State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark), the longest-serving Black legislator in state history, will resign his Senate seat on August 31 after a series of health issues have limited his ability to travel to Trenton or attend community events.
This marks an end to a 40-year political career for the Virginia-born Vietnam War veteran and retired Newark police officer who has made his mark as an advocate for social justice and civil rights.
InsiderNJ was first to report Rice’s anticipated departure and the New Jersey Globe has confirmed it.
Rice’s retirement, which some party leaders had sought to put off for another two weeks, will trigger a November special election to fill the remaining thirteen months of his current term. The district is among the most solidly Democratic in the state.
But first, Democratic county committee members in the 28th district must hold a special election convention between September 7 and October 5 to elect an interim senator to fill Rice’s seat.
Both of those elections would be run under the boundaries of the 2011 map.
The June 2023 primary will be run under a new district map run earlier this year.
Former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland), who has held the 27th district seat since 1982, called Rice’s departure “a sad day for me and my family.”
“He is probably my closest friend in the Legislature. We’ve shared many good times and many tough times. In my house, I have a big picture of myself, my wife, and Ron from after I won the race in a new district, which could have tilted either way. We won handily and Ron was there every step of the way. I had a good long conversation with him recently where we reminisced about decades of memories and laughed a lot. I look forward to seeing him again soon as he enters this new chapter,” Codey said. “I look forward to working with whoever fills his seat—they will certainly have very big shoes to fill.”
Senate President Nicholas Scutari called rice “an accomplished and admired public official who has dedicated much of his life to the service of others.”
“He served our country as a decorated Marine in Vietnam, he served his home City of Newark as a police detective, member of City Council and Deputy Mayor, and he served the residents of his district and the people of New Jersey for 36 years in the Legislature,” Scutari said. “Ron stood-up and spoke out for what he believed in and fought for the needs of the underprivileged. He left his mark in meaningful and lasting ways.”
Rice entered politics in 1981, winning a Newark City Council seat to represent the West Ward. He was re-elected three times and spent sixteen years on the council.
Rice was elected to the State Senate in a 1986 special election following the death of John P. Caufield. He has been re-elected eleven times.
Assemblyman Michael Adubato (D-Newark), who has spent thirteen years in the legislature, wanted the seat. Sensing the need for greater minority representation in the Senate, North Ward Democratic leader Stephen Adubato told his brother that the seat would go to Rice.
He defeated independent Anthony Montanelli by a 74%-15% margin, with Republican Frederick Douglas Randolph, Jr. received 11%.
Rice has beat back several serious primary challenges.
After Newark Mayor Sharpe James, Rep. Donald Payne (D-Newark), State Sen. Wynona Lipman and Steve Adubato backed for former Newark police officer Larry Brown in the 1997 Democratic primary, Rice ran off-the-line and won by 1,218 votes, 53%-47%.
He defeated former Assembly Minority Leader Willie Brown (D-Newark) in the primary by 986 votes, 54%-46% in 2001, and Essex County Freeholder and Irvington Councilman Bilal Beasley in 2007 by 475 votes, 52%–48%.
He gave up his council seat to run for mayor in 1998. James won a third term by a 56%-27% margin over Rice, with Mildred Crump finishing third with 17% of the vote.
From 2002 to 2006, Rice was the deputy mayor of Newark under James.
Following James’ retirement, Rice ran for mayor in 2006, but lost to Cory Booker by a 72%-23% in a four-candidate race.
This story was updated at 1:15 PM with comment from Codey.