TRENTON, N.J.—A longtime New Jersey Democratic powerbroker who helped elect the state’s first black member of Congress has died. Raymond Durkin was 78.
Durkin died Tuesday at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, N.J., of complications related to heart failure and emphysema, his son Christopher told The Associated Press.
From 1980 to 1992, Durkin ran the Essex County Democratic Party. He led the state party from 1985 to 1990.
State lawmakers called Durkin a pillar of the political community and recalled him as a statesman and a friend.
“I loved Ray Durkin like a father. He was always there for me with great advice,” said state Sen. Richard Codey in a statement. “Ray was a great leader for our party. He always acted like a chairman, a statesman and a friend—never like a boss.”
Christopher Durkin said his father was proud of helping elect Donald Payne Sr. to the U.S. House, where he was the first African-American to represent New Jersey.
He was also proud of helping former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who was also black, get the support he needed to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1989, Christopher Durkin said.
Born in Newark, N.J., in 1936, Raymond Durkin served in the Army from 1957 to 1959 and was stationed in Germany as an enlisted soldier.
From 1960 to 1975, he worked at the Newark Fire Department. Using the GI Bill, he attended Seton Hall University, taking night classes, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree after seven years, Christopher Durkin said. He also worked as a purchasing agent for Essex County, N.J.
But it was politics and being involved with the public that Ray Durkin loved.
“His mind was beautiful, but his gift was in his love of people,” Christopher Durkin said. “He could connect with people.”
In addition to son Christopher, he is survived by his wife Joan, sons Raymond, Timothy, and David, and daughter Maureen Holleran.
From The Associated Press