Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D)
Elected: 2002, term expires 2014, 5th term.
Born: Jan. 23, 1924, Paterson .
Home: Cliffside Park.
Education: Columbia U., B.S. 1949.
Family: Married (Bonnie); 4 children.
Military career: Army Signal Corps, 1942–46 (WWII).
Elected office: U.S. Senate, 1982-2000.
Professional Career: Co–founder, Automatic Data Processing, 1952–82; NY & NJ Port Authority Comm., 1978–82.
Democrat Frank Lautenberg is New Jersey’s senior senator. He was first elected in 1982, retired from the Senate in 2000, and then returned to run again in October 2002 after Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli withdrew from his re-election race. Lautenberg grew up in Paterson, the son of Russian and Polish immigrants. His father, a silk worker who also once ran a tavern, died of cancer while Lautenberg was still in high school, and he worked nights and weekends to help with the family finances. He served in the Army Signal Corps in World War II and says he could not have gone to college without the GI Bill. He graduated from Columbia University and in 1952 started a company called Automatic Data Processing, which organized information using punch-card machines—the forerunner to computers. In time, ADP was processing the payroll for nearly 10% of the private-sector jobs in the United States. When the company went public in 1961, Lautenberg’s stock was valued at $50,000; now his net worth exceeds $40 million, according to his financial disclosure forms, and ADP is still in business as one of the world’s largest providers of outsourced business services. (Lautenberg’s charitable foundation, however, lost most of its $14 million by investing with Bernard Madoff, the former NASDAQ chief who pleaded guilty in 2009 to a massive fraud scheme.) Lautenberg was a contributor to Democratic campaigns and landed on President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” after he gave $90,000 to Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972.
|Frank Lautenberg (D)||1,951,218||(56%)||($8,135,752)|
|Dick Zimmer (R)||1,461,025||(42%)||($1,498,731)|
|Frank Lautenberg (D)||203,012||(59%)|
|Robert Andrews (D)||121,777||(35%)|
|Donald Cresitello (D)||19,743||(6%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (54%), 1994 (50%), 1988 (54%), 1982 (51%)
In 1982, Democratic Sen. Harrison Williams resigned as the Senate was considering his expulsion after his conviction in the Abscam bribery scandal, and his appointed successor, Republican Nicholas Brady, made it clear he was not running for a full term. Lautenberg ran, spending $5 million of his own money and touting his experience in technology. He defeated several more-seasoned politicians in the primary. In the general election, he faced Republican U.S. Rep. Millicent Fenwick, an eccentric 72-year-old who was satirized in the Doonesbury comic strip. Lautenberg, who’s now in his mid-80s, made an issue of Fenwick’s age by referring to her as a “national monument” and questioning her “fitness” and “ability to do the job.” He won 51%-48%.
Lautenberg says he believes that government helped him and others work their way up, and in his first three terms in the Senate he established a solidly liberal voting record. He bucked his party only occasionally. One of his successes then was his battle against smoking in public places. A former smoker himself, Lautenberg got Congress to ban smoking in federal buildings and on airplanes on all domestic flights. In recent years, he has called for stricter labeling of the ingredients in cigarettes. He has also been a strong backer of stricter gun laws and is the author of the 1996 law barring people convicted of domestic abuse from possessing firearms. The statute was upheld 7-2 by the Supreme Court in February 2009. In 1997, Lautenberg was one of the few Democrats to enthusiastically support the balanced-budget deal that President Bill Clinton forged with the Republican majority in Congress. His support was key to Clinton’s success in getting the measure through the Senate. With money to burn on his campaigns—New Jersey is the second-most-expensive state in politics because candidates must run ads in both the New York and Philadelphia television markets—Lautenberg won re-election relatively easily over retired Gen. Pete Dawkins in 1988 and state Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian in 1994. In 1998, he seemed primed to run again, and no well-known Republican appeared eager to challenge him. But in February 1999 he announced that he would retire in 2000.
Before long, however, national Democrats were facing a big problem with New Jersey’s other Senate seat. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan was investigating charges that businessman David Chang had given lavish gifts and cash to Torricelli and that Torricelli had worked to advance Chang’s business interests in South Korea. Torricelli did give such assistance, but he denied receiving gifts and said he had reimbursed Chang. In January 2002, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White announced that Torricelli would not be prosecuted, but she sent her evidence to the Senate Ethics Committee. On July 30, the committee “severely admonished” Torricelli for violating the Senate rule against receiving gifts over $50, but the panel did not make the evidence public. His Republican opponent, businessman Doug Forrester, made much of Torricelli’s problems and, as details leaked out, Torricelli plummeted in the polls; a September Star-Ledger newspaper survey gave Forrester a 47%-34% lead—a devastating result. The following Sunday, Gov. Jim McGreevey, Sen. Jon Corzine (who had succeeded Lautenberg), and other New Jersey Democratic leaders met in Trenton, and in a conference call with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, they discussed the need for Torricelli to withdraw from the race. On Monday, he did.
New Jersey Democrats were now in need of a well-known candidate to replace Torricelli. U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez was seeking a leadership position in the House and was not interested. Rep. Robert Andrews was vetoed by McGreevey, who had narrowly defeated him in the 1997 gubernatorial primary. Other prominent Democrats, including former Sen. Bill Bradley, took a pass. By then realizing that he missed being a senator, Lautenberg let it be known he was available. It seems unlikely that Torricelli would have withdrawn if he had known that Lautenberg would get the nomination: The two had an acrimonious relationship when they served together. But there was nothing he could do to stop him. Lautenberg was well known and was capable of self-financing a race. McGreevey and the other Democrats quickly agreed on him.
New Jersey law does not contain a provision for substituting a new candidate so late in the campaign unless a candidate has died. Ballots with Torricelli’s name had already been printed. But the New Jersey Supreme Court is made up of judicial activists from both parties with a propensity to accommodate party insiders. In October 2002, it quickly approved state Democrats’ request to substitute Lautenberg for Torricelli and ordered the state Democratic Party to pay the $800,000 needed to print new ballots. The Lautenberg campaign moved into Torricelli’s headquarters and Lautenberg was again a candidate for the Senate, and without having to spend months fundraising. The easiest source of funds proved unavailable: In a final expression of his feelings toward Lautenberg, Torricelli would not send over a dime from his $5 million campaign treasury.
The Republican in the race, Forrester, had to switch gears. He could no longer introduce himself as “the guy running against Bob Torricelli.” He did run a cute ad on cable television showing a kid slamming his hand on his desk and saying, “I can’t do this. I quit! If I fail this test, can I have Frank Lautenberg take it for me?” Forrester attacked Lautenberg as soft on defense and terrorism, citing his 1991 vote against the Persian Gulf War resolution, and he questioned whether Lautenberg at 78—six years older than Millicent Fenwick was when Lautenberg questioned her ability to do the job—was too old. Lautenberg hit Forrester on the issues and made a special point of noting his positions against state-paid abortions and gun control. Forrester spent $10 million altogether, including $7.5 million of his own money, but got little help from national Republicans, who did not target the race. Lautenberg spent $1.5 million of his own money, and was helped by $1.2 million from national and New Jersey Democrats. He won 54%-44%, a better showing than he’d had in 1994, when the state was significantly less Democratic.
Back in the Senate, Lautenberg was disappointed when the Democratic Caucus did not give him full credit for his seniority. But he quickly directed his ire toward the Bush administration. He moved aggressively to stop privatization of the air traffic control system, holding up the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization in summer 2003 until the FAA swore off privatization. Lautenberg voted against the Republican-drafted Medicare prescription drug bill that year, even though it was supported by many New Jersey pharmaceutical companies. During 2004, Lautenberg kept up a drumbeat of criticism of the Pentagon for awarding sole-source contracts to Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former employer. And he sponsored an amendment, aimed at Halliburton, to keep foreign subsidies of U.S. corporations from doing business with nations on the terrorist watch list. He also opposed the administration on the Iraq war. He sponsored an amendment to allow the media to photograph the coffins of fallen service personnel being returned to their families through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and as a protest against the war, Lautenberg used a foyer outside his Senate office to display photos of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Bush made a campaign stop in New Jersey in October 2004, Lautenberg said, “President Bush, time and time again, has made decisions that made New Jersey more vulnerable to terrorism. He’s here because of November 2, not 9/11.” He seemed distinctly more outspoken in his second stint, and his New Jersey colleague in the Senate at the time, Democrat Jon Corzine, observed, “He’s less risk-averse. I think Frank couldn’t care less.” Lautenberg said, “I do feel unconstrained.”
From his seat on the Commerce Committee, Lautenberg has looked after his state’s transportation needs with an emphasis on guarding against terrorist threats. He advocated that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey break its lease with Dubai Ports World if the foreign-owned company was allowed to assume operations of the Newark port. He has pressed for better security at airports, seaports, and railroads. Lautenberg won a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee in 2007 after giving up his seat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (He had been frustrated in his effort to chair the committee by invoking his years of previous experience and leapfrogging Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who frequently voted with the Democrats and needed to be kept satisfied.) From Appropriations, he was able to secure funding for his pet transportation and security projects. In 2007, he inserted provisions in appropriations bills barring federal pre-emption of tougher state chemical safety laws, such as New Jersey’s. He sponsored a bill on vessel safety, requiring double hulls on fuel tankers. “The last thing America needs is another Exxon Valdez,” Lautenberg said. He and Menendez, now a senator, sponsored a bill, based on the 9/11 commission’s recommendations, to require radiation scanning of all shipping cargo containers by 2012. Also in 2007, Lautenberg secured $14.7 million to begin engineering work on a new rail tunnel from northern New Jersey to Manhattan. And he co-sponsored a five-year reauthorization of Amtrak that provided $14.4 billion in funding over five years, while also requiring better efficiency and more state aid.
On other issues, Lautenberg teamed with Republican John Warner of Virginia on a bill to establish an Office of High Performance Green Buildings to help make federal buildings more energy efficient. With Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, he sponsored an amendment to the farm bill to end crop subsidy programs and substitute more spending on conservation, energy, nutrition, and rural development. This was a major challenge to the Agriculture Committee’s version of the farm bill, and it was defeated 58-37 in December 2007.
In 2008, in contrast to eight years before, Lautenberg showed no hesitancy in seeking another term. “There is a lot that remains to be done,” he told the Bergen Record. “The people respect what I do. They know I’m straightforward in my efforts for my state. And I want to continue doing it.” He started fundraising early. And when all three Republican candidates for the seat in February 2008 opposed Democratic Gov. Corzine’s plan to lease the New Jersey Turnpike and raise tolls, Lautenberg came out against it too, despite his close relationship with Corzine. In April, Andrews announced he was running in the June Democratic primary. There was an obvious contrast in their ages—Lautenberg was 84, Andrews was 50—and in their political bases. Andrews is from Camden County in South Jersey, and in his previous statewide primary, for governor in 1997, he had won big margins in the Philadelphia media market. Lautenberg had already won the backing of all of the county party organizations, usually decisive in New Jersey’s light-voting primaries, but Andrews accumulated some endorsements, including prominent state legislators from Union and Middlesex counties, as well as Speaker Joseph Roberts from Camden County.
Lautenberg campaigned aggressively. “Age has nothing to do with it,” he argued. “It’s about effectiveness, and I’ve been effective in office.” He ran an ad attacking Andrews for his support for the Iraq war resolution in October 2002, with pictures of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. (At the time, Lautenberg issued statements generally supporting military action but, being out of office, did not vote on the resolution.) Andrews countered that he would be a more vigorous senator. His supporters noted that Lautenberg’s wife was registered to vote on Park Avenue in New York City. Lautenberg spent $5.7 million, lending his campaign $1.65 million, while Andrews spent $3 million. The voting ran along regional lines. Andrews won 71% of the votes in South Jersey and Lautenberg won 75% in North Jersey. Unfortunately for Andrews, three-quarters of the votes were cast in North Jersey, and Lautenberg won 59%-35%. But Andrews managed a soft landing by figuring out a way to save his place in the House. He had his wife put her name on the ballot in the election for his House seat, so when he lost the Senate race, all he had to do was substitute as the Democratic nominee, which he did.
In the general election, Lautenberg faced Republican Dick Zimmer, a former House member who had lost to Torricelli 53%-43% in 1996. Zimmer criticized Lautenberg for sponsoring spending earmarks and for supporting the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry. Lautenberg said that the measure “isn’t perfect, but it is real action when we need it,” and he defended the earmarks as worthwhile for New Jersey and the country. To keep campaign funds flowing, Lautenberg petitioned the Federal Election Commission in August to overturn the requirement that candidates’ loans to their campaigns of more than $250,000 be repaid within 20 days of the election, arguing that it was “constitutionally suspect.” Zimmer spent only $945,000 and national Republicans, on the defensive in many other states, did not target the race. Lautenberg won 56%-42% and became the first New Jersey senator in history to be elected to a fifth term. Asked during the campaign whether he would serve the full term, he said, “Yeah. Why not?”