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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in Washington

New Jersey congressman Donald Payne Jr dies aged 65

a man in a suit and tie speaks into a microphone
Donald Payne Jr in Washington in 2013. Photograph: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Donald Payne Jr, a US congressman from New Jersey, died on Wednesday, more than two weeks after a heart attack. He was 65.

Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey, paid tribute to his fellow Democrat, whom he called a friend and “steadfast champion for the people” of his state.

“With his signature bow tie, big heart and tenacious spirit, Donald embodied the very best of public service,” Murphy said.

“As a former union worker and toll collector, he deeply understood the struggles our working families face, and he fought valiantly to serve their needs, every single day.”

Payne had a heart attack on 6 April. Taken to hospital in Newark, he did not regain consciousness.

He was first elected to Congress in 2012, succeeding his father, Donald Payne Sr, the first Black congressman ever elected in New Jersey who also died in office.

Reporting Payne Jr’s death, the New Jersey Globe said he had “checked all the boxes for support among progressive voters: he supported Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, racial justice, equal rights for all, reproductive freedom, public transportation, and free college tuition.”

The paper also saluted Payne’s work to fund clean drinking water projects, with notable success in his own city, Newark, and his sponsorship of gun safety legislation.

Among Payne’s fellow Democrats in Congress, Joe Neguse of Colorado said he was “devastated to learn of the passing of my dear friend and colleague … a giant, a true public servant whose kindness, good humor and commitment to his constituents knew no bounds”.

Jasmine Crockett, from Texas, said Payne was “a progressive leader on transportation and infrastructure” and said: “I join his family, friends, and constituents in mourning a great man and fighter for the people of New Jersey.”

The Rev Al Sharpton, the New York-based civil rights leader, called Payne “my friend and brother for many years”.

In his statement, Governor Murphy said: “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.

“Donald’s love will live on in the homes of his neighbors in Newark, who now have access to safe drinking water, and in the good-paying jobs he helped create for his brothers and sisters in labor. And it will live on in his wife Beatrice, and their three children, Donald III, Jack, and Yvonne, who were the pride of his life.

“Our heartfelt prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

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