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Barney Frank

Date of birth : 1940-03-31
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Bayonne, New Jersey, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-08-20

Barney Frank, born March 31, 1940 in Bayonne, New Jersey, United States is an American politician.

Barney Frank has been involved in many key political issues during his eight terms in Congress. An outspoken liberal, he led the legislative struggle for the redress of Japanese Americans interned in camps during World War II. In 1990 Frank fought against provisions of the immigration law barring HIV-positive persons from entering the United States. He worked diligently and successfully for amendments to the Fair Housing Bill which included AIDS victims and HIV-positive persons under its provisions. During House debate on allowing gays and lesbians in the armed forces, Frank authored the "Don't ask, don't tell, and don't listen, and don't investigate" policy as a more inclusive alternative to Senator Sam Nunn's "Don't ask, don't tell" compromise. The proposal reflected Frank's propensity for matching liberalism with hard nosed pragmatism in order to move the legislative agenda. While Frank vigorously debated and voted against Nunn's "Don't ask, don't tell" it was adopted into law.

Colleagues on Capitol Hill describe Frank as a natural politician who has the instinct for effectively framing issues and accomplishing the task at hand. He is noted as a "sharp-tongued and quick witted debater" by fellow congressmen. Frank is also considered to be a brilliant, honest, and strong deal-maker. While he listens intently to arguments his rapid fire delivery of questioning and debate has disarmed many opponents. He is less rigidly partisan than many members of Congress, openly considering the intellectual merits of legislation above the political fray, and viewing himself as a pragmatic zealot.

Barney Frank was born on 31 March 1940, to Samuel and Elsie Frank in Bayonne, New Jersey. He has one brother, David, and two sisters, Doris Breay and Ann F. Lewis. Growing up in Bayonne he often helped his father at the truck stop he owned and managed, pumping gas. While Frank describes his parents as not well educated, they put a premium on education and reading for the family. Following graduation from high school in 1957, Frank attended Harvard University. He took a year's leave when his father died, and graduated with an A.B. degree from Harvard in 1962.

From 1963 to 1967 Frank worked at Harvard as a teaching fellow in government, and in 1966-67 served as the assistant to the director of the Institute for Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He worked on the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964, and various political races in the Boston area. He abandoned pursuit of a Ph.D. degree at Harvard to assist Kevin White's successful mayoral election in Boston. Frank served as Mayor White's executive assistant from 1968 to 1971, familiarizing himself with the Boston political scene and its vital players. He then worked for one year as administrative assistant to U.S. Congressman Michael J. Harrington, from Massachusetts. Frank revealed in a July 1987 interview with the Washington Post that during his tenure in Congressman Harrington's office he strongly believed he could never be an elected official because he was gay.

Elected to Massachusetts House of Representatives

In 1972 Frank ran for election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for a vacated seat in Boston's Back Bay district. He was elected by plurality to the State House due in large part to Boston University students in the district, who also supported the presidential bid of George McGovern. As a state legislator Frank targeted issues of women's rights, gay rights, and social services in his policy programs. His strident liberal agenda caught the attention of Massachusetts and national politicos. Despite his confrontational and unorthodox behavior he won three more terms as state legislator. During his tenure in the Massachusetts state legislature Frank was selected as "Legislator of the Year" by several state and national groups. By 1977 he earned a law degree from Harvard University and in 1979-80 taught public policy courses at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Following Pope John Paul II's 1980 reaffirmation of church doctrine which prohibited Roman Catholic clergy from serving or seeking public office, liberal Jesuit priest Robert F. Drinan declined to seek a sixth term in Massachusetts' fourth congressional district. Within days of the papal decree the prospective number of candidates for Drinan's seat swelled to 16, including Frank and John Kerry, a Middlesex prosecutor with no legislative experience. Frank was considered the "political heir apparent" for representative from the district, and Kerry quickly withdrew from the race. Frank declared his candidacy for the seat and moved from Boston's Back Bay neighborhood to outlying Newton. The archbishop of Boston, Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, warned parishioners of the fourth district's 400 Catholic churches not to vote for Frank or candidates who approved the legalization of abortion. With the support of Drinan and the endorsement of the Boston Globe he defeated the conservative, anti-abortion challenger, Mayor Arthur Clark of Newton by a small margin. In the general election he defeated Republican Richard Jones by a similar margin.

In his first term of office Frank was chosen to serve on the Government Operations Committee; Select Committee on Aging; Banking, Financing, and Urban Affairs Committee; and the Judiciary Committee. Frank rolled out a progressive program of action. He sponsored a bill to prevent new owners of low-income buildings from evicting current tenants. Frank vociferously fought the Reagan administration attempts to dismantle the Legal Services Corporation and budgetary cuts in elderly social services programs.

The politically configured fourth congressional district encompassed affluent suburbs, depressed factory towns, and rural farms alike. Following the 1982 redistricting Frank was left with a district which was 30 percent his own constituency and 70 percent from the district previously served by Representative Margaret Heckler. Heckler was a formidable and popular opponent. Most congressmen believed Frank would not survive this political battle.

Frank targeted Heckler's major weaknesses in the campaign. He exploited the considerable dissatisfaction of the low income, blue collar, and elderly voters with Heckler's term in Congress along with her support of President Reagan's economic policies. Overcoming political adversity Frank carried the district with 60 percent of the vote in the 1982 general election. This adverse experience helped coalesce the public and private lives of Frank. Soon after being reelected to his second term he began to tell his closest political allies and college friends he was gay. He was seen at Washington, D.C.'s Gay Pride Day festivities, and most of the Massachusetts delegation knew or surmised he was gay.

In the 1984 election Frank defeated his Republican opponent, Jim Forte by a wide margin. Two years later Republicans did not field a candidate and Frank defeated the American Party candidate Thomas D. DeVisscher by an even wider margin, receiving 89 percent of the vote.

Supporter of Needy

The liberal pragmatic side of Frank soon came to the forefront. While he vehemently supported obvious liberal measures such as legislation which would make it easier for low income and elderly persons to obtain generic drugs, he was on the opposing side on other liberal mainstays. Frank was among the few liberals who supported the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform bill and legislation which would give equal access to school facilities for student religious groups.

With the 1986 publication of former congressman Robert Bauman's autobiography, The Gentleman from Maryland, Frank was publicly outed. In the book Bauman refers to Frank as the "witty liberal who appears at Washington's annual Gay Pride Day in a tank top with a young companion." Many reporters called and asked Frank directly if he was gay. Frank refused comment because of the scurrilous content of Bauman's autobiography. He added that when he did talk about his life it would be through the Boston Globe.

During a May 1987 interview with the Boston Globe Frank publicly acknowledged he was gay. He stated: "I don't think my sex life is relevant to my job.... But on the other hand I don't want to leave the impression that I'm embarrassed by my life." Nearly 90 percent of the correspondence Frank received afterward were in his support. Further evidence of his constituents support came in his 1988 landslide reelection. Even in Fall River, the stronghold of blue collar Roman Catholicism, Frank carried a large vote plurality.

A 1989 Republican National Committee memo to 200 Republican leaders brought Frank's sexual orientation into the spotlight again. The memo compared the voting record of the newly elected House Speaker Thomas S. Foley to that of Frank's voting record. The memo contained the headline "Tom Foley: Out of the Liberal Closet," the memo was an attempt to depict Foley as a left wing liberal who might possibly be gay. Frank attacked the memo as a vicious unfounded attack, and if they didn't desist he would reveal names of Republican congressmen and other well-known Republicans who were in the closet. As a result Mark Goodin, who had written and distributed the memo, resigned as communication director of the Republican National Committee.

Plagued by Embarrassing Publicity

In less than three months Frank was again thrown into a whirlwind of embarrassing publicity. Stephen Gobie, a housekeeper and driver for Frank, revealed in a story in the Washington Times he had run a male prostitution business out of Frank's townhouse with the full knowledge of the congressman. A convicted felon, Gobie was on probation when Frank met him through a personal ad. The same day Frank held a news conference and admitted he knew Gobie was a prostitute, but hoped he could help rehabilitate him. While Frank acknowledged the truth in some of Gobie's claims, he stated he was unaware of the prostitution operation in his townhouse until the landlady reported to him suspicious activities, at which point Frank fired Gobie. Frank told Newsweek reporter Tom Morganthau: "Thinking I was going to be Henry Higgins and trying to turn him (Gobie) into Pygmalion was the biggest mistake I ever made. It turns out I was being suckered."

A number of congressmen and journalists rose to Frank's defense. Speaker of the House Thomas Foley issued a statement in which he asserted Frank had provided exemplary service to his constituency and the country, and would continue doing so long after the Gobie issue had been forgotten. Morton Kondracke, a journalist for the New Republic, dismissed the idea that Frank had become a deadly political burden for the Democrats and his legislative effectiveness had been destroyed. On the same date the Nation declared "What has been overlooked in all the to-do about his future is the true significance of his predicament, which is the predicament of all transgressors of our mythical sexual norms who desire to serve the government.... Nothing gets said about the intolerance ingrained in our culture that makes life hell for those like Frank who discover they are different."

Through the insistence of Herb Moses to fight the allegations, Frank called for an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. The committee launched an investigation into the Gobie charges. On 20 July 1990, five years after he met Gobie, the House Ethics Committee reported it found no evidence Frank knew of the prostitution ring being run in his townhouse, and extremely few facts to support Gobie's claim such activity occurred earlier. The committee further found several allegations by Gobie in support of this statement untrue, and there was no evidence to substantiate the claim. Frank was cited for misusing Congressional privilege in getting Gobie's parking tickets waived. Following four hours of heated floor debate, Frank accepted the committee's findings and apologized for his actions. The House of Representatives voted to reprimand Frank for his actions, following the failure by a vote of House members to expel or censure him.

Running for his sixth consecutive term in 1990, Frank was challenged by Republican nominee John Soto, an accountant and lawyer. Soto continually charged Frank with bad judgement, asked him to submit to an HIV test, and to make test results public. Soto's tactics were dismissed by constituents and Frank carried a resounding majority of the vote. Prior to the 1992 election the fourth district was again redistricted. Frank won reelection hands down. In seeking his eighth term of office Frank was challenged by minor party candidates and won easily. Frank's political comeback was due in large part to his perseverance, intelligence, and hard work.

Frank's political manifesto was published in 1992. The book, Speaking Frankly: What's Wrong with the Democratic Party and How to Fix It, argued the party had become to closely allied with the radical fringe, alienating mainstream voters. Liberal democrats suffered as a result of their close association and defense of the protestors in the 1960s and 1970s. That was why the Democrats had lost five of six presidential elections by 1992. Now it was time for the Democrats to expose the radical right politics of the Republicans along with the issue of class warfare.

Frank played a leading role in the 1993 debate concerning lifting the ban on gays and lesbians in the military. He believed Congress was not politically ready to completely lift the ban so he advocated a clear alternative to Senator Sam Nunn's policy whereby service people could lead an openly homosexual lifestyle off-base, but were forbidden to reveal their sexual orientation while on duty: the so called "Don't ask, don't tell, and don't listen, don't investigate" policy. After much political debate and rancor the controversial Nunn compromise, "Don't ask, don't tell," was approved by Congress, minus Frank's vote, and signed into law by President Clinton.

Following the Republican takeover of the U.S. House and Senate in the 1994 elections, Frank has served as the voice of the Democratic opposition. He declared that his mission is to shine the light where the Republicans don't want it shone.

While Frank describes himself as an often controversial, pragmatic liberal, he has consistently been a supporter of gay rights. He was one of the first Massachusetts legislators to sign a gay rights bill. He wrote a revision of the McCarran-Walter Act which removed homosexuality as grounds for denying entry by foreigners into the U.S. He has co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Frank has also worked diligently for AIDS funding and housing programs for persons with AIDS. Working with the Clinton administration, Frank secured the establishment of non-discriminatory employment policies in all federal agencies. Further procedures were also instituted whereby gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees could file grievances for maltreatment. Most importantly, he was responsible for the recision of the federal security clearance ban for gays issued during the Eisenhower presidency. Frank continues to reside in Washington, D.C., with his longtime companion, economist Herb Moses.


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