The Payne family name lives on in New Jersey's 10th Congressional District, with Donald Payne Jr. easily winning Tuesday the seat previously held by his late father.
Although many votes may not be counted for days as election officials in three counties sort through various provisional and mail-in ballots, Payne had already racked up a nearly 10-1 margin of victory over his Republican challenger with most districts reporting around 10:30 pm Tuesday.
The election was no contest for Payne, a Democrat who won June's primaries just as handily. Payne collected 157,821 votes, compared to Brian Keleman's 18,547. Keleman ran uncontested in the primaries.
"It's a bittersweet way to ascend to this seat," said Payne Tuesday from his campaign headquarters on Bergen Street in Newark. "But people told me that he'd (Payne Sr.) probably be proud of me so that makes it a little easier. But I'm just honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to succeed him in this capacity and continue to do the work the Paynes have done all their lives."
Payne fills the seat vacated by his father, Donald Payne Sr., who died in March.
The elder Payne spent two decades in Congress and made his mark as a staunch humanitarian who played a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
"He's one of the greatest heroes of the Irish struggle in Northern Ireland, a black man from Newark," said Payne of his father. "Wherever he saw injustice, he felt an obligation to step in and try to be on the side of justice and what was right."
Continuing his father's legacy, Payne said he'll focus on the economy, job creation and transportation and infrastructure in Congress, key issues that topped his agenda as a Newark politician.
Election Day was a particularly emotional day fo Payne, who donned a gray pinstriped suit and signature bowtie and was flanked by wife Beatrice and one of his sons at his headquarters. Payne said he and his father's personal and political lives paralleled each other, culminating with Payne being sworn into Congress at age 54, just like his father.
"There aren't many differences (between us)," he said. "He was my mother and my father so I spent my entire life by his side. I walked in a building today and spoke and a woman said, 'Oh my God, that was your father. I just heard him.'"
Essex County politicians and community leaders dropped by the Bergen Street headquarters to congratulate the congressman-elect, including Payne's uncle William Payne, county Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., county Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), and Assemblywomen Grace Spencer and Cleopatra Tucker. Payne supports and campaign workers, who crowded the small office space, cheered when he walked through the door after 8 p.m.
Payne, who for the remainder of his father's term, will vacate his posts as Newark city council president and Essex County freeholder-at-large. But given the voting chaos in wake of Hurricane Sandy, it could be days or weeks until District 10 results are officially certified, meaning a delay in when Payne can be sworn in, NJ.com reported.
Following redistricting, the 10th district is now comprised of Newark, parts of Bloomfield, Montclair and West Orange, as well as all of South Orange and Maplewood. It also covers parts of Hudson and Union counties. Millburn was part of the old 10th District.
"I'm just overwhelmed at the outpouring of support that I received," said Payne. "So now I owe it to the voters not to let them down."