Speculation on who will succeed Representative Donald Payne, who died March 6, might best be delayed until after he is laid to rest on Wednesday, after which individuals will feel free to announce they are candidates, not candidates or maybe candidates. Nonetheless, the landscape has changed from 1988 when Representative Payne was first elected. At that time he had previously run against the incumbent Rep. Peter Rodino twice. Rodino after 40 years in office finally announced in 1988 he would not run again. Although fellow Municipal Councilman Ralph T. Grant contested Payne in the primary, there was no doubt that the successor would be the respected and well-regarded Donald Payne. He won with 77% of the votes and maintained a high voting record, sometimes unopposed, throughout his tenure. This time there is no one individual held in such high esteem nor considered as such an obvious choice. Also the map of this district over the successive years has changed but the population remains over 70% non-white with Newark as its largest city.
Our crazy-quilt redistricting process yields a map for the 2012 CD elections with 57% of its population in Essex County, 23% in Hudson County, and 20% in Union County. It includes much of Essex County with much of Newark (153,337), part of Hudson with much of Jersey City (135,919) and part of Union County with part of Union (25,031). The historic home of this seat is Newark and the power center more broadly is Essex County, but Hudson County (particularly Jersey City) and Union represent 43% of the electorate.
By law the governor can appoint a temporary Senator when a vacancy occurs, but not a temporary Representative, so the office will remain vacant until a successor is elected. In the meantime staff continue routine activities. The governor is required to initiate a special election, and he could hold it earlier than the normal November 3 date, but such appears unlikely.
Voters in Elizabeth, which is in the current CD but not the new redistricted one, will have an opportunity to vote along with other current CD members in November for the remaining part of Rep. Payne’s term of office from November through early January. Those in the new CD will vote separately for the period that encompasses a new term from January 2013 through January 2015. There will also be a primary in June. Altogether this will be a confusing process for voters, made more so by the lack of an heir apparent. One prediction that can be made with virtual certainty is that a Democrat will win in this largely Democratic district.