Kevin Riordan: N.J. Assembly loses leader who took the high road

Gov. Christie speaks before the joint session of the Legislature.
Gov. Christie speaks before the joint session of the Legislature. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 11, 2012

No one gets out of here alive, a fact we're usually too busy (or scared) to contemplate.

But the sudden death of a prominent person can dramatize the larger-than-life truth all of us must face.

Just like New Jersey Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, whose dramatic Statehouse death Monday startled Trenton, we, too, can be hard at work one moment and take our last breath the next.

So we surely ought to make the most of it, which DeCroce seems to have done.

"He passed doing what he loved," Gov. Christie told a joint legislative session Tuesday afternoon in the Assembly chamber, where DeCroce, a Republican, served 11 consecutive terms.

A resident of Parsippany, Morris County, DeCroce collapsed during the closing minutes of a marathon day of debate about lame-duck legislation. He was 75 and leaves a widow, three grown children, and three grandchildren.

"He called this chamber home," a somber-suited Christie told the crowd. "He fought the good fight on this floor, right to the end of his life."

Not a bad way to go, even if some of DeCroce's final words likely involved a piece of legislation arcane to many - one allowing direct sales by small New Jersey wineries.

But that was beside the point the governor was making. Politics, a profession more often lampooned than praised, doesn't have to be a war, or a joke. It can be an honorable calling.

And the call can be answered by good people, of whom his Republican friend and mentor was one.

"Alex was incredibly hardworking," Christie said, noting the Assemblyman's long-standing efforts on transportation and the rights of crime victims.

"His commitment was born out of his sense of fairness and his huge heart for those who had suffered a great personal loss," the governor continued. "The victims of crime and their families have lost their greatest advocate."

DeCroce, he declared, was "a source of all that is good in politics and public service."

Fresh from campaigning for Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, Christie was to have delivered the State of the State address in the chamber Tuesday.

Instead, he gave what was very much a eulogy, a 10-minute testimonial straight from the heart.

Christie's voice occasionally swelled with emotion but never faltered as he described losing his "most loyal friend" in Trenton.

"He was dedicated, honest, and down to earth. A source of advice. A source of insight. A source of consolation for friends, and the object of admiration even from political adversaries."

DeCroce "was a fierce competitor" who "always had a smile and a kind word for everyone," the governor said, noting that "behind that genuine friendliness was the ferociousness of someone who had deeply held convictions."

Despite his enthusiastic partisanship, DeCroce "knew how to win and lose . . . gracefully," Christie said. He also knew how to wage a good battle and then go out for "a drink and a steak" with an adversary.

DeCroce "was a representative of an era that's slipping away," added Christie, who recently enjoyed a congenial repast with one of his friendlier adversaries: Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

Although Christie never employed the word bipartisanship during the eulogy, that often-maligned notion seemed much on his mind.

He quoted remarks DeCroce had planned to deliver Tuesday at the Assembly's swearing-in: "We will solve more problems by working together than apart."

His friend never forgot "that we are all in this together," Christie said.

To which I say: Amen.


Kevin Riordan:

DEATH from B1


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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