New Jersey's first Latina legislator is returning to Trenton five years after she left the state Assembly.

Nilsa Cruz-Perez, who represented the Fifth Legislative District for 14 years in the Assembly, was officially appointed Saturday morning to the state Senate seat for that district.

South Jersey Democrats last week had announced the selection of Cruz-Perez to fill the vacancy left by Donald Norcross when he was elected last month to the U.S. House of Representatives.

She will take the oath of office at 1 p.m. Monday in the New Jersey Senate chamber.

Cruz-Perez said in a statement that she would focus on economic issues affecting the working and middle classes.

"As the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Our middle class is disappearing before our very eyes," she said in the statement. "As senator, I will make affordability priority No. 1, whether it's the escalating cost of a college degree, vocational education, or simply being able to keep the home in which you've raised your family."

Cruz-Perez, a U.S. Army veteran, heads the Camden County Office of Constituent Services.

The Camden County and Gloucester County Democratic Committees unanimously made her selection official at the Bellmawr Park Fire Hall.

"Nilsa's prior experience as a member of the Assembly will allow her to hit the ground running," State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said in a statement, "and her background as a veteran and the first Latina to ever serve in the Legislature give her a unique perspective to understand how to get things done for the hardworking families of this state."

Cruz-Perez will serve through next year, when a special election will be held in November for the final two years of Norcross' term.

jlai@phillynews.com

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