Remembering Congressman Donald Payne

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking in honor of the late Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey.  On her right is Mr. Payne’s son, Donald Payne Jr. who is running for the seat vacated by his father. 

(Charlotte, North Carolina) – The United States House of Representatives lost one of its most passionate supporters for global health, development and security in Africa this year. Donald Payne, the New Jersey Democrat and longtime chair or ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, succumbed to cancer in March.

His legacy was celebrated and honored last night at an event co-hosted by the UN Foundation, Malaria No More, The ONE Campaign, and Devex. It is fitting that a coalition of globally conscious health and development groups would come together to honor the life’s work of Congressman Payne. He was a true champion of American leadership on HIV/AIDS and Malaria and was deeply involved in conflict resolution efforts in some of Africa’s toughest hotspots. He provided needed American support to help solve some of Africa’s more intractable security problems, sometimes at his own personal risk. (In 2009 he was the first US member of congress to visit Mogadishu in nearly a decade…and had his plane shot with mortar fire.)

Payne was a strong supporter of a robust relationship between the United States and United Nations. This would make sense. Much of the UN’s day-to-day work pertains to development health and conflict resolution programs in Africa. A strong and empowered United Nations helps countries overcome these challenges; and a strong United Nations requires the political, financial and moral support of the United States.

That formula was clearly on the minds of some of the members of congress who attended the Payne tribute. This being the Democratic Party’s National Convention, so was politics. One of Congressman Payne’s colleagues from New Jersey, Congressman Rush Holt, said forthrightly that supporting the UN is a political winner. “You saw the Republican convention,” he told me. “They turned ‘the UN’ into an epithet. We need to own it.”

Polling data supports the idea that Americans overwhelmingly favor a robust American partnership with the United Nations. In polling conducted by a bi-partisan firm last April, more than eight out of ten voters said it is important that the United States maintain an active role within the United Nations. It found that the sentiment crosses party lines, with a majority of Republicans agreeing that the USA should stayed engaged with the UN.

If you take a few moments to read through the polling data, you’ll find what Congressman Payne intuitively knew from his life’s experience and what Congressman Holt believes is a political winner: a strong American partnership with the United Nations is valuable to the United States and to the world.