New Jersey Governor Chris Christie postponed his annual State of the State address today, following the death last night of Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, the highest-ranking Republican in the lower house.
The speech will be early next week and “for today, it’s enough to say the state of our state is getting better,” Christie said during remarks on DeCroce’s passing. The governor, a Republican, called DeCroce a close family friend and a mentor who helped give him his start in politics.
DeCroce, who represented Morris County for 23 years, collapsed in a first-floor men’s bathroom at the Statehouse moments after the Legislature held its final voting session of the year, State Police Captain Frank Davis said. He was 75.
The lawmaker had served in the Assembly since 1989 and assumed the leadership post in 2003. State troopers responding to reports of an unconscious man about 11:20 p.m. found DeCroce slumped over, without a pulse and not breathing, Davis said.
After troopers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and used an external defibrillator, Assemblyman Herb Conaway, a Democrat and doctor who had served with DeCroce since 1998, pronounced him dead at 11:30 p.m. local time, Davis said. He declined to speculate on the cause of death.
DeCroce “died doing what he loved,” Christie said. The governor, 49, called the lawmaker’s passing “an enormous loss for our state.”
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat from East Orange, also canceled a planned reorganization today at the Trenton War Memorial. New lawmakers were sworn in during scaled-back ceremonies at the Statehouse.
“Alex DeCroce was a friend, colleague and leader,” Oliver said in a statement with Majority Leader Louis Greenwald. “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. The Assembly has lost one of its great institutions.”
New Jersey’s constitution requires the governor to address lawmakers on the first day of each new session. The last time the speech was postponed was in 1996 by Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman due to weather.
“Obviously, this is done out of respect,” Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, said of Christie’s postponement.