Frank Lautenberg, United States senator from New Jersey, dead at 89

The five-term senator from New Jersey passed away from complications of viral pneumonia

WRITTEN BY: Chelsie Lacny
Frank Lautenberg standing up for women's health at a Rally for Health event in Washington DC
Image Source: MikeSheridan89 via flickr
Frank Lautenberg standing up for women's health at a Rally for Health event in Washington DC

Frank Lautenberg, five-term United States senator from New Jersey, died early Monday morning from complications of viral pneumonia. He was 89.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, spent the last few years of his life battling a number of health problems. In 2010, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He went through treatments and made a full recovery, but the past few months found Lautenberg dealing with other health issues that kept him from fulfilling his duties as senator. The flu kept him from attending a vote on Jan. 1 of this year, and leg pains followed, resulting in more missed votes. In May a tribute was held honoring him for his contributions to the Jewish community. Lautenberg was unable to attend due to a chest cold.

Frank Lautenberg’s death leaves an open seat in the Senate, and a successor will be appointed by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican. He will likely replace the late senator with a Republican, because Christie often disagreed with Lautenberg’s political beliefs.

“We had some good fights over our time,” Christie said. “I think the best way to describe Frank Lautenberg and the way he would probably want to be described to all of you today is as a fighter. Senator Lautenberg fought for the things he believed in and sometimes he just fought because he liked to.”

Lautenberg had a very successful legislative career since first being elected to office in 1982. He served three terms before announcing his retirement in 2000, but that didn’t last long. Lautenberg ran again in 2002 when Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli dropped out of the race at the last minute. He was re-elected in 2008, but earlier this year he announced he would not run for another term.

Over the course of his time in office, Frank Lautenberg spent much of his time fighting the alcohol and tobacco industries; he wrote the law that banned smoking on commercial airlines in 1989, as well as the law that set the national minimum drinking age at 21 in 1984. He was also a gun control advocate, and tried to increase spending on transportation and the environment.

"He improved the lives of countless Americans with his commitment to our nation's health and safety, from improving our public transportation to protecting citizens from gun violence to ensuring that members of our military and their families get the care they deserve," said President Barack Obama in a statement.

Frank Lautenberg was the last World War II veteran remaining in the Senate. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg; six children; and 13 grandchildren.

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