EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange renamed the plaza outside of City Hall on June 1, changing it from City Hall Plaza to Congressman Donald M. Payne Sr. International Plaza, honoring the late congressman who was the longtime representative of East Orange in the U.S. House of Representatives. First elected in 1988, Payne Sr. represented New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District from 1989 until his death in 2012; his son, Donald Payne Jr., replaced him in Congress and is still in office today.
“Congressman Payne (Sr.) carried his legacy of peace from the streets of Newark to villages and nations throughout the world,” East Orange Mayor Ted Green said at the event. “He knew that despite the oceans that separate us, we are all one. He spent his life making meaningful connections to make a difference in all of our lives. It is fitting that we in the city of East Orange name this plaza after a man who was such a pioneer in politics. We have benefited so much from his policies.”
Green listed what he called the “Payne principals,” issues that were important to Payne Sr., such as education, civic engagement, inclusion, diversity and foreign affairs.
“He was an educator who used his platform to champion his constituents and gave them a voice,” Green said. “Now his son, our congressman, has taken the baton to ensure that his father’s legacy never ends. We say that we’re one city, that we’re one community, that we have one goal and that goal is progress. The progress will continue here in this community because of the great pioneers like Donald Payne Sr.”
City Council Chairperson Christopher Awe led the effort to rename the plaza after Payne Sr. and spoke at the ceremony, calling the late congressman a giant in New Jersey politics.
“Payne Sr. was a man among giants and became a giant in his own right,” Awe said. “He never forgot his home and inspired the generations behind him so that they, too, can become giants in their community. I am one of the individuals who was inspired by his legacy and personal touch. While his legacy is well documented, in no place was his impact felt greater than in the 10th Congressional District. It was common to see our congressman stopping door to door, at city council meetings unannounced or even impromptu visits to our schools. Yes, we know that Newark was his home, but we also know that he made East Orange his second home. Can you blame him? The relationship that he had with our city, and ours with him, was not for show. It was earnest, and he cared about all people.”
Members of the Payne family were at the ceremony, including Payne Sr.’s brother, William Payne. He spoke at the event as well, calling East Orange a second home because of the large number of friends and family he had in the city while he was growing up in Newark. William Payne represented the 29th legislative district, which included Belleville and the east side of Newark, in the New Jersey State Assembly from 1998 to 2008.
“I was fortunate enough to travel with my brother to places around the world, and I saw firsthand the reaction that he got from people,” he said. “I’m happy we’ve had the opportunity to build this relationship with East Orange and that we’re honoring my brother. We all miss him; he was an incredible person.”
Payne Jr. also honored his father at the ceremony, acknowledging his two sisters, Nicole and Wanda; Wanda Payne died last August, and Nicole Payne was in the audience at the event. He also thanked his wife, Beatrice, and his son, Jack, who were there as well.
“This is something that my father would be humbled by today that you are doing for him,” Payne Jr. said. “He didn’t look for much or ask for anything, and he would be honored by what you’ve given him today. As he traveled to over 110 countries before his passing, he never forgot East Orange and the 10th Congressional District. Even though he was known across the world, this was his home. He made sure people knew, appreciated and understood he represented the 10th Congressional District.”
Councilman Christopher James also spoke at the event, in addition to Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. Felicia Farrar performed, as did preschoolers from Three Stages Learning Center.
“I’ve never tried to fill my father’s shoes,” Payne Jr. said. “I’ve followed them. Because there’s no way that I could fill his shoes. Thank you for this wonderful honor.”