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New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Shelia Oliver Dies at 71 While Serving as Acting Governor

Shelia Oliver was hospitalized on July 31 with an undisclosed medical issue

The lieutenant governor of New Jersey has died while filling in for Governor Phil Murphy amid his European vacation.

Shelia Oliver had been serving as acting governor while Murphy visits Italy with his family. She was hospitalized on July 31 for an undisclosed medical issue and her family confirmed her death on Aug. 1.

Oliver’s family said the 71-year-old was “not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend and hero.”

“Sheila Y. Oliver leaves behind a legacy of dedication, service, and inspiration,” the family said in a statement, per CBS News. “We will remember her commitment to the people of New Jersey and her tireless efforts to uplift the community.”

Born and raised in Newark, Oliver worked in public service for almost three decades. Oliver attended the historically black college Lincoln University and received a Master’s Degree from Columbia University. She was the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, where she focused on efforts to create affordable housing and address homelessness across the state. She was also a member of the East Orange Board of Education and the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Oliver was elected to the General Assembly in 2003 and was celebrated as the state’s first Black woman to serve as Assembly Speaker in 2010. 

The Democrat served a lieutenant governor for two terms after first being selected by Murphy as a running mate in 2017.

Murphy released a statement calling Oliver a “trailblazer in every sense of the word” whose “decades of public service made her an ideal partner for me to lead the state of New Jersey.”

“It was the best decision I ever made,” said Murphy. “She was an incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable.”

According to Oliver’s biography on the state government’s website:

In her role as Acting Governor, she has signed multiple bills into law, including those that established a Caregiver Task Force to identify ways to support people taking care of loved ones who are elderly or disabled, require all public school students in grades 6-8 to receive financial literacy education, strengthen equal pay for equal work by preventing employers from asking employees’ previous salary history, and protect employees from wage theft. She also signed into law legislation that established a Restorative and Transformative Justice for Youths and Communities Pilot Program within the Juvenile Justice Commission to help divert youth from entering and re-entering the juvenile justice system.

Murphy had described Oliver as an asset to his administration who would represent the African American community.

“Being governor is important, but even as governor, if we’re fortunate enough to get there, I will only be one person. To be successful, I will need a team that joins me not just in a way of thinking, but in a way of acting,” said Murphy while announcing Oliver at an event in 2017. “A team that I believe must represent not only the very best of our state, but also mirror the great diversity of our state, the most diverse state in the United States.”

Senate President Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat, is next in line to serve as acting governor, per the rules of the New Jersey constitution, until Murphy returns. He was scheduled to return on Aug. 13.

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