TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Republican Assembly leader Alex DeCroce, credited by Gov. Chris Christie with helping him get his start in politics, died suddenly in the Statehouse as the legislative session was wrapping up. He was 75.
Legislators, aides and other staffers stood stunned as they learned that DeCroce, 75, had collapsed and died around 11 p.m. Monday in a men's room. They had been working with him all evening as the Legislature dealt with a flurry of last-minute bills.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway, the Legislature's only physician, attended to DeCroce at the scene, but it was too late. DeCroce was soon declared dead, and Christie, a fellow Republican and a friend for 20 years, confirmed the death less than three hours later.
A cause of death was not immediately known.
"Tonight I lost a dear friend, colleague and mentor," Christie said in a statement. "He helped to give me my start in elective politics in Morris County in 1993. He was one of the most kind, considerate and trustworthy people I have ever had the pleasure to know. This is an enormous loss for our state and for me personally."
An obviously emotional Christie returned to the Capitol around midnight, wearing a sport jacket over a T-shirt and loafers but no socks. The governor was seen breaking down while embracing Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and other legislative leaders.
DeCroce, who lived in Parsippany-Troy Hills, served in the Assembly since 1989 and became the GOP's leader there in 2003. His district includes parts of Morris and Passaic counties.
His wife, Betty Lou DeCroce, is a deputy commissioner with the Department of Community Affairs.
DeCroce's death comes on the heels of the passing of another GOP assemblyman, Peter Biondi, on Nov. 10 – two days after he was re-elected to an eighth term.