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GOP Leader’s Widow Seeks to Keep 26th Assembly District Seat

Betty Lou DeCroce, appointed to fill vacancy, vies with Democrat defeated by her husband last November.

The sudden death at the end of the last legislative session of Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, left a gaping hole in the “red” 26th Legislative District that GOP committee members decided overwhelmingly to fill by appointing DeCroce's widow.

Betty Lou DeCroce left a much higher-paying job in state government to fill her late husband's seat but wants to stay in the Assembly. She is opposed by Democrat Joseph Raich, who unsuccessfully challenged her husband last November.

This is an all-Parsippany battle to complete the unexpired term to represent the district, which is centered in Morris County and also includes portions of Essex and Passaic counties.

Raich, a 66-year-old limousine driver, grew up in Passaic and received his B.A. in social science from Jersey City State College, where he also minored in political science and economics.

"The reason I'm running for state Assembly is I believe that that's where the action is," Raich said. "You can talk at public hearing sessions at town council and 90 percent of what they do begins on the state level."

"I want to give back for what I have received," he added.

Joseph Raich, Democratic challenger in Assembly District 26.
Joseph Raich, Democratic challenger in Assembly District 26.

Raich said he thinks he can make a difference on a number of issues that he can relate to on a personal level. For instance, he said the first floor of his house was flooded by 27 inches of water in the wake of Hurricane Irene last year.

He has been endorsed by the National Organization for Women in Morris County and the state of New Jersey. He has served on the Passaic County Welfare Board, the Parsippany Traffic Safety Advisory Committee and the Parsippany Democratic Committee Executive Board.

DeCroce, 59, points to her decades of government experience as qualifying her to continue in the Assembly .

"I have thirty years of government experience," DeCroce said. "My point, and what’s important about all of that, is that it represents the level of understanding I have of local government."

DeCroce's public service dates back to 1981, when she was first elected to the Mine Hill Council. She has served in many different capacities since then, including as municipal clerk for the Township of Roxbury and chair of the Morris County Joint Insurance Fund.

"It helps in my understanding of creating new laws that will affect local government," DeCroce. "It makes me very aware of any mandates the state may send down," and what those mandates mean for local government.

DeCroce left her position as deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, a post she had held since 2010, to fill her late usband's seat in the Assembly. She won a GOP primary last June to get to the general election.

She studied government at Rutgers University and business at Berkeley College. She is now the owner of ERA Gallo & DeCroce, Inc., the real estate business her husband founded with former U.S. Rep. Dean Gallo.

Heading into November, DeCroce has demographics and history in her favor. The district has been represented by Republicans for the last 30 years. The most recent voter-registration figures, from June 2011, showed the district was about one-third Republican and 22 percent Democrat , with the remaining voters unaffiliated.

Matthew Kassel is a freelance writer. His work has been published by The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and The Forward, among other publications.

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