New Jersey: Junior Senator|
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D)
Last Updated July 10, 2003
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D)
1st term up 2008
Jan. 23, 1924,
Columbia U., B.S. 1949
U.S. Senate, 1982-00.
Army Signal Corps, 1942-46 (WWII).
Co-founder, Automatic Data Processing, 1952-82; NY & NJ Port Authority Comm., 1978-82.
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Frank Lautenberg is, once again, New Jersey's junior Senator. He was elected in 1982, 1988 and 1994 and retired in 2000, then returned to run again in October 2002 after Bob Torricelli withdrew from the race. With his personal wealth and name recognition, Lautenberg was an obvious choice to succeed Torricelli; New Jersey Democrats persuaded the state Supreme Court to let them put Lautenberg's name on the ballot. Lautenberg grew up in Paterson, the son of an immigrant silk worker. He served in the Army Signal Corps in World War II and says he never would have gone to college without the G.I. Bill of Rights. He graduated from Columbia and in 1952 started a company called Automatic Data Processing, which by the mid-1990s had almost 30,000 employees and processed the payroll for nearly 10% of private sector jobs in the United States--a brilliant success story. When ADP went public in 1961, Lautenberg's stock was worth $50,000; now his net worth is in the vicinity of $40 million. Lautenberg was a contributor to Democratic campaigns and got on Richard Nixon's enemies list when he contributed $90,000 to George McGovern in 1972.
But no one thought of him as a candidate until, not for the last time, scandal provided an opening: Democratic Senator Harrison Williams resigned in March 1982 as the Senate was considering his expulsion after his conviction in the Abscam case, and his appointed successor, Republican Nicholas Brady, made it clear he was not running for a full term (he became the first George Bush's Treasury Secretary). Lautenberg ran and spent $5 million of his own money and boasted of his high-tech experience. He beat several professional politicians in the primary and upset Republican Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick in the general 51%-48%. During the campaign he referred to the 72-year-old Fenwick, who was satirized in Doonesbury, as "eccentric" and a "national monument" and questioned her "fitness" and "ability to do the job."
Lautenberg believes government helped him and others work their way up, and in his first three terms had a solidly liberal voting record. He bucked the party only occasionally: In 1993, as Governor Jim Florio was being attacked for his 1990 tax increase, Lautenberg voted against the Clinton tax increase. As chairman and ranking Democrat on the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, he got Congress to ban smoking first on two-hour flights, then on all domestic flights. After the tobacco settlement was announced in 1997 he pushed for an immediate $1.50 tax. He is a strong backer of gun control and author of the 1996 law barring those convicted of domestic abuse from possessing firearms.
On the Environment Committee, Lautenberg resisted Republican efforts to rewrite the Superfund law and pushed instead for separate measures to allow development of brownfields, numerous in New Jersey. He has some bipartisan achievements, including his work on the 1996 Safe Water Drinking Act and his support on the Budget Committee of the 1997 balanced budget agreement. He worked hard to maintain Amtrak funding.
New Jersey is the second most expensive state to campaign in, because candidates must buy New York and Philadelphia TV, and Lautenberg's willingness to spend large amounts of his own money helped him win reelection over retired General Pete Dawkins in 1988 by 54%-46% and Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian in 1994 by 50%-47%. He can be an aggressive campaigner. Slate's Chris Suellentrop noted, too harshly perhaps, that Lautenberg is "scrappy, sometimes mean, unpopular, occasionally nasty and insecure. In short, he's New Jersey." In 1998 he seemed primed to run again, and no well-known Republican seemed eager to challenge him. But in February 1999 he announced that he would retire in 2000. "A powerful factor in my decision was the searing reality that I would have to spend half of every day between now and the next election fundraising." So instead he enjoyed his last two years in the Senate and then returned to a comfortable private life serving on corporate and charitable boards.
One thing he surely did not miss was dealing with his colleague Bob Torricelli. Relationships between senators of the same state and party are often frayed and acrimonious; but the relationship between Lautenberg and Torricelli was probably more hostile than any since 1859, when California Senator David Broderick was killed in a duel with his colleague William Gwin's best friend. In March 1999, as Torricelli, the chairman of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee, was briefing colleagues, Lautenberg accused him of being too friendly with Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman; Torricelli was enraged and in full view after the meeting approached Lautenberg and, as the New York Times daintily put it, "made a vulgar threat on his manhood." So Lautenberg was one New Jersey Democrat who was not unhappy when Torricelli fell into disfavor with voters in his 2002 reelection campaign.
In most respects, Torricelli seemed a clear favorite to win: A Democratic senator in a Democratic state, willing on occasion to take stands against his party which were popular in New Jersey. Whitman became EPA administrator and was out of the race, and the strongest possible Republican, former Governor Thomas Kean, announced in November 2001 that he would not run. Torricelli was a brilliant fundraiser and it seemed unlikely that the Senate Republicans' campaign committee would want to fund a New Jersey candidate, which would cost about as much as funding candidates in the seriously contested races in South Dakota, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina and Colorado put together. The best known of the Republicans to announce, Essex County Executive James Treffinger, who had finished third in the 2000 Senate primary, left the race after prosecutors began investigating him in April 2002 for campaign finance violations. The three candidates in the June primary were mostly unknown--businessman Doug Forrester, South Jersey state Senators Susan Allen and John Matheussen. Money made the difference: Forrester, who started BeneCard, a manager of prescription drug benefits, was worth some $50 million and spent $3 million in the primary and beat Allen by a 45%-37% margin.
But scandal loomed over Torricelli. For three years the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan had been 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 Korea. Torricelli did give such assistance, but denied receiving gifts. In January 2002 U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White announced that Torricelli would not be prosecuted. But Chang was prosecuted for $53,700 in illegal contributions to Torricelli's 1996 campaign and sentenced in May 2002 to 18 months in prison. White had sent information about the charges to the Senate Ethics Committee; in July the committee held closed-door hearings and Torricelli testified for seven hours. Torricelli admitted receiving expensive merchandise--a $9,200 Rolex watch, 10 hand-tailored Italian suits--but said that he had reimbursed Chang. On July 30 the committee "severely admonished" Torricelli for violating the Senate rule against receiving gifts over $50 but did not release the evidence to the public.
Forrester made much of Torricelli's problems. On the stump he would introduce himself by saying, "I'm the guy running against Bob Torricelli." In late July, the New York Times and WNBC-TV reported that a giant television and a $3,800 grandfather clock paid for by Chang had been delivered to Torricelli's house. In September, a federal judge in a lawsuit brought by news media ordered the unsealing of the memorandum on the case written by prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office. They found "credible" Chang's allegations that Torricelli had accepted "tens of thousands" of dollars in gifts and cash. As details poured out, Torricelli plummeted in the polls. On Saturday, September 28, a Star-Ledger poll showed Forrester ahead 47%-34%--a devastating result. On Sunday Governor Jim McGreevey, Senator Jon Corzine and other New Jersey Democratic leaders met in Trenton and patched in Majority Leader Tom Daschle over the phone: Obviously they were trying to get Torricelli to withdraw from the race. On Monday Torricelli's office announced he would hold a press conference at 11 a.m.; he finally appeared around 5 p.m. and, in a lugubrious speech, withdrew. "I will not be responsible for the loss of the Democratic majority in the United States Senate," he said. "I will not allow it to happen."
New Jersey Democrats were now in need of a well-known candidate to replace Torricelli. Congressman Bob Menendez, seeking a leadership position in the House, wasn't interested. Congressman Rob Andrews was presumably vetoed by McGreevey, who had narrowly beaten him in the 1997 gubernatorial primary. Congressman Frank Pallone, after giving it some thought, decided not to run. The risk of giving up a safe House seat to seek a nomination that might be rejected by a court may have seemed too great. Former Senator Bill Bradley let it be known he had no interest whatever. But Lautenberg, now evidently missing life in the Senate, said he would "seriously consider serving again if asked." It seems unlikely that Torricelli would have withdrawn if he had known that Lautenberg would get the nomination. But there was nothing he could do to stop him. Lautenberg was well known and capable of self-financing. 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 had already been printed with Torricelli's name. But the New Jersey Supreme Court is made up of judicial activists of both parties with a propensity to accommodate the insiders of both major parties. 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 the Torricelli headquarters and Lautenberg was again a candidate for the Senate, without having to spend months fundraising. The easiest source of funds proved unavailable: Torricelli would not send over a dime from his $5 million campaign treasury. Lautenberg spent $1.5 million of his own money, and those funds, plus $1.2 million from national and New Jersey Democrats, turned out to be enough in this Democratic state.
Now Forrester could no longer introduce himself as "the guy running against Bob Torricelli." He did run a cute ad on cable TV, showing a kid slamming 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 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 attacked Forrester on Social Security, prescription drugs, abortion and gun control: Forrester was against state-paid abortions and had written a 1992 column in the West Windsor-Plainsboro Chronicle on owning semiautomatic guns. "Liberty is all about the government allowing citizens to do weird things unless there is a compelling documented public purpose which should preclude them." On October 30 they appeared together for 30 minutes on News 12 New Jersey, a cable channel available to 55% of state households; Lautenberg seemed a little ragged, but was plainly still up to the job. Forrester spent $10 million altogether, $7.5 million of it his own money; the Senate Republican campaign committee did not make New Jersey a top priority.
Unsurprisingly, Lautenberg won 54%-44%, a better showing than in 1994; but then New Jersey has become more Democratic than it was in 1994. He won big majorities in the central cities where turnout, as compared to 1994, declined; he lost the Jersey Shore and northwest New Jersey, where turnout was up. He seemed satisfied to be where he was, a satisfaction perhaps augmented by the plight of Torricelli. But he was disappointed when Senate Democrats did not give him credit for all his seniority; his previous service only entitled him to seniority over other freshmen. "What I am trying to do is to picture myself as a tenured professor who took a sabbatical after 18 years and now wants to go into my 19th year. I think some of the leadership thinks I ought to wear a freshman beanie, but that is not my style. I have too big a head."
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||Frank Lautenberg (D)
|Douglas Forrester (R)
||Robert G. Torricelli (D)
|Dick Zimmer (R)
Prior winning percentages:
1988 (54%); 1982 (51%); 1994 (50%)
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