The state today mourned the death of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10), who last night lost his battle with colon cancer but left a pioneering legacy, especially for his closest political allies from Newark’s South Ward.
“Today is a truly sad day for America and our great state,” said Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), East Orange, who grew up in Newark mentored by the late congressman.
“We have lost a trailblazer, and we have lost a friend,” said Oliver. “I have known Donald Payne for most of my life. He has always been a role model to me, and I will never forget his historic victory that made him New Jersey’s first African-American elected to Congress. His dedication to his constituents and all Americans was unwavering. He was a leader in every sense of the word.
“Congressman Payne’s work was exemplary in so many ways. He was a tireless advocate for public education and affordable college. He was a champion for working families. He was a defender of freedom and human rights. His work on global affairs was an example of his compassion. He was everything one would want from a Congressman, and then some. I will miss my Congressman and friend, as will all of New Jersey. On behalf of the New Jersey General Assembly, I send my condolences to Congressman Payne’s family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at their time of grief.”
Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-29) likewise looked to Congressman Payne for inspiration and counsel.
“The presence of Congressman Payne will never leave us,” she said. “The presence of contribution, inlfuence, his capacity to lead and guide people: the presence of a man who genuinely cared about people and the plight of a human being. He was a giant.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) noted that from roots set firmly in Newark, Congressman Payne rose to not only be a leading Democratic voice in Washington, but a respected figure around the world.
“As New Jersey’s first African-American member of Congress, he opened a door to public service that will never be closed,” Sweeney said. “More than anything, Rep. Payne’s dedication to education, especially for our urban youth, will stand as his lasting legacy. Countless kids in New Jersey and across the nation will have brighter futures thanks to the Congressman’s unwavering support for their schools, for Head Start and for the Pell Grants that have put college within their reach. But when his attention turned to the innocents caught in the cross fire in the war-torn areas of our world, his heart was always with New Jersey and his hometown. He was a model for Congressional service: Always thinking globally, but acting locally.”
West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice was preparing to run against Congressman Payne. On his facebook page today he issued a statement.
“Newark lost a Titan today,” said Rice. “My prayers and support go out to the Payne Family and especially to my friend and colleague, Councilman Donald M. Payne, Jr. Your colleagues are with you in this time.”
Rice’s father, state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28), called Rep. Payne’s death a tremendous loss for Newark and the people of the 10th Congressional District.
“Donald Payne devoted his career and his life to helping others realize their aspirations,” said the senator. “Congressman Payne was a true warrior for justice who carried the fight for equality from his hometown of Newark to the corridors of power in Washington and to foreign countries around the world. As the first African American elected to Congress from New Jersey and as a chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Payne has a legacy of leadership that should be honored by all Americans.
“This is also a terrible personal loss for me. We have a shared history in public service. I was a friend and colleague to Donald Payne and his family for more than 40 years. We served on Newark City Council together and I was one of his earliest supporters when he challenged the established powers in his successful run for Congress.
“I will always cherish our friendship as much as I value his selfless contributions. He was a great man with a lasting legacy.”
Chris James, president of the New Jersey Young Democrats, said, “New Jersey has lost a real hero today. A great citizen of the world and a true statesman who inspired the youth… telling them they could achieve anything, just as he did. A stalwart supporter of the Young Democrats he urged our participation in the process because decisions are made by those who show up.
“I for one was inspired into public and political life because of the struggle and success that was Congressman Donald Payne’s life – paving the way for the next generation.
“Our hearts are heavy with the news of his passing and my most sincere condolences go out former Assemblyman William Payne, Council President Donald Payne Jr. and his entire family – He will be truly missed.”