DeCroce Denouement

With algae bloom closing the lake to swimmers, local office holders and candidates are trying to portray themselves as chief protectors of Lake Hopatcong, the state’s largest freshwater lake, going forward.

When it comes to Trenton farewells, the story has to be Steve Sweeney.

But in Morris County, the story has to be BettyLou DeCroce, whose last day as an Assemblywoman from LD-26 is today, Monday.

DeCroce sent out a statement thanking her constituents and saying that spending 10 years in the Assembly was “the honor of my life.”

There is real history here.

BettyLou DeCroce assumed the Assembly seat after the death in 2012 of her husband, Alex.

Alex DeCroce’s friend and business partner was Dean Gallo, who began his political career as a local office holder and ultimately moved up the ranks to Congress. It’s hard to believe that Gallo died almost 30 years ago – in the fall of 1994. Gallo was very much a dignified elected official who eschewed ideological purity for common sense practicalities. When in Congress, Gallo was probably the most respected Republican in Morris County.

Things change and the world moves on. Younger Morris Republicans may know little about him.
The connection here is change.

BettyLou DeCroce is leaving office because Morris County Republicans broke with the past last year and instituted a “county line.” DeCroce lost the endorsement to newcomer Christian Barranco, who won the primary and then the general election. Barranco takes the oath on Tuesday.

With her days in office winding down, DeCroce was honored last week by the Morris County Commissioners with the messiness of her departure, not surprisingly, unmentioned.

DeCroce has had a long public service career. It began about 40 years ago as a local official in Mine Hill. Later, she served for many years as the township clerk in Roxbury and then as Deputy Commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs when Chris Christie was governor. She left that post to take
the Assembly position after her husband’s death.

“I have spent my entire career in public service with two primary convictions – celebrating the sanctity and security of the electoral process and appreciating the gravity of my responsibility, as a member of the Legislature, to be duty bound to represent all constituents regardless of political affiliation,” her statement said.

It also said that she will remain “active and engaged” in the community.

Time not only changes, it moves quickly. The next Assembly election is next year – and with a new map. It wouldn’t surprise any political observer if DeCroce is again a candidate.

Phil Murphy held his regular briefing today. He mentioned Sweeney, DeCroce and the 15 other lawmakers who are leaving today. The departures are a mixed bag. Some are just retiring. Others are departing because of election defeats.

It was probably not surprising that Murphy said he and the soon-to-be former Senate President didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

But, “We got a lot done together,” he said.

As for the turnover in general, Murphy was quizzed about any lessons he took from last year’s election – one that saw him win by a surprisingly, close margin.

He reiterated his belief that his COVID restrictions and related emergency orders – often condemned by his critics – actually helped him.

If not for them, “We may have been washed off the deck ourselves,” he said.

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