AREA — New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, 71, passed away Tuesday afternoon after being taken to the hospital a day earlier, while temporarily serving as the state’s acting governor.
“When I selected her to be my running mate in 2017, Lieutenant Governor Oliver was already a trailblazer in every sense of the word. She had already made history as the first Black woman to serve as Speaker of the General Assembly,andjustthesecondBlack woman in the nation’s history to lead a house of a state legislature. I knew then that her decades of public service made her the ideal partner for me to lead the State of New Jersey. It was the best decision I ever made,” Governor Phil Murphy said Tuesday via public statement.
The details surrounding Ms. Oliver’s death have not yet been made public.
“Lieutenant Governor Oliver was not only a trailblazer, but also an inspiration to all who had the privilege of witnessing her dedicated service to the people of New Jersey. Her passion for public service, her commitment to justice and equality, and her genuine concern for the welfare of New Jersey’s residents set her apart as a beacon of hope and progress in our community,” the Union County Board of County Commissioners said in a public statement Tuesday. “Throughout her tenure, she worked tirelessly to uplift the marginalized, advocate for the voiceless, and create a brighter, more inclusive future for all residents of our state. Her tireless efforts in areas such as affordable housing, education, and economic empowerment demonstrated her belief that every individual deserved a chance to thrive and achieve their dreams.”
Ms. Oliver served on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders (nowtheCountyBoardofCountyCommissioners) from 1996 to 1999 before moving up to the state Assembly in 2004. She has served as the state’s second lieutenant governor since 2018 and was tasked with overseeing the state’s Department of Community Affairs, which coordinates state aid to local municipalities.
“Tammy and I, and our children, are incredibly saddened and distraught to learn of the passing of our dear friend, colleague, and partner in government,” Governor Murphy said of Ms. Oliver. “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.”
Governor Murphy, who has been traveling overseas on a planned family vacation since last week, will be cutting his trip short and is due to be back in the state shortly, representatives from his office said Tuesday.
As a result of the Lieutenant Governor’s death and a series of other unforeseencircumstances,SenatePresident Nick Scutari was temporarily elevated to the role of acting governor for the second time in less than a year.
Ms. Oliver stepped up to assume the responsibilities of the office as per the state’s established succession laws shortly after the governor departed for his vacation last week. Shortly thereafter, however, she was taken to the Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for undisclosed medical reasons and Mr. Scutari was tasked with filling the vacancy.
As acting governor, Mr. Scutari has the authority to implement executive orders and convene the legislature for special sessions if needed. He also will be tasked with overseeing the various state-level departments, agencies, boards and commissions that make up the state’s executive branch.
““This is a heartbreaking loss for all of us who knew and admired Sheila Oliver. She touched the lives of countless people as a dedicated public official who worked tirelessly to improve opportunitiesforothers.Shehasarecord of accomplishment that is unmatched,” Mr. Scutari said of the Lieutenant Governor’s passing. “I was fortunate to work closely with Sheila when she served in theAssembly and as Lieutenant Governor, where I gained even greater respect for her leadership skills and appreciation for her selfless human qualities.”
Mr. Scutari, who was named as the Senate President in 2022, briefly assumed the role of acting governor in June of last year when both Mr. Murphy and Ms. Oliver happened to be called out of state at the same time. During his first short stint in the state’s highest office, Mr. Scutari signed an executive order in recognition of National Trails Day (a federal initiative designed to encourage outdoor activities) and gave his seal of approval to a piece of regulatory legislation that allowed passengers to legally drink alcohol in pedicabs.
And while neither action was too momentous, Mr. Scutari’s temporary ascension was still noteworthy in and of itself if only to illustrate some historical changes to the state’s line of succession.
A standing piece of New Jersey legislation that harkens back to the days before cell phone networks and global connectivity dictates that any sitting governor who wishes to leave the state for more than a day must temporarily transfer his or her authority in order to maintain uninterrupted leadership and communication between the state’s highest office and its constituency. Today, the Senate President is second in the line behind the state’s lieutenant governor, followed by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin,Attorney General Matt Platkin and Commissioner of Transportation Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti. But that hasn’t always been the case.
The role of lieutenant governor was established in New Jersey in 2005 after two previous governors — Christine ToddWhitman and Jim McGreevey — vacated their positions mid-term. The role of acting governor fell first to then-Senate President Donald DiFrancesco in 2001, when Ms. Whitman stepped down in order to accept a federal cabinet position, and then to Richard Codey
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