By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
His story was an American Dream. Born poor in Paterson, he would rise to be a rich man, a founder of Automatic Data Processing, ADP. Gives money to Democratic causes, then runs for the U.S. Senate in 1982 against Millicent Fenwick, and serves there 31 years with one brief interruption. Along the way defeating Pete Dawkins, Chuck Haytaian, Doug Forrester, Dick Zimmer and Rob Andrews in a primary.
Although he came out of the business world, in Washington, he fought for generally liberal causes — gun control, environmental protection, transportation funding and, perhaps his signature accomplishments, banning smoking on airplanes and raising the drinking age to 21.
After three terms he thought he was ready to retire.
Senate President Steve Sweeney in the Senate chamber today began with a tribute. “Our U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, I’d like to start with a moment of silence,” he said.
In the state Senate, which met briefly today, Sweeney called him a man who got things done.
“Y’know whenever you get on airplane and you don’t smell cigarettes, you know Sen. Lautenberg’s the one that did that. And when blood alcohol levels were reduced from .10 to .08, you know Sen. Lautenberg was a big part of that happening, too,” Sweeney said.
The demise of Sen. Bob Torricelli’s career brought Lautenberg out of retirement in 2002.
He became the longest serving U.S. senator ever from New Jersey, a title that had been held by Clifford Case.
In 2010 he developed lymphoma but fought it successfully. Then this year experienced more health problems and had to be wheeled in to a recent Senate hearing.
In 1988, when James Carville managed his campaign, Pete Dawkins called him a swamp dog. Lautenberg seized on that, seemed to enjoy the connotation, and went on to swamp Dawkins.
Those who knew him recalled him today as a proud man and a tough campaigner.