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Local officials and former colleagues expressed shock Tuesday morning after learning Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) collapsed and died suddenly late Monday night at the Statehouse.
"I was totally shocked, that was totally unexpected," Butler Mayor Robert Alviene said. "He did what he could for us while he was in power. I'm sure his heart was in the right place all the time for the county here. Im sure he'll be missed."
As a result of DeCroce's death, Gov. Chris Christie will postpone his State of the State address, originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. He is expected to deliver a eulogy to DeCroce instead. Patch will stream Christie's remarks live at 1 p.m.
DeCroce, 75, was the state's longest-serving assemblyman. He served as the General Assembly's deputy speaker from 1994-2001 and was elevated to minority leader in 2003.
Fellow District 26 Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Parsippany) said DeCroce was a "tireless public servant who cared deeply for our great state, Morris County and his beloved hometown of Parsippany."
"Over a career of public service spanning five decades, Alex displayed an extraordinary dignity and commitment to his constituents that was an example for everyone in public life," Webber said in a statement released Tuesday.
"Alex was generous, compassionate, and smart, and those gifts and more allowed him to be a very effective and successful legislator. Quite simply, Alex DeCroce has left New Jersey a better place than he found it. So even as I grieve with and for his beloved wife BettyLou over Alex’s passing, I can’t help but celebrate his life, and be grateful and encouraged that I have been blessed to count Alex DeCroce as a mentor, leader and friend."
The Parsippany-Troy Hills Police Department released a statement Tuesday, calling the lifelong town resident's death "truly a monumental loss for all that knew him and for our community as a whole."
Parsippany Mayor James Barberio said DeCroce was a "great guy" who will be sorely missed in the community where he lived his entire life.
"Alex DeCroce was a great leader and a friend. He will be greatly missed," Barberio said. "My heart goes out to BettyLou and the entire family. Alex dealt with colleagues with decency and respect. Whenever I needed him, he was there.
"There's a quote: Every passing day is one that is gone forever. Make sure it is one in which you have done something for others. ... That was Alex DeCroce. Great guy. Parsippany is going to miss him."
Parsippany Councilman Paul Carifi Jr. agreed.
"Alex was not only great representative of the people, but he was a great person," Carifi said. "He was always willing to take the time and talk to you. He will missed by so many people. My condolences go out to BettyLou and the rest of DeCroce family."
The 26th District, after legislative lines were redrawn last year, includes Butler, Fairfield, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Lincoln Park, Montville, Morris Plains, North Caldwell, Parsippany, Rockaway, Verona, West Caldwell and West Milford.
Until the redistricting, it included Bloomingdale, Chatham Borough, East Hanover, Florham Park, Hanover, Pequannock, Pompton Lakes and Riverdale.
"Alex DeCroce was a gentleman," Bloomingdale Mayor Jon Dunleavy said. "He was always willing to listen and was incredibly responsive to the borough's needs. He will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to his family."
Former Chatham Borough Councilman and Mayor Joe Marts knew DeCroce for more than 40 years and said the Senate Minority Leader "died doing what he enjoyed."
"I feel very sad over it," Marts said. "I've known Alex both as a realtor and of course through his legislative efforts. I think he's going to be a great loss for our county, and very, very hard to replace. I think the governor's sentiments in the Ledger today probably reflect the thoughts of those throughout New Jersey.
"In my judgment, he's certainly been very honorable and represented us very, very well in a difficult job down there in Trenton."
Newly elected Chatham Borough Mayor Bruce Harris said DeCroce's death was a "big shock" when he found out on Tuesday morning.
"I always admired Assemblyman DeCroce for his thoughtfulness, energy and total dedication to his constituents," Harris said. "He always made it clear that if we needed his help on anything, he would be there to help us. I offer my condolences to his family."
West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta Jr. said Tuesday morning he was saddened to hear the news of DeCroce's death. Tempesta said he knew DeCroce for more than 20 years and worked with him as a councilman to secure state aid for West Caldwell in the 1990s, when West Caldwell was last part of the 26th district.
Tempesta served on the Morris County Joint Insurance Fund Commission when his wife, BettyLou, was commissioner.
"Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to BettyLou and her family," Tempesta said Tuesday morning. "Alex was always a good man, always fighting for a good cause. We will miss him."
Montville Township resident Lisa LoBiondo, executive committee vice chairwoman of the Morris County Republican Committee, worked with DeCroce and was shocked when she heard the news Tuesday morning.
LoBiondo saw DeCroce at Montville's reorganization meeting last Monday. In March, she introduced DeCroce and his running mates, State Sen. Joe Pennacchio and Webber, as they kicked off their re-election campaign.
She said she is proud to have called him a friend and he will be missed.
"I have worked with Alex for many years and he was a great legislator and leader for our party," LoBiondo said. "Alex died while serving his constituents of the 26th legislative district and all the citizens of New Jersey, a job he did admirably. He contributed so much to help the citizens of Morris County and the State of New Jersey, he will be sorely missed. My heartfelt sympathies go out to his wife BettyLou and his entire family."
In addition to serving in government, DeCroce was also a Realtor with ERA Gallo and DeCroce Inc.
DeCroce is survived by his wife, BettyLou, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.
"This is a great loss for the state," Jefferson Mayor Russell Felter said. "He was a good guy. He didn’t represent us yet but he was a great member of the legislature. We looked forward to having him as our assemblyman, but unfortunately, now that won't happen. My thoughts go out to his wife Betty, who serves on the Lake Hopatcong Commission with me. He’s done a lot of good things; he was a good leader and he’ll certainly be missed."
Morris Plains Council President Suzanne McCloskey said DeCroce's death was "overwhelming."
"He was a friend, a personal friend as well as our Assemblyman," McCloskey said. "He was also a friend of our community. He worked hard on behalf of Morris Plains and all the towns in his district. He knew how to get things done. He will be missed."
McCloskey also commented on how DeCroce didn't look his age and "looked vigorous."
DeCroce recently attended several local municipal reorganization meetings, including one in Kinnelon on Jan. 2, when he told the borough council, "we look forward to another year of hopefully making government a lot easier for you."
"Alex DeCroce's passing is something I think will profoundly affect me as I move forward in the upcoming year," Kinnelon Mayor Bob Collins said Tuesday. "He was a great friend to me and the community."
Christie said he "lost a dear friend, colleague and mentor" in DeCroce.
"I have known Alex for nearly twenty years. He helped to give me my start in elective politics in Morris County in 1993," Christie said in a statement released early Tuesday morning.
"He was one of the most kind, considerate, and trustworthy people I have ever had the pleasure to know. He was an enormously accomplished legislator and a tremendous servant to the people of New Jersey. Mary Pat and I offer our most heartfelt condolences to his wife, Department of Community Affairs Deputy Commissioner Betty Lou de Croce, and to Alex’s entire family. This is an enormous loss for our state and for me personally.”
DeCroce is the second Republican assemblyman who has died since November's election. District 16 Assemblyman Peter Biondi (R-Hillsborough) succumbed to cancer on Nov. 10.
"I am deeply saddened by the shocking and painful loss of Leader DeCroce," District 21 Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Alex became a close personal friend over the years, and I spent many hours by his side. He was a model statesman who led our caucus with grace and integrity. Alex was a mentor to many of us, and his wisdom and kindness made this state a better place. Our thoughts and prayers are with Betty Lou and the entire DeCroce family. We have lost one of our most dedicated public servants."
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who respresents New Jersey's 11th Congressional District, said he knew DeCroce for more than 40 years and was "deeply saddened" by his friend's death.
"I am shocked and deeply saddened by the news of Alex DeCroce’s passing," Frelinghuysen said. "He has been my friend since I got out the Army in 1971 and first became involved in New Jersey politics. I was proud to serve with him as a Freeholder and in the New Jersey State Assembly. Alex was a mentor, a colleague, and a comrade. He and Betty Lou are wonderful partners in public service! My thoughts are with his family."
Rep. Leonard Lance, who represents New Jersey's 7th Congressional District that includes parts of Somerset, Union, Middlesex and Hunterdon counties, said he and his wife, Heidi, were "shocked and saddened" to learn of DeCroce's death.
“I had the distinct honor of serving with Alex in the Legislature for 18 years—four of those years working very closely together as members of the Republican leadership," Lance said in a statement. "Alex was a wonderful friend and colleague; a great leader in the Legislature who was devoted to both his Morris and Passaic County constituents and the entire state of New Jersey.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Betty Lou, and the entire DeCroce family. May he rest in peace.”
Mike Pignataro, Ariana Cohn-Sheehan, Susan Toth, Laura Silvius and Teresa Akersten contributed to this story.
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