Union congressman Donald Payne Jr. has died

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. at St. Mark’s AME Church in East Orange in February

U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., who was the current representative in Congress for parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties, has died. He was 65 years old and had served in Congress since 2012.

Payne had been hospitalized since he suffered a cardiac episode earlier this month. Gov. Phil Murphy announced his death on Wednesday.

“Tammy and I are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of our friend, and a steadfast champion for the people of New Jersey, Congressman Donald Payne Jr.,” Murphy said.

“With his signature bowtie, big heart, and tenacious spirit, Donald embodied the very best of public service. As a former union worker and toll collector, he deeply understood the struggles our working families face, and he fought valiantly to serve their needs, every single day. That purpose was the light that guided him through his early years as Newark City Council President and during his tenure on the Essex County Board of Commissioners. And it guided him still through his more than a decade of service in Congress.”

Payne experienced a physical accident at home on April 6, which necessitated hospitalization, according to a statement from his office. During his treatment for this health issue, he faced medical complications due to diabetes and high blood pressure that led to subsequent cardiorespiratory arrest. His death comes 12 years after his father, Congressman Donald M. Payne Sr., died in office on March 6, 2012.

Born in Newark on Dec. 17, 1958, Payne was raised with two sisters. His mother died when he was five years old. He graduated from Hillside High School in 1976 and attended Kean College (now Kean University), where he studied graphic arts.

He worked for the state Highway Authority before becoming supervisor of student transportation for the Essex County Educational Services Commission in 1996. He was elected to the Newark City Council in 2006, becoming president in 2010. Payne also served three terms on the Essex County Board of Freeholders, now the Board of County Commissioners, before being selected to take his father’s seat in Congress.

His home was in Newark with his wife Beatrice and their triplets, Donald III, Jack, and Yvonne.

Payne represented the state’s 10th Congressional District, which includes parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties including the towns of Cranford, Garwood, Hillside, Kenilworth, Linden, Roselle, Roselle Park and Union Twp.

Murphy praised Payne’s work for the state.

“Donald’s love will live on in the homes of his neighbors in Newark, who now have access to safe drinking water, and in the good-paying jobs he helped create for his brothers and sisters in labor,” Murphy said. “And it will live on in his wife Beatrice, and their three children, Donald III, Jack, and Yvonne, who were the pride of his life. Our heartfelt prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

Payne’s office issued a statement calling him a “tireless fighter for New Jersey families as well as job creation, economic growth, protections for children, education, and the health and safety of our communities.”

Payne was the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He also served on the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Patrick Wright, a spokesman for the congressman, issued a statement listing Payne’s accomplishments, which included:

• Introducing the INVEST in America Act, which became the bipartisan, $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, to provide funds for critical road and rail projects, such as New Jersey’s Portal North Bridge and Hudson River Tunnel in the Gateway Program. The law included $66 billion for passenger rail, the largest federal investment in rail in 50 years, and $55 billion to replace lead water pipes nationwide. In addition, the law included $8 billion for New Jersey’s highways, $4.5 billion for the state’s public transit, and $42 billion to improve New Jersey’s traffic safety, the statement said.

• The Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act, which provided full Medicare coverage to patients who have cancerous polyps removed during routine colonoscopies. It was signed into law in 2020.

• Fighting to lower the price of insulin and improve treatments for Americans with diabetes and kidney-related diseases.

• Founding the Congressional Men’s Health Caucus to increase awareness of men’s health care and the Congressional PAD Caucus to increase awareness of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), a condition that could lead to limb amputation.

• Introducing the Green Jobs Act to create more small businesses and jobs in alternative energies and technologies in low-income communities and fighting to remove lead contamination in drinking water for district residents and Americans nationwide.

• Helping to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to make it illegal for law enforcement agencies to engage in racial profiling. It also banned chokeholds and no-knock warrants and created a database of officers who racially profiled Americans to prohibit their employment in other law enforcement agencies.

• His bill, the Homeland Security for Children Act, guaranteed that children’s needs are included in future emergency preparation planning and became public law on June 6, 2022.