Frank R. Lautenberg, a long-serving lawmaker, successful businessman and the last actively serving veteran of World War II in the U.S. Senate, is dead at age 89 due to complications from viral pneumonia.
The Senator's office released a statement with news of his passing Monday morning. Flags on Capitol Hill were lowered to half staff. And Lautenberg's Senate desk was draped in black.
Lautenberg, a Democrat and the oldest sitting Senator, died Monday morning at 4:02 a.m. at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell hospital. He had been sick for some time and his last appearance on Capitol Hill had been in a wheel chair.
A fixture on Capitol Hill, Lautenberg was the last in a long line of World War II veterans to serve in the U.S. Senate and he held the record for the number of votes cast by a New Jersey Senator. Those votes spanned two senate careers. Lautenberg was first elected in 1982 and served until a first retirement in 2000.
He came back to the Senate a little more than a year later to replace disgraced Sen. Robert Torricelli as the Democratic nominee. He planned to leave the Senate again after the 2014 Midterm election.
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The biographical paragraph released by his office reads like an American success story for the Greatest Generation:
"Lautenberg was born the son of immigrants and grew up poor in Paterson, New Jersey. He enlisted in the military at the age of 18 and served in the Army in Europe during World War II. Upon returning home, he graduated from Columbia University with the help of the G.I. Bill. He joined with two boyhood friends to found Automatic Data Processing (ADP), which today employees 57,000 people worldwide and 4,500 in New Jersey. He left the business world to pursue a career in public service and give back to the country that helped give him so much."
That paragraph doesn't mention that his net worth, from ADP and investments, was upwards of $55 million according to assessments of his financial disclosure forms. The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call named him the seventh wealthiest member of Congress earlier in 2013.
Read more about Sen. Lautenberg's passing here.
"Senator Lautenberg's dedication to public service was evident in everything he did from his military service, to his philanthropic work, to his time in the U.S. Senate. Frank Lautenberg's life defined public service and what it means to live the American dream," said Rep. Frank Pallone, a fellow New Jersey Democrat.
Lautenberg was a fierce political opponent, a fact that seeped into eulogies of him Monday.
"It's no mystery that Sen Lautenberg and I didn't always agree," said New Jersey Gov. Christie on Monday, according to local reporters with him at the Trenton War Memorial. "In fact, it's probably more honest to say that we very often didn't agree."
"We had some good fights over our time -- battles on philosophy and the role of government," Christie said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But never was Sen. Lautenberg to be underestimated as an advocate for the causes he believed in and as an adversary in the political world. I think the best way to describe Frank Lautenberg and the way he would probably want to be described to all of you today is as a fighter. Sen. Lautenberg fought for the things he believed in and sometimes he just fought because he liked to."
Among Lautenbetg's legislative achievements, he counted passing the law that banned smoking on airplanes, authoring the law that prevented domestic abusers from possessing guns, pushing landmark drunk driving laws, including the nationwide .08 blood alcohol standard and the 21 year drinking age law.
"Frank was a patriot whose success in business and politics made him a great American success story and a standout even within the fabled Greatest Generation," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, in a statement.
Lautenberg for decades was viewed as an iron man whose age had not led to slowing or health issues, including a bout with stomach cancer, which he bested in 2010. At the time, he staff worked hard to squelch word of the senator's illness and tried fruitlessly to keep his testing and hospitalization under wraps.
Launtenberg had been fighting pneumonia for months and, in fact, his office had to beat back any number of rounds of rumors that Lautenberg had died. He was until late in 2012 actively teasing a run for reelection and he bristled when Cory Booker, the Newark Mayor entered into a Democratic primary. Lautenberg ultimately decided not to seek reelection, but never soft spoken, he made his displeasure with Booker clearly known. It was Lautenberg's turf, after all.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will now have to appoint a successor to Lautenberg. Christie is a Republican and Lautenberg was a Democrat, although governors usually appoint a member of their own party. If Christie, who faces his own reelection later in 2013, appoints a Republican, it could create a more formidable opponent for Booker in the 2014 senate race.
After Lautenberg cast his 9,000th vote in December 2011, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proclaimed on the Senate floor, "Frank Lautenberg has been one of the most productive senators in the history of this country."