New Jersey political anecdotes at Frank Lautenberg funeral

June 5, 2013

The funeral of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) drew Vice President Biden, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and 41 members of the U.S. Senate to the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City on Wednesday for what amounted to a lengthy and spirited celebration of the senator's life and public service.


Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). (Post)

While television cameras provided live coverage of the event, a choice few reporters attended as pool reporters, tracking not only the funeral's proceedings but some of the color not spotted on camera.

Print reporters received several feeds sent by Biden and Lautenberg's offices that were authored by Herb Jackson, the Washington correspondent for the Bergen Record, who covers the New Jersey congressional delegation and previously covered New Jersey state politics.

Below, peruse a few gems that only a genuine veteran state political reporter could ever provide.

Pool Report #1:

Local pool is upstairs in a holding room at the Park Avenue Synagogue — Lautenberg's wife's temple. Contrary to the name, the synagogue's address is 50 E. 87th Street and the entrance is on Madison Ave. ... Program's cover features as picture of Sen. Lautenberg holding a gavel, with his dates of birth (January 23, 1924) and death (June 3, 2013) underneath.

Inside cover contains a Lautenberg quote that is inscribed on a plaque on the exterior of the Lautenberg Post Office and Court House in Newark: "The True Measure of a Democracy is Its Dispensation of Justice."

Lautenberg has 4 children, 2 stepchildren, 13 grandchildren — all expected to attend today.

Pool Report #4:

As announcement is made for crowd to be seated, senator's widow, Bonnie, slides in next to Hillary Clinton for a quick hug and chat. Former Gov. Jim McGreevey spotted, as well as Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes.

Pool Report #5:

NJ Reps. Bill Pascrell, Frank Pallone and Rush Holt use final moments to pay respects to Lautenberg children, while Bonnie walks up to Governor Christie, who is seated on the aisle in the 6th row, next to McGreevey.

Following Christie's order for a special election to fill Lautenbergs' seat this fall, Holt and Pallone are two potential candidates. No sign of Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

VP Baden and wife Dr. Jill Baden [sic] appear to be the last people seated. Service begins at 1138.

(Editor's Note: A Booker spokesperson later said — and Jackson confirmed in a later pool report — that the mayor was in attendance. Also, Holt has indeed announced plans to run for Senate.)

Pool Report #6:

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove opened the service describing Lautenberg as a "mensch through and through" who always had an "abiding awareness of his roots" in Paterson, NJ

"He came out fighting and he never stopped," Cosgrove said.

He said that while Lautenberg's commitment to women's issues came partly from the influence of strong women, but also his recollection "of the injustice of seeing his mother laid off following the war."

He also said Lautenberg had a [human] touch.

"His jokes were funny even on the second, third and fourth telling," Cosgrove said.

Pool Report #7:

Lautenberg's children said he had recently begun to regret announcing in February that he would retire and not seek another term, and discussed whether he could rescind it.

"On days that were good he would say I never should have made that retirement speech," daughter Ellen Lautenberg said.

They also joked about his attempts to speak foreign languages badly to waiters in restaurants. Daughter Nan Lautenberg Morgart joked talked about having opposing opinions from her father but the same trait of believing she was always right.

"We would argue and debate and dig in our heels and never bend," she said.

Pool Report #9:

[Brian] Stokes Mitchell's second song was Jersey boy Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

It brought to pooler's mind the 2000 NJ Legislative Correwpondents [sic] Dinner when Lautenberg, who had announced his retirement, was invited to do a song. After saying his mother used to call him the other Frankie singer fro, NJ, he did a rendition of "Making Whoopie" with Jerseyfied lyrics.

Pool Report #10:

Referring to the moving and funny speeches from the seantor's [sic] children and grandchildren that preceded her, Hillary Rodham Clinton said VPOTUS stopped her on her way to the altar to say "Good luck."

She said he would have loved the tributes

"I could see the casket vibrate," she said.

Clinton described sitting near Lautenberg on the Senate floor and his constant joking.

She also said he was committed to protecting children from toxic chemicals, [smoking] and drunken driving.

She recalled Lautenberg's commitment to women's rights, saying women in the Senate considered him an honorary member of their caucus.

Pool Report #11:

VPOTUS discussed Lautenberg's anguish over the decision announced in February to retire.

"It's not that he wanted to be a senator," Biden said as he looked at the senator's children, "but your dad never quit anything."

Like Clinton, Biden talked about the moving tributes from children and grandchildren, opening his remarks saying "If there's a definition of redundant, I'm it."

He looked at the family and said, "You are the definition of what it means to be successful."

RELATED:
The Fix’s best state-based political reporters, 2013 edition

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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