Updated: 7:40 p.m.
Former Rep. John Adler died Monday at the age of 51.
Adler, who represented New Jersey’s 3rd district for one term in the 111th Congress, was recovering following emergency heart surgery last month after contracting a staph infection on the lining of his heart, according to local news outlets.
The Democrat was elected to Congress by a slim margin during the Democratic wave of 2008 after the retirement of longtime Rep. Jim Saxton (R). He became a dependably Democratic vote in the House, voting with the party on health care reform, worker protections and the environment, although he also joined the moderate New Democrat Coalition and pushed for spending cuts.
Now-Rep. Jon Runyan (R) defeated Adler in November in the swing district as the tide that helped sweep him into office reversed course and favored the GOP.
Adler had run for the seat once before, in 1990, when he lost to Saxton. Two years later, he was elected to the state Senate, where he served for 17 years, becoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Before that, he was a member of the Cherry Hill Township Council from 1988 to 1991. He received both an undergraduate degree in government and a law degree from Harvard University.
Adler joined the law firm Greenberg Traurig after leaving public office.
“John’s dedication to public service and the law were truly inspirational. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to call him colleague and friend,” the firm said in a statement Monday.
Adler grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Haddonfield, N.J., where his father owned a dry cleaning business. But a series of heart attacks, coupled with inadequate insurance, cost the elder Adler the business. When his father died in 1976, Adler and his mother had to rely on Social Security to get by.
Rep. Frank Pallone released a statement calling Adler a generous friend and a family man.
“John’s life was a success story of someone who overcame real adversity from a young age to reach the heights of academic and professional achievement,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “It is telling that he chose to use his skills to serve others. We will all remember John and the admirable example he set for others.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted on Monday afternoon that the former lawmaker was “a passionate, committed, and principled advocate.”
Adler is survived by his wife, Shelley, and four sons. His family requested Monday evening that memorial contributions be made to either Cooper University Hospital or the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where Adler was a patient.
Funeral arrangements are pending.