WASHINGTON — His nameplate has been unscrewed from the wall outside his office, a new state flag already planted in the hallway. The lease on his Capitol Hill apartment has expired, forcing him to crash at a fellow lawmaker’s. And for the first time in four decades, Representative Barney Frank will have no staff to transcribe his dictated memos: that means learning how to use a computer.
With his political career winding to a close, the 72-year-old Newton Democrat says he is worn out and eager to begin a new chapter, transferring his liberal ideals and sharp tongue from the halls of Congress to the more lucrative lecture circuit.
“People will pay me significant amounts of money to do what I used to do for free. And that will be fine,” Frank said during an interview this week in a cramped office off the rotunda in the Cannon House Office Building. “I’m ready to get out of here.”
Colleagues note that the famously cantankerous congressman known for his barbs as much as his intellect has adopted a lighter, more laid-back touch in recent months. But still smarting over the redistricting that prompted his decision to retire, Frank said he holds a grudge against some members of the Massachusetts delegation and is fending off a formal send-off they are trying to plan.
Frank, after serving 32 years in Congress and eight in the Massachusetts Legislature, is already burnishing his legacy, jetting around the country speaking — for free, at this point — on marriage equality, financial reform, and getting federal money into rental housing. He’s making the rounds on political talk shows and penning — actually, speaking into a Dictaphone — op-ed columns on the need to slash military spending as the fiscal cliff looms.
“That is the single most important issue,” he said. “I’ve been propagandizing.”
Frank dined Wednesday night with Representative Mick Mulvaney, a Tea Party Republican from South Carolina, to discuss how to push for further defense cuts. They collaborated in July on an amendment to freeze military spending.
He’s retained an agent — William Morris Endeavor, run by Ari Emanuel, the brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and model for the character Ari Gold on the HBO hit “Entourage.”
“They can start lining up speeches for me but they can’t tell me who they are . . . so I can’t be influenced in these last days,” Frank said.
When a photographer walked into his office Wednesday, Frank sat at his temporary desk overlooking the Capitol dome, dictating a book proposal about gay rights so his agent can begin negotiating his advance once he leaves office.
Frank, the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress who married his partner Jim Ready in July, says he is in a unique position to write the book. As a state representative in 1972, he was the first person in Massachusetts to file gay rights legislation.
“I’ve been in Congress every time there’s been a vote on LGBT issues,” he said. “I’ve been in on all these fights.”
Among his final fights in his waning days in Congress is his continued push to forbid discrimination against transgendered people. He re-introduced legislation to do that last spring but it once again died in the House in the face of GOP opposition. In 2008 Frank hired as a legislative assistant Diego Sanchez, who Frank says is the first openly transgendered staffer on Capitol Hill.
Frank has earned a reputation through his career for being prickly, with neither the time nor patience for sentimentality or stupidity. While chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, he banged the gavel freely and regularly engaged in verbal combat during hearings for the Dodd-Frank bill to overhaul Wall Street regulations — legislation Democrats praise as the most important financial reform since the 1930s and Republicans blame for thrusting the nation into a deeper recession. GOP candidates vowed to dismantle it during the campaign.
“Barney Frank’s legacy in Congress is one of the most destructive antigrowth pieces of legislation to come out of the Obama presidency, and he’ll have to deal with the consequences of the jobs he cost America by helping pass it,” said Barney Keller, spokesman for Club for Growth.
In the House, chatter routinely permeates the chamber when other members speak. But when Frank takes to the floor, a hush suddenly descends, said Representative Jim McGovern of Worcester.
“Republicans hate debating him because he makes them feel stupid, and he’s clear about it,” said McGovern. “Watching him perform on the House floor is like going to a Broadway show.”Continued...