New Jersey Governor Chris Christie remembered a friend instead of delivering his State of the State address as a new legislative session begins on a somber note Tuesday.
The top Republican in the Assembly collapsed and died as the 214th legislative session came to an end Monday night. Assemblyman Alex DeCroce was 75 and had represented parts of Morris and Passaic counties.
"For me, Alex was a close family friend and a mentor for almost 20 years," Christie said Tuesday afternoon in lieu of delivering his State of the State address. "I had no more loyal friend in Trenton than Alex DeCroce."
Christie remembered DeCroce as a loyal friend and a fierce lawmaker who made friends on both sides of the aisle.
"While Alex always had a smile and a kind word for everyone in this business, behind that genuine friendliness was the ferociousness of someone who had deeply held convictions," he said. "Alex was fighter. He knew how to win and lose in this arena gracefully."
DeCroce, the governor said, had intended to address the legislature Tuesday during the State of State.
Earlier, the Assembly and state Senate members, along with their aides and other staffers, stood stunned as they learned that Assembly Republican leader DeCroce had collapsed and died around 11 p.m. Monday in a men's room at the Statehouse.
They had been working with the 75-year-old lawmaker all evening as the Legislature wrapped up its session with a flurry of last-minute bills, and one of his final acts as the GOP leader was to accuse Democrats of casting votes for an absent member.
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 personal friend of DeCroce for 20 years, confirmed the death 2 ½ hours later.
His cause of death was heart-related medical issues, according to New Jersey State Police.
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.
The governor said he would reschedule the State of the State address for next week.