U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died Monday at 89, leaves a legacy of service to New Jersey and the nation.

In his five terms in the Senate, he was a champion of efforts to protect the environment and improve public safety.

Lautenberg fought for a ban on ocean dumping, an environmental victory that benefits everyone who enjoys summer at the New Jersey shore. He wrote the bill that banned smoking on commercial airlines and pushed for a ban on smoking in federal buildings, actions that inspired other smoking restrictions nationwide.

During his first term, in 1984, he championed a bill that linked federal highway funds to a requirement that states raise their drinking age to 21. In 2000, he used the same method to create a national uniform standard for the blood-alcohol content that constitutes drunken driving.

He sponsored legislation that barred people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns, and he was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War in 2003.

Lautenberg was a successful businessman and self-made millionaire who often chose causes that helped improve the lives of everyday people.

In 1982, at age 58, he defeated popular Republican Millicent Fenwick for a Senate seat. He won two more terms and retired from the Senate in 2000, saying he was tired of the constant fundraising required.

But in 2002, when Sen. Robert Torricelli dropped out of the Senate race six weeks before the election because of an ethics scandal, Lautenberg took his spot on the ballot to preserve the seat for Democrats.

No politician serves as long as Lautenberg did without controversy. He's taken his share of criticism, including from this newspaper, which chastised him for being reluctant to debate his opponents during election campaigns.

Lautenberg was a tough campaigner, and he never lost an election. He carried that scrappy spirit into the Senate, and he didn't back away from a fight there or in his home state. He clashed with Gov. Chris Christie over the governor's scuttling of a rail-tunnel deal with New York and over the initial plan to merge Rutgers-Camden with Rowan University.

Christie now has the authority to appoint an interim successor for Lautenberg. He may choose to hold a special election to fill the last year of Lautenberg's term.

Earlier this year, Lautenberg announced he would not seek a sixth Senate term in 2014. He had survived stomach cancer and other ailments, but by this year his failing health often kept him absent from the Senate floor.

Still, he returned to the Senate in a wheelchair on occasion, including in April when he cast a vote in favor of expanded background checks for gun purchases.

That measure ultimately failed, but Lautenberg will be remembered for his many successes, and for the tenacity with which he kept up the good fight.

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