Observers of modern-day Black politics will be keeping a close watch on the New Jersey Democratic primary taking place on Tuesday to see who will succeed the late Rep. Donald Payne Sr., who lost his battle with colon cancer in March.
The slate of candidates, which includes state Sen. Nia Gill, who's hoping to break the glass ceiling into New Jersey's congressional boys club; Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith; and Newark Councilman Ron Rice Jr., who carries a fair amount of name recognition. But the most familiar name on the ballot will be Donald Payne Jr., who also serves on Newark's city council.
The Democratic Party in Essex County, where 65 percent of the district's voters live, has endorsed him, as has House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But according to a report from WYNC radio, some critics say Payne is not qualified to follow in his father's footsteps and would not even be considered if not for his last name.
"Yes, the name is an introduction and it opens doors. And the work the congressman did over the past 30 years speaks for itself," Payne said during a candidates forum hosted last week by WNYC. "There are other families that have gotten into public office — the Rockefellers, the Kennedys are two you could mention — so it is not anything uncommon or odd that I would want to follow in the legacy of my family members."
New Jersey's Star-Ledger editorial board agrees with Payne's critics and is throwing its support behind Rice.
"Donald Payne Jr. has the most money and the backing of the Democratic political machine. He aims to inherit this district…from his father, the late Donald Payne Sr., who had represented it since 1989," the board wrote. "But the dispiriting truth is that his claim to the seat is based entirely on his last name."
According to the publication, unlike Rice, Payne "has only the vaguest grip on key federal issues" and "hasn't done his homework."
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(Photo: Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)