The state’s longest-serving Black legislator, former Sen. Ronald Rice, died Wednesday at the age of 77.
Rice, a Democrat who represented the 28th District, served in the Legislature for 36 years, 18 of them as chair of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus. He had been in politics dating back to 1981 in Newark, before retiring last August as he dealt with health issues.
In a statement, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said that all of the city was saddened to learn of the passing of the former state senator, deputy mayor, and municipal council member, describing Rice as one of his greatest advisers and mentors.
“Ronald Rice wore many hats with distinction in a career of public service that lasted more than four decades – Newark Police Detective, first African-American to hold a West Ward council seat, deputy mayor, first African-American to hold elected office in both state and local government,” said Baraka. “In Trenton, he was both warrior and diplomat – fervent in his fight for the needs of our residents, and their quality of life. He was unwavering in his conviction that America will attain its highest ideals of liberty and justice and his sights were laser-focused on the long game of racial equality. He championed the discarded and disenfranchised and uplifted women, seniors, and children. He offered leadership and guidance to colleagues and constituents and mentored many active and aspiring leaders throughout the state.”
Baraka also noted that Rice was always there for Newark when the city needed him.
Remembrances and tributes poured in from political and business leaders around the state as they mourned Rice’s loss.
Gov. Phil Murphy said that he and his wife, First Lady Tammy Murphy, were deeply saddened to learn of Rice’s passing.
“For over 36 years in the New Jersey Senate, Sen. Rice served as a fearless and passionate advocate for his constituents and a powerful champion for social justice with a record of transformational legislative successes,” said Murphy. “Born in the Jim Crow-era South, Sen. Rice never hesitated to speak out when he saw injustice, nor did he back down from a challenge. His legacy and example will continue to inspire this administration and all of New Jersey’s leaders to work toward racial equity and expand opportunity for underserved communities.”
“I am terribly saddened at the passing of Ron Rice,” said Senate President Nick Scutari, D-22nd District, describing Rice as an accomplished and respected man who dedicated his life to the service of others. “Ron was a fearless man who stood up for his beliefs and fought tirelessly for civil rights and social justice. As the longest-serving African-American member of the Legislature and the founding leader of the Legislative Black Caucus, he left his mark in meaningful and lasting ways.”
Senate Republican Leader Steve Oroho, R-24th District, said he was saddened to learn of Rice’s passing and offered his deepest condolences to Rice’s family and loved ones on behalf of Senate Republicans.
“He was a fierce advocate for his constituents and a colleague who was deeply respected on both sides of the aisle. When he believed you were doing the right thing, he would forget about party and lend his support,” said Oroho. “I can’t think of anyone who was better at speaking from the heart on the Senate floor than Ron. His passionate voice and his presence in our chamber will be sorely missed.”
“Sen. Ronald Rice was a fierce advocate, a principled leader, and a dedicated public servant,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District. “His decades of service to his country and community were unparalleled in the Legislature. We will all cherish the lessons we have learned from our time with him. Rest assured his legacy will endure in our state for generations to come.”
“NJBIA mourns the passing of Sen. Rice, as it is an enormous loss for the State of New Jersey,” said Michele Siekerka, NJBIA president and CEO. “In addition to his legacy of trying to improve social justice, criminal justice, and economic justice, it was Sen. Rice’s independence as a free thinker, and his conviction to stand up for what he believed in, even it if was against the will of his party, that was truly to be admired. While we didn’t agree on all issues, we have immense gratitude for the times he stood up for New Jersey’s business community.”
“We send our heartfelt condolences to all of Sen. Rice’s family, especially his children, Ronald Jr., and Yuki,” the governor added. “I will be signing an executive order directing flags to fly at half-staff in his honor.”