Newark Congressman Donald Payne Jr. dead, weeks after suffering heart attack

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Rep. Donald Payne Jr., who followed his father into politics and represented Newark in Congress for more than a decade, died Wednesday — nearly three weeks after suffering a heart attack that had left him in a coma.

He was 65.

Payne’s office announced his passing “with the heaviest of hearts” in a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying he had “proudly served” as “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.”

The congressman had “experienced a physical accident at home on April 6,” the office noted, “which necessitated hospitalization. During his treatment for this health issue, he faced medical complications due to diabetes and high blood pressure that led to subsequent cardiorespiratory arrest. Despite the dedicated efforts of the medical staff to treat him and improve his health, they were unable to prevent his passing unfortunately.”

Rep. Donald Payne Jr. died Wednesday. Getty Images for Fight Colorectal Cancer
Rep. Donald Payne Jr. died Wednesday. Getty Images for Fight Colorectal Cancer

Payne, a Democrat, had represented the Garden State’s 10th Congressional District, which includes the cities of Newark and Orange, since 2012 — winning a special election after his father, also Donald Payne, had died earlier that year.

The elder Donald Payne had represented the majority-black district since 1989.

In a statement, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he was “deeply saddened” by Payne’s death.

“With his signature bowtie, big heart, and tenacious spirit, Donald embodied the very best of public service,” Murphy said, adding: “It was my great honor to work side-by-side with Donald to build a stronger and fairer New Jersey, and we will hold his memory close to our hearts as we build upon the Payne family’s deep legacy of service in advocating for the communities they served so dearly.”

“Today is a difficult day as we mourn the loss of a beloved public servant, colleague and dear friend. Over his six terms in Congress, Representative Donald M. Payne, Jr. was a tremendous advocate for the people of New Jersey’s Tenth Congressional District, following in the footsteps of his father, the first African American Member of Congress from the state,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement.

Jeffries (D-NY) drew attention to his Democratic classmate’s “long and valiant career in public service” before entering Congress, which “began when he founded the Newark South Ward Junior Democrats and continued at the Municipal Council of Newark and Essex County Board of Freeholders, always fighting for those he was privileged to represent.”

“Don leaves behind a legacy of relentless determination in the face of adversity,” he said. “Our nation is forever indebted to Rep. Payne, Jr. for his service and commitment to his community, to the Congress and to the country.”

Payne had been in a coma and on a ventilator at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center since suffering his heart attack earlier this month, the New Jersey Globe reported.

The Garden State Democrat was running unopposed in the June 4 primary, and was expected to win a seventh term in November with the backing of Murphy, congressional party leaders and an array of union, environmental and pro-abortion groups.

Payne faced a brief challenge from the progressive left during his last race in 2022, but ended up trouncing his opponent, Imani Oakley, by more than 70 percentage points.

Payne had been in a coma after suffering a heart attack. AP
Payne had been in a coma after suffering a heart attack. AP

In Congress, Payne sat on the House Homeland Security and Transportation Committees, serving as top Democrat on the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

That role often saw the Democrat overseeing federally funded projects on what is called “the two most dangerous miles” in the US, the portion of the New Jersey Turnpike that winds past Newark Liberty International Airport.

“We have chemical installations. We have the airport. We have the port. It’s a very attractive [terrorist] target,” he had said of the infrastructure in the 10th district, according to Roll Call.

In those committee roles, he also championed the inclusion of public health and climate-related provisions such as the removal of lead pipes nationwide to preserve clean drinking water, according to his congressional office.

“During his time on the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Rep. Payne, Jr. introduced 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,” Payne’s office said in its statement.

“Thanks to his efforts, the new 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.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said the panel was “heartbroken for the entire Payne family in this moment.

“His passing is an unimaginable loss for his loved ones, and devastating news to all members of our Committee,” Green said. “His legacy will be one of a tireless commitment to public service and fierce advocacy for his constituents for over a decade in Congress.”

Payne was a proponent of other progressive policy initiatives like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal — and voted much of the time with “Squad” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the outlet noted.

Payne represented Newark in Congress for more than a decade. Getty Images for Fight Colorectal Cancer
Payne represented Newark in Congress for more than a decade. Getty Images for Fight Colorectal Cancer

He was also co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Men’s Health Caucus and Colorectal Caucus, which he formed in 2021 to promote awareness of the disease that killed his father.

The younger Payne also suffered from liver problems that required him to seek dialysis treatments while in office.

Before entering politics, Payne worked as a Garden State Parkway toll collector and member of the Essex County Educational Services Commission.

Payne rose to become president of the Newark City Council before his run for Congress, briefly serving alongside then-Newark mayor Cory Booker, now the junior senator from New Jersey.

He is survived by his wife, Beatrice, his sons, Donald Payne III and Jack, and his daughter, Yvonne, who were born as triplets.