Barney Frank: a legacy of principles and pragmatism

By Nick Fish of Portland, Oregon. Nick is a member of the Portland City Council.

Congressman Barney Frank's announcement that he would not seek reelection to Congress brought back a flood of memories.

31 years ago, while still in college, I volunteered for his first Congressional campaign.

I handled the important stuff – stuffing envelopes, picking up dry cleaning, driving the candidate to events, canvassing neighborhoods, and getting coffee and roast beef sandwiches for the volunteers.

It was a hotly contested primary triggered by the decision of the incumbent, Father Robert Drinan, to step down from Congress in response to a Papal decree.

A who's who of Boston politicians considered making the race, including a guy who made his name in the anti-war movement. His name was John Kerry.

Barney won the primary with 52% of the vote, and defeated a retired Army dentist in the general election by a narrow margin.

During the campaign, I was introduced to Barney’s remarkable family.

There was the matriarch – Elsie – an elder advocate and the star of one of his television commercials. His older sister Ann Lewis was a key strategist. She later was a senior advisor for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. His younger brother David handled communications. He later served as a speech writer for Secretary of State Warren Christopher. His other sister Doris Breay and her husband rounded out the team.

I made life-long friends during the campaign. They include Barney and his family; Bill Mulrow, who later ran for Comptroller in New York; Peter Kovar, now Assistant Secretary at HUD; Dottie Reichardt, leader of the Drinan political team; and many others.

After I graduated from college, Barney offered me a paying job a his legislative assistant in Washington, D.C. With his humor, intelligence, and reasoned defense of liberalism, he inspired me and countless others to see government as a force for good in people’s lives.

When I ran for office in 2008, Barney campaigned for me in Portland. He was wildly overextended, serving as the chair of the Financial Services Committee during the financial meltdown, and helping Hillary Clinton in her Presidential race. But he still found time to host a town hall and raise money for a friend running for Portland City Council.

Barney will be remembered for many things. The first openly gay member of Congress. A crusader for civil rights and marriage equality. Sponsor of Dodd-Frank. A leader in the affordable housing movement.

I will remember him as one of two models for my public service. The first was my father, Hamilton Fish, Jr., a moderate Republican from New York. The second was Barney Frank, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts.

Both combined strong principles with the pragmatism necessary to get things done. That’s why it never surprised me that they were able to work together on many important issues facing our country.

There will now be a lively debate about Barney’s legacy. For me, it’s simple. 31 years ago a gay person from Massachusetts – even a Congressman – could not serve openly in the military, obtain a top security clearance in the State Department, or get married. All of that has changed.

Barney Frank helped change America, and for that I am grateful.

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    I was privileged to serve a Nick Fishes producer during his historic run as host of the TV show "Outlook Portland". Mr Barney Frank was our most honored guest during an episode of the show. It was enlightening and a delight to see both men debate together. But the real joy was the moments they shared together during our break for commercials. Friends with a sense of purpose, comrades with a single goal, servants of the people.

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    I'm glad your memories of Frank are fond, for most of us however, apart from Frank's then boyfriend running a prostitution ring out of Frank's home (link here), Frank will be remembered for his role in the inflation of the sub-prime housing bubble and the subsequent economic disaster we experience today (link here) and (here).

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    I was living in Massachusetts back in '82 when Barney first faced the prospect of 'retiring' - very early in his career because in redistricting the legislature tried to screw him by folding his district into that of Margaret Heckler, a Republican who'd been elected 8 times in the district.

    Barney beat the odds and won - but in his victory speech admitted that he'd been giving thought to the prospect of losing. He reassured supporters that had Heckler won, he wasn't about to let the experience he'd gained in living rooms all across the district go to waste: No, my friends," he declared, "I was going to sell Tupperware."

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    Bob & Paul,

    I said that Barney Frank will be remembered for his role in the housing bubble AND his boyfriend's prostitution ring. This is really quite simple to prove. Google "Barney Frank", scroll to the bottom for "Searches Related to Barney Frank" here are those suggestions:

    barney frank fannie mae barney frank scandal barney frank email barney frank bio nancy pelosi barney frank boyfriend barney frank youtube barney frank reelection

    Now, I'm not 100% on how the Google comes up with that list but, I'm pretty sure it has to do with popular search queries for Barney Frank or, what popularly comes to mind when folks do searches on Barney Frank.

    Oh, and Paul, here's a more contemporary analysis of how the CRA led to the housing bubble: click here authored by a previous skeptic to the role of the CRA (WARNING: IT IS NON-PARTISAN AND HOLDS REPUBLICANS ACCOUNTABLE)

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      From your latest link, the author specifically says that he cannot point to anywhere in the CRA that requires banks to make bad loans. In fact, he points out that it has been the INTERPRETATION OF THE REGULATORS that has been, in his view, the problem with the CRA. So how is that Rep. Frank's fault?

      Fine. You don't like Barney. But trying blame him for the current financial problems is absurd.

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    Consider yourself debunked. Go to Google? Really!

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    Paulie -- Yeah, the Google, give it a whirl!

    Jason -- With regards to the CRA, it is bad, I did not introduce it to this thread, Bob Richardson did. I said Frank will be remembered for his role in the sub-prime housing crisis (no mention of the CRA in my original post -- only conversation about it after Richardson introduced it). The Google search alone demonstrates that Frank will be remembered for the two items my original post mentioned.

    With kind regards,


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      "I did not introduce it to this thread, Bob Richardson did."

      Sheesh, Geoff. The Community Reinvestment Act is featured in BOTH of your original links. The CRA is the basis of the (misleading) financial crisis complaints against Frank. Those are the links you specifically chose, typed in, and directed people to read. Don't blame ME if I actually bothered to read your (highly biased and inaccurate) links and then comment on them.

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        Come on Bob ... I pulled links to demonstrate what is out there, there's TONS more -- TONS. Judging by the popularity of the searches in Google that center on Frank and his role in the housing bubble and his boyfriend's prostitution ring, my original comment still stands. Frank will be remembered by most of us for his role in the housing bubble and his boyfriend's prostitution ring.


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      Obviously you did not want to be taken seriously if that is the content of your response. Maybe you should try reading and not counting Google hits.

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    Geoff, a better link, but I think the situation is a lot more complex that you let on (and the citations included in the article show there is still disagreement).

    I still think you are being grossly unfair to Barney Frank.

    The essential claim of the Business Insider article is that the CRA loans, BECAUSE THEY WERE SO SUCCESSFUL, seduced lenders into believing that they could relax standards across the board, not require documentation, etc.

    Should Frank have realized that, due to the very success of a program that he was part of creating, that banks and regulators would, 25 years later, learn the wrong lesson, and relax standards across the board, create bizarre securitization products, and not add the kind of credit counseling and loan adjustment protections that are required by the CRA?

    I guess ... but that's asking pretty good hindsight.

    I'll repeat what even the article admits: CRA loans were and continue to be successful. The mortgage bankers misapplied CRA loan standards to the wider market.

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    A breaking story at this hour is that Martha Coakley the attorney general in Barney's state has filed a lawsuit against five major banks. Details at Reuters/Raw Story.

    The record is clear on how and why the financial disaster was created. The deregulation signed by Clinton allowed Bush to sustain the economy as folks used their homes as an ATM.

    A consumer economy can not survive on trickle down and NAFTA's effects were delayed. Obama has not dealt with the criminality and indeed has continued with Bush policies including the SPP.

    Afghanistan is about to be taken out of the picture if Russsia closes trade routes. Think Saigon.

    For all of these reasons we needed Barney and his dedication to the rule of law must be honored.

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