DeCroce to pick up where husband left off
Posted on February 23, 2012 by Richard Pompelio
Originally posted at http://www.njherald.com/story/16971751/decroce-to-pick-up-where-husband-left-off
Posted: Feb 20, 2012 12:42 AM EST
Updated: Feb 20, 2012 12:49 AM EST
By ROB JENNINGS
New Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, R-26th District, starting her first full week in office, said she is reviewing bills sponsored by her late husband, looking forward to working on two legislative committees and adjusting to the dramatic, tragic change in her life that played out very publicly over a 16-day span.
“It’s bittersweet to take office the way that I did. I wish Alex was alongside of me while this was taking place,” DeCroce, who took office Thursday, said in an interview Friday with the New Jersey Herald.
DeCroce’s husband, Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce, 75, collapsed and died Jan. 9 at the Statehouse in Trenton following a lengthy final day on the job. Gov. Chris Christie, a longtime friend, immediately postponed his State of the State speech.
Nine days later, BettyLou DeCroce — then the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs — announced she would seek to succeed him at a special convention of Republican committee members in the 26th District, which includes Jefferson and West Milford.
Because Alex DeCroce was a Republican, state law authorized Republican officials in the district to choose a replacement.
BettyLou DeCroce was criticized by anonymous Internet posters for moving so quickly, but she said the compressed process left her with no alternative.
“I needed to make a decision,” said DeCroce, 59, of Parsippany, who was a municipal clerk in Roxbury for more than two decades before Christie named her to the state post.
“I do not look at the blogs,” DeCroce said of her critics, adding, “I know what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it.”
DeCroce said “a lot of different thoughts” went into her decision to run — from getting away from the drain of her daily commute to her office in Trenton and better utilizing her lifelong connection to the Morris County region, to conversations she recalled with her husband about possibly succeeding him someday.
“There wasn’t just one reason I wanted to do this,” said DeCroce, who will receive $49,000 annually as a state lawmaker, which is considered a part-time job.
DeCroce entered the race four days after Montville attorney Larry Casha, a former legislative aide to Alex DeCroce, said he was running. At the Jan. 25 convention, Casha told attendees that their grief over Alex DeCroce and sympathy for his widow should not “color the decision,” while DeCroce countered that she was running strictly on her own merits.
DeCroce won, 120 to 67, with Jefferson Mayor Russ Felter among her supporters. She resigned her state job prior to being sworn in by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-34th District, on Thursday.
She was seated in the Assembly in time to cast a vote against the gay marriage bill, which gained majority support in the Assembly and Senate but was vetoed Friday by Christie.
DeCroce cast 15 other votes on her first day. She supported a bill — it passed 71-2 — that would allow property taxpayers an additional 90 days to file tax appeals after revaluation. She voted against a bill — it passed 47-25 — that would establish a state task force on nonprofit service organization coordination.
DeCroce said she is looking forward to supporting Christie’s legislative agenda, including efforts to reduce unused sick-time payouts to retiring public employees.
Alex DeCroce, when Republicans were in the majority, was the powerful chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee — a role in which he steered funding to the region for numerous road and mass transit projects.
BettyLou DeCroce will be starting out on a much lower rung, as a junior minority member of the Education Committee and the Women and Children Committee.
DeCroce said she is reviewing legislation and other priorities that Alex DeCroce had endorsed.
She said she will pick up where her husband left off in advocating for crime victims and their families, noting that New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center executive director Richard Pompelio was the municipal attorney in Roxbury when she was the municipal clerk, and when his son was murdered.
“I will follow my husband in that area,” she said.
DeCroce was sworn in on the same day that the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee advanced a bill that would broaden legal protections for crime victims. It would be known as Alex DeCroce’s Law.
While Alex DeCroce had been re-elected to a two-year term just two months before he died, BettyLou DeCroce must secure the Republican nomination in the June primary and win a general election in November to serve out his term.