Donald Payne Jr. is set to replace his father in the House next year. After the death of Donald Payne Sr. from colon cancer in March 2012, Payne Jr. became the heir apparent in this heavily African-American and Democratic district. Once he secured a victory in the Democratic primary, Payne Jr. coasted to victory in the fall.
A Newark native, Payne became involved in politics as a teenager when he founded and became president of the Newark South Ward Junior Democrats. He attended Kean College (now Kean University) and studied graphic arts, but did not graduate. At 21, he began working in the tolls division of the New Jersey Highway Authority, but a back injury forced his resignation a few years later. In 1996, at the age of 27, he became a school bus monitor with the Essex County Educational Services Commission, and went on to become director of student transportation for the county.
In 1992, he was elected by local Democrats to the party position of South Ward leader in Newark. In 2006, Payne was elected to the Newark Municipal Council and was its president from 2010 to 2012. During his tenure, he cofounded Embracing Arms, a nonprofit youth-advancement organization that sponsors a book club, art programs, and public service projects for young people.