Frank Lautenberg, a self-made multimillionaire businessman who became a leading liberal in the U.S. Senate and championed smoking bans, gun control, airline safety and rail transportation, died on Monday at 89, an aide said.
Lautenberg, who was the Senate’s last surviving World War II veteran, died from complications of viral pneumonia, the aide said. His office said in February 2010 that he had been diagnosed with cancer and would have chemotherapy and that June he said he had recovered completely.
A co-founder, former chairman and chief executive of the payroll services company Automatic Data Processing, he was elected as a Democrat by New Jersey voters to five six-year terms in the Senate.
He was first elected in 1982, running after incumbent Democrat Harrison Williams quit in a bribery scandal.
Lautenberg retired from the Senate in 2000, saying he was tired of chasing campaign contributions. But in 2002 he came out of political retirement at age 78, filling the seat of Robert Torricelli who dropped his re-election bid amid corruption charges involving improper gifts from a businessman.
Lautenberg was re-elected in 2008 at age 84.
“Almost as soon as I announced my retirement I had pangs of regret,” Lautenberg told The New York Times in 2002. “There’s an old Irish saying that describes my philosophy well: ‘To rest is to rot.'”
Lautenberg had numerous legislative accomplishments. A former smoker, he convinced Congress to bar smoking on domestic airline flights and in federal buildings. He was a strong supporter of gun control and author of a 1996 law prohibiting people convicted of domestic abuse from having guns.
For years a leader on transportation subcommittees, Lautenberg obtained funds for Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, and for New Jersey’s commuter railroad to enable it to expand its network. A key rail station on the Northeast Corridor rail line was named in his honor.
He wrote the law that required U.S. states to set 21 as the drinking age as a condition of getting federal highway aid, a move he said had saved tens of thousands of lives.