UPPER EAST SIDE (PIX11) – A remarkable array of political celebrity was present at the funeral of Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), but even more impressive than the who’s who of politics in attendance was how they and Lautenberg’s family remembered him in words and music.
Even as speculation swirls about who will fill Sen. Lautenberg’s seat, and how it will be filled, some of the most likely candidates for the position were in attendance at the ceremony memorializing him. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat who has made clear that he wants to take Lautenberg’s seat in a special election in October, was there, along with the man who made the decision to hold that election, Governor Chris Christie. Christie, a Republican, will also get to select the person who will take Lautenberg’s place until the special election is held.
Past governors of the state that Lautenberg represented for three decades were also on hand. Jon Corzine and Jim McGreevey, both Democrats, stood out in particular as they waited to enter the Park Avenue Synagogue on 87th Street and Madison Avenue, the longstanding house of worship for Lautenberg’s wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg.
Once inside, most of the remembrances the political standouts heard did not come from fellow politicians. Instead, Lautenberg’s family was heavily featured in the program. All of his children and stepchildren, as well as most of his 13 grandchildren, spoke.
“He would say, ‘You are not my blood, but you’re mine,’ his stepdaughter Danielle Englebardt said from the dais in front of the congregation. “Now,” she concluded, “you’re mine, too.”
She and her relatives told dozens of stories about their fallen loved one, who himself was very fond of stories. More than one of his four children mentioned that Lautenberg told them just a few months ago that he wanted to rescind his statement from earlier in the year that he would not seek re-election. They told the story humorously, but were all quick to point out that their father was very serious when he made the statement.
Commenting further, and more seriously, about that statement from the senator was none other than Vice President Joe Biden. He said he’d had a two-hour conversation with Lautenberg earlier this year.
“Frank said, ‘Joe, I don’t think I can run'” again for his senate seat. Biden called it tragic, because it contradicted Lautenberg’s tireless sense of service. “Because he never gave up, he never gave in,” the vice president said.
Lautenberg was close friends with the singer Brian Stokes Mitchell, who performed two songs during the ceremony, “The Impossible Dream,” and “My Way.” The latter was Lautenberg’s favorite song.
“It captured everything he was,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said about the ceremony after it ended. “We have so much to thank him for.”
Among his many legislative achievements, Lautenberg successfully got the drinking age raised to 21 from 18, got smoking banned on airplanes and in federal buildings, made it illegal for domestic abusers to own guns, and got some 400,000 people trying to flee oppressive countries into the U.S. legally.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was with Lautenberg when they met a planeload of refugees from Kosovo as they arrived at Fort Dix, New Jersey. She mentioned in a eulogy what Lautenberg ended up saying to one of the refugees, who gave birth hours after arriving.
“This baby was born in freedom, in security, and in New Jersey.”