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Barney Frank

Barney Frank: The Story of America's Only LeftHanded, Gay, Jewish Congressman

Stuart E. Weisberg
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 584
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  • Book Info
    Barney Frank
    Book Description:

    In a survey conducted by Washingtonian magazine, Barney Frank was rated the smartest, funniest, and most eloquent member of Congress. A mainstay in the House of Representatives since 1981, he has come to be known for his talent as a legislator, his zeal for verbal combat, his imposing intellect, and a quick wit that both disarms and entertains other lawmakers. Most recently, as chair of the Financial Services Committee, he was instrumental in crafting a compromise bill to stem the tide of home mortgage foreclosures, as well as the subsequent $700 billion “rescue plan.” Based on interviews with over 150 people, including more than thirty hours with Frank himself, this biography reconstructs for the first time his life and career, from his workingclass childhood in Bayonne, New Jersey, to his years at Harvard and in Boston politics, through his rise to national prominence. Stuart Weisberg captures Frank in all his quirkiness, irreverence, and complexity. He also examines his less appealing side—his gruff exterior, his legendary impatience, his aversion to wasting time. Weisberg reveals the pressure Frank has felt as the most prominent openly gay politician in the United States, one whose career was nearly derailed by a highly publicized sex scandal involving a male prostitute. Above all, this book shows Frank to be a superb legislator—a pragmatic politician who has dedicated his career to pursuing an unabashedly liberal agenda and whose depth of intellect and sense of humor have made him one of the most influential and colorful figures in Washington.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-174-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In most congressional offices, television sets are tuned to C-SPAN and play continuously when the House is in session so that members and staff can keep abreast of the proceedings on the floor. The volume on the television set is either muted or turned down so low it is barely audible. When Barney Frank’s face appears on the television screen, however, people in offices across the Capitol reach for the remote to turn up the volume and hear what he is saying. Staff and legislators, Democrats and Republicans, often stop what they are doing and crowd in front of the...

  5. 1 An Outspoken Voice at the White House Table
    (pp. 11-21)

    It was the beginning of an extraordinary period of economic turbulence as Americans witnessed a series of financial failures that had seemed unimaginable. On Sunday, September 7, 2008, Treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., exercising the stand-by authority he had been given by Congress only six weeks earlier, seized control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage-finance giants who together owned or guaranteed half of the nation’s mortgage debt. That same week, Lehman Brothers, the venerable 158-year-old Wall Street investment banking company, came to the federal government seeking the kind of help given six months earlier to the ailing...

  6. 2 Bayonne Born and Bred
    (pp. 22-40)

    Barney Frank’s journey to Washington began about 225 miles to the north in Bayonne, New Jersey, a petrochemical industrial working-class city just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. He was born March 31, 1940 BT (that’s eleven years Before the Turnpike opened). Named Barnett after his paternal grandfather, he was called Barney by everyone. In the mid-1960s, he went to court and changed his name legally from Barnett to Barney. “It was complicated having things in both names,” he explained. “Besides, with Barney Frank, I had a fifty-fifty chance of people getting it right. With Barnett Frank, people would inevitably...

  7. 3 A Decade at Harvard with Only a B.A. to Show for It
    (pp. 41-66)

    In the fall of 1957, an idealistic and anxious seventeen-year-old kid who had never strayed far from his Bayonne roots followed his sister Ann to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend Harvard. About eleven hundred freshmen walked with him through the historic gate and entered the hallowed grounds of Harvard Yard for the first time. Barney arrived with several books from home so that he would have something to read. Almost everyone at Harvard, he discovered, was smart. The freshmen who had attended Andover or Exeter and had already completed a year or two of college classes arrived with a veneer of...

  8. 4 Moving Seamlessly from Political Theory at Harvard to Hardball Politics at City Hall
    (pp. 67-84)

    In the crowded ten-candidate field in the September 26, 1967, preliminary election for mayor of Boston, Louise Day Hicks finished first with just over 28 percent of the vote. Hicks, a South Boston resident and member of the Boston School Committee for six years, was a strong opponent of school busing for integration whose campaign slogan was “You know where I stand.” Kevin Hagan White, the Massachusetts secretary of state since 1961, finished a distant second with a little over 20 percent, trailing Hicks by about 13,500 votes. State representative John W. Sears, a reform-minded Republican much like John Lindsay...

  9. 5 Coming to Washington
    (pp. 85-96)

    Michael J. Harrington, a thirty-three-year-old Irish Catholic who had worked on a beer truck to pay for his undergraduate and law school education at Harvard, had been elected to Congress from Massachusetts’s Sixth District in a special election in September 1969, following the death of Republican William Bates. The Sixth District, which included Lynn, Haverhill, Salem, and the port city of Gloucester, was the home of the Saltonstalls, the Lodges, and other prominent, old-line Massachusetts families. This North Shore district was the birthplace of the termgerrymander, named after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who in the nineteenth century created a...

  10. 6 Running for the Legislature from Ward 5, Where Everybody Knows Your Name
    (pp. 97-107)

    Several weeks later, in April 1972, Steve Cohen, whom Barney had hired several years earlier to work at City Hall, telephoned to inform Barney that he and his wife, Shelley, had gotten wind that Mo Frye was planning to retire as state representative from Ward 5. The Cohens and other friends urged Barney to run. Barney visited Frye at his office on Charles Street, where the fifty-one-year-old Frye confirmed that he planned to retire from the legislature and turn his attention to his real estate business in Beacon Hill. He asked Barney not to tell anyone, since his plans were...

  11. 7 The Gentleman from the Back Bay
    (pp. 108-150)

    In 1973, on the first Wednesday in January, the traditional opening day of the Massachusetts General Court, the formal name of the Bay State’s legislature, the 240 newly elected members assembled in the ornate chamber to begin the 168th annual session. The 1972 elections brought a new wave of Democrats to the legislature, a group of liberals who opposed the Vietnam War and were committed to civil rights. This new generation of politicians was there to rearrange the political chairs, to end the graft, and to bring about legislative reform.

    The class of 1972 that entered the House together that...

  12. 8 Mr. Frank Goes to Washington with Help from Pope John Paul II and John Kerry
    (pp. 151-200)

    In 1980, the year he turned forty, Barney felt “bummed out.” He was going through a mid-life crisis. He described himself to a colleague in the state legislature as “clinically depressed.” He was frustrated with his job in the legislature and frustrated with his personal life, and he began to take inventory. When he first ran for the state legislature, in 1972, he thought he could have a career as an elected official and give up his personal life. But he soon learned, he said, “When you try to make your public career a substitute for your private life, the...

  13. 9 Rookie of the Year
    (pp. 201-214)

    Barney Frank’s swearing-in ceremony and party in January 1981 was one of the few celebrations for liberals that year. Morris Udall called Barney’s election “one of the best things to happen to the House of Representatives in years.” Robert Drinan, who had joined the faculty at Georgetown University Law Center, attended the swearing-in of his successor.

    Within days of arriving in Congress, Barney remarked that he could stay in the House for the next thirty years and feel his life fulfilled. “I’ve been like a kid with my nose pressed against the candy-store window for a long time,” he said....

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. 10 Running against Heckler-Reaganomics
    (pp. 215-258)

    Barney loved life in Congress, working on legislation to advance the values he believed in, making political deals, lobbying members to support his bills and amendments, and schmoozing with colleagues in the cloakroom near the House chamber between votes. He also enjoyed relaxing in the Speaker’s lobby off the House floor, puffing a cigar and chatting and joking with reporters. He had the job he had always dreamed of and he turned out to be pretty good at it.

    Because of his narrow margin of victory in the 1980 general election, Barney was always nervous about being reelected and was...

  16. 11 Barney, We Hardly Recognize Ye
    (pp. 259-272)

    “I gain weight when I am nervous, which I usually am during campaigns,” Barney explained. “I was particularly nervous [during the race against Heckler] because I was afraid I couldn’t win.” Barney coped with the tension of the 1982 campaign by eating. “When you’re under stress, youfress,” he said. He ate everything in sight and then came back for dessert. He often ate half a pecan pie and five hamburgers as a snack between meals. In his eating habits, he followed the advice of Miss Piggy, who once said, “Never eat more than you can lift.”

    “We would take...

  17. 12 Subcommittee Chairman Frank
    (pp. 273-286)

    In January 1983, Barney, beginning his second term in Congress, ascended, on the basis of seniority, to the chairmanship of the Government Operations Subcommittee on Manpower and Housing. It is rare for a sophomore member to have enough seniority to land a subcommittee chairmanship, even with the proliferation of House subcommittees in the early 1980s. Barney explained how he came to make the transition from individual member to subcommittee chairman in only his second term: “It took three retirements, one death, two incumbents being beaten in the election, and a party switch.”

    The Government Operations subcommittee was an oversight panel...

  18. 13 A Frank That Relishes the Perfect Job
    (pp. 287-319)

    On Thursday morning, January 12, 1984, Senator Paul Tsongas stunned the Massachusetts and Washington political establishment by announcing that he was retiring from the Senate after just one term, for medical reasons. There are five major sports in Massachusetts—Red Sox baseball, Celtics basketball, Patriots football, Bruins hockey, and running for political office, though not necessarily in that order. In many ways, politics in Massachusetts, like rooting for the Red Sox, transcends sports and is followed with almost religious zeal. The newspapers, newscasts, and radio talk shows were immediately inundated with speculation about possible candidates for the open Senate seat....

  19. 14 Accompanying Yelena Bonner Back to the USSR
    (pp. 320-326)

    On September 5, 1985, Barney led a group of half a dozen members of Congress to the Soviet Embassy in Washington to deliver a letter to Soviet officials concerning the plight of Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner. Sakharov, a distinguished physicist who had helped develop the Soviet hydrogen bomb, a 1975 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and an outspoken dissident and victim of Soviet persecution, had worked courageously, together with his wife, for basic human rights in the Soviet Union. In 1980, after he criticized the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Sakharov was banished without the benefit of a trial...

  20. 15 Coming Out
    (pp. 327-353)

    At a Holocaust Memorial dedication in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in May 1998, Barney told the religiously and ethnically diverse audience that as a twenty-year-old he had had an interest in public service but because of the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in the United States at the time, it seemed to him unlikely that he would ever have the opportunity that he did have. “The fact that I could run for office and be held accountable for my own individual faults but not for some group problem—I have enough individual faults to handle it—I am a beneficiary, in my own...

  21. 16 In Surviving a Washington Sex Scandal, the Importance of Being Frank
    (pp. 354-396)

    In January 1987, Barney Frank had left the Employment and Housing subcommittee to chair the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Law. Two years later, he rejoined the housing subcommittee. Since he was not chairing the hearings, he was more relaxed and more approachable. But because he was no longer the chairman, he was more partisan, combative, and unrestrained in his questioning of witnesses.

    On April 26, 1989, Paul Adams, the HUD inspector general, issued a report criticizing apparent favoritism by the department in awarding Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Program funds between 1984 and 1988. The program had been established by Congress...

  22. 17 A Frank Compromise on Gays in the Military
    (pp. 397-406)

    During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the longstanding ban on homosexuals serving in the military began to be aggressively enforced as thousands of gay men and lesbians were discharged from the armed forces. On July 31, 1991, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney appeared at a House Budget Committee hearing to discuss defense policy in the post–Cold War era. Barney’s final question to Secretary Cheney concerned the issue of gays and lesbians serving in the military. Cheney acknowledged that the argument for excluding gays from serving in the military because they are security risks was “an old chestnut.” He...

  23. 18 The Most Hated Man in Gingrichdom
    (pp. 407-419)

    Soon after his first election to Congress in 1980, Barney found himself frequently paired with Republican Newt Gingrich of Georgia on political talk shows and issue debates on news programs. Although the two men were polar opposites ideologically, there were several similarities. They were about the same age (Gingrich was born in 1943, Barney in 1940); they were elected to Congress about the same time (Gingrich in 1978, Barney in 1980); they both represented fairly diverse suburban districts near big cities (Atlanta and Boston), with more voting freedom than many of their colleagues; and neither was shy about criticizing his...

  24. 19 Defending the President against Impeachment
    (pp. 420-443)

    In late July 1994, Barney became involved in the investigation of Whitewater as a member of the Banking Committee and began defending President Bill Clinton against accusations relating to the failed Arkansas real estate venture. “Robert Fiske, Kenneth Starr, and Jay Stephens have investigated all of this and have come up with no misdeeds against the Clintons…. With all the investigating … no one has yet brought forth any accusation against either President Clinton or Hillary regarding any violation of the law or misuse of public funds regarding Whitewater,” Barney said. He referred to the hearings as “allegations in search...

  25. 20 The Gay Washington Monument
    (pp. 444-462)

    Barney Frank’s career as a legislator has paralleled the history of the gay rights movement. Barney was elected to the Massachusetts state legislature in 1973, three years after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, touched off what became known as the Stonewall riots, an episode that brought the gay community out of the closet and into the streets and marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. Today, Barney is the most prominent openly gay politician in the United States. He has been a pioneer in the fight for fair treatment for gays...

  26. 21 Talking Frankly and Not Beating around the Bush
    (pp. 463-484)

    Barney took the 2000 presidential election results in stride. Speaking at an ADA counter-inaugural ball and fund-raiser, he told the gathering, “John Ashcroft went to the world capital of bigotry, Bob Jones University, and accepted an honorary degree. They gave him a hood and it was white and it had eye holes in it.” He also said that he hoped that Ralph Nader, who played the role of spoiler in the election, and Gale Norton, who favored opening up more federal lands for oil drilling and logging and was President George W. Bush’s choice for secretary of the interior, would...

  27. 22 A Committee Chairman at Last
    (pp. 485-502)

    After twelve years of being in the minority, the Democrats finally regained control of the House following the 2006 elections, and Barney Frank became a House committee chairman at last. It had been a long time coming. According to Robert Kaiser, the associate editor of theWashington Postand a friend from NSA days, every two years since as early as 1996, with unwavering optimism, Barney had expected the Democrats to take back control of the House because he believed they were on the right side of almost every issue. “I think to the present day he doesn’t really want...

  28. Index
    (pp. 503-514)
  29. Back Matter
    (pp. 515-516)