Norman Oliver has shifted from basketball and politics to entrepreneurship. His new development of housing for low-income buyers may seal his reputation as someone who just wants to do good.
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When he was in eighth grade, Norman and his younger brother, Alonzo, rounded the corner of their block in Southbridge one day to find their mother in the street, surrounded by their belongings. They had been evicted. “But we persevered,” he says. “We were a strong-knit family.”
Oliver has not only persevered, he has prevailed, overcoming a childhood of poverty and steering a precarious course through Wilmington politics to become a successful entrepreneur and leader in the black community. His years as a city councilman—from 1992 to 2003—were especially controversial. Back then, Oliver, a man who has an affinity for the spotlight, stopped taking calls from reporters after making headlines for the wrong reasons.
In 2000 he was one of many officials who were investigated by the state auditor for alleged misuse of Suburban Street Fund money. Oliver helped a college friend, John Kilgore, secure $85,000 in street fund money. Kilgore was to use it, in part, for a gospel music performance in Wilmington. The performance never happened, but Kilgore said he fulfilled his commitment by staging three rap-music seminars for teens. Oliver also got the late Rep. Al O. Plant, his old friend and mentor, and another lawmaker to grant him $45,000 in street fund money for Stormin’s Classic. The state turned over the investigation to federal authorities. No charges resulted.
Soon afterward, Oliver was forced to refund $18,873 to the Delaware River & Bay Authority. Spent on renovations to his B Street office building, the money came from the authority’s fund for nonprofits. DRBA asked for a refund after The News Journal informed officials that Oliver’s for-profit company owned the building. Oliver refunded the money, but it took nearly a year, which caused more headlines.
Meanwhile, he continued to take on additional responsibilities. Besides running Stormin’s Classic and his businesses, he served a brief time as chairman of Wilmington’s Democratic Party and attended the National Democratic Convention. In 2002 then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner appointed him to the board of directors of his alma mater, Delaware State University, where he often crossed swords with DSU’s controversial president, Allen L. Sessoms, who has since resigned.
During Oliver’s final term on city council, Mayor James Baker, perhaps sensing the 4th District councilman was spread too thin, told The News Journal, “Norman is going to have to make a decision. Either he’s going to be a politician or a businessman.”
At first, Oliver says, “I was kind of offended” by the remark. But after thinking about it, he decided Baker was right. He chose business. By 2003, when he left city council, he had already discontinued Stormin’s Classic, and in January 2008, weary of battling Sessoms and other board members, he resigned his DSU position.
Page 3: Stormin' Through, continues...