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Assembly Race: District 26

Betty Lou DeCroce runs to retain her late husband’s seat but first must defeat Pio Costa who seeks term limits.

Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce was only recently appointed to her seat in the 26th Legislative District, but her opponent in the June 5 Republican primary, Anthony Pio Costa III, says she is a good example of the need for term limits.

Betty Lou DeCroce, of Parsippany, defeated Montville attorney Larry Casha in a special GOP convention held in late January to fill the seat long held by her husband, Alex DeCroce, who died as the last legislative session ended. Alex DeCroce was the GOP leader of the lower house and Betty Lou DeCroce had the backing of the district’s Republican establishment.

Betty Lou DeCroce made it clear shortly after her husband died that she wanted to succeed him.

Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce

Citing her long public service, she said at the time, “No one can ever fill Alex’s shoes or compare to the contributions he made to the people of New Jersey. I have spent my professional career serving the public, and I am eager to be a part of the effort to make New Jersey a better place to live and work.”

Pio Costa, a Montville developer, does not support the GOP committee members’ choice, saying: “I don’t think the seat should be passed on to his wife.”

This is not the first time Pio Costa has challenged a DeCroce. In 2005, he ran for an Assembly seat on the general election ballot as a Libertarian. Alex DeCroce led all six candidates with 35,646 votes. Pio Costa finished fifth with 833.

The challenger said he supports Christie’s income tax cut plan, calls for term limits for public office holders, and wants to reduce the size of state government.

Anthony Pio Costa

Pio Costa operates his family’s development business, Fairfield-based Pio Costa Enterprises, which was founded by his father.

The company is currently building several developments, including Sky Top Estates, a group of “large country estates” in Montville.

Betty Lou DeCroce resigned as deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs to assume the Assembly seat.

She is well known in Morris County political circles, having served in numerous local government positions, including as former Roxbury municipal clerk and deputy township manager, planning or zoning bodies in Roxbury and Parsippany, a Mine Hill council member and chair of the Morris County Joint Insurance Fund.

As a legislator she has quickly lined up behind the Christie administration’s efforts to cut income taxes by 10 percent.

She has introduced legislation to strip the planning and environmental permitting provisions from the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, lower the tax businesses pay to support the state’s unemployment fund and reduce the maximum weekly unemployment benefit, and have the state purchase Troy Meadows, a large watershed in East Hanover and Parsippany.

Among her first bills to be voted out of committee is Alex DeCroce’s Law, which would enhance crime victims’ rights. Her husband sponsored the Victim’s Rights Amendment to the state constitution in 1991.

Betty Lou DeCroce already has begun building a war chest, according to reports on file with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. Through May 7, she had raised almost $31,000 and spent about $9,000. Pio Costa, meanwhile, had loaned his campaign $1,000 and showed a $2,250 debt for signs.

The Republican primary winner will face Democrat Joseph Raich of Parsippany in a Nov. 6 special election to fill the remainder of Alex DeCroce’s term. He had been re-elected to a two-year seat in November 2011.

Michael Daigle is a freelance writer and journalist from Phillipsburg. He has worked for newspapers in Massachusetts, Maine, and for the past 20 years, in New Jersey. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting on housing policy, politics, environmental issues and as a columnist.

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