One of the last acts Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce performed Monday during a marathon Legislative session was to marshal through the Assembly a bill he co-sponsored that boosted development opportunities and annoyed environmentalists.
DeCroce, from Parsippany, served in the Assembly since 1989 and was named the his party’s leader there in 2003. His wife, Betty Lou DeCroce, is a deputy commissioner with the Department of Community Affairs. He was a former Morris County freeholder.
DeCroce's death comes on the heels of the passing of another GOP assemblyman, Peter Biondi of Somerset County, who died Nov. 10, two days after he was re-elected to an eighth term.
The pro-development bill that critics said would allow builders to sidestep many of the state’s rules protecting clean water—but which proponents said did no such thing and could spur millions in new growth—was classic DeCroce, who fiercely worked the State House halls on behalf of Republican goals and ideals.
Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco of Boonton Township said DeCroce as a leader knew when he had to fight to get things done, and when he “could get things done just by letting them get done. That’s the sign of a great leader.”
Morris County Sheriff Edward Rochford said he was watching television news early Tuesday when the announcement of DeCroce’s death came over the airwaves.
“It was shocking,” Rochford said. “He was such a kind man, and he worked hard for his constituents.”
Morris County Republican Committee Chairman John Sette said he got a phone call about DeCroce on Monday night, “and I just stopped. It was so shocking.”
“He was a great, great leader, a great freeholder, and gentleman. He would listen to anyone. He was a warm and gentle human being," Sette said.
In his 26-year political career, the Parsippany resident was known as a partisan Republican and strong defender of Republican governors’ agendas. He often battled efforts that he perceived would cause harm to his largely suburban district in Morris and Passaic counties. He famously railed against the Mount Laurel court decisions that led to the state’s affordable housing laws, the Abbott rulings that set up 30 urban special needs school districts, and the Highlands Preservation and Water Protection Act, which he said was a land grab that took an owner’s land value without compensation.
DeCroce worked hard for his constituents, Rochford said.
Those efforts includes filing recent legislation that would have provided additional state funds to assist Parsippany and Morris County purchase the Troy Meadows watershed area (a critical wetlands in the Passaic River valley that would assist flood control efforts) and more than a decade ago finding funds that ensured the project to replace two Route 46 bridges in Dover would continue.
Even though that project was not in his district, DeCroce as the time said it was a plan that was vital to improving the region’s transportation system.
Bucco spoke after the Legislative reorganization session Tuesday.
“This was one of the toughest days I’ve ever had here,” Bucco said.
Bucco comes from a leading Morris County political family and entered the Assembly for his first term in 2010. He said he knew DeCroce most of his adult life, “but is was only in the past two years that we became close friends. He became my mentor.”
Bucco said that after the Legislature was reformed in the spring’s redistricting, DeCroce called his to ask about the Lake Hopatcong region that had been shifted from Bucco’s 25th District to DeCroce’s 26th.
“He wanted to know about the issues that related to the lake,” Bucco said.
“The state lost a great leader and I lost a great friend,” Bucco said.
The 26th District, after legislative lines were redrawn, 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.
Parsippany Councilman Michael J. dePierro said DeCroce will be missed.
“Alex and I have been friends for over 35 years. I was saddened to hear about his passing. Alex was a good legislator ... always placing New Jersey's best interests first. My condolences go out to Betty Lou and the De Croce family,” dePierro said.
His death shocke and saddened his fellow Legislators, especially those from his district, or who served as new Legislators under DeCroce.
Senator Joe Pennacchio, of Montville, who served in the Assembly with DeCroce before being elected to the state Senate, said in a statement, “It is with sadness that New Jersey awoke to the news that Assemblyman and Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce died suddenly last night. Alex was a dedicated public official, but importantly a caring and loving husband, father and grandfather. My condolences and prayers go out to Betty Lou, their children and grandchildren.”
“New Jersey has lost a leader and I have lost a friend,” Pennacchio said.
Assemblyman Jay Webber, who served in the Assembly with DeCroce, said, “Today I mourn with deep sadness the loss of my friend and colleague Assemblyman Alex DeCroce. Alex 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. Alex was generous, compassionate, and smart, and those gifts and more allowed him to be a very effective and successful legislator,“ Webber said.
“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,” he said.
Sen. Tom Kean Jr, of the 21st District in Morris, Somerset and Union counties, said Tuesday, “I knew Alex DeCroce long before my first term in the Assembly, and we forged a special bond as leaders of our respective caucuses. It is hard to believe we will start a new legislative session without his wit, charm, and energy.”
Kean continued, “Alex was a true leader for the Republican caucus in the Assembly, and was loved and respected by legislators of both chambers, on both sides of the aisle. He worked tirelessly for his constituents, for our party, and to make sure this institution never lost sight of who it was supposed to serve- the people of New Jersey. My deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers go out to his wife, Betty Lou, and the entire DeCroce family, as well as the Assembly Republican members and staff who fought alongside Alex until his last minutes on Earth to make our state a better place."
Senator Kevin O’Toole, whose 40th District is in Morris and Passaic counties, said, “I am truly saddened to learn that my friend and mentor Alex DeCroce passed away last night. He truly loved New Jersey and from an early age dedicated his energy, his intellect and his spirit to serving the people of this state. I learned a lot on how to be an effective legislator, under Alex’s tutelage, during my tenure in the General Assembly as part of his leadership team.”
By law, the party must convene a convention and choose a replacement for DeCroce within 30 days. That person must run in the June Primary, and if nominated as the party’s candidate, in the November election to be able to fill the seat for a year. That person then must seek re-election to a full 2-year term next year.
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