Dems Duke it Out for Shot at Payne’s Seat

There’s less than a week to go before the Democratic primary, and candidates running to try and succeed the late Congressman Donald Payne Sr. have been relying on tried and true methods to make their case to the voters: name recognition, resumes and endorsements.

During a candidates forum on the WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show all four of the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination —Nia Gill, Ron Rice Jr., Donald Payne Jr., and Wayne Smith —appeared to share the same similar "progressive" left politics that marked the more than 20 year career of Congressman Payne Sr. who died last March after a battle with cancer.  

Gill from Montclair stressed her experience as a state legislator to voters.

"It is very important to look at legislative history, legislative ability and the ability to negotiate with Democrats and Republicans. I have 20 years of legislative experience, the last 10 in the Senate, and I am chair of the Commerce Committee."

Gill added voters should keep in mind that there’s not a female in the state’s Congressional delegation. "It is an issue," Gill told Brian Lehrer. "You discuss these weighty, heavy issues, there is no women's voice to be heard in the New Jersey delegation at all."

Newark City Councilman Ron Rice Jr. took a more combative tone, calling for an end to the Bush era tax cuts and going after conservative Democrats.

"We could have had a public option in our health care  plan had  it not been for  democrats selling out the president. We could have a stronger stimulus package if it had not been for Democrats working with Republicans," he said.

Rice said he had received key labor backing, as well as endorsement from the majority of the Newark City Council and the Star Ledger.

Donald Payne Jr., the son of the late Congressman Payne Sr., sits with Rice on the  Newark City Council and also serves on the Essex County Freeholder Board.

Throughout the race, Payne has had to respond to the criticism that he's not qualified and that his candidacy is solely based on the fact that he's the late Congressman's son. Payne said building on that legacy does give his constituents the edge.

"Yes, the name is an introduction and it open doors. And the work the congressman did over the past thirty years speak for itself," Payne said. "There are other families that have gotten  into public office — the Rockefeller 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.”

Payne also has the endorsement of one key Democrat in Congress – Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

 Like the other candidates, Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith touted his resume.  

"Nobody understands  the hue and cry of the people than a mayor," said the three-term  mayor. He believes that kind of practical experience is missing in Washington. He said during his tenure he reversed the decline in municipal property tax and continued to attract outside investment into his city.  

According to the official ballot list there are two other Democratic contenders: Dennis Flynn of Glen Ridge and Cathy Wright of Newark.

On the Republican side, the candidate is unopposed: Brian Keleman of Bayonne.

Congressman Payne faced little opposition during his 23 years and the Democrats vying to fill his shoes are hoping for the same.