Rep. Donald Payne of New Jersey dies at age 77

BETH DeFALCO Associated Press Published:

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, a Democrat known his work on human rights and on behalf of the poor, died Tuesday. He was 77.

Payne, the first black congressional member from New Jersey, died at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, said his brother, William.

The 12-term member of the House had announced in February that he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer and would continue to represent his district. He was flown back home to New Jersey on Friday from Georgetown University Hospital as his health took a sudden turn for the worse.

He had held his congressional seat since 1988 and was elected to a 12th term in 2010. He represented the 10th District, which includes the city of Newark and parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties.

"Congressman Payne spoke out on behalf of suffering people in some of the most difficult situations around the world: from Rwanda to Sudan to the peace process in Northern Ireland," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

During an April 2009, mortar shells were fired toward Mogadishu airport as a plane carrying Payne took off safely from the Somali capital. Officials at the time said 19 civilians were injured in residential areas. Payne had met with Somalia's president and prime minister during his one-day visit to Mogadishu to discuss piracy, security and cooperation between Somalia and the United States.

New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., whose district to the north of Newark bordered Payne's, called him a "champion for education and civil rights who sought to combat injustice all over the world."

Payne was a member of House committees on education and foreign affairs. He also had served as chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, and had traveled many times to the continent on foreign affairs matters.

Payne had been chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a congressional delegate to the United Nations. He also was a member of the Newark City Council from 1982 until 1988 and was a teacher in Newark for 15 years. He also served as president of the national YMCA. He earned a bachelor's degree from Seton Hall University in 1957.

Payne was a widower with three children and four grandchildren. His son, Donald Payne Jr., is a Newark city councilman.

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Associated Press writer Andrew Miga in Washington contributed to this report.

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