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NJ Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver Dies at 71

Sheila Oliver

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, the first Black woman to serve as speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly and later as the lieutenant governor, died on Tuesday, August 1, at the age of 71.

Oliver had assumed the role of governor while Governor Phil Murphy and his family were on vacation in Italy. She was taken to Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston on Monday for an undisclosed medical issue. At press time, her cause of death was also undisclosed.

Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-NJ-22) took on the role of acting governor after Oliver was hospitalized.

Murphy said selecting Oliver as his running mate in 2017 was “the best decision I ever made,” in a statement. “She brought a unique and invaluable perspective to our public policy discourse and served as an inspiration to millions of women and girls everywhere, especially young women of color. Beyond all of that, she was an incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable.”

State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, praised Oliver for her “unwavering passion for social justice, women’s equality and education,” and using her position to advocate for a fairer and more equitable society.”

Retired state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat, called Oliver’s death “awful news. … Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver was a friend, a sister, a colleague and a co-chair. She stood tall for all of us,” said Weinberg. “She always reminded me that ‘women deserve a seat at the table, in the room and in the fray,’” Weinberg said, reading from a text Oliver sent her last year. “I will miss this wonderful woman, my friend and ally. I am deeply saddened for our loss.”

Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) issued a statement mourning Oliver’s passing: “This is devastating news. I am shocked at the passing of Lieutenant Governor Oliver. Sheila is a pathbreaker and has been one of the foremost leaders of our great state for decades. I am still processing this. My prayers are with Sheila’s family and loved ones right now.”

Murphy will have 45 days to appoint a new lieutenant governor, according to the New Jersey Constitution (Article V, Section 1, paragraph 9).

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