Newark City Council President Donald M. Payne Jr., whose father died last month after a 23-year career in Congress, will battle a fellow councilman, a state senator and the mayor of Irvington for the U.S. House seat.
Payne will face Ronald C. Rice of Newark’s west ward in the June 5 Democratic primary as well as five others, according to the state Elections Division. State Senator Nia Gill of Montclair and Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith are also on the ballot for the 10th congressional district, anchored by New Jersey’s biggest city.
The seat became vacant when the elder Donald Payne died March 6 from colon cancer. As the state’s first and only black congressman, the former Newark councilman forged a reputation as an advocate for democracy in Africa. Cathy Wright of Newark and Dennis R. Flynn have also filed the necessary paperwork to run.
The primary and general elections will feature two separate ballots, one for the two-year congressional term beginning in 2013 and the other for the remaining two months of the elder Payne’s unexpired term. Smith, Rice and Payne will also vie for the unexpired term.
“This is really a wide-open race,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, said yesterday by telephone. “This is the best chance they have. A resignation, a death or a scandal are really the only things that can open up a congressional seat. And you can’t count on any of those.”
The race recalls a 2008 Republican House primary in which seven candidates sought an open seat after then-U.S. Representative Michael Ferguson, a Republican who had held the central New Jersey district post from 2001 to 2009, decided not to run again, Murray said. Former state Senator Leonard Lance, a Republican from Clinton Township, won.
Payne, who also serves on the Essex County Freeholder Board, a legislative body, has been a council member since 2006. The county includes Newark, Irvington and Montclair.
Rice, the son of state Senator Ronald Rice of Newark, a Democrat and former deputy mayor of the city, took his seat on the council in 2006 as an ally of Mayor Cory Booker.
Gill, 64, has served in the state Senate since 2002 and heads its commerce committee. She is also vice chairman of the judiciary panel. She began in the Assembly in 1994.
Smith took office in 2002 as mayor of Irvington, a Newark suburb of about 56,100, and has served as head of the state’s Urban Mayors Association.