TRENTON, N.J.—New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver died Tuesday. She was 71.
Ms. Oliver served as Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s top deputy, stepping in for him while the governor was out of state and also overseeing the Department of Community Affairs, which coordinates state aid to towns and cities and supervises code enforcement.
No cause of death was given, Mr. Murphy’s office said in a statement from the Oliver family. Mr. Murphy said he and his family are distraught at the news. Naming Ms. Oliver as his lieutenant governor was, he said, “the best decision I ever made.”
As acting governor, she signed a handful of bills including a 2021 measure that established a pilot program to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system in four cities and which aimed to reintegrate young people into their communities.
Mr. Murphy’s office announced on July 31 that Ms. Oliver was hospitalized while filling in for Mr. Murphy, who was in Italy on a family vacation. She was admitted to Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston with an undisclosed medical condition, the governor’s office said, declining to elaborate.
Mr. Murphy spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna said the governor will be “returning soon” but didn’t specify when. He was set to return Aug. 13.
In 2010, Ms. Oliver became Assembly speaker, before losing the position to Assemblyman Vincent Prieto in 2013.
She served in the Assembly since 2004 and was on the Essex County board of chosen freeholders from 1996 to 1999. She was born and raised in Newark and has a sociology degree from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University.
Ms. Oliver was a compelling public speaker and frequent attendee at Mr. Murphy’s bill signings and other events, where he typically introduced her as his “rocking” lieutenant governor.
“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, Mr. Murphy said in a statement Tuesday. “Beyond all of that, she was an incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable.”
She was twice elected lieutenant governor alongside Mr. Murphy beginning in 2017 and again in 2021. Oliver was just the second person to hold the post of lieutenant governor, a newer state government position that began under previous Gov. Chris Christie.
It was unclear who would immediately succeed her. The state constitution calls for the state Senate president to serve as acting governor if the governor and lieutenant governor are out of state or incapacitated. The constitution requires Mr. Murphy to appoint Ms. Oliver’s successor within 45 days.