N.J. Seat Likely to Remain Vacant Until Lame Duck

Posted March 6, 2012 at 11:07am

The special election to succeed the late Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) isn’t likely to be held until November — meaning the seat will remain vacant for eight months.

The New Jersey Constitution includes provisions for a special election to fill a Congressional vacancy. But state tradition has it that special elections are rarely held because of the costs associated. Instead, the special election is held in conjunction with the state’s scheduled primary and general elections. A candidate’s name appears twice on the ballot, once for the special election and again in the contest for a full term.

The 10th district is a safe Democratic seat, so whichever candidate wins the June 5 regular and special election primary is all but assured of winning the November contests. The winner of the special would be sworn in at the beginning of the lame-duck session.

There are two obvious would-be candidates to run to succeed the late lawmaker, who was the first African-American elected to represent New Jersey in Congress. One is Payne’s son and namesake, Newark Council President Donald Payne Jr. New Jersey sources say he has been groomed over the years to succeed his father in Congress some day.

The other candidate is Newark Councilman Ron Rice, who was already challenging Payne in the Democratic primary. Like Donald Payne Jr., he is the son of a Newark politico. The consensus was that Donald Payne Sr. would have beaten Rice with ease in the primary because he had prepared with strong fundraising and had the backing of county political machine.

Rice released a statement this morning praising the late Congressman.

“Donald Payne was more than a son of Newark. He was an icon who was not only a trailblazer for New Jersey, but also a pioneer who made a real difference in the lives of all Americans, particularly African-Americans,” he said. “What barriers existed, he helped tear down and showed future generations that the promise of America was accessible to all of us. I am truly in his debt, for I would not be here without him. God bless the Payne family. My thoughts and prayers are with them.”