Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) the once powerful chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and an outspoken advocate for homosexual rights announced today that he would not seek reelection in 2012.
First elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1972, Frank was elected to Congress in 1982 and has served 16 years. He played an instrumental role in helping President Obama pass the $700 billion bailout that has since become a hindrance for the president as he seeks a second term.
“The decision was precipitated by congressional redistricting, though not entirely caused by it,” Frank said in a mid-day Monday news conference in Newton, Mass. “I’ve been ambivalent about running, not because I don’t think the job is important, but because there are other things I’d like to do in my life before my career is over.”
Several congressional Democrats have announced plans to retire legislative districts in many states have changes due to Republicans redrawing the lines or population shifts. In states where Republicans gained control of legislative chambers, the number of GOP districts is likely to increase.
“I don’t want to be torn between a full-fledged campaign in a district with 325,000 new people and my obligation to the existing constituents,” Frank said in his remarks. “I would be asking 325,000 new constituents to give me a mandate to be their advocate with the federal government for only two years.”
Frank, who is Jewish and considered the first openly gay congressman, was first elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts in 1981 and represents an area that includes the Boston suburbs of Brookline and Newton. In 2009, Stuart Weisberg wrote a biography, titled The Story of America’s Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman.”
Aside from his rough and tumble style, Frank has his fans in the liberal community. “Barney Frank is an icon to liberals everywhere and even though conservatives oppose him, they know he is smarter and funnier than they are every day of the week,” said Democratic and liberal activists Michael J. Wilson in a statement on Monday.
Prior to beginning his elected public service, Frank cut his teeth on Democrat politics after attending Harvard, working in the Massachusetts political trenches made famous by former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil. He later graduated from Harvard Law School in 1977.
So outspoken was Frank, he told a lady at a public debate who was challenging him on President Obama’s health care law that he wouldn’t argue with her, saying he would “rather argue with a dining-room table.”
Fiscal conservatives who almost always disagreed with Frank, were critical of his positions in protecting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government sponsored mortgage guarantors, from tougher regulations. Many political analysts say that Franks’ overzealous role in keeping Congress away from the two mortgage giants helped precipitate the housing crisis.
“I, like many others, did not see the crisis coming,” said Frank, before laying part of the blame at the feet of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.”
Frank said he will continue to be an advocate for gay rights but will not become a lobbyist. He said he is also committed to defeating GOP candidates like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Inserting a bit of humor into his retirement announcement, Frank said he was amused at the number of Republicans who are considering supporting Romney.
“He would be the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party since Barry Goldwater,” said Frank.
Frank, who is also no stranger to political scandal, was reprimanded by the House for using his congressional status to assist a former staffer get out of 33 parking tickets. The staffer was also employed as a male prostitute.