Local officials and former colleagues expressed shock Tuesday morning after learning Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) .
"I was totally shocked, that was totally unexpected," Butler Mayor Robert Alviene said. "He did what he could for us while he was in power. I'm sure his heart was in the right place all the time for the county here. Im sure he'll be missed."
As a result of Alex DeCroce's death, Gov. Chris Christie will postpone his State of the State address, originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. He is expected to deliver a eulogy to DeCroce instead.
DeCroce, 75, was the state's longest-serving assemblyman. He served as the General Assembly's deputy speaker from 1994-2001 and was elevated to minority leader in 2003.
The 26th District, after legislative lines were redrawn last year, 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.
"Alex DeCroce was a gentleman," Bloomingdale Mayor Jon Dunleavy said. "He was always willing to listen and was incredibly responsive to the borough's needs. He will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to his family."
State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) said DeCroce's leadership will be missed in the Statehouse.
"Alex was a kind, generous, patient man who earned the respect of everyone he met. He was a public servant in the truest sense of the word and both New Jersey and Trenton lost a great leader," Beck said in a statement released Tuesday. "He will be missed in the legislature but he left a rich legacy behind through all of his hard work and the many lives he touched."
Former Chatham Borough Councilman and Mayor Joe Marts knew DeCroce for more than 40 years and said the Senate Minority Leader "died doing what he enjoyed."
"I feel very sad over it," Marts said. "I've known Alex both as a realtor and of course through his legislative efforts. I think he's going to be a great loss for our county, and very, very hard to replace. I think the governor's sentiments in the Ledger today probably reflect the thoughts of those throughout New Jersey.
"In my judgment, he's certainly been very honorable and represented us very, very well in a difficult job down there in Trenton."
In addition to serving in government, DeCroce was also a Realtor with ERA Gallo and DeCroce Inc.
DeCroce is survived by his wife, Betty, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.
"This is a great loss for the state," Jefferson Mayor Russell Felter said. "He was a good guy. He didn’t represent us yet but he was a great member of the legislature. We looked forward to having him as our assemblyman, but unfortunately, now that won't happen. My thoughts go out to his wife Betty, who serves on the Lake Hopatcong Commission with me. He’s done a lot of good things; he was a good leader and he’ll certainly be missed."
DeCroce recently attended several local municipal reorganization meetings, including one in Kinnelon on Jan. 2, when he told the borough council, "we look forward to another year of hopefully making government a lot easier for you."
"Alex DeCroce's passing is something I think will profoundly affect me as I move forward in the upcoming year," Kinnelon Mayor Bob Collins said Tuesday. "He was a great friend to me and the community."
Christie said he "lost a dear friend, colleague and mentor" in DeCroce.
"I have known Alex for nearly twenty years. He helped to give me my start in elective politics in Morris County in 1993," Christie said in a statement released early Tuesday morning.
"He was one of the most kind, considerate, and trustworthy people I have ever had the pleasure to know. He was an enormously accomplished legislator and a tremendous servant to the people of New Jersey. Mary Pat and I offer our most heartfelt condolences to his wife, Department of Community Affairs Deputy Commissioner Betty Lou de Croce, and to Alex’s entire family. This is an enormous loss for our state and for me personally.”
DeCroce is the second Republican assemblyman who has died since November's election. District 16 Assemblyman Peter Biondi (R-Hillsborough)
"I am deeply saddened by the shocking and painful loss of Leader DeCroce," District 21 Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Alex became a close personal friend over the years, and I spent many hours by his side. He was a model statesman who led our caucus with grace and integrity. Alex was a mentor to many of us, and his wisdom and kindness made this state a better place. Our thoughts and prayers are with Betty Lou and the entire DeCroce family. We have lost one of our most dedicated public servants."
Rep. Leonard Lance, who represents New Jersey's 7th Congressional District that includes parts of Somerset, Union, Middlesex and Hunterdon counties, said he and his wife, Heidi, were "shocked and saddened" to learn of DeCroce's death.
“I had the distinct honor of serving with Alex in the Legislature for 18 years—four of those years working very closely together as members of the Republican leadership," Lance said in a statement. "Alex was a wonderful friend and colleague; a great leader in the Legislature who was devoted to both his Morris and Passaic County constituents and the entire state of New Jersey.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Betty Lou, and the entire DeCroce family. May he rest in peace.”
Mike Pignataro, Ariana Cohn-Sheehan, Susan Toth and Laura Silvius contributed to this story.