Rep. Donald Payne, the first African American elected to Congress from New Jersey and the dean of that state's delegation, died Tuesday after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 77.
Payne represented New Jersey's heavily democratic 10th District, encompassing parts of Union, Hudson and Essex counties, including sections of Newark. He was a teacher, business executive and local officeholder before winning his seat in Congress in 1988. He was easily reelected 11 more times.
Payne was chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and had held several leadership roles in the House.
In a statement, President Obama praised him as a leader in U.S.-Africa policy, "making enormous contributions toward helping restore democracy and human rights across the continent."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Payne a "leader of conscience and a public servant of diligence."
"He was admired by his colleagues; he earned respect around the world for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of human rights and the worth and dignity of every person," the California Democrat said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, called Payne a friend and "role model for every person in New Jersey who aspires to public service." Christie was to sign an executive order to have flags at state buildings lowered Payne's his honor.
Payne's passing creates a second vacancy in the House, which now stands at 242 Republicans and 191 Democrats. A special election will probably be called to fill the seat, potentially in time for the state's regular June primary.