New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy leaving Italy vacation early after death of lieutenant governor

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is cutting his Italy vacation short and returning to the state Thursday after the death this week of Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, his spokesperson said Wednesday.

Murphy, a Democrat, will depart Italy Thursday morning and is expected back in New Jersey by the afternoon, spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna said in a phone call. He was set to be in the country, where he owns a home, until Aug. 13.

Oliver died after a short stay at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, for an undisclosed medical issue. She had been serving as acting governor when her hospitalization was announced. She died the next day.

No cause was given for her death in a statement from the governor’s office on behalf of Oliver’s family, which asked for privacy.

Oliver was the first Black woman to hold statewide elected office in New Jersey, winning the vote alongside Murphy in 2017 and again in 2021. She was a well-known figure in state government and made history in 2010 by becoming the first Black woman to lead the state Assembly.

She also signed several bills while deputizing for Murphy. In 2021, she signed a bill 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. Another measure she signed in 2021 revived a defunct fund for “urban enterprise zones” aimed at driving economic development in cities through lower sales tax rates.

She was also a passionate proponent of tighter gun control measures.

Murphy and Oliver had a close working relationship. Shortly after her death, he called picking her to be his top deputy the best decision he’d ever made.

While Murphy remains out of the country, Senate President Nicholas Scutari serves as acting governor, under the state constitution.

The constitution requires the governor to name a new lieutenant governor within 45 days. Murphy hasn’t announced Oliver’s successor yet.

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