Barney Frank attended Harvard University, graduating in 1962. He taught undergraduate Political Science and History while pursuing a Ph.D. He left Harvard in 1968 before completing that degree to work as Boston Mayor Kevin White’s chief assistant. In 1972, Frank won a seat in the State Legislature of Massachusetts. The following year, he introduced that state’s first two Gay Rights bills.
In 1980, Pope John Paul II ordered all Roman Catholic priests to withdraw from electoral politics. Father Robert Drinan, who represented the Fourth Congressional District in Massachusetts, complied. More than a dozen local politicians vied for the seat. Frank narrowly won the election. His slogan was “Neatness Isn’t Everything”, a reference to his rumpled wardrobe.
In 1987, Frank became the first U.S. Congressperson to voluntarily come out of the closet.
In 1989, Frank found himself in a major, juicy scandal. Four years earlier, Frank had engaged the services of a male escort named Stephen Gobie. Who among us has not? Frank hired Gobie as a driver despite knowing that he was on probation. Frank also used his House privileges to waive Gobie’s parking tickets, a rather sweet gesture, I think. When Frank discovered that Gobie was running a rent-boy ring out of his Capitol Hill apartment, he fired him. Gobie responded by telling his story to the media (this was before Twitter and The Facebook). Attempts to expel or censure Frank were led by members of the House Ethics Committee, including the charming closeted Idaho Congressperson Larry Craig, failed. Frank initially decided not to seek reelection in 1990. But, he changed his mind and won with 66% of the vote. He won reelection in 2008 with 70% of the vote.
A liberal stalwart who was first elected to Congress at the dawn of the Reagan era, Frank rose to become the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee from 2007-11 and was a key author of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the regulatory overhaul signed into law in 2010.
Frank is a funny guy. Humor and gregariousness made him one of Capitol Hill’s most captivating figures for over his three-decade career, during which time he’s dropped his share of memorable quips. I like when, in 1986, voting against a $6 billion anti-drug-trafficking bill, he quipped:
“I’m afraid this bill is the legislative equivalent of crack. It yields a short-term high but does long-term damage to our system, and it’s expensive to boot.”
Admired for his barbed wit and pugilistic political personality, Frank was attacked by conservatives for his views on Equal Rights, taxes and Wall Street regulation. When Frank retired, the closest thing left was California congresswoman Maxine Waters. now the most-senior Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, and rather witty herself.
“Moderate Republicans are reverse Houdinis. They tie themselves up in knots and then tell you they can’t do anything because they’re tied up in knots.”