NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Rep. Donald Payne, dean of the New Jersey Congressional delegation, has died. He was 77.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond On The Story

Payne died Tuesday morning at St. Barnabas Hospital after a battle with colon cancer.

Payne announced last month that he was undergoing treatment and that he expected to make a full recovery; however, last week, his health took a turn for the worse.

Payne represented the 10th district, which covers parts of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, for 23 years. He was elected for a 12th term in 2010.

Payne was the Garden State’s first black congressman.

But before that, Donald Payne was a Newark school teacher and he cared deeply for his constituents says fellow Congressman and friend Bill Pascrell.

“He was horrified by those who simply wanted to shrink social services at the behest of cutting and be-deviling a budget,” Pascrell told WCBS 880 reporter Marla Diamond.

Payne was also deeply concerned about the plight of African refugees and those with AID.

“He was in all of those nerve points where people were suffering. He was not afraid,” Pascrell said.

President Barack Obama called him a “leader in US-Africa policy, making enormous contributions towards helping restore democracy and human rights across the continent.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker called him “a humble hero who lived an extraordinary life of contribution and distinction” and “a defender of and advocate for the rights, liberties, equal opportunities, and dignity of all people.”

“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,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement. “As New Jersey’s first African-American member of Congress, he opened a door to public service that will never be closed.”

“New Jersey has lost one of its greatest leaders in the fight for equality and fairness for all Americans, and one of the greatest advocates for families of the Garden State,” Pascrell said in a statement. “Donald Payne was a true trailblazer – a champion for education and civil rights who sought to combat injustice all over the world.”

“He was a leader with great compassion for every person he had the honor of representing,” Gov. Chris Christie said. “He was a great role model for every person in New Jersey who aspires to public service.”

Payne leaves behind three children, four grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

What are your memories of Rep. Payne? Please share them in the comments section below!

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