New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg says he will not seek re-election.
The last remaining veteran of World War II in the U.S. Senate, Lautenberg has been elected easily five times but was facing a likely challenge from charismatic Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman John Wisniewski says Lautenberg, 89, has distinguished himself by helping the average person have a better life.
“His tenure is remarkable as it is long,” Wisniewski said. “He has done an outstanding job for the people of the state of New Jersey and his energy and his tenacity will be missed.”
Gov. Chris Christie, who has famously tangled with Lautenberg, echoed Wisniewski’s appraisal.
“Frank Lautenberg and I have had our differences through the years, but I’ve always respected him for his tenacity, devotion to the people of New Jersey and his love for and commitment to public service,” Christie said.
“I will always be grateful for his doggedness in fighting with me and the delegation to ensure congressional passage of an aid package after Hurricane Sandy that is delivering necessary assistance to our residents,” the governor said. “I wish him the best in his retirement.”
Moving forward, John Wisniewski says the Democrats have wonderful options.
“We have very good choices within our party to succeed Frank Lautenberg,” he said. “There is plenty of time for the party, the membership, the leadership to consider those choices.”
Booker has already filed with the Federal Election Commission as a candidate for the Senate in 2014.
Lautenberg is a staunch advocate of gun control and public infrastructure and is a champion of the Amtrak railroad.
Lautenberg first won election to the Senate in 1982.
He has had health problems in recent years. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 — and successfully treated — and a case of the flu this winter caused him to miss the Senate’s Jan. 1 vote on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff of rising taxes and falling government spending. But he has beaten back health problems before — and a primary opponent who suggested he was too old for the job.
n 2008, Rep. Rob Andrews challenged Lautenberg in a Democratic primary, but Andrews fell well short of unseating Lautenberg as most of the state’s Democratic Party establishment continued to back him.
Lautenberg was diagnosed in February 2010 with B-cell lymphoma of the stomach and underwent chemotherapy treatments until he was declared in June 2010 to be free of cancer. He worked between the treatments. The diagnosis came just days after the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., which made Lautenberg the oldest member of the Senate.
Lautenberg got into politics after building a fortune as a founder of Automatic Data Processing. In the 1982 race, he defeated patrician Republican Rep. Millicent Fenwick, the model for the cartoon character Lacey Davenport in “Doonesbury,” while spending $3 million of his own money.
In the Senate, Lautenberg has been a reliably liberal vote, crusading against smoking and youth drinking and supporting gun control and stiffer environmental laws.
“While I may not be seeking re-election, there is plenty of work to do before the end of this term and I’m going to keep fighting as hard as ever for the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate,” Lautenberg said.
This isn’t the first time Lautenberg has retired. He decided not to seek re-election in 2000, a move that opened the seat for Jon Corzine, who later served a term as governor of New Jersey. But Lautenberg was drafted back into politics two years later when scandal-plagued Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat and Lautenberg’s longtime rival, abruptly left the race in 2002.
Booker, who has a nettlesome relationship with Lautenberg, issued a statement praising him.
“Sen. Frank Lautenberg has been a champion for the people of New Jersey for decades and his legacy of service will improve the lives of all American’s for years to come,” Booker said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.