Democratic voters in the 10th Congressional District will get to choose from among six candidates in June 5 primary. This district covers portions of Essex, Union, and Hudson counties – in particular the western side of Bayonne and a good portion of the southwest sections of Jersey City.
The death on March 6 of Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) has left this seat vacant and will pit two Newark Councilmen, Donald Payne Jr. and Ron Rice Jr; Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith; state Sen. Nia Gill, (D-Essex); Dennis Flynn of Glen Ridge, and Cathy Wright of Newark against each other.
Because the district is so heavily Democratic, whichever candidate wins in the primary will most likely win in November’s general election.
Ballot positions, which often have an impact on how a candidate does, vary in the three counties. In Hudson County, Gill has the endorsement of the Hudson County Democratic Organization and will run on the same ballot line as President Barack Obama. In Essex County, which has the majority of the votes, Payne has the Democratic line with Obama. In Union County, no one is on the line with Obama, but Payne’s name is first on the ballot giving him as slight advantage.
Payne, Gill and Rice are considered the frontrunners in Hudson County. Payne has won the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Albio Sires, and powerful Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop.
Donald Payne Jr.
Donald Payne Jr. is 53 and currently in his second term as an At-large Newark City Councilman and council president. He is currently serving his third term as an Essex County Freeholder.
The son of the late Donald Payne Sr., Payne worked for a time as a toll collector, a transportation supervisor and a data systems coordinator.
While he has some endorsements from local unions, he seems to be strong among retail workers, and part of the focus of his campaign is job creation.
“The 10th District is no different than many places in the country. Residents want their elected officials in Washington fighting for jobs and growing the economy,” he said.
He said he’s fought for jobs in the past, even holding up a federally-funded improvement project in Newark in order to guarantee jobs came to local residents.
“I’m laser-focused on going down to Washington and bringing back good jobs back to the district. I’ll fight for infrastructure dollars. I’ll fight for good green jobs, retrofitting our buildings,” he said.
Although the 10th District is diverse in its needs with urban and suburban parts, he said talking to people in each area, the way his father did, is how he will learn about issues in each area.
“That’s why I made my third visit to Bayonne already in this campaign,” he said. “Bayonne has issues that are specific to it: seniors’ issues, green energy issues, commercial corridor issues, transportation issues, immigration issues. I can use my experience in government to help get perspective, but the best thing I can do is listen. I’ll continue talking to municipal officials, especially listening to residents, so I can best figure how I can use the Congressional office to help Bayonne.”
Payne is relying on the experiences his father shared with him during his time as Congressman. “I literally followed him around, accompanied him especially on his visits to towns in the district, Bayonne and Jersey City. And I learned his values too. I learned how to stand up for them as a congressman, even when they’re not fashionable. So you know, if I’m elected, I’ll go down to Washington and stand for human rights like he did. You can count on it.”
Ronald Rice Jr.
A two-term Newark councilman and the son of a prominent state senator, Ronald Rice Jr., 44, has racked up endorsements from labor and progressive groups. While Payne has the support of the Essex County Democratic Organization, Rice has strong support in areas of Newark where Payne’s father was strong.
Like Payne, Rice said the key issues are jobs, job creation, and health care.
“In urban areas, there is a need for new manufacturing jobs after jobs were outsourced and taken out of the area.” He said there are opportunities in alternative energy and the green industry. “If we get the right jobs, the manufacturing plants are still here, and through retrofitting they can become productive again.” In suburban areas, he said, small business needs to be supported and enhanced.
Rice said he is well-prepared for the job of congressman since he has already done significant work on policy as a councilman. As a graduate from American University with a law degree from Seton Hall, he interned on Capital Hill. He worked in a variety of public policy arenas for over 25 years serving as a law clerk in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and to a Superior Court judge in the Essex County Vicinage. He also served as a policy analyst at the New Jersey Department of Education and wrote the regulations for implementing the Abbott decision that enabled the Newark school district to receive millions in additional funding for universal pre-school and classroom teaching..
“I did that before I even held public office,” he said, noting that during his six years on the City Council, he authored more legislation than any other councilman previously in the same amount of time, dealing with issues such as ethics and pay-to-play laws for redevelopment. He said he is a strong supporter of gay rights and environmental issues, and he has opposed privatization of local government.
But he has a vision of organizing the district once elected in a way it has never been organized before, holding regular town meetings with resident so as to get the public more involved and to get a better idea of the needs of the district. He said he would use social media more effectively, and better connect with local officials.
He said he wants to bring a progressive agenda to Washington, which includes preserving health care, and Medicaid, and to work towards creating jobs and support for small business.
Nia Gill, of Montclair, is vying to become the only woman in New Jersey’s congressional membership. She has the most experience of the candidates in a legislative body, with three terms in the state Assembly and three terms in the state Senate. A strong advocate for women’s rights and expanding healthcare, she serves as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which handles all banking, insurance, and consumer affairs issues. She is also the first African-American to sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she serves as vice chairperson. She has been an opponent of Republican Gov. Christopher Christie on several issues, including seeking to override his veto of Planned Parenthood funding and his stripping of the school funding formula.
“When I get to Congress, I will work to help the middle class, protect Social Security, and work to make healthcare more accessible,” she said.
She will continue a career of finding ways to help small business and working families. She is opposed to guns on the street, and was responsible for legislation that required a 20-day waiting period for purchase of guns and require trigger locks. She said she is a strong supporter of anti-human trafficking legislation.
She said she also supports education and points to a bill that forgives student loans for those going to New Jersey institutions of higher education and who agree to teach later.
“This is to encourage younger people to go into teaching now that many of the baby boomers are retiring,” she said.
Like her opponents, she said, she sees job creation as a vital issue, and she is a supporter of President Obama’s healthcare program.
As vice chair of the Judiciary committee, she deals with similar policy issues as a similar committee in the House of Representatives.
“I already do in the state legislature what I would be doing in Congress,” she said.
She said she hoped to bring to the federal government some of the strategies for working with Republicans to get legislation passed, how to reach a consensus. In Washington, she has already made up her mind about some issues that are important to her.
“I will work to regulate the Wall Street bankers and to produce an agenda that protects and promotes working families – an agenda that doesn’t simply benefit Wall Street, but Main Street as well.”
The other candidates
Wayne Smith, 55, has served three terms as a councilman and is currently serving his third term as mayor of Irvington. He is the chief executive officer of his own public relations firm and has served as a state Democratic committeeman and president of the New Jersey Urban Mayor’s Association.
Cathy Wright, 58, has not served in political office before, sees herself as the everyman candidate, and believes her lack of experience is a positive. She supports sustainable green energy and wants to put a freeze on congressional pay for three years.
Dennis R. Flynn, 32, is a U.S. Air Force Iraq war veteran and wants to limit the influence of the federal government. Some of his issues of concern include violation of civil rights, cronyism, and controlling the power of the Military Industrial complex. He believes the education system in the 10th District is broken and needs to be fixed.