enator Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat who at 89 is the U.S. Senate's oldest member, said on Thursday he will not seek re-election to a sixth term next year.
His decision opens a clearer path to the seat for Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for Senate in 2014. Booker said he would seek the seat before Lautenberg announced his intentions.
Lautenberg, a self-made multimillionaire businessman who became a leading liberal voice in the Senate, offered no reason for his decision to retire from Congress, but vowed to keep working for constituents until his Senate term ends in January 2015.
"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," he said in a statement.
Booker, 43, is a rising star in the Democratic Party, known as much for his rescue of a woman from her burning home last year as he is for running a city troubled by high crime and unemployment.
Booker announced he would explore running for Lautenberg's seat in December, then filed papers in January, drawing criticism from Lautenberg supporters who suggested the mayor should focus on his own struggling city.
"Senator Lautenberg has been a strong model of leadership and service to me since before I even considered entering elected office," Booker said in a statement after Lautenberg's announcement. "I look forward to continuing to work with him for the remainder of his term in the Senate and for many years to come."
A survey by Public Policy Polling released in November found most New Jersey Democratic voters wanted to see Lautenberg retire at the end of his term in 2014 rather than seek re-election.
The same survey found Booker leading the pack of potential Democratic candidates for the Senate seat, with six in 10 voters saying they want to see him run.
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