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Frank says new voting map edged him out

Feels districts favor other congressmen

By Matt Viser and Christopher Rowland
Globe Staff / November 30, 2011
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WASHINGTON — US Representative Barney Frank yesterday accused Beacon Hill lawmakers of drawing the new congressional map in a way that shortchanged him in favor of fellow congressmen Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch. Had they done otherwise, said Frank, he might have run again.

“Markey and Lynch were protected, and the rest of us got what they didn’t want,” he said. Losing the chance to pick up some choice suburban towns for his district, Frank said, retirement became a more attractive option.

During a 45-minute interview with Globe reporters in his Capitol Hill office, Frank offered insights on several topics, including the ongoing fight over regulation of the financial services industry, and delivered a broadside on his longtime nemesis, Newt Gingrich.

On redistricting, Frank said he spoke with legislative leaders at the State House several weeks ago about the new lines for the Fourth Congressional District, to which he was first elected in 1980. They wanted him to take a reshaped district grounded in Southern Massachusetts, centered away from his base of Newton and Brookline. He rejected that idea, he said, but still ended up with a district that “unpleasantly surprised” him.

Frank asserted that Markey, with a suburban district that now extends west to Framingham and Ashland, and Lynch, from South Boston to the South Shore then west to Dedham, were given good districts. Several others — including himself; William R. Keating of Quincy; John Tierney of Salem; and Niki Tsongas of Lowell — got a bad deal, Frank said, even though those districts are still considered by many as safe Democratic seats.

“I talked to Ed Markey, and frankly I was a little disappointed there,” said Frank. “I think Ed had some influence with them, but it was spent mostly on his own district.

“There was stuff that Eddie got that, if I could have shared some with Eddie, it would have been a better district.”

The redistricting shifted a big portion of Frank’s territory from the South Coast, including the Democratic bases of Fall River and New Bedford, to the Blackstone Valley. When asked whether he would have run for another term had his district not been altered as significantly, Frank said, “If the district had been substantially similar, I would have felt obligated to run again.”

Frank’s assertion set off an unusual kerfuffle between two Democrats who have served alongside each other since they were freshman state representatives on Beacon Hill in 1972.

In an interview last night, Markey said the redistricting committee made it clear they were “going to draw lines that reflected what they believed made the most sense in 2012.”

“My influence was to ask that all nine districts be Democratic districts, and independent analysts are concluding that all nine are safe Democratic seats,” Markey said.

A spokeswoman for Keating said he was pleased with his new district.

State Representative Michael Moran, a Brighton Democrat and the House chairman of the redistricting committee, said incumbent protection was not a major issue for them.

“From day one, we said we would not use incumbency as a sole principle,” he said. He also noted that President Obama won the newly drawn Fourth Congressional District with 60 percent of the vote. “There’s no doubt in my mind [Frank] would have won that district.”

Disputes about districts aside, Frank appeared relaxed, even uncharacteristically low-key, in his office yesterday after two days of news conferences and interviews explaining his choice to step down at the end of 2012. The Newton Democrat said he made his decision during Thanksgiving week, which he spent in Boston and in Maine, where his partner, Jim Ready, lives.

Since he revealed his decision Monday, he has received a number of calls from well-wishers, including former Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Kennedy.

He has also been contacted by several agents who want to help him write a book, secure a media contract, and line up lucrative speaking engagements. Frank said he has no interest in hosting a daily news program, but he could do weekly spots and join the speaking and lecture circuit.

“I’ll be honest: I will make a lot of money,” Frank said. “I will talk less than I used to and get paid much more for it.”

Frank said he will continue defending his biggest legislative accomplishment, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul of 2010. Frank led House passage while Democrats held the majority and he was still chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

He said the law will insulate US taxpayers in the event a shaky institution is overwhelmed by another financial meltdown, avoiding the need for future government bailouts.

“On financial reform, I’m playing defense, I’m counter-punching,” he said. “Wherever they go, I’ll be there.”

Although the measure has been criticized by Republicans as excessively restrictive, and by some liberals as excessively permissive, Frank said it created an orderly system to unwind failing financial institutions before the damage spreads.

Frank added that he has spent countless hours learning the arcane details of derivatives trading, swaps, and other complex securities. Now that he is on the verge of retiring, he said, “I can’t wait to forget it.”

Even though Republicans are blocking confirmation of a chief for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key agency created by the legislation, Frank said it still has 90 percent of the authority envisioned in the law to protect consumers from predatory lending.

A feature of Frank’s career in Congress is that he became a leader despite his sometimes acerbic manner and reputation for not suffering fools. Asked to explain, Frank replied: “I suffer congressional fools more than others.”

He acknowledged that he may be seen as a polarizing figure in public, but “that’s the outside role, not the inside role. It’s a balancing act. Inside the institution I am very much able to pull people together.”

Frank said he traveled to Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and dozens of other places to help raise campaign money for Democrats on the Financial Services Committee in their home districts, for instance.

“Any member of my committee who was a Democrat, and wanted me to do a favor for them, I would do it,” he said. “I wanted them to have a vested interest in being my friend.”

Frank left no doubt he plans to remain engaged in partisan combat. The subject of former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is seeking the GOP presidential nod, , drew a harsh response.

“He’s awful; he’s a despicable human being,” Frank said. “He has no core philosophically; he’s no different from Mitt Romney in that regard. But also, totally worse than Mitt, he would go after people, he would lie about them, these tactics of destruction. I think he’s just one of the worst people that I know of who didn’t commit violence against somebody.”

“Grumpy is no way to spend your retirement,” said Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond, in response.

In addition to speaking — and working on completing his Harvard graduate thesis — Frank has another goal in mind with the spare time he will have.

“Yeah, I got to learn how to use a computer,” he said. “I know what a computer can do, but I’ve had my staff do it for me. I have to get proficient ... particularly word processing.”

Just don’t expect the man who has no e-mail account to start sending them.

“Personally I don’t get e-mails, because they are a nuisance,” he said. “Why would I want to get a personal e-mail? I would get buried with people bothering me.”

Frank Phillips of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com; Christopher Rowland can be reached at crowland@globe.com.

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