The sudden death of Assemblyman Alex DeCroce (R-26) on January 9th on the eve of Governor Chris Christie’s “State of the State” Address and as the State Legislature prepared to start its new session left the state in shock. Things were essentially paused as many reflected on the life of DeCroce and his service to it for nearly three decades; most of which was in the Assembly. Betty Lou DeCroce, his widow, was launched into the spotlight and projected as the likely short-term successor for her husband. Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-21) was quickly and wholeheartedly appointed the new Assembly Minority Leader; a position DeCroce served proudly for nearly a decade. However, there was more speculation and a bit of uncertainty surrounding if DeCroce would fill her late husband’s seat or one of the others running. On Wednesday night, state Republicans finally provided the answer of Alex DeCroce’s replacement.
In a move that was not entirely surprising for many, Betty Lou DeCroce was elected to serve the 26th Legislative District in the Assembly. With this position, she must resign her current role at state Department of Community Affairs. Her chief challenger was former Kinnelon councilman Larry Casha. The vote favored her by a 2-1 margin and showed a vast majority in favor of the wife serving in place of the late husband. Betty Lou DeCroce is not some random fill-in as she has served the state just as passionately as Alex did. After her “victory”, she stated;
“No one will fill Alex’s shoes. I entered this race because I have deep roots in this community. My experience is unmatched in this race. Contrary to what some would have you believe, I have served as a councilmember, board of adujustment member, clerk, etc. As the former chair of the Morris County Joint Insurance Fund, I worked to reduce costs. I know how to balance a budget and meet a payroll. I believe in lower taxes, less spending, and smaller, less intrusive government. This is the only way we can grow our economy here in New Jersey.”
The district’s state Senator, Joseph Pennacchio (R-26), before voting spoke highly of Alex DeCroce by voicing;
“(He was) an ordinary man who did extraordinary things. Alex used politics for the betterment of the men and women he served. Alex left a long and meaningful legacy. As a leader, Alex was principled, tenacious and caring. He would drive all around the state for candidates he knew did not have a chance of winning.”
While the other assemblyman in LD-26, Assemblyman Jay Webber, simply put it,
“We’re going to be fine.”
Many key votes in this contest were tied to DeCroce and ultimately left little room for someone else to emerge. Casha along with Kinnelon attorney Gary Steele and Rockaway Mayor Lou Sceusi were facing an uphill battle. The task so daunting that Casha was the only one of the three that stuck in the race long enough to be put before a vote. It was a vote that saw DeCroce receive 120 votes to Casha’s 67.
Even foreseeing defeat and with its aftermath, Casha was still strong in his convictions. He staunchly uttered,
“I’d rather not be here tonight because the only reason we’re here is God took Alex from us. I grew up in the 26th District. My wife put me through law school and I returned the favor a few years later. Thirty years of experience standing up to the rich and powerful, regardless of the consequences. I have the experience. You’d think by now I’m an insider, but Lord knows, I’m not. Our hearts cry out Betty Lou, but our hearts should not cloud the decision we have to make tonight.”
Casha has a long history of electoral losses in the 26th Legislative District. He has come up short to both Pennacchio and Webber is races over the last decade. He continues to fight and voice his opinions in the district only to shut out by the establishment members of the Republican Party.
Now that Betty Lou DeCroce has been chosen, it will take about two weeks before she takes her seat in the Assembly.