N.J. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. dies after hospitalization for diabetes

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Image of Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., who died on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Rep. Donald Payne Jr. Facebook

April 24 (UPI) -- Rep. Donald Payne Jr., who followed in the footsteps of his father by taking his congressional seat in 2012, has died after being hospitalized for diabetes earlier in the month. He was 65.

He was serving as Newark's city council president when he won a special election to replace his late father in the House. Donald Payne Sr. was the first Black lawmaker to represent New Jersey in Congress.

"With his signature bowtie, big heart and tenacious spirit, Donald embodied the very best of public service," said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in a statement. "As a former union worker and toll collector, he deeply understood the struggles working families face, and he fought valiantly to serve their needs every single day."

After Payne's father died of cancer, he won a close primary to take over New Jersey's 10th Congressional District. He became a national leader for the call to fund clean drinking water projects across the country with his hometown of Newark facing lead pipe issues.

He also gained national attention among progressives for his support for issues such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, reproductive freedom, free college tuition, improvements in public transportation and abortion.

Payne's death leaves 212 Democrats in the House to 218 Republicans.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., led the chorus of other lawmakers in their condolences for Payne.

"I am heartbroken to lose my friend, Congressman Donald Payne," said Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J. in a statement. "He was the model public servant, who from a young age strove to make New Jersey a better place for everyone."

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries called Payne a "good friend" and a "highly effective" public servant.

"My prayers and support are with the Payne family and his loved one during this difficult time," he said.