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Rep. Donald Payne was a quiet but dogged friend of his constituents at home, as well as those who suffer from hunger and deprivation abroad, former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday at the New Jersey congressman's funeral.
Clinton called Payne, who died last week of colon cancer at age 77, "a dear friend" who "made me a better president" for his efforts in Africa and elsewhere.
A who's who of current and former politicians attended Payne's funeral at Newark's Metropolitan Baptist Church, a place the 12-term congressman returned to often during his years in office, the Rev. David Jefferson and others said.
"What made him loved was that he was not only global, he was grounded," the Rev. Al Sharpton said. "Donald Payne never forgot why people sent him to Trenton and to Washington."
The Democrat became New Jersey's first black congressional member in 1988. He served as a member of House committees on education, foreign affairs and a subcommittee on Africa. He is considered one of the first U.S. officials to speak out on atrocities in war-torn Sudan.
Also speaking at the funeral was U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who said Payne helped pave the way for Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, as well as for a black attorney general — Holder himself.
"We stood upon his shoulders," he said.
Others who attended included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gov. Chris Christie, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson, Rep. John Lewis, and other congressional members and state politicians.
Payne had announced in February that he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer and would continue to represent his district. He was flown home to New Jersey Georgetown University Hospital as his health took a sudden turn for the worse, and died four days later, on March 6.
He was first elected in 1988 after twice losing to former Rep. Peter Rodino, who retired after 40 years in Congress.