Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) died Monday. He was 89, and Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Chris Christie announced an October special election to replace him. From Lautenberg’s obituary:
Frank Raleigh Lautenberg was born Jan. 23, 1924, in Paterson, N.J., to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father, a failed small-businessman who worked in local silk mills, died of cancer in his early 40s. Sen. Lautenberg blamed his father’s death on bad air in the mills and later said that the loss motivated his interest in labor rights and environmental safety.
He joined the Army Signal Corps and served in Europe during World War II before going to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He graduated in 1949 with a degree in economics and sold insurance for several years before joining forces with Henry Taub, whose father also had worked in the Paterson mills and who was launching a payroll firm.
Taub hired the future senator as the first salesman for what became Automatic Data Processing. Sen. Lautenberg ultimately became chief executive officer of the company, which went public in 1961. He amassed millions of dollars that he used to endow a professorship at Columbia and establish a cancer research center in Israel.
Lautenberg also used his wealth to support political campaigns and eventually to fund his own bid for senator. Throughout his long career in the Senate, Lautenberg was a powerful advocate for more stringent public health laws, helping to ban smoking on airplanes and to raise the national drinking age to 21, as Brad Plumer recounts. He was also a bitter rival of Christie:
Christie once called the 28-year senator an “embarrassment” and a “partisan hack.” Lautenberg called the popular governor “the king of liars.”
Lautenberg, some close to him whispered, would rather die in office than live to see Christie select his replacement.
Now, Lautenberg has done just that.
After his death, the Senate no longer has any members who served in World War II. Chris Cillizza notes that the number of veterans in Congress is falling. He writes, “Sending American men and women to war is the most serious decision a Congress can make. Fewer and fewer people making those decisions in the future will be able to speak from a position of experience and authority on the subject.”
In announcing the special election this fall, Christie said he had not yet chosen an interim replacement, and that he wanted to give citizens of New Jersey the chance to vote as soon as possible. Still, as Sean Sullivan notes, the timing of the election will have political consequences, both for Christie, who is himself up for reelection in November, and for Republicans and Democrats contesting Lautenberg’s seat.