Lautenberg, last World War II vet in office, dies at 89

Frank Lautenberg
Frank Lautenberg

Politics were set aside earlier this week as members of parties remembered the passing of the oldest member of the United States Senate from New Jersey, Democrat Frank Lautenberg.

The death Monday of Lautenberg, 89, the last remaining World War II veteran in the United States senate and the oldest, brought a bevy of tributes from Union County politicians who lauded his long and often controversial career.

A liberal politician who wrote some of the most change evoking health and safety laws, died of complications from viral pneumonia at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. The senator’s funeral was held yesterday at a New York synagogue in Manhattan.

Prior to going into the political arena, Lautenberg became a multimillionaire, building Automatic Data Processing, ADP, one of the largest payroll services companies. He entered politics late, often using his own money to bankroll his political ambitions.

Lautenberg, who lived in Cliffside Park, had recently announced he would be retiring in January 2015, the end of his fifth term. Even though he was ailing the last few years, the New Jersey senator avidly supported bills to reduce gun violence, even going to Washington in April to vote in favor of a bill that would expand background checks on gun purchases.

Ironically, Lautenberg was first elected in 1982 after calling opponent Republican Millicent Fenwick a “national monument,” because he felt she was too old to serve. He served until 2000 when he retired after three terms. He earned a reputation as a scrappy politician who chaired the transportation appropriations committee and fought the tobacco industry even though he had once been a two-pack-a-day smoker.
In fact, in 1989, it was Lautenberg who managed to win a smoking ban on almost all domestic airplane flights.

Two years later, he returned as the 78-year-old freshman lawmaker from New Jersey who became a thorn in the Bush administration’s side.
Earlier this week, both Democrat and Republican politicians lauded the senator for his long tenure in Washington and the many battles he waged on behalf of New Jersey residents and those throughout the nation.

“Senator Frank Lautenberg will always be remembered as a dedicated public servant and tenacious fighter for New Jersey. A proud veteran of World War II, he was New Jersey’s longest-serving member of the U.S. senate. My wife Heidi and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Lautenberg family during this difficult time. May Senator Lautenberg rest in peace,” said Republican Congressman Leonard Lance.

Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley recalled that Sen. Frank Lautenberg attended his swearing in ceremony at borough hall last January.
The council chambers were packed with people that night, many of whom dressed in their finest to see a popular senator who had achieved celebrity status in the community.
“When Frank took the microphone, you could hear a pin drop,” Holley said. “He showed the people of Roselle that their opinions matter far away from Capital Hill. He showed us that he was in Washington to fight for Roselle, as well as every other community in the state he represented. He was a proud man and someone we will never forget.”

Assemblyman Joe Cryan also reflected back on the senator, sending his heartfelt thoughts on the long serving senator.
“New Jersey has lost a legend. From his service in World War II to his devotion to the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, Frank Lautenberg was a force to be reckoned with always,” said Cryan, adding that the senator was “a friend, a role model and leader. He will be missed.”

Republican Assemblyman Jon Bramnick issued a statement on the passing of Lautenberg, offering his sincerest condolences to his wife, children and grandchildren.

“Our state has lost a dedicated servant who served in congress for almost 30 years. We appreciate his service to New Jersey and the United States,” said the assemblyman.

Union County Freeholder Bruce Bergen commented on Lautenberg, saying the senator “fought hard day in and day out, year after year for New Jersey.”

“Senator Lautenberg was very solicitous of Union County, stepping in to do what had to be done. He always had a relationship with our county, it will be hard to find someone to replace him,” Bergen added.

Even though Gov. Chris Christie and Lautenberg went head to head on many issues, or as the governor said “most issues,” Monday he had nothing but praise for the Democratic New Jersey senator.
“It’s no mystery that Senator Lautenberg and I didn’t always agree. In fact, it is probably more honest to say we very often didn’t agree and we had some pretty good fights between us over time,” the governor said, adding that the best way to describe the senator was “a fighter.”

“Senator Lautenberg fought for the things he believed in and sometimes he just fought because he liked to,” Christie said, adding later that he was a great example to the people of New Jersey.