By Andy Igrejas, Campaign Director
Senator Frank Lautenberg was buried today at Arlington cemetery, closing a week of mourning and remembrance worthy of his long career in public service. I had the privilege of observing the Senator from a distance as a constituent when I was a young man and later to work closely with him and his staff after he returned to the Senate in 2002, mostly on the issue of chemical reform.
The two vantage points reinforced each other. This was a man whose image matched his substance, which is too rare these days. He was a consistent and principled advocate for the kitchen table concerns of working people: Having a transit system that allowed them to get to work. A functioning port that kept commerce in the area. And, of course, common sense protections from harmful pollution and dangerous products like tobacco.
The obituaries have cited his record, but still don't quite do it justice to my mind. Saying he lead the fight to ban smoking in airplanes, for example, almost sounds quaint nowadays, like something from a future season of Madmen. We take smoke-free environments and the tobacco industry's collapse in credibility for granted.
But at the time, the tobacco industry was a political colossus with an enormous war-chest and seasoned operatives at its disposal. Political courage can be defined, at it's simplest, as a willingness to piss off people with money for a greater purpose. Senator Lautenberg had that courage, and his fight against the industry set the stage for its later defeats and the enormous public health benefits that followed.
The obituaries also don't capture the effect that the Senator had beyond the bills that bear his name. Senator Lautenberg put the full weight and influence of his office behind defending and strengthening the EPA programs that protect public health, like Superfund and the Clean Air Act. This constant, often behind-the- scenes work, is a testament to the character of the man.
He wasn't looking to simply associate himself with popular issues. He was there for them when the camera was off.
I'm sad that we didn't get to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act while he was alive. I remember the Senator's near giddiness last year when we had a few hundred moms and other activists in town for the National Stroller Brigade for Safer Chemicals. He practically bounced around the crowd and I'm told he brought it up with whoever he met - four star generals, federal judges- for weeks afterward.
When he announced his retirement at the beginning of the year, the Senator named chemical reform as one of two priorities for his remaining time in public service. He was working hard on it right up until the week before he died. I hope the Senate is inspired to complete that work.
But either way, I hope you'll join me in mourning the loss of Senator Lautenberg and honoring his consistency and courage in advocating for the health and well-being of the American people.
I never had the honor of meeting Senator Lautenberg but I admired & appreciated his commitment and all he has done to try and reform the Toxic Substances Control Act.
As someone who has personally experienced how toxic chemicals in our environment can adversely affect us, I want his family to know how very much his dedication meant and I hope that others will follow in his footsteps and finish what he started.
JuliePosted by: Julie | Jun 11, 2013 11:54:34 AM
Research librarian from California
Senator Lautenberg has left us a great deal to live up to in his legacy. I have a tribute to him on my website as well. The only thing I add to Andy's great post here is a little about his successful political tactics that we might learn from-- in a stance of service that is sadly lacking from many of those in Congress today.Posted by: Madronna | Jun 10, 2013 9:41:59 AM
We need the vision and hope of such leaders. Thanks for a great post, Andy.
Thanks for your work, Andy. It's good to know how much Senator Lautenberg helped our cause.Posted by: Lela Betts | Jun 10, 2013 6:10:00 AM
What a wonderful man, and an equally wonderful legacy he has left behind. May we all take a leaf from his book and carry on the good work for our planet and all the life on it.
MichellinaPosted by: Michellina Van Loder | Jun 8, 2013 8:19:42 AM
Senator Lautenberg was a good man. He worked for the public good, and had a grasp on how toxic petrochemicals are ruining the heatlh, brains and futures of many people here in the U.S. What he could have done perhaps had he lived, would have been to adopt the exclusions mandated by the European Union, which prohibit a huge number of neurotoxins from being imported in any form.Posted by: Ashley Hotz | Jun 7, 2013 3:03:27 PM
Senator Lautenberg demonstrated that one person who acts on his conscience in a consistent and persistent manner can have far-reaching effects on the well-being of his nation. He deserves our sincere thanks for his long career of public service. More importantly, his example deserves to be emulated by many, many more of his peers in Congress. Thank you, sir, for your service to your nation! God bless and God speed on the next stage of your journey!Posted by: C. K. Cunningham | Jun 7, 2013 2:40:58 PM
When I first began researching legislative chemical reform, I quickly discovered Senator Lautenberg was a critical leader in the efforts. I too was touched by his passion at the National Stroller Brigade. What a legacy he leaves us in his commitment to chemical reform. We will forge ahead. Thank you SC for honoring his great leadership and passion. He will be so missed.Posted by: Lisa | Jun 7, 2013 1:53:22 PM
Senator Lautenberg was a man of the people with a true interest in the people of NJ that he represented. He was motivated by his modest background in the legislation that he fought to pass.
Our son interned for the Senator when in college. He called him Uncle Frank. We feel the loss of Frank Lautenberg as both a personal loss, and a loss of a statesman who expertise spanned the 20th and 21st centuries.
Ronnie SilverPosted by: Ronnie Silver | Jun 7, 2013 1:06:48 PM
I have been so sad all week. Senator Lautenberg was my hero. When I learned he had died, I pledged to myself to redouble my efforts to spread the word through my blog and get toxic chemicals regulated.Posted by: Alexandra | Jun 7, 2013 12:45:40 PM
I was one of the hundreds of moms who heard Senator Lautenberg speak at the National Stroller Brigade. I remember noticing how he thought it was important to kneel on the ground to speak with the children present that day and have his picture taken with them. It seemed like more than a mere photo op. He seemed sincerely interested in the kids and their well-being, which is what we would hope for from any leader elected to represent the people.Posted by: Anne | Jun 7, 2013 11:56:03 AM
Thank you for your glowing tribute to a wonderful man and a true leader. It is up to those of us that understand the perils of the use of toxic chemicals to carry on his work.Posted by: Marilyn K. Jones | Jun 7, 2013 11:51:34 AM
Dear Andy, Lindsay, Liz, and the Safer Chemicals coalition,
I thought of you all this week when I heard the news. What a soldier we have lost. Your piece is beautiful and a fitting tribute.
I am at PHT in Boston now just down the street from the autism lab, making clinical trials applications for all the somber diseases and conditions that could be ameliorated with tougher toxics laws including exposure cancers and neurodegenerative conditions.
To paraphrase the mourning verse, he has fought the good fight, we must finish the race, we must keep the faith.
Warm regards,Posted by: Donna Ferullo | Jun 7, 2013 11:48:47 AM
I will always remember his tenacity. I hope someone can fill his big shoes and carry his fight with integrity.Posted by: joe | Jun 7, 2013 11:34:02 AM
I was at the stroller brigade last year, and I was truly inspired by Senator Lautenberg's energy and passion for the cause of safer chemicals. I could see his empathy for those whose health had been affected by environmental hazards...and his unflagging resolve to continue fighting for a better future for our children. Great people continue to inspire long after they are physically gone...Senator Lautenberg was such a person.Posted by: Nina Kaktins | Jun 7, 2013 11:33:02 AM
Having grown up in NJ, I like to think of Sen. Lautenberg as every garden state-er's grandfather. Whether you knew someone at ADP (his company) or admired his public service, you couldn't say his name without a smile!Posted by: HMN | Jun 7, 2013 11:29:52 AM
Like Senator Lautenberg, I too am a native ofPosted by: Kate Walter | Jun 7, 2013 11:24:11 AM
gritty Paterson, NJ. He was a wonderful legislator
and credit to my home city. RIP Senator.
A wonderful man and senator.Posted by: linda | Jun 7, 2013 11:10:08 AM
He will be sorely missed.
God bless you Frank
Thanks Andy for your thoughtful reflection on Senator Lautenberg's life and legacy. I hope that others will take up the safer chemicals banner in his honor.Posted by: Kathleen Schuler | Jun 7, 2013 9:58:04 AM