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Christie delays annual address after New Jersey GOP leader dies at Statehouse

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FILE: In an Aug. 16, 2004 file photo state Sen. Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, is seen during a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. (AP)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie postponed his State of the State address scheduled for Tuesday after Alex DeCroce, the top Republican in the Assembly and a close confidant to Christie, collapsed and died in the Statehouse Monday night.

Christie, who was scheduled to deliver the address as the 215th legislative session began Tuesday, will instead remember his friend with remarks to the Assembly. 

"I lost a dear friend, colleague, and mentor," Christie said in a statement Tuesday. "I have known Alex for nearly 20 years. 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 also extended condolences to DeCroce's wife, a deputy commissioner with the Department of Community Affairs, and his family.

DeCroce "was an enormously accomplished legislator and a tremendous servant to the people of New Jersey," Christie said. "This is an enormous loss for our state and for me personally."

DeCroce, 75, had represented parts of Morris and Passaic counties. He collapsed in a men's room in the state capitol building around 11 p.m. ET and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, the Legislature's only physician, attended to DeCroce at the scene. DeCroce's body, covered and placed on a stretcher, was removed from the ground floor of the building about 12:40 a.m.

An obviously shaken Christie returned to the capital around midnight to hug lawmakers. He wore a sport coat over a T-shirt and loafers but no socks. Christie was seen breaking down while embracing Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and other legislative leaders.

The Assembly and Senate have scaled back plans to swear in new members for Tuesday's session and the governor's office has not yet rescheduled the State of the State address.

The lawmaker's sudden death threw into turmoil the Legislature's reorganization plans for Tuesday. Staff and lawmakers had been working with him all evening. One of his final acts as the GOP leader was to accuse Democrats of casting votes for an absent member.

Oliver and incoming Democratic Majority Leader Lou Greenwald issued a joint statement.

"The Assembly and the State of New Jersey has been struck by a terrible and shocking loss," they said. "Alex DeCroce was a friend, colleague and leader. He was a dedicated public servant. He was a true New Jerseyan. He was always someone ready with a handshake and a laugh, no matter the circumstance, and his devotion to the people of New Jersey was unwavering. The Assembly has lost one of its great institutions."

The lawmaker, a realtor from Parsippany-Troy Hills, served in the Assembly since 1989 and became the GOP's leader there in 2003. His death comes on the heels of the passing of another GOP assemblyman. Peter Biondi Nov. 10 -- two days after he was re-elected to an eighth term.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.