Although on the surface all appears quiet on the CD 10 front, a battle is brewing underneath and soon to come to a head. None of the three leading candidates, County Freeholder President and Newark Councilman Donald Payne Jr, Montclair Senator Nia Gill and Newark Councilman Ron Rice, are waging a public, news-attracting battle. Only Rice has registered with the Federal Election Commission. Nonetheless, to run in the primary each must submit a petition by April 2.
To stand a chance to win the primary and thus ultimately the election, each seeks Line A support from one or more county Democratic committees. For several weeks it has appeared that Essex County political boss Steve Adubato, County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and County Committee Chair Philip Thigpen (a Payne cousin) want to crown the legacy candidate Donald Payne, Jr. They view him as one whose name recognition makes him the most electable and one who is in support of their regime. With 57% of CD 10 in Essex this gives them and Donald Payne a substantial advantage. Hudson has 23% and Union has 20%. Senator Gill has support from Union’s political boss Senator Ray Lesniak and is seeking support in Hudson and Essex counties. Councilman Rice has campaigned in Hudson and Essex Counties and seeks support in Union as well. Whether Union and Hudson will make peace with Essex and bow to Essex’s wishes remains unclear.
Councilman Rice has an enviable progressive record and is well-known in Newark and the county. Senator Gill also has a strong progressive record, a history of taking on the Essex machine, and as a female would add an important component to our congressional delegation. Donald Payne, Jr. prior to elected office served in the New Jersey Highway Authority in the tolls division, worked at the Essex County Educational Services Commission as a school bus monitor and eventually supervisor of student transportation. For 20 years he carried out Democratic party tasks in the South Ward. It is hard to discern any distinguished contributions he has made as either Councilman or Freeholder President.
The fog of battle will clear shortly, and both Union and Hudson may bow to the wishes of Essex and provide a unified front. If endorsed by all three counties, Donald Payne, Jr. would be the winning candidate and maintain this seat in Democratic hands. (The seat would also be in the hands of the Essex machine.) The more independent Councilman Ronald C. Rice or Senator Nia Gill would bring a more distinguished record and more progressive values, but they have a tougher battle.