New Jersey Sen. Lautenberg says he will not seek re-election in 2014

 Sen. Frank Lautenberg doesn’t seem to believe his age to be a factor in potentially running for another term.

Mel Evans/ASSOCIATED PRESS

‘I’m not the end of anything,’ Sen. Frank Lautenberg said in a statement announcing he won’t run for re-election in 2014.

New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg announced Thursday that he will not seek re-election in 2014 – opening the door for Newark Mayor Cory Booker and others waiting in the wings to pursue the office.

His decision comes 56 days after Booker announced that he will explore a bid for the U.S. Senate seat.

While the 89-year-old senator had been expected to retire, Lautenberg had bristled at the suggestion that he would step aside for Booker.

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But a recent poll suggested that Lautenberg’s age would be a major liability in a re-election campaign. He is currently the oldest U.S. Senator and the last remaining World War II veteran in the chamber.

In a statement, Lautenberg insisted that he is focused on his remaining two years in office.

“I will be traveling to my hometown of Paterson tomorrow to announce that I will not seek re-election in 2014,” he said. “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.  While I may not be seeking re-election, there is plenty of work to do before the end of this term and I’m going to keep fighting as hard as ever for the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate.”

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Booker began the process of repairing his strained relationship with Lautenberg in a statement praising the senator as a “tireless” advocate for Newark and a personal mentor.

“On a personal note, Senator Lautenberg has been a strong model of leadership and service to me since before I even considered entering elected office,” he said. “Since I have been mayor, he has been an invaluable partner in so many of Newark’s recent accomplishments and successes. I look forward to continuing to work with him for the remainder of his term in the senate and for many years to come.”

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, who is considered another likely contender for Lautenberg’s seat, called the senator “an extraordinary leader” and “a moral guidepost” in a written statement.

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“From his military service, to his philanthropic work, to his time in the U.S. Senate, Frank Lautenberg has defined public service and what it means to live the American dream,” he said.

New Jersey Gov. Christie also praised Lautenberg after his announcement, while acknowleding that the two have often clashed.

“Frank Lautenberg and I have had our differences through the years,” the GOP governor wrote on Twitter, “but I’ve always respected him for his tenacity, devotion to NJ and his love and commitment to public service. I’ll always be grateful for his doggedness in fighting with me and the delegation to ensure congressional passage of Sandy aid package. I wish him the best in his retirement.”

And in recognition of his three decades in the U.S. Senate, President Obama also released a laudatory statement.

“Throughout his time in the Senate, Frank has fought tirelessly for workers, veterans, members of our military and their families, and immigrants, and he continues to make extraordinary contributions to our nation’s safety, and the health and welfare of our citizens,” he said. “His service in World War II is a testament to his character and deep commitment to public service. I look forward to working with Frank on critical issues before us these next two years, and Michelle and I wish him and Bonnie all the best.”

klee@nydailynews.com

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