After serving more than a decade in local political posts, Payne decided he wanted to represent Newark from Capitol Hill. He tried twice to unseat Democratic Rep. Peter Rodino, who represented New Jersey’s 10th District for 40 years. When Rodino retired in 1988, Payne coasted to victory, just as he did in the 11 succeeding elections.
Shortly after news broke of Payne's death, his colleagues in the House quickly issued statements reflecting on his years of service and his legacy.
"New Jersey has lost one of its greatest leaders in the fight for equality and fairness for all Americans, and one of the greatest advocates for families of the Garden State," Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. "Donald Payne was a true trailblazer — a champion for education and civil rights. ... I will greatly miss my friend and brother."
Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, also praised Payne's commitment to equality and justice, as well as his wide-reaching influence.
"Today we have all lost a champion for the undeserved, a voice for the downtrodden, a leader for peoples and causes that are too often neglected," he said in a statement. "Presidents, Prime Ministers and many of his colleagues in Congress followed Don's lead and sought out his counsel."
"I was proud to recognize Congressman Payne's global advocacy by recommending that President George W. Bush name him a congressional delegate to the United Nations," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. "He earned respect around the world for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of human rights and the worth and dignity of every person."