Assemblyman William Payne said he was "disturbed by the intrusion" of State Democratic Chairman Joseph Cryan into the state Senate race in the 29th district when Cryan last week called for indicted state Sen. Sharpe James to stand down.
"That Joe Cryan had the nerve to suggest Teresa Ruiz be appointed to that position," said Payne, "how dare he. The very fact that he would make such a statement tells me he has no regard for African-American voters. I think this state chairman has his head in the sand."
Payne, a lifelong Democrat who in a shakeup year in Newark did not obtain the party’s backing to run for state Senate, is now running in the general election as an independent against Democratic Party nominee M. Teresa Ruiz.
"The audacity of that man to suggest Sharpe James should be replaced by my opponent," said Payne. "If anybody should step down it should be Cryan."
U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie indicted James, the former mayor of Newark who has served in the state Senate since 1999, on 33 counts of corruption. Out on bail after his initial appearance in federal court earlier this month, James will likely stand trial in early 2008.
Assemblyman William Baroni, a Republican, backed up Cryan’s call for James to resign. Baroni pointed out that he introduced legislation a year ago enabling the governor to suspend an indicted public official and appoint one temporarily.
"I’m very concerned about Wayne Bryant and Sharpe James sitting in the Senate and voting on judges," Baroni said of James and state Sen. Bryant., who is also facing federal corruption charges. "Sharpe’s and Wayne’s presumption of innocence does not discount the (wrong-headedness) of these senators voting on judges."
Payne fired back, "I hope he does not resign. He hasn’t been found guilty of anything."
The assemblyman said James "shouldn’t allow this Cryan person to allow him to step down. He hasn’t been tried yet. I thought this was American, where you’re innocent until proven guilty. People have been accused of things and later found not guilty, haven’t they?"
Payne knows he’s in an uphill trudge. He’s long been aligned with Steve Adubato of the North Ward Democratic Party, which has muscle in the northern half of Payne’s 29th district. Payne was part of the team helped sweep Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo into office on a change-time message. Like Ruiz, he is on leave during the campaign season from DiVincenzo’s administration.
Without Adubato’s support, Payne must find votes elsewhere and get into a money game to prepare for a general election war. He says his hardcore progressive record in the Assembly with a focus on education and government services for poor people has not exactly put him in the ranks of big money raisers.
"I’m pleased to be part of the country administration that helped remove the veil(of corruption in years past) from over us," said Payne. "I just assumed the team would be together to support me for this. That Steve chose not to, well, he was wrong. But the fact that Steve’s not going to support me does not mean I’m going to fold up my tent and not run. No way. If I have to do it this way, fine."