Payne stops short of endorsing Booker, but family ties bind

NEWARK – U.S. Rep. Donald Payne wouldn’t endorse anyone for mayor of Newark when given the chance today at Newark Liberty International AIrport, where he joined senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez to call for more airport security improvement.

“There’s been much better communication between our offices now in the past year since the conflict,” Payne said of the office of Mayor Cory Booker.

The referenced conflict was the 2008 South Ward district leader battle in which Booker tried to take down the elder statesman and ended up getting soundly whipped.

“Things have improved,” Payne admitted.

Although old school Newarker Clifford Minor, Booker’s challenger in the mayor’s race, is courting Payne, it’s unlikely the congressman will break from Booker.

No great personal affection or history binds the two men.

As with the candidacy of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, there’s a key family member in the middle of the drama.

With DiVincenzo, it’s Bill Payne, the former assemblyman, who serves as DiVincenzo’s deputy chief of staff. He’s the congressman’s brother, a presence that makes Payne’s backing of anyone other than DiVincenzo – assuming there’s even a credible challenger – highly unlikely.

Blood dictates: a dictum that proves true as well in the local race, where Booker heads a ticket that includes Councilman (and County Freeholder) Donald Payne, Jr.

The congressman stopped short of outright endorsing  DiVincenzo – “not yet,” but he’s all but affixed his imprimatur to the county exec’s cause in county committee meetings.

Asked if it was conceivable for him to endorse a split ticket at the local level; say, Minor for mayor and a slate of city council candidate allies of Booker’s, including his son, the congressman said he still anticipates political meetings with son, brother and Party Chairman Phil Thigpen before he decides.

An advocate of the public healthcare option, Payne in other news said he didn’t like the U.S. Senate’s holiday compromise bill that sliced the public option off the table.

“It’s too bad the senate caved,” he said. “We wil try to get it (the public option) in the final bill, but if we don’t succeed, what we will have still means we have come a long way.” 

As with his fellow Democratic lawmakers present today, Payne faces the coming era of Gov. Chris Christie with apprehension.

“No, we have not had any communication with them,” the congressman said of Christie and his allies. “We have not gotten in touch with them, and they have not gotten in touch with us. I’m someone who stays with someone until it’s over, and Gov. Jon Corzine is still governor. I just hope some of the things Chris Christie said on the campaign trail were just campaign trail rhetoric. Like calling early childhood education babysitting. I’m concerned.” 

Payne stops short of endorsing Booker, but family ties bind