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State Sen. Ronald Rice. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Trailblazer: Senator Ronald Rice

Longest serving Black legislator in New Jersey history

By David Wildstein, January 17 2022 12:16 am

Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) is the longest-serving Black legislator in New Jersey history and has made his mark as an advocate for social justice and civil rights.

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-lone 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%.

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.

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.

A Vietnam veteran, Rice served as a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant.  He was also a Newark police officer for eight years.

This story was first published on January 18, 2021.

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