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Atlantic City breaks ground on courtyard honor late lieutenant governor

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Atlantic City’s mayor led a groundbreaking ceremony honoring the late lieutenant governor Wednesday in the City Hall courtyard.

The area between City Hall and the Atlantic County office building at 1333 Atlantic Ave. is being transformed into Sheila Oliver Plaza.

Oliver died Aug. 1, after a sudden hospitalization days earlier. She was 71.

Mayor Marty Small vowed to honor her memory in the city. The two had a close relationship, with him referring to her as "LG" and she calling him "Marty Mar."

Her husband, William Oliver, recalled a late-night call she had that may have been midnight or later.

"I asked who she was talking to," he said. "She said, 'My man Marty.'"

"Late nights, early mornings," Small said of his conversations with late lieutenant governor about Atlantic City.

"Sheila was really intertwined in Atlantic City in a special way," said Terry Tucker, her former chief of staff and travel companion. "If you did not know, you would not know that Sheila was not from Atlantic City."

The Essex County native even planned to retire in her adopted city, Tucker said as she fought tears.

"Terry, you've got to find a piece of property because I’m going to retire and go to Atlantic City," Oliver told her friend.

In a way, she now will have her permanent spot.

Even before she became lieutenant governor, Oliver “fought the good fight for the city of Atlantic City,” Small said.

She disagreed with the state takeover, but — once in a position to be the overseer — created a partnership, he said.

The city is under watch of the state Department of Community Affairs, where Oliver also served as commissioner.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver talks about the public safety plans for Atlantic City during a news conference a year before her death.

Current DCA Commissioner Jacquelyn Suarez said Oliver was her mentor "whose shoes I'm desperately trying to fill."

Suarez shared a favorite quote of Oliver's, from jazz poet, musician and author Gil Scott-Heron.

"If someone comes to you and asks for help and you can help them, you’re supposed to help them. Why wouldn’t you? You have been put in the position somehow to be able to help this person."

That quote embodied Oliver, Suarez said.

"She taught me how to lead with grace and poise and authenticity of self," she said. "She also always reminded me why we became civil servants in the first place: To help people and the communities they call home."

Pushing for diversity

When Oliver heard about issues with the Atlantic City Fire Department not having enough diversity, she pushed, Tucker recalled.

"She was like a wrecking ball" when it came to those issues, said her former chief of staff.

Tucker saw one of those who benefited was Tarik "Suke" Hamilton, who greeted Tucker as she entered the tent for Wednesday's news conference.

Small later said he told Oliver about Hamilton, piquing her interest.

"I tell you what, Mayor Small, I’m going to interview him myself," the mayor recalled, imitating Oliver "I’m coming to Atlantic City and I’m going to see what you’re talking about."

"You guys changed my life," Hamilton told Tucker on Wednesday.


Lynda Cohen

Lynda Cohen founded BreakingAC after working as a local newspaper reporter for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.

Sunday, May 19, 2024
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