Democratic firebrand Barney Frank will not be seeking a 17th term in the House next year, according to a statement released by his office. Mr. Frank will elaborate at a news conference later today.
This morning’s announcement marks the end of one of the most colorful careers on Capitol Hill. The Harvard graduate spent several years as a political aide and state politician before winning election to Massachusetts’ 4th district in the Boston suburbs in 1980, and came out as one of America’s first openly gay Congressmen in 1987. That year, Mr. Frank was reprimanded by the House after a scandal over his relationship with a male escort. Leading the moral charge, of all people, was Idaho Republican Larry Craig – himself the subject of national ridicule after demonstrating intricate knowledge of airport bathroom pick-up foot-shuffling while a senator in 2007.
Mr. Frank escaped censure and went on to become one of the most prominent Democrats in Washington, earning notice for his staunch advocacy of civil and abortion rights, medical marijuana, rehabilitation-focused crime policies, and skepticism towards Wall Street and the Federal Reserve. He will probably be best remembered for his time atop the House Financial Services Committee, which he chaired from 2007 to 2011 and where he currently serves as the ranking Democrat. Mr. Frank co-authored the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill aimed at curbing trading practices that helped cause the 2008 market crash; his brokerage of the deal for the hugely unpopular TARP bank bailout may have helped the country avoid an even worse meltdown.
All those positions made Mr. Frank one of the GOP’s major betes noires, surpassed perhaps only by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and the Clintons. His support of homeowner relief as the sub-prime mortgage crisis worsened saw many Republicans blame him for the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapse – in particular Newt Gingrich, who has repeatedly called for Mr. Frank and former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd to be jailed.
Bad blood has simmered between the two ever since a Gingrich aide alleged House speaker Tom Foley was a gay pedophile in 1987. Since then, Mr. Frank has called the current GOP presidential favorite ”the thinnest-skinned character assassin I ever met” and “one of the most energetic homophobics in Congress,” while responding to Mr. Gingrich’s recent attacks by calling him a “lobbyist and a liar” and wondering aloud whether the Gingrich Group meant the former speaker’s many wives.
The Dems will certainly miss Mr. Frank’s brio in what looks to be an increasingly heated general election next year. A Washingtonian magazine survey of Beltway staffers named him the “brainiest,” “funniest,” and “most eloquent” Congressman in 2004 and 2006, titles he retained or came in second for in the 2008 and 2010 polls. At the height of the “birther” town hall controversy in 2009, he told a Lyndon LaRouche supporter who compared Obama to Hitler that “trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table.” Take note, Congressional Republicans.
Follow Max Seddon via RSS.