New Jersey State Assemblyman Alex DeCroce collapsed and died in the Statehouse in Trenton late on Monday night, just hours before lawmakers were set to begin the new legislative year. The 75-year-old DeCroce was the leading Republican in the state's lower house and had served in the Assembly since 1989. No cause of death was announced, but he reportedly collapsed around 11:30 p.m. in a men's room on the first floor of the state house. Assemblyman Herb Conaway, who is also a doctor, attended to DeCroce, but he had already passed away.

An emotional Governor Chris Christie was seen breaking down while embracing other lawmakers, and issued statement calling DeCroce "a dear friend, colleague and mentor" who gave him his first start in politics. 

Tuesday was scheduled to be the first day of the 2012 session, when new members would be sworn in and the governor would deliver his State of the State address, before holding votes on a re-organization of party leadership. Instead the swearing-in ceremony will be scaled back to a less formal occasion and Christie will deliver brief remarks about DeCroce. Both events are required by the state constitution. Lawmakers were working late on Monday to pass a flurry of last minute bills to close out the final day of the previous session. Another Republican assemblyman, Peter Biondi, died in November just after being re-elected to an eighth term.