Flags on Capitol Hill were lowered to half-mast Monday morning in a show of respect for New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg, a lion of the Senate who died Monday morning of viral pneumonia. He was 89 years old.
As the longest-serving senator in New Jersey with a career spanning three decades, Lautenberg was also the oldest member of the Senate and the last World War II veteran serving in the legislative body. He had been in poor health for months.
Lautenberg announced in February that he would not seek a sixth term in 2014, and said he would instead focus on “a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey.” In recent months, he worked to pass a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the wake of the Newtown shooting. He also forged a bipartisan bill addressing regulation of chemicals used on household products.
His colleagues praised him as a tireless public servant who embodied “a very American story of economic [and] social mobility” and “gave a lot back to the state that he loved.”
“I dearly loved him in the best sense of the word,” New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney told msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell Monday. “He was a great champion for women’s rights, for 9/11, for gun safety. He came to the floor of the Senate and voted in his wheelchair for the background checks,” she added, citing the April gun control vote which failed at the hands of Senate Republicans, after much debate.
New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg also praised the late senator’s gun control efforts, saying in a statement on Twitter, “Sen. Lautenberg stood tall in the fight against illegal guns and vastly improved public health in America. His strong voice will be missed.”
In a statement Monday, President Obama remembered Lautenberg as “a proud New Jerseyan who lived America’s promise as a citizen, and fought to keep that promise alive as a Senator.”
“New Jersey has lost a favorite son, the country has lost a great legislator, and we have lost a dear friend and cherished colleague,” Bill and Hillary Clinton said in their joint statement.
Secretary of State John Kerry praised Lautenberg as “someone who fought and won a lot of battles that today people just take for granted, like a ban on smoking on airplanes or progress for veterans and laws that have helped allow Jews and Christians and Baha’is and so many others escape persecution, laws banning foreign aid to state sponsors of terrorism, laws bolstering security at ports and chemical plants and laws ensuring that the victims of terror achieve some sense of justice.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who at times clashed with Lautenberg over fortifying the social safety net and new public transportation between New York and New Jersey, is expected to fill Lautenberg’s seat by appointment.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to fill Lautenberg’s seat in the next election, praised Lautenberg’s legacy as one that “will endure for generations.”
“Senator Lautenberg was a model of leadership and service to me since before I even considered entering elected office. He was a passionate advocate for New Jersey and a crucial and tireless partner who always delivered for the people of Newark,” Booker said in a statement.