TRENTON -- New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, at 89 the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of his current term rather than seek re-election next year.
Lautenberg was facing growing pressure to step down. Though he has been easily elected five times in a state that has not sent a Republican to the Senate in 40 years, he was facing a likely Democratic primary challenge in 2014 from charismatic Newark Mayor Cory Booker. No Republicans have publicly expressed interest in the seat.
"This is not the end of anything, but rather the beginning of a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals, and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey," Lautenberg said in a statement. The senator has been a staunch advocate of gun control and public infrastructure and a champion of the Amtrak railroad system.
The Senate's last veteran of World War II quipped that he had decided to announce his retirement because "I looked out, and it's time for me to be mature."
The liberal senator also has had health problems in recent years. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and was successfully treated.
Lautenberg first won election to the Senate in 1982 after building a fortune as a founder of Automatic Data Processing.
Booker, 43, who has a nettlesome relationship with Lautenberg, issued a statement praising him as "a champion for the people of New Jersey for decades."
But Lautenberg said of Booker, "I'd encourage him to finish the job that has to be done in Newark."