The NEWARK – On Saturday, residents of every region of the Garden State gathered here to celebrate the life of Ronald L. Rice (D-28), a former state senator who is widely remembered as an unwavering, sometimes lone voice defender of the poor and disenfranchised.
U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey 12) informed the crowded audience in Ruth Bader Ginsberg Hall at Rutgers University that “this is such a lovely tribute to someone who deserves it.” “Good afternoon, Senator Ron Rice supporters,” I’ll begin.
A former chair of the Democratic State Party and an assemblywoman, Watson Coleman collaborated with Rice in the Legislative Black Caucus. The lawmaker recalls that, “Nobody analysed the budget like Ron Rice did.”
When it came time for the caucus meeting, the seasoned senator would arrive with a 20-page analysis of the budget’s effects on vulnerable populations. While Rice read every page, the other members all rose up. When it comes to issues of fairness, equality, responsibility, and openness, he is the true north star.
He was concerned that state government funds weren’t being used properly [to help the most helpless people].
The late Watson Coleman’s remark that “he [often] stood alone” elaborates on this point. We in the black caucus knew he would stand up for every New Jersey resident whose concerns had not been fully heard.
The congresswoman informed her friend and colleague, sitting at the head of the table with his son (former West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice) and daughter, “You made us better as a legislature, Ron.”
Attendees included Democratic State Party Chairman LeRoy Jones, Legislative Black Caucus Chair Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (below), former Governor James McGreevey, former state Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assemblymen Herb Conaway, Tom Giblin, Angela McKnight, Mila Jasey, Wayne Richardson (President of the Essex County Commission), Whip Wilson (Deputy Sheriff of Camden County), and Robert (Commissioner) Passio (
Countless others showed out as well, and even more spoke, showering their longtime leader with praise and admiration.
On record, the state’s governor, Nick Scutari, the current Senate president, and House Speaker Craig Coughlin paid their respects. The Governor remarked, “He’s the kind of guy you want in your foxhole.” The senator often brings up war analogies.
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In retirement, Rice, a Vietnam veteran, Newark police officer and detective, a trailblazing Newark City Councilman, deputy mayor, and community organiser, continues to inspire those familiar with his story as one who ran his particularly tough and challenging leg of the American journey with a wise, mentoring understanding of what went before, and a fearless forward-seeking devotion to shifting power to disadvantaged populations.
His accomplishments, as affirmed by the guests at his gala, stand in stark contrast to those of today’s political figures, who strike Caligula-like self-idolizing poses in their resistance to the country’s history, to battles won and shifts in power gained, and a surreal, ahistorical sense of entitlement.
Everyone in the room stood up to applaud Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Baraka reminded the crowd, “I was only a kid, and I grew up beneath a lot of giants, seeing them battle one other, profiting from them going at it for our benefit.” Senator Rice “was one of those titans,” the mayor said.
Baraka expressed appreciation to the senator for the guidance he had received and the insight he had gained by observing him battle on many occasions when he was alone. He made a reference to his late father, the poet Amiri Baraka, who spoke for black unity and struggle with a burning passion in his own time. We enjoy a good fight, but sometimes we forget the importance of being united, Mayor Baraka lamented.
As a matter of fact, he didn’t always agree with Rice. It was an uphill battle for them. We have differing views on marijuana,” he admitted.
In my head, I’m much younger than I am. It’s up to us to survive, after all. A lot of black folks in this state don’t feel they have a voice, so I appreciate you standing up for them.
Baraka declared his affection for Rice by saying, “I love you.” That feeling was shared by many and was expressed frequently. In the end, the political legacy of the aggressively “combative” former Senator Ronald L. Rice is the unity sought by the Barakas and Rice slate mate Assemblyman Caputo.