By Bob Cusack - 09/07/09 09:07 PM EDT
Rep. Barney Frank is interested in capping his political career as a
member of the president’s Cabinet, according to a new biography of the
Financial Services Committee chairman.
Frank (D-Mass.) told author Stuart Weisberg that he would like to be Housing and Urban Development secretary. However, the 69-year-old lawmaker stresses that his departure from Congress is not imminent.
No president has ever appointed an openly gay man or woman to the Cabinet.
Weisberg, who used to work for Frank on Capitol Hill, spent five years on his authoritative book, titled "Barney Frank, The Story of America’s Only Left-handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman". He interviewed over 150 people, including compiling 30 hours of interviews with Frank.
Frank talks about how he struggled as a gay man growing up in blue-collar Bayonne, N.J. He dated women throughout high school and college, but knew he was gay at 13. Still, he delayed revealing his sexuality until he had established a foothold in the House.
In the 501-page tome — to be released later this month — Frank is described by people who know him well as a masterful legislator, an impatient boss, and “socially handicapped.”
Frank has been the subject of many profiles, but Weisberg provides news that political junkies crave.
In his first race for the House, Frank almost went head to head with now-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 1980 primary. After a meeting with Frank, Kerry opted not to run. Ten years later, Republicans tried to persuade Bill O’Reilly to run against Frank. O’Reilly also passed on the seat, but the Fox News commentator would clash with Frank 18 years later in a 2008 interview that has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube.
There are other rich details in Weisberg’s book, including Frank’s political battles with then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) and Clarence Thomas, when the Supreme Court justice served as director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Weisberg also states that Frank was friends with the late Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Calif.) and admires Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.).
One of the most riveting parts of the book is Frank’s recollection of his ethics scandal, when he paid a male prostitute for sex. Various media outlets called for Frank to resign, but he persevered by admitting his mistakes and asking the ethics committee to investigate him in 1989. Many Republicans, including then-Rep. Larry Craig (Idaho), called for serious sanctions against Frank, who was ultimately reprimanded by the House, 408-18. (California Democratic Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman both voted against the measure.)
The following year, a Republican challenger to Frank’s seat — described as “not the smartest person in the district” — called on Frank to take an AIDS test and reveal the results publicly. Frank replied that he would do so if his GOP challenger would take an IQ test and release it to the public.
Throughout his life, Frank has battled bouts with depression and his voracious appetite. When Frank was advised by a political operative to improve his appearance, Frank responded that “when you are 5 feet 10 inches and you have a 46 waist and your thighs rub together, your clothes have a way of not looking good.”
At other points in his life, he was able to lose weight — a lot of it. He once lost 100 pounds in eight months. Knowing that avoiding obesity would be a lifelong struggle, Frank said, “The day I die, I will either be fat or hungry.”
Sometimes to his detriment, Frank was not shy in criticizing Democrats publicly, most notably President Bill Clinton during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” debate. He also irritated Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) by suggesting Kennedy had no chance of becoming president after his 1980 bid fell short.
The personal details about Frank show a side of the Financial Services panel chairman that Washington insiders have not seen. He pumped gas as a teenager at his father’s truck stop in New Jersey, formally changed his name from “Barnett” to Barney and was an avid baseball and tennis player. Weisberg writes that only Frank’s mother Elsie, and his sister, Democratic strategist Ann Lewis, consistently won arguments against him. Elsie Frank died in 2005.
There are many amusing quotes from the quick-witted Frank. After then-Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) called Frank “Barney Fag” and then attributed the remark to a slip of the tongue, Frank said, “There are many ways to mispronounce my name. That one is the least common.”
Amid the GOP-led Congress’s actions to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, Frank challenged Republicans who offered their medical analysis during the debate: “The caption tonight ought to be: ‘We’re not doctors — we just play them on C-SPAN.’ ”
Frank acknowledges missteps in crafting the 2008 financial bailout bill, saying the measure gave the Treasury secretary too much discretion in how to use the funds. But he asserts that passing the legislation was a necessity.
Weisberg writes that “the best of times is now” for Frank, noting the 15-term member is “at the top of his game as a lawmaker and as a deal-maker … He feels comfortable with who he is and he is no longer emotionally isolated.
“I am what I am," Frank said, adding, "sort of like Popeye.”
This article was updated at 10:23 p.m.