U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Jewish Democrat from New Jersey, died Monday at age 89 from complications from viral pneumonia.
Lautenberg, who was the last member of the Senate to serve in World War II, was also the longest-serving senator in the state’s history. First elected in 1982, he had announced that he would not seek re-election in 2014.
“The late Senator leaves behind a distinguished record of public and Jewish communal service that distinguishes him as a giant among American Jewish political leaders,” National Jewish Democratic Council Chair Marc R. Stanley said in a prepared statement. “He was a staunch defender of progressive ideals and a stalwart advocate for the State of Israel and the American Jewish community. Lautenberg was a true friend to NJDC and we will forever miss his wisdom and insight.”
While Lautenberg had already announced his retirement form the Senate, his death now moves up the pending political contest for his vacant seat.
“Lautenberg’s death means the seat will be filled temporarily by an appointee selected by Republican Gov. Chris Christie,” The Washington Post reported. “And in addition to holding an election for a full term in 2014, there also will be a special election later this year.”
Born Jan 23, 1924, in Paterson, N.J., Lautenberg joined the Army in 1941 at age 18 and served in the European Theater of Operations.
After the war, he graduated from Columbia University, which he attended on the G.I. Bill, and went on to a highly successful career in business.
He joined with two boyhood friends to found Automatic Data Processing (ADP), which today employees 57,000 people worldwide. He was the company’s first salesman and rose to become its chairman and CEO.
Later, he became the executive commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 1978 to 1982.
He served two nonconsecutive terms in the Senate — the first from 1982 to 2001; the second from 2003 to his death this week. During his Senate career, he cast more than 9,000 votes.
In a statement released by his office, Lautenberg was hailed as a leading advocate for environmental protection, transportation and protecting public health.
Among the achievements, according to the statement, were:
• Passing the law that banned smoking on airplanes;
• Authoring the law that prevented domestic abusers from possessing guns;
• Writing landmark drunk driving laws, including the nationwide .08 blood alcohol standard and the 21 year drinking age law;
• Co-writing the new GI Bill for the 21st Century;
• Authoring the “Toxic Right to Know” law to empower the public to know what pollutants are being released into their neighborhood; and
• Writing the law to create the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.
Lautenberg is perhaps best known to Jewish Americans for the 1990 Lautenberg Amendment, which made immigration to the United States easier for Soviet Jews. He also joined the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (PCAST), which was set up in September 1989 to review and report on aviation security policy in light of the sabotage of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, over Lockerbee, Scotland.
He authored the Ryan White Care Act, which provides services to AIDS patients.
In 2005, he became a leading voice within the Senate in calling for an investigation into the Bush administration payment of columnists.
Lautenberg is survived by his wife, Bonnie; six children and their spouses, and 13 grandchildren.