At his death, Rep. Payne was the longest-serving member of his state’s congressional delegation, and he was the head of a family political dynasty in New Jersey. He was a past chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“This is a pariah government, which once harbored Osama bin Laden and took more than 20 years to even begin to end its civil war with the south,” Rep. Payne told The Washington Post in 2004. “Darfur could happen again if we don’t condemn this government’s role in planning and executing” the militia’s campaign of killing.
He also served on an influential advisory group to Democratic congressional leaders and was a member of the Democratic steering committee, which assigns committee posts and develops the party’s legislative priorities.
Because he seldom faced political opposition in his district, Rep. Payne “had the luxury of following his heart in his voting record,” said Brigid Callahan Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “He was consistently one of the most liberal members of Congress.”
In 1994, Rep. Payne led a presidentially appointed delegation to Rwanda, seeking to end the ethnic violence that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In 2004, he called for the creation of an international war crimes tribunal to hold Sudanese militia members responsible for widespread massacres in Darfur. Within a year, the International Criminal Court began an investigation of atrocities committed in Darfur.
“Don Payne stood for human rights throughout his career,” Mark Schneider, senior vice president at the International Crisis Group, a human rights organization, said in an interview. “He forced several administrations to acknowledge what was happening throughout Africa and pressed for major diplomatic and financial commitments to Africa.”
Twice during visits to Somalia, Rep. Payne’s airplane was fired on by militants, but he escaped injury. He made so many trips to Africa and Haiti that he was sometimes accused of neglecting his constituents in New Jersey. In response, he often pointed to millions of dollars in federal spending that he steered toward projects in his district.
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By Matt Schudel, Tuesday, March 6, 12:17 PM