Freshman U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. of Newark, who was elected to Congress by wide margins two years ago to succeed his late father, has three challengers in next week’s 10th District Democratic primary but does not appear to face serious opposition.
None of the three other candidates have raised much money or received significant media attention in the district. With wide name recognition, party support and a steady flow of campaign contributions, Payne, 55, appears likely to sweep the field again.
The former Newark councilman and Essex County freeholder was first elected to fill the seat previously held by Donald Payne Sr., who died in 2011 after serving in the House for 23 years. The elder Payne was the first African-American to represent New Jersey in Congress and was a major figure in Democratic politics.
“A lot of eyes are on me with that name -- everybody knows who you are -- so they're watching, and I've been able to demonstrate my ability to represent my constituents well,” the younger Payne said this week. “I look forward to doing that for many years.”
His challengers are Aaron Fraser of Jersey City, an ex-convict and entrepreneur; Robert Toussaint of Maplewood, who ran against the elder Payne as an independent in 2010; and Curtis Vaughn of Jersey City, who moved to the district three years ago.
Yolanda Dentley is running in the Republican primary.
The 10th District covers portions of Essex, Hudson and Union counties, including parts of Newark, Bayonne, Jersey City and Union Township.
With Democrats dominating the electoral rolls, the party’s primary will effectively determine the winner of the fall general election. In the 10th, 52 percent of registered voters are Democrats, 43 percent are unaffiliated and 5 percent are Republicans.
In the 2012 primary, Payne won 60 percent of the vote, besting fellow Newark Councilman Ron Rice, state Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex), and three other candidates. He won the general election with 87 percent of votes.
In the simultaneous special primary election for his father’s unexpired term, Payne won 71 percent to Rice’s 25 percent and Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith’s 5 percent, and went on to win nearly all the votes in the general election.
The press has largely ignored this year’s race, in part because of the intense focus on Newark’s hard-fought mayoral election, according to Payne. In that contest he endorsed Shavar Jeffries, who lost the May 13 vote to Ras Baraka. Payne said he is concerned about voter fatigue, given that some towns also had school board elections in late April and Newark and Bayonne will have council runoffs in June.
Fraser has pecked away at Payne’s frontrunner status, arguing that the congressman only won his seat because of name recognition and has been ineffective in office.
“The job of a congressman is to legislate. He is an ineffective legislator, and it's evidenced by the fact that he has drafted nine bills that even people within his own party say have no chance of even going to committee,” Fraser said. “He hasn't brought any jobs in, he hasn't brought any revenue in for the district, and no new businesses.”
Payne noted that his SMART Grid Study Act, which focuses on improving the nation’s electric grid, passed the Homeland Security committee in February, and said Fraser’s comments suggested he did not understand how Congress works. Few bills come to the floor because the House Republican majority wants to deny President Obama and the Democrats any achievements, Payne said.
“You need to understand the circumstances which we're working in right now. Then you would know why I have nine bills that haven't seen the light of day,” he said. “Well, I'm glad that he's counted them.”
Payne said gun control, immigration reform and implementation of the Affordable Care Act are key issues for the 10th District. He continues to push the SMART Grid law in an effort to avoid situations like the lengthy power outages that followed Hurricane Sandy.
He has also proposed the SAFE In Our Schools Act, which would require states that apply for Homeland Security grants to have school emergency preparedness plans. While some Republicans have objected to the new requirement, Payne said last year’s devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma demonstrated the need for such plans.
“We found in the Norman, Oklahoma (tornadoes) that first responders were going right by daycare centers that they did not realize were there, and not giving them the attention they needed right away. This would make sure those locations are identified and first responders and the police know where all these children are,” Payne said.
He is on two Homeland Security subcommittees, with priorities including Sandy relief, safety at Newark Liberty Airport, Port Newark and Port Elizabeth, and addressing cybersecurity threats. He is also a member of the Small Business Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Fraser, meanwhile, called Payne the “king of destruction, master of illusion,” criticizing him for voting himself raises on the Newark council and in Congress, and for failing to win approval for a national minimum wage increase.
Fraser has served time for robbery, for dealing cocaine, and for a 2001 scheme in which he met women online and had them cash counterfeit checks he had made, according to a.
He has written several novels about criminals and prisoners, has an MBA and a master’s degree, and has nearly completed work for a master’s in theology from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Fraser said he has also developed and sold dating websites, and worked as a campaign manager and speechwriter for politicians in New York.
Fraser said many people in the district have family members who have been in prison, and that they sympathize with ex-offenders like himself. Voters love “redemption stories,” he said.
His priorities are supporting prisoner re-entry programs, using student loan forgiveness as a form of economic stimulus, and creating “realistic jobs” for area residents with limited education.
“I want to do something similar to what we had in New York, where you create tax incentives for businesses to come in. They don't pay any taxes but they have to hire people within the district,” he said. “This will create a plethora of jobs for individuals. We can get manufacturing jobs back.”
Toussaint lists “education, job creation, immigration reform, health insurance” as his platform, without providing further detail. His campaign did not return phone and email messages.
He said he volunteered to help victims of Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, and after getting to know the district, became committed to finding solutions to the “deep-seated issues negatively impacting the quality of life in his community.”
His website focuses on his Christian faith, quoting the Bible to explain why he does not believe people are causing climate change. He also says he opposes abortion and wants to reverse the disintegration of the nuclear family.
“Let's lock arms together and harness our collective strengths to make the difference. I believe we were made for such a time as this and together we can ignite a fire that will change our homes, our communities and this nation forever,” the site says.
Vaughan did not respond to messages sent through his website and Twitter, and does not have a listed phone number.
Dentley, 49, lives in Roselle and is the vice principal of a middle school in Irvington. She announced her candidacy last month, saying she is running on a platform of "community, education and safety" and wants to work with Democrats and independents as well as Republicans.
Payne has received about $121,000 in campaign contributions this year. Recent contributors include PACs for AFSCME and PSEG, the Essex County Democratic Committee, and the campaigns of Democrats including Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, state senators Teresa Ruiz and Ron Rice, and Assembly members Sheila Oliver, Joe Cryan and Bonnie Watson Coleman, who is also running for Congress. Payne has given his campaign $5,000.
He has spent $86,000 this year, including about $32,000 on fundraising consultants. He said he cannot afford television commercials but will be sending mailers to voters. He had $104,158 cash on hand as of May 14.
Toussaint reported no new contributions this year but had $1,581 cash on hand. He has spent $5,418, mostly on property rental, office supplies and transportation.
Fraser registered with the Federal Election Commission but has not reported any contributions or expenditures. Vaughn and Dentley, the Republican candidate, have not filed with the FEC.
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