Long time political organizer and pro-democracy activist Imani Oakley will challenge U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. for the 2022 Democratic nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 10th congressional district, which encompasses parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties.
Oakley said the district has long been underserved by government officials and exploited by corporations.
In addition to having one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, the district has significant issues with lead, soil, and air pollution from negligent industries, and Payne showed up at a .
“We’ve been left out by New Jersey’s political machine for decades,” Oakley said. “But it doesn’t have to be this way: we can have real, progressive leadership in Washington.”
“New Jersey’s 10th District deserves a representative in Congress who isn’t afraid to take on the establishment, stand up for democracy, and fight for marginalized communities,” Oakley said. “However, despite pressing issues around health, housing, and safety, we haven’t had that.”
The district is currently represented by Rep. Donald Payne Jr. — a Congressman with one of the highest absentee rates in the House and who recently was caught coming to work in his underwear, the challenger observed.
Unlike Payne, she noted, Oakley has been an unyielding advocate for the district’s powerless for decades.
Born at St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick and raised in Montclair, New Jersey by a single
working mother, her roots here run deep.
“For years, I’ve been disheartened by the rabid corruption infesting our state,” Oakley said. “From patronage, to cronyism, to New Jersey’s corrupt ballot design, I knew I had to start fighting to make a change.”
After graduating Howard law school, Oakley went on to serve as a Constituent’s Advocate in the U.S. Senate, a Deputy Chief of Staff in the State Legislature, and the Legislative Director for the New Jersey Working Families Alliance. Most recently, she was the Dean of Movement Building at Movement School Campus where she helped bring courses on electoral campaign skills to progressives from marginalized backgrounds nationwide.
Oakley is leading opposition to the “ballot line” — a legal process that allows corrupt political machine bosses to undermine democracy across the state by giving insiders unfair advantages on the primary election ballot.
“Every part of our state is weakened when our democracy is eroded,” Oakley said. “And there is nothing more corrosive in New Jersey politics today than the county line.”
Oakley’s campaign plans to focus on fighting for economic justice, racial justice, a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, workers’ rights, innovative infrastructure, demilitarization both nationwide and abroad, and of course a fair democracy for each and every one of us.
Payne was elected in 2012, to replace his father, who was congressman for the district since he was first elected in 1988. The elder Payne was reelected 11 times without significant opposition after becoming the first African-American to represent the state in Congress.
After his father’s death, the younger Payne ran in a special election to fill the remainder of his father’s unexpired term and for the two-year term beginning in January 2013. The primaries for both elections were held on June 5, and the general elections on November 6.
According to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Payne both raised and spent more money than any other 2012 Democratic candidate and he was subsequently reelected four times, also without significant opposition.
Zellie Thomas, a long-time New Jersey Black Lives Matter activist, endorsed Oakley’s congressional campaign, saying: “I am proud and excited to endorse Imani Oakley for Congress. She — a working-class, progressive organizing, woman of color — is the champion our communities need.”
“Imani has been organizing — for Black lives, for Medicare for All, for protecting immigrants — for years,” said Thomas, who has been a fixture in New Jersey ’s racial justice movement fighting against police brutality. “Her movement chops, organizing experience, and extensive political background set her apart as a candidate. I am excited for her to take our shared fight to Congress.”