South Jersey Democrats have tapped former Assemblywoman Nilsa Cruz-Perez, the state's first Latina legislator, to fill the state Senate seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross.

Cruz-Perez represented the Fifth Legislative District for 14 years in the Assembly before retiring in 2009.

"Nilsa doesn't need on-the-job training in Trenton," Norcross said in a statement Wednesday endorsing her for the job. "She will deliver just as she always has."

Cruz-Perez, an Army veteran who currently directs the Camden County Office of Constituent Services, will be officially appointed to the seat on Saturday, when the Camden County and Gloucester County Democratic Committees will meet at the Bellmawr Park Fire Hall.

The state constitution requires a vacancy in the Legislature to be filled within 35 days. Norcross resigned on Nov. 12, the same day he was sworn in as congressman for the First Congressional District.

Cruz-Perez would serve through next year. A special election will be held in November to complete the final two years of Norcross' term.

Some believe Cruz-Perez had been forced out in 2009, though other South Jersey Democrats dispute that. Former Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. also retired in 2009, opening the door for Angel Fuentes, a former Camden City Council president, and Donald Norcross, a labor leader and brother of Democratic leader George E. Norcross III, to run for the Assembly.

Fuentes and Norcross both won election, and Norcross was soon appointed to the Senate after Sen. Dana L. Redd stepped down to be mayor of Camden.

Now Cruz-Perez will be filling that Senate seat.

"Nilsa is like a sister to me," Redd said in a statement. "As senator, she will be an outstanding advocate for not only Camden City, but for the entire region."