Trailblazing Political Leader, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Passes Away at 71

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver served as New Jersey's second-in-command since 2018. | Photo courtesy: Julio Cortez/AP Photo

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, an amazing leader, who passed away at the age of 71. She was the first Black woman to be the Assembly speaker in New Jersey and the second in the whole country.

Her family announced her death and said, "Sheila Y. Oliver leaves behind a legacy of dedication, service, and inspiration. We will remember her commitment to the people of New Jersey and her tireless efforts to help the community."

We don't know the exact cause of her death, but she had health problems for a long time that she kept private. In the past few months, she attended only a few public events. When Gov. Phil Murphy was on vacation in Italy, she was unable to perform her duties as Acting Governor and was hospitalized. Senate President Nick Scutari took on the role of acting governor during her absence.

Besides being lieutenant governor, Oliver was in charge of the Department of Community Affairs, a big state agency responsible for housing and community development.

She was born in Newark, and her parents were hardworking people. Her father fought against racial discrimination, and she grew up on the same block as a late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne.

Oliver studied at Lincoln University and Columbia University, and she started her political career in the 1990s as a member of the East Orange School Board. She later became an Essex County freeholder and worked as an assistant Essex County administrator.

In 2010, she became the Assembly speaker and worked with former Gov. Chris Christie and former Senate President Steve Sweeney on important reforms. One of them, called Chapter 78, was a significant achievement, even though she later said it was "imperfect."

After her speakership, she ran for the U.S. Senate in 2013 but didn't win the nomination. However, in 2017, she got another chance when Phi Murphy chose her as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

When she was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 2018, she became only the second person to hold this position in New Jersey and the second Black woman in the country to lead a House of Legislature. She also took on the role of commissioner of community affairs, handling tough issues like urban revitalization and affordable housing.

LeRoy Jones Jr., chair of the Democratic State Committee, praised Oliver as a role model for Black women and girls in the state. He said, "Sheila Oliver was a trailblazer and a true icon for representation, diversity, and progress."

We will remember Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver's exceptional service and the impact she had on New Jersey's political landscape. Her legacy as a dedicated leader will always be remembered.

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