THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Frank says he will seek another term

Decision could set up a clash of incumbents

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By Donovan Slack and Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / February 4, 2011

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WASHINGTON — US Representative Barney Frank announced yesterday that he plans to seek another term, increasing the possibility of a battle — the first in 30 years — between two sitting Massachusetts congressmen over a single congressional district.

Frank, 70, an irascible, liberal Newton Democrat who has been one of President Obama’s most important allies, ended months of speculation by announcing that he will seek election for the 17th time.

As a result of slow population growth, Massachusetts will lose one of its 10 congressional districts next year. So far none of the Bay State’s House members has announced plans to retire. If they all end up seeking re election, two must first face each other in a primary.

Moreover, if Frank is the Democratic nominee, that could set the stage for one of the nation’s highest-profile House races in the general election, possibly a rematch with Republican Sean Bielat, who ran against Frank last year. Frank won 53 percent to 43 percent.

Frank, who co-authored the law overhauling financial regulation and spearheaded its passage as chair of the House Financial Services Committee last year, said he had contemplated retirement after that blistering reelection battle. But he said after GOP lawmakers took over the House and began targeting the overhaul, he decided he needed to try to keep his job.

“Some very important programs are at risk,’’ he said.

Republicans reacted with thinly veiled scorn yesterday, saying Frank has had enough time in office — 30 years so far — and has little hope of convincing the American public that the overhaul of financial regulations should remain intact.

“There are strong arguments for changing a bill that increases the deficit, reduces the availability of credit, and creates so many new regulations that existing agencies can’t enforce them,’’ Bielat said in a statement. He said in an interview that he had not decided whether to run for Congress in 2012.

Frank said questions about redistricting were one reason he decided to declare his intentions now, nearly two years before the next election.

“It kind of forces the pace,’’ he said.

Beacon Hill lawmakers, who are responsible for redrawing the congressional districts in Massachusetts for the 2012 election, have already begun the process. State Representative Michael J. Moran, a Boston Democrat who leads redistricting efforts in the House, said he will travel to Washington next week to meet with the delegation. He has already had meetings with several members.

“It would be easier if four of them said they want to retire,’’ Moran said with a laugh yesterday. “I can’t let decisions like this get in the way of a big picture, which is a solid and comprehensive process that we’ve put in place.’’

Moran said he and his state Senate counterparts would take hundreds of hours of testimony and review opinions from elected officials and constituents, while looking at racial impacts and the necessity to avoid breaking apart cities and towns into separate districts.

“Could it potentially impact? Sure it could,’’ he said of Frank’s announcement. “But there’s other things we have to worry about.’’

Fellow members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation praised Frank’s decision yesterday and mostly avoided addressing redistricting tensions.

“Barney Frank is one of the smartest, most effective legislators in the country, so I’m very pleased that he’ll be running again,’’ Representative James P. McGovern a Worcester Democrat, said in a statement. “As for redistricting, it’s too early to worry about that.’’

Representative Niki Tsongas, a Lowell Democrat, lauded Frank as a “tremendous asset to Massachusetts.’’ As for redistricting, she said, “a lot can happen in two years.’’

Representative Michael E. Capuano, a Somerville Democrat who has been contemplating a run against Senator Scott Brown in 2012 — a move that would require him to give up his congressional seat — said he still has no firm plans.

“I’ll make up my mind in the next several months,’’ he said.

Frank’s intention to seek another term could also alter the planning of several potential candidates for his seat. Mayor Setti Warren of Newton, who has been mulling a run for Senate against Scott Brown, would not say whether he had also looked at Frank’s seat, insisting that Newton is his primary focus.

Speculation about Frank’s intentions began shortly after his face-off with Bielat. Aside from the withering campaign, during which he spent $3.6 million, including $200,000 of his own money, Frank had become a national punching bag for conservatives, who tried to lay the blame for the financial crisis at his feet.

In one memorable face-off viewed more than a million times on YouTube, Bill O’Reilly, a host on Fox News, repeatedly upbraided Frank for saying that mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were fiscally sound. Their collapse in 2008 helped drive the economy into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Frank, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1999, said he factored into his decision to seek another term concerns about his health and whether he could physically withstand another four years. But he said he has since undergone a full physical exam, and aside from some cataracts that he said are easily removed, he said he has a clean bill of health.

“When you’re older, you need to make sure when you do something, you can handle it,’’ Frank said.

Yesterday, during an extended interview outside a fund-raiser with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi at the Liberty Hotel in Boston, Frank displayed his typical pugnacity, continually challenging the premise of the questions being lobbed at him.

“I am struck by this notion that those of us on the liberal side are not supposed to fight back, are not supposed to be combative,’’ he said. “We’ve just been through a period of which many of the opponents of the health care bill, of the president, were very combative. Why is combative a bad word for a liberal elected official when it’s a point of pride for others?’’

Frank, one of the nation’s most liberal elected leaders, also cast himself as an ideological ally of the conservative Tea Party Movement, insisting that his two signature issues — protecting the financial regulations he helped write and a reduction in military spending — would resonate with its followers.

Frank said he would use his position as the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee to argue against repealing the financial legislation.

“The Republicans have the votes,’’ he said, referring to the House committee. “But I think many Republicans will be reluctant to vote that way if we frame the issue correctly.’’

In any case, Democrats control the Senate and, even if it passed that chamber, Obama would veto a repeal bill.

Frank also defended his November victory speech, in which he lashed out at critics and thanked the voters for repudiating “anger, vituperation, anonymous smears. And it has to be said, the collective campaign that was run by most Republicans was beneath the dignity of democracy.’’ Victory speeches usually adopt a more conciliatory tone.

Frank said that he has been a target of the Republican Party because he is gay and that the party would find another target if he stepped down.

But his most recent election opponent, Bielat, said it’s the issues that have made Frank a target

“He’s a lot more vulnerable than he has been in the past,’’ Bielat said.

Bielat said his decision about whether to run for the US House again will depend on personal issues and what happens with redistricting.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @DonovanSlack. Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com