Frank Lautenberg
Businessman, politician
Born: January 23, 1924, in Paterson, New Jersey
Died: June 3, 2013, in New York City
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2015: Public Service

Frank Lautenberg might not have looked like a tough guy, but he was a tenacious fighter. Representing New Jersey as a five-term U.S. senator, Lautenberg battled for tougher environmental regulations, anti-smoking laws, consumer protections, drunk-driving penalties, and to strengthen public transportation.

Lautenberg was the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father, who mostly labored in the Paterson silk mills, died of cancer when Lautenberg was 19. His mother then opened a sandwich shop to support her family. Shortly after graduation from Nutley High School, Lautenberg entered the U.S. Army, serving overseas in the signal corps during World War II.

After the war, Lautenberg used the G.I. Bill of Rights to fund his education at Columbia University. He graduated in 1949 with a degree in economics and went to work briefly as a salesman at the Prudential Insurance Company. Next, Lautenberg took a job as a salesman at a new payroll-processing company founded by two of his classmates from Paterson, Joe and Henry Taub.

Lautenberg eventually became a partner in the company, now known as Automatic Data Processing. He was elevated to CEO in 1975. When he left the company seven years later for the U.S. Senate, it was one of the world’s largest computer services firms, with some 15,000 employees.

Long a supporter of liberal causes and Democratic candidates, Lautenberg entered politics as a Democrat in 1982, defeating the popular Republican congresswoman Millicent Fenwick in his first run for the Senate. He served two more terms, retired in 2001, and then returned to the Senate for two additional terms, starting in 2003.

As a freshman senator, Lautenberg pushed through a bill establishing a national drinking age of 21. Other notable legislative achievements included a ban on smoking on commercial airline flights, and a 1996 law preventing people who have committed domestic violence from owning guns.

Throughout his tenure in Congress, Lautenberg had a strong pro-environment voting record; fought for  gun control; was pro-choice on abortion; and was a strong supporter of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.

Public transportation was another key issue for Lautenberg. In 2008, he won an important legislative victory that greatly increased funding for Amtrak. He also advocated for federal funds to build an additional commuter rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan—an initiative that was killed by Governor Chris Christie, much to Lautenberg’s dismay.

Inducting Lautenberg into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, Governor Tom Kean declared, “Nobody in my lifetime did more for transportation in the state of New Jersey than Frank Lautenberg.” Kean, a Republican, also noted that Lautenberg was “respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle” and lauded Lautenberg’s readiness to take on difficult legislative battles.

“He became an advocate for the little guy,” said Kean, adding, “in that advocacy, he was tough as nails.”

Intro/Acceptance Video