By John Ostapkovich and Oren Liebermann
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) — US Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), a multimillionaire New Jersey businessman and liberal who was called out of retirement for a second tour of duty in Congress, died this morning at age 89.
He was an advocate in four major areas, according to Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University:
“Smoking, gun control, transporation, and the Middle East.”
For example, Dworkin cites the ban on smoking on airplanes which now may seem like a no-brainer but was a tough fight that Lautenberg championed against tobacco industry resistance.
Lautenberg grew up poor, but Dworkin notes that “he was a man who came to hold a large fortune, but he never forgot where he came from. And that was reflected throughout his career in public service.”
Lautenberg served in the US Senate for two stretches — the first from 1982 to 2001, and then starting in 2003 when he was re-elected in 2002 (replacing embattled Democrat Bob Torricelli on the ballot).
Lautenberg became New Jersey’s senior senator again in 2006 when Jon Corzine resigned to become governor.
Congressman Rob Andrews of South Jersey, a fellow Democrat, says Lautenberg left the state stronger for his long years of service.
And Democratic congressman Frank Lobiondo says Lautenberg was a steady partner in fighting to keep the FAA Technical Center and the Coast Guard Training Center in South Jersey or protecting beach projects vital to coastal communities.
Assembly speaker Shiela Oliver says it’s hard to imagine NJ without Frank Lautenberg advocating for important issues, noting that his energy was relentless.
Despite his presence in the US Senate for about 30 years, he’d been largely absent lately due to illness.
Lautenberg had health problems in recent years. A bout with the flu caused him to miss the US Senate’s January 1st vote to avoid the fiscal cliff of rising taxes and falling government spending.
He had been diagnosed in February 2010 with lymphoma of the stomach, and underwent chemotherapy for the next few months.
New Jersey state lawmaker Louis Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington), the Assembly majority leader, released a statement saying in part:
“New Jersey has lost a passionate and dedicated public servant. As a legislator, Sen. Lautenberg led in passing vital legislation: banning smoking on airplanes, improving services for people living with HIV/AIDS, and preventing domestic abusers from obtaining firearms. As a leader, he was never afraid to fight for what he believed in or to stand up for the needs of New Jersey. His presence in the US Senate and in our state will truly be missed.”
And Governor Chris Christie spoke about Sen. Lautenberg’s passing at a women’s conference in Trenton Monday morning. He said he often disagreed with the Senator, but respected him nonetheless for his tireless advocacy and commitment.
“Never was Senator Lautenberg to be underestimated as an advocate for the causes that he believed in and as an adversary in the political world.
“Senator Lautenberg fought for the things he believed in, and sometimes he just fought because he liked to.”
Gov. Christie said the death of Senator Lautenberg leaves a void in New Jersey, both politically and emotionally.
“Whenever we lose someone who’s committed to public service and has been an honest and dedicated public servant as Senator Lautenberg was, it’s a loss for everyone. Most particularly it’s a loss for his wife, Bonnie, and his family.”
Governor Christie said Sen. Lautenberg’s decades of service should be an example for anyone getting into politics.
“All of you who decide to get involved in public service should aspire to have the same things said about you in whatever role that you play. That you were honest, that you were a fighter for the things that you believe in, and that you gave as good as you got. All those things can be said about Frank Lautenberg.”
On Monday evening, Gov. Christie also ordered all State buildings to fly flags at half-staff on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.