In NJ, New Leg Session Means New Leaders

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A new legislative session begins in Trenton today, one that will usher in an across-the-board leadership change. WNYC's Bob Hennelly has this report.

REPORTER: When Essex County Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver takes the oath of office to become Speaker, it'll mark the first time in New Jersey history, and only the second time in US history, that an African American woman has led a state legislative body. The 57 year-old Oliver has served as a County Freeholder and was President of her local school board.

OLIVER: I have always been a leader since I was an elementary school student and I have always been an active citizen and that led me to running for elective office starting in the early 1980s'.

REPORTER: Oliver says she's confident that fellow Democrats can work with Republicans to turn the economic crisis around.

OLIVER: I think we are going to see leadership exerted at all levels of government is going to lead to turn this recession around.

REPORTER: In the upper house, southern Jersey Senator Steve Sweeney is expected to be elected as Senate President. Sweeney comes out of the labour movement and is currently the Freehold Director for Gloucester County.

SWEENEY: I am a union iron worker. I work with my hands and my back. this is a hell of lot easier.

REPORTER: The fact that Republican Chris Christie bested Democratic Governor Jon Corzine by 100,000 votes is not lost on Sweeney. He says New Jersey needs to take a fresh look at consolidating its 566 towns and nearly 600 school districts. He says voters have had it with the ever escalating cost of government.

SWEENEY: Right now they think their money is getting wasted. So consolidation, regionalization, finding ways to streamline government, cutting regulations, which this Governor Elect said he's going to do I am all in favor off. We just need to find a way to work together.

REPORTER: The first major test for the new legislature---an unprecedented state budget crisis. For WNYC I am Bob Hennelly.