Frank Raleigh Lautenberg (pronounced /ˈlɔːtənbɜrɡ/; born January 23, 1924) is the senior United States Senator from New Jersey and a member of the Democratic Party. He first served in the United States Senate from 1982 to 2001; after a brief retirement, he was re-elected to the Senate and has served since 2003. At age 88, Lautenberg is the oldest current senator. Before entering politics, he was the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Automatic Data Processing, Inc.
Early life, career, and family
Lautenberg was born in Paterson, New Jersey, to Sam and Mollie Lautenberg, impoverished Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia who had arrived in the United States as infants. When Lautenberg was 19, his father, Sam, who worked in silk mills, sold coal, farmed and once ran a tavern, died of cancer. Frank Lautenberg had no formal Jewish education as a child; the family could not afford to join a synagogue and did not live very long in any single place.
Lautenberg served overseas in the United States Army Signal Corps in World War II after graduating from Nutley High School. Then, financed by the GI Bill, he attended and graduated from Columbia Business School in 1949 with a degree in economics. He was the first salesman at successful Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (ADP) and was its chairman and CEO. He was the executive commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 1978 to 1982.
From his first marriage to Lois Lautenberg, which ended in divorce, Lautenberg has four children: Ellen, Nan, Lisa, and Joshua. In 2001, he married his companion of nearly 16 years, Bonnie S. Englebardt. He has a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.
In 1982, he received the Democratic nomination over 8 other candidates for a US Senate seat from New Jersey for that year’s election after spending a considerable sum of his own money. The seat had been occupied by Democrat Harrison Williams who resigned on March 11, 1982, after being implicated in the Abscam scandal. After Williams’s resignation, Republican Governor Thomas Kean appointed Republican Nicholas F. Brady to the seat. Brady served in the Senate through the primary and general elections but did not run for the seat himself. Lautenberg won the election, defeating popular Republican congresswoman Millicent Fenwick by 52% to 48%. Brady, who had just a few days left in his appointed term, resigned on December 27, 1982, allowing Lautenberg to take office several days before the traditional swearing-in of senators, which gave him an edge in seniority over the other freshman senators.
In 1988, Lautenberg was opposed by Republican Wall Street executive and former college football star Pete Dawkins, who won the 1958 Heisman Trophy for the Army Black Knights. After trailing in early polls, the Lautenberg campaign, headed by Democratic consultant James Carville, ran an aggressive advertising campaign enumerating Lautenberg’s legislative accomplishments and raising the possibility that Dawkins’s candidacy was intended solely as a stepping stone to the presidency, as well as pointing out his lack of roots in New Jersey. Lautenberg ultimately came from behind to win reelection, 54% to 46%.
Following reelection, Lautenberg became a member of 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 December 21, 1988.
Lautenberg was again reelected in the Republican landslide year of 1994, defeating New Jersey State Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian by 51% to 47%. Lautenberg announced his retirement in 2000, and his fellow Democrat and businessman, Jon Corzine, was elected to replace him.
A little over a year after he left office, Lautenberg was called upon again to run for the Senate. This time, however, it was to replace incumbent Senator Bob Torricelli, who had won nomination for a second term in the June primary elections but was facing federal corruption charges and an uphill climb for reelection against Republican nominee Doug Forrester. The selection of Lautenberg came with some irony, as there had been notoriously bad blood between Lautenberg and Torricelli when the two had served together in the Senate. It was rumored that Lautenberg was not the first choice of the Democratic Party to run, but their first choice of Bill Bradley (who had served in this particular seat until 1996, when he decided to retire) was rejected.
Almost immediately, the New Jersey Republican Party challenged the replacing of Torricelli with Lautenberg, citing that the timing was too close to the election and, per New Jersey law, the change could not be allowed. The ballot name change was unanimously upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court, who cited that the law did not provide for a situation like Torricelli’s and said that leaving Torricelli on the ballot would be an unfair advantage for Forrester, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case. Lautenberg easily defeated Forrester in the general election, 54% to 44%, and took office for his fourth term in January 2003 and joined Hubert Humphrey in a political rarity of having served as a Senator by holding both seats in his state (Class I and Class II).
Back in the Senate
Sen. Lautenberg meets with Associate Justice Samuel Alito prior to his confirmation hearings. Sen. Lautenberg eventually voted against the nominee.
Lautenberg is considered one of the Senate’s most liberal members. He is pro-choice, supports gun control, has introduced many bills increasing penalties for carjacking and car theft, and criticized the Bush administration on national security issues. He has been heavily involved in various anti-smoking, anti-alcohol and airline safety legislation. He is probably best known as the author of the legislation that banned smoking from most commercial airline flights. He also is known for authoring the Ryan White Care Act, which provides services to AIDS patients. Upon his return to the Senate, Lautenberg was the first U.S. senator to introduce legislation calling for homeland security funds to be distributed solely on the basis of risk and vulnerability.
When Jon Corzine resigned from the Senate to become Governor of New Jersey, Lautenberg became the senior senator again in 2006. This also makes him the only person to have been both the junior and senior senator from New Jersey twice each. Lautenberg received an “A” on the Drum Major Institute‘s 2005 Congressional Scorecard on middle-class issues.
In 2007, Lautenberg proposed the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2007, designed to deny weapons purchases by persons that the government has placed on the terrorist watchlist. On June 21, 2007, Lautenberg passed Clifford Case for the most votes on the Senate floor of any United States Senator in New Jersey history.
At age 88, Lautenberg is currently the oldest serving member of the Senate. He is one of only two current Senators to have returned to the Senate after having retired from the Senate, the other being Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.