BREAKING: New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne Jr. Dead at 65

Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) has passed away from complications after suffering a heart attack on April 6. Payne never regained consciousness after the cardiac arrest and was kept alive on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. He was 65 years old.

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“Tammy and I are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of our friend, and a steadfast champion for the people of New Jersey, Congressman Donald Payne, Jr.,” wrote New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in a statement released just after noon ET on Wednesday.

Payne’s office originally attempted to depict the heart attack as non-life-threatening. “Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. suffered a cardiac episode based on complications from his diabetes during the weekend,” said a statement released by the office, which it attributed to Payne. “He was admitted to a local hospital for treatment. Currently, he is recovering in the hospital as doctors conduct routine exams to monitor and observe his improvement. The Congressman’s prognosis is good and he is expected to make a full recovery.” Payne’s office originally estimated his hospital stay would last about a week.

After Payne failed to return to Capitol Hill, Politico reporter Matt Friedman commented on the rep’s prolonged absence. 

I and everyone else hopes U.S. Rep. Donald Payne recovers from his heart attack. But I don’t think you need medical expertise to gather that the prognosis can’t be great if he’s still unconscious and on a respirator nearly two weeks after the heart attack, as New Jersey Globe reported last week. 

That is a far cry from how Payne’s office initially described the congressman’s condition when they disclosed he suffered a “cardiac episode” but had a “good prognosis.” “Currently, he is recovering in the hospital as doctors conduct routine exams to monitor and observe his improvement,” a statement from his office said two weeks ago.

Presumably in response to the report about the congressman’s health, his office issued a follow-up statement Wednesday saying the congressman was “in stable condition at a local hospital and continues to be under doctor’s care.” “While we hope for a full recovery, we ask everyone to keep him in your prayers,” it said. 

“Stable condition” sounds reassuring, but it’s vague. And the statement didn’t contradict the earlier report, which frankly makes his condition sound grave.

Let’s hope the congressman’s office offers some more clarification soon. They haven’t since Wednesday. I understand family considerations may be at play, but when it comes to representatives’ health, it’s everyone’s business to some extent.

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Payne “was first elected to Congress in 2012 after his father, Rep. Donald M. Payne Sr. (D-Newark) – the first Black congressman in New Jersey history – died of cancer,” reported the New Jersey Globe. “The younger Payne had previously served as the president of the Newark City Council and as an Essex County Freeholder.”

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Payne was running unopposed for the Democrat nomination in the upcoming June 4 Democratic primary and was expected to hold onto his seat in the dark blue 10th district.

While Payne was hospitalized, The Hill commented on how his absence impacted the balance of power in the House of Representatives:

Payne’s time away from Congress comes as there is already a small gap between the number of Democrats and Republicans in the House, with the chamber looking to take on issues including Ukraine aid and reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the coming days. 

The GOP’s razor-thin majority, which shrunk when former Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) left in late March, will further narrow when Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) leaves Congress on April 19.

Please pause for a moment to send prayers for comfort and peace to Donald Payne, Jr.’s loved ones.

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