Late Assemblyman Alex DeCroce Got Governor Chris Christie His Start in Politics

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The New Jersey Assemblyman who died at the statehouse Monday night helped Governor Chris Christie get his start in politics nearly two decades ago and was a close friend and mentor, the governor said Tuesday.

Republican minority leader Alex DeCroce, 75, collapsed and died as a marathon session of the final day of the 214th legislative session came to an end. He was a 23-year veteran legislator and represented parts of Morris and Passiac 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."

An obviously emotional Christie returned to the capital 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.

On Tuesday, a simple bouquet was placed DeCroce's desk at the statehouse in Trenton.

Democrats hailed DeCroce as a worthy opponent but a master legislator with whom they could find common ground.

“He was always someone ready with a handshake and a laugh, no matter the circumstance, and his devotion to the people of New Jersey was unwavering," wrote Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver and Majority Leader Lou Greenwald in a joint statement.

Senator Robert Menendez described DeCroce as a "model public servant" who brought "civility and a smile" to the legislative process.

"The people of New Jersey have lost a great man, but his legacy of leadership and service will be remembered for many years to come," Menendez said.

Christie will remember DeCroce on Tuesday afternoon in lieu of delivering his State of the State address. There's no word when the governor will deliver the address.

At the time of his death, DeCroce was the co-chair of the Bipartisan Leadership Committee and a member of the Legislative Services Commission. Before entering the Assembly, he served as a Morris County freeholder from 1984 to 1989.

He served as Deputy speaker from 1994 to 2001 before becoming the GOP minority leader in 2003.

He was also a realtor with the firm ERA Gallo & DeCroce.

DeCroce is survived by his wife BettyLou, who is the Deputy Commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Consumer Affairs, as well as several children and grandchildren.

With the Associated Press