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3-7-12 'U.S. Rep. Donald Payne's death a blow to New Jersey'
Star Ledger editorial - "He will be remembered at home as a pioneer, a statesman and a gentleman."

Star Ledger editorial - U.S. Rep. Donald Payne's death a blow to New Jersey

Published: Tuesday, March 06, 2012, 7:27 PM Updated: Tuesday, March 06, 2012, 7:32 PM

By Star-Ledger Editorial BoardThe Star-Ledger

With the passing of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, the highest-ranking African-American in the state’s political history, New Jersey has lost a powerful voice for those most in need — at home and abroad.

Payne, who died yesterday of colon cancer at age 77, had an old-fashioned sense of service to the community. He worked as a schoolteacher and football coach in Newark. He was a leader of the national YMCA and worked tirelessly for the organization all his life. In Congress, he was best known as a sturdy advocate of expanded opportunities for the poor in America, and a forceful advocate for U.S. engagement in Africa to help relieve suffering and promote democracy and human rights.

In his style, Payne was soft-spoken and unpretentious, the sort that has grown too scarce in modern politics. Born in Newark’s North Ward, he was an early bridge-builder between the races as political control of the city passed from whites to blacks. In the 1980s, he ran twice against Rep. Peter Rodino, a hero of the Watergate impeachment hearings, and lost both times. But Rodino finally gave up that fight and passed the torch to Payne in 1988.

“He was an unusual person, the way he got along with everyone,” said Steve Adubato, the political broker who grew up with Payne. “There were years and years of racism in this city, but not toward him. He got along with the Irish. He got along with the Italians. He was an exception, unbelievable.”

Payne made a mark on African policy as chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on that continent, taking special interest in halting the genocide in Darfur. He voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002, warning that that war was “ill-conceived” from the start. He was also active in helping to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland and was a frequent visitor to that nation, even during the height of its troubles.

Payne’s successor will be chosen in November’s elections. Governors cannot appoint replacements to fill seats in the House, as they can in the Senate. Newark Councilman Ron Rice Jr. has expressed interest. Speculation on other candidates includes Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Payne’s son, Newark Council President Donald Payne Jr. A more remote possibility is Newark Mayor Cory Booker, though a run for statewide office is more likely for him.

Payne will be sorely missed in Washington, where he was one of the more popular members, as reflected in the many tributes to him given on the House floor yesterday and the gracious comments from President Obama. Payne was a dependable liberal vote on most issues, but won the affection of Republicans and Democrats, and their respect for his sturdy advocacy of global human rights.

He will be remembered at home as a pioneer, a statesman and a gentleman.


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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