TRENTON — New Jersey’s Legislature convened a new session Tuesday, but the swearing-in of the lawmakers was overshadowed by the death of Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, Passaic, the night before.
Gov. Chris Christie postponed his planned State of the State speech until next week, saying, “The state of our state is getting better, but today our hearts are filled with sadness.”
In a 10-minute speech Tuesday, Christie paid tribute to DeCroce, whom he called a close family friend and mentor for two decades, and who helped Christie when he first sought elective office as a Morris County freeholder.
DeCroce died Monday after a busy night of voting that closed out the previous session.
He was found in a restroom unresponsive — not breathing and without a pulse — about 11:20 p.m., State Police spokesman Stephen Jones said. Troopers were notified and tried unsuccessfully to revive the lawmaker, using a defibrillator and administering CPR.
Jones said a preliminary medical examination found that DeCroce suffered from heart-related medical issues.
Legislatively, DeCroce took the lead on transportation issues, Christie said, and was an outspoken advocate for victims of crime.
On a personal level, Christie said DeCroce could disagree with others without being disagreeable. “He was a representative of an era that is slipping away,” Christie said.
New to office was Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, who took the oath of office a little before 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Brown won election in November, taking the place of former Assemblyman Vince Polistina.
Brown, wearing a Bronze Star pin in his suit lapel, said his priorities remain the same as during the election season. He said he hopes to do what he can to further advance the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen Air Transportation System in Egg Harbor Township. Brown said he is also interested in working with the Tourism District and helping Atlantic City develop a safer and cleaner environment.
Since winning election in November, Brown, an attorney in private practice, said he has pared back some of his legal work because of his increased obligations in Trenton. He said he also divested himself of clients that had the potential for conflicts of interest.
Like others, Brown eulogized DeCroce, someone he had come to know better since the election. Brown has made a number of trips to the state capitol in preparation for taking office and got to know DeCroce. “This is a difficult day emotionally,” Brown said.
In a statement, he said: “The General Assembly is a better place because he was a dedicated member to the institution and, most importantly, committed to the people of this state. I was looking forward to serving with him and benefiting from his guidance.”
Other Republicans and Democrats eulogized DeCroce as a person who was interested in politics because he was interested in making the state better.
On DeCroce’s desk lay a bouquet of two roses and other flowers, wrapped in white ribbon.
Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said he remembered DeCroce as someone who traveled the entire length of the state as the leader of the Assembly Republicans, and supported him and Polistina in their bids for office. Amodeo said DeCroce supported him on union issues, in the face of opposition among other Republicans.
Assemblyman Matt Milam, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said he learned via a text message while driving home to Vineland after Monday’s session.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’” Milam said, recalling the shock.
Milam said DeCroce was going to be sorely missed by everyone, no matter the party. DeCroce died shortly after the Assembly recessed.
“The only thing I thought about was he stood guard until he went home,” Milam said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Derek Harper: