Rep. Donald Payne, the long-term congressman from New Jersey, died on Tuesday of complications from colon cancer. He was 77.
Payne, New Jersey’s first African-American congressman and a past chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 12 terms. He was a member of House committees on education and foreign affairs, as well as the most recent chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
“His top priorities remained closing the achievement gap, providing equitable funding for public schools and making college and health care more affordable,” his office said in a statement on Tuesday.
As the former chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, Payne was also among Congress’ most vocal members on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, pushing President Obama to take bolder action with the Sudanese government to end the conflict. In his role as subcommittee chairman, he traveled to Africa many times on foreign affairs issues. As the Associated Press reports:
[In] 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.
A native of Newark, N.J., Payne was a member of the Newark City Council prior to his election to the House in 1988. He also served as a public schoolteacher in Newark for 15 years. Payne was a widower with three children, including Newark City Councilman Donald Payne Jr., and four grandchildren.