When Barney Frank signaled in late 2011, that he would not be running for re-election to the U. S. House of Representatives in 2012, it meant, among other things, that for the first time in 32 years someone beside Barney Frank would represent the 4th Massachusetts Congressional District.
The replacement of Frank by anyone, Democrat or Republican, will take some getting used to across the district and in Congress. Barney Frank has served for 16 terms in the U. S. Congress and during that time has argued for and against hundreds of issues, large and small, in the name of his Massachusetts constituents. Along the way he has put his name on key pieces of national legislation. For example, his recent service from 2007 -2011 as the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee included successful efforts to enact the Dodd-Frank bill aimed at reigning in Wall St and protecting consumers.
On both the state and national level, Frank also stood out among his peers as an openly gay ( and now married) member Congress. In a written statement from President Obama, reported by CBS News on November 28, 2011, President Obama said, “Barney has been a fierce advocate for the people of Massachusetts and Americans everywhere who need a voice.”
Regardless of such national accolades, as Barney Frank moves out of the halls of Congress and into the history books he will be remembered by people in his own state in one of two ways – either as a legend or as a lightening rod. And that’s as it should be, there was seldom lots of in between with Barney Frank.
People like me who happen to live in the 4th Congressional District will certainly remember Barney Frank as a keen minded legislator in Congress. But closer to home, Barney will be recalled fondly for his presence and availability to constituents. The long hours he put in doing the business of legislation on the floor of the House in Washington will be noted in the Congressional Record, but the extended hours that he devoted to less celebrated problems of individual constitutents is what many people in his district will hold on to.
Barney’s regular appearances at home in the district, whether in his district offices or out marching a parade route to meet his constitutents made him real and in many cases made him a reliable friend. Direct encounters with voters face to face kept him connected and allowed him to respond on a personal level to questions about federal housing, social security, fishing rights, medicare and student loans. It was at home as much as in the House that Barney carved out a special place in the hearts of local voters.
As a constituent I was moved by the sight of Barney marchng in the middle of a holiday parade in a thoroughly Republican Town, head high, hand waving, He didn’t need to go there, he probably wasn’t going to win adherents there. But this was a town in his district and Barney was going to make himself known and available if not loved. For some voters this kind of courage helped to make Barney Frank a legend.
While some saw Barney’s up front attitude as courageous, there were surely many others who saw Barney Frank as a walking lightening rod. Many voters in the 4th Congressional District in Massachusetts not only objected to Frank’s liberal legislative position, they rejected the manner in which he expressed his beliefs. They saw him as aggressive, arrogant and sometimes just plain rude. And of course for some his gay life style and his pro choice position on abortion were utterly repugnant. The more time Frank spent on the House floor or in his district office the more opportunities there were for him to act the part of the human lightening rod.
Barney will be missed on the floor of the House of Representatives and at his district offices in New Bedford, Newton and Taunton. And while no public vote will be taken, those whom he served for 32 years will surely decide for themselves if Barney Frank will remain for them a legend or a lighening rod. .