New Jersey's Daily Record was first to report that the state's senior senator, Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, died early Monday morning at age 89. The cause was viral pneumonia.
The oldest member of the Senate, Lautenberg had struggled with health problems since late last year, when he missed several weeks of votes because of what he said was flu and bronchitis.
The death of Lautenberg, a Democrat who was the longest-serving senator in New Jersey history, creates a vacancy that Governor Christie, a Republican, will fill.
The report has been confirmed by the Senator's office, which issued a statement reading, in part:
Senator Lautenberg was born the son of immigrants and grew up poor in Paterson, New Jersey. He enlisted in the military at the age of 18 and served in the Army in Europe during World War II. Upon returning home, he graduated from Columbia University with the help of the G.I. Bill. He joined with two boyhood friends to found Automatic Data Processing (ADP), which today employees 57,000 people worldwide and 4,500 in New Jersey. He left the business world to pursue a career in public service and give back to the country that helped give him so much.
The senator's ongoing illness largely prevented him from casting recent votes. In April, he returned to vote to end a filibuster of a compromise on background checks that would have advanced a Democratic package of new gun measures. That effort was unsuccessful. Gun legislation is among the accomplishments his office listed in its statement — a list that also includes Lautenberg's push to ban smoking on airplanes.
Lautenberg was first elected to the Senate in 1982, replacing a senator who resigned following his involvement in a FBI bribery sting. Lautenberg retired from the body in 2000, at age 76 — but was reelected in 2002 to replace a senator who was resigning, again due to corruption charges.
Earlier this year, Lautenberg announced that he did not plan to seek a sixth term, focusing on a two-year agenda of "reforming U.S. chemical safety laws, improving gun safety laws, and providing federal resources for New Jersey to rebuild from Superstorm Sandy," according to his office. The decision was generally interpreted as clearing the path for another Democrat, possibly popular Newark mayor Cory Booker. That path now becomes trickier. Governor Chris Christie is likely to appoint a Republican to the seat.