African American Public Relations Corporation

Exalting a positive image of African Americans

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Donald M. Payne

March 6, 2012

Donald M. Payne, First Black Elected to Congress From New Jersey,
Dies at 77


Representative Donald M. Payne of New Jersey, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and the first black to be elected to Congress from New Jersey, died on Tuesday. He was 77.

The cause was complications from colon cancer, according to Mr. Payne’s office. He died at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. Mr. Payne had disclosed in February that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer but said that he would not take a leave of absence and that he planned to seek re-election because his doctors expected him to make a full recovery.

Mr. Payne was a low-key and unassuming lawmaker who nonetheless made a mark in a number of areas, including education and global affairs.

A former teacher, he played a role in advancing policies that sought to make college more affordable. For example, he led efforts in Congress to cut interest rates on Stafford loans for college students and increase the size of Pell Grants, need-based grants for college of as much as $5,500 a year.

Mr. Payne had a deep interest in global matters too. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he worked to promote democracy and protect human rights overseas. He was the author of legislation that sought to provide famine relief to Darfur and bring an end to the bloody conflict there. He was also a founder of the Malaria Caucus in Congress and helped secure billions of dollars in foreign aid for treating HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Donald Milford Payne was born July 16, 1934, in Newark. A graduate of Seton Hall University, he held a number of positions in the private sector before entering politics, including serving as an executive at Prudential Insurance and Urban Data Systems. He was also a national president of the YMCA.

But he developed a passion for politics early. In 1972, Mr. Payne was elected to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. A decade later, he won a seat on the Newark Municipal Council.

As early as 1974, Mr. Payne declared his intention to become New Jersey’s first black congressman, rather than run for mayor of Newark.

He achieved his goal in 1988. He was elected to Congress from New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District, a heavily Democratic area that includes sections of Essex, Hudson and Union counties, after Peter W. Rodino Jr., the longtime dean of the state’s congressional delegation, decided not to seek a 21st term. Mr. Payne had unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Rodino in primaries in 1980 and 1986.

Before his 1988 campaign, Mr. Payne said: “I want to be a Congressman to serve as a role model for the young people I talk to on the Newark street corners. I want them to see there are no barriers to achievement. I want to give them a reason to try.”

Mr. Payne was in his 12th term when he died. In several of his later campaigns, he ran without any Republican opposition.

He served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus from 1995 to 1997.

Mr. Payne, who was a widower, had three children, four grandchildren and one great grandchild.


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