don't know whether Sheila's running" for another term as speaker.

"Everybody wants to have an opportunity to be in leadership," he said.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990

@maddiehanna

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