TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Grieving New Jersey lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Tuesday to begin a new legislative session with a low-key swearing-in ceremony as they mourned the death of a Republican leader who collapsed at the Statehouse the night before. Gov. Chris Christie planned to deliver a remembrance instead of his annual State of the State address, which was postponed.
Assembly Majority Leader Alex DeCroce, 75, died late Monday after a busy night of voting that closed out the 214th legislative session.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway, the Legislature's only physician, said DeCroce had come up to him to complain he was feeling ill. He said he and state troopers tried unsuccessfully to revive the northern New Jersey lawmaker, administering CPR.
"He served admirably for many years and he will certainly be missed," Conaway said.
Wearing a sport coat over a T-shirt, a shaken Christie returned to the Capitol around midnight, consoling and hugging lawmakers over the death of a man who had served as a political mentor. He broke down as he embraced Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and other legislative leaders.
"This is an enormous loss for our state and for me personally," the governor said in a statement. "He helped to give me my start in elective politics in Morris County in 1993. He was one of the most kind, considerate and trustworthy people I have ever had the pleasure to know."
Christie planned to give a eulogy at 1 p.m. before a joint session of the new Legislature. No new date was immediately set for his State of the State address, but lawmakers said they thought it would be pushed off until next week.
Members of the Assembly and Senate were to be sworn in at noon in ceremonies that were to be more informal than usual, with prayers and brief remarks. Family members and relatives were asked not to attend in an effort to keep the event low-key.
DeCroce, who owned a real estate company and lived in Parsippany-Troy Hills, served in the Assembly since 1989 and became the GOP's leader in 2003. His district includes parts of Morris and Passaic counties.
His widow, Betty Lou DeCroce, is a deputy commissioner with the Department of Community Affairs. She was expected to attend the ceremonies at the Statehouse on Tuesday, said Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick.
Bramnick, like other lawmakers, said he noticed DeCroce didn't seem to feel well on Monday during the marathon lame-duck sesssion.
"But there was no indication that it was the result of anything other than it being a long day," Bramnick said. "It was 11 at night and no one was feeling too well."