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Donald Payne Jr. Decides To Seek Father’s Congressional Seat

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Donald Payne Jr. (credit: CI.Newark.NJ.US)

Donald Payne Jr. (credit: CI.Newark.NJ.US)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The son of New Jersey’s first African-American congressman has decided to seek his late father’s seat representing the 10th District.

Newark City Council President Donald Payne Jr. told The Associated Press on Friday that succeeding his father in Washington is “an obligation I am proud to continue in his legacy.”

“I decided to continue the work that my father had started,” he said.

Donald Payne Sr. died of cancer on March 6 and was buried Wednesday. He had served since 1989.

Former President Bill Clinton, who spoke at the funeral in Newark, referred to Payne Sr. as “a dear friend” who “made me a better president” for his humanitarian efforts in Africa and elsewhere.

Newark Councilman Ron C. Rice and state Sen. Nia Gill announced earlier Friday that they intended to run.

Pressure had been building this week for Payne Jr. to get into the race. Previously, he had been contemplating a bid for Newark mayor in 2014.

Two Democratic insiders said if Payne’s son is interested in the seat, the party establishment would coalesce around him. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about private political discussions.

The district includes parts of Essex, Union and Hudson counties in northern New Jersey.

Payne Jr. said he spoke with Essex County Democratic chairman Phil Thigpen on Friday. Thigpen, a long-time Payne family friend, confirmed the meeting but did not say publicly who he would support.

Essex wields the most influence of the three counties, with about 60 percent of the district. The district hasn’t elected a Republican to Congress since the 1940s.

The vacancy touched off a flurry of phone calls and speculation in Democratic circles about possible successors.

Rice said he would make his candidacy official early next week. Gill’s camp indicated an official announcement would be made within 10 days. Like Payne, Rice and Gill are African-American.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, of East Orange, was also mentioned as a possible candidate, leading to more speculation about who might replace her in the Statehouse if she were to exit to Washington. Oliver did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Rice filed paperwork with federal election officials this month switching his federal exploratory committee to a campaign account, signaling his intent to run. He planned to announce his candidacy sooner but delayed the announcement out of respect for the Payne family.

“I expect my party, which I’ve given much to and asked nothing from, to support me,” Rice told the AP on Friday. “I expect and will pursue the party line in all three counties.”

He raised $12,000 to $14,000 as an exploratory candidate.

Gill let word of her intentions leak out Friday, but she has not commented directly. Her campaign spokesman, Pat Politano, and Sen. Ray Lesniak confirmed her plans.

“She told me she’s running,” said Lesniak, of Union County.

Because congressional districts were redrawn this year to reflect population shifts recorded in the census, there will be simultaneous elections in two districts for the seat: one to fill the remainder of Payne Sr.’s term in the existing 10th District and another for the two-year term that begins in January in the new 10th District.

The filing deadline for the June primary is April 2.

Payne Jr. is a lifelong Newark resident who is on leave from his job as supervisor of student transportation with the Essex County Educational Services Commission. He has been a South Ward district leader for 20 years and is an Essex County freeholder.

Rice, a lawyer, is the son of veteran state Sen. Ron L. Rice. The elder Rice chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.

The younger Rice represents Newark’s West Ward. He was elected in 2006 and is in his second term.

He first ran for office in 2002 with mayoral candidate Cory Booker in a losing effort documented in the Academy Award-winning documentary “Street Fight.” As a member of the Booker Team four years later, Rice was sworn in with the newly elected Booker.

Gill, a lawyer, has been in the state Legislature since 1994, first as an assemblywoman then as a senator since 2002.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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