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Sheila Oliver, New Jersey Lieutenant Governor and Prominent Black Leader, Dies at 71

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a prominent Black leader in New Jersey, dies suddenly at 71. Cause of death unknown.

Trenton, NJ Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver Dies After Sudden Illness

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a prominent Black leader in New Jersey known for her advocacy for city revitalization and against gun violence, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 71. The cause of her death has not been disclosed.

Gov. Phil Murphy's office released a statement from Oliver's family, expressing their grief and confirming that she had been hospitalized on Monday. Oliver had been serving as acting governor while Murphy and his family were on vacation in Italy.

Murphy expressed his devastation at the news, calling the decision to appoint Oliver as his lieutenant governor the best decision he ever made. Oliver made history in 2017 and 2021 as the first Black woman to hold statewide elected office in New Jersey, winning alongside Murphy. She also became the first Black woman to lead the state Assembly in 2010.

Unlike her predecessor, Oliver frequently appeared alongside Murphy and actively participated in signing bills into law as acting governor. She was known for her passionate speeches and was often introduced by Murphy as his "rocking" lieutenant governor.

In 2021, Oliver spoke out against gun violence, particularly in cities, and signed tighter gun legislation with Murphy. She emphasized the need to address the issue and protect young people from the devastating effects of gun violence.

Oliver also focused on driving economic development in cities and signed a bill in 2021 that revived a fund for "urban enterprise zones" with lower sales tax rates. She was responsible for overseeing the Department of Community Affairs, which provided state aid to towns and cities and supervised code enforcement.

News of Oliver's sudden illness and passing shocked officials, with many expressing their grief and admiration for her leadership. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. described her as a pathbreaker and a foremost leader.

Oliver's family released a statement remembering her as a cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and hero. Murphy's spokesperson confirmed that the governor would be returning soon but did not specify a date.

Oliver's political career began in 2004 when she served in the Assembly. She was also a member of the Essex County board of chosen freeholders from 1996 to 1999. Born and raised in Newark, she earned a sociology degree from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

Murphy praised Oliver for her unique perspective and invaluable contributions to public policy, as well as her kindness and genuine nature. Oliver was only the second person to hold the position of lieutenant governor in New Jersey.

It is currently unclear who will succeed Oliver. According to the state's constitution, Senate President Nicholas Scutari will serve as acting governor if both the governor and lieutenant governor are out of state or incapacitated. Murphy is required to appoint Oliver's successor within 45 days.

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