Bob Franks was a class act. He died way too young at 58. New Jersey politics, in fact politics in this country, has become a cesspool of partisan sniping, personal attacks, and vicious efforts to destroy the reputation of one’s opponent. Politics is now a game of name calling and character assassination. These are all the things that Bob Franks abhorred.
For Bob, politics was about the good fight—a battle over ideology and different approaches to solving difficult and complex problems. It was about working hard, building a campaign team, having a better strategy than your opponent, and getting out your voters. On a shoestring budget, Bob Franks nearly beat Jon Corzine in the 2000 U.S. Senate race. He only lost by 3 percentage points even though Corzine spent $63 million and Bob spent $6 million.
There are so many things about Bob Franks that I’m going to miss. We served together in the Legislature in the mid-1980s. He was a diehard Republican, but you could do business with Bob. He was fair, he was reasonable, and he wasn’t afraid or uncomfortable reaching across the aisle. Later, he would do the same thing in Congress in the 1990s. Yet, one of the things that I’ll particularly miss about Bob was his personality. He was always upbeat and positive, with a smile on his face. He’d look you right in the eye every time he shook your hand. He was a great politician, but an even better person. He built relationships that lasted and I’m not just talking about Republican relationships.
When I lost my seat in the legislature in 1985, I was 27 and a Democrat. I was devastated and confused and had few professional prospects. I’ll never forget that my then Republican legislative colleague Bob Franks called me and asked me to have lunch. For the next couple of hours, Bob gave me advice about moving forward, about using the skills and tools one learns from running a political campaign and translating them into the world of business and media. Bob had absolutely no reason to be helpful to a Democrat who rarely voted for any of his bills.
Ideologically we were pretty far apart, but the thing about Bob was that he actually cared about people on a human, personal level. He knew that I was lost and he wanted to extend a hand. As always, his advice was smart, practical and genuine. This story can be replicated hundreds of times when you talk about Bob Franks’ life. He helped so many people, mentored them, coached them and helped them make critical and challenging decisions about their professional and personal lives.
Later on, when Bob took on the role of leading the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, he was a strong and effective advocate on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. Once again, while he argued the merits of his case, much of his success came down to the personal relationships he built with members of both sides of the aisle, as well as those of us in the media. He was accessible and down to earth. He talked in tangible terms using concrete examples involving the healthcare challenges facing people in every day life. He would also become friendly with his former political foe Jon Corzine. The thing about Bob is that because he conducted himself as a gentleman at all times, he brought the best out of you. He made it hard to attack him personally because you knew he wasn’t going to do it to you. He kept things out of the gutter and stayed on the high road. How rare in politics today. Bob leaves behind his wife, Fran, and three young daughters, Kelly, Sara and Abigail.
So for all of us in the worlds of media, politics and business who miss Bob, it is clearly so much harder for his immediate family who got to be with him every day. Passing away at 58 is way too young. Clearly it is a devastating loss for his relatives and loved ones, but Bob Franks’ passing is a body blow to the body politic of New Jersey. He will be terribly missed and one can only hope that the way he lived his life will influence others who engage in the political game to conduct themselves with just a little more class and dignity than we’ve become so used to. Bob Franks’ legacy deserves at least that and then some. He was definitely one of the good guys who can never be replaced.