WBUR

Frank’s Retirement Leaves Void In Congress

NEWTON, Mass. — Candidates are lining up to run for Rep. Barney Frank’s U.S. congressional seat. The 71-year-old Newton Democrat plans to finish his term but not seek re-election. Frank will undoubtedly leave a void. The question is how big.

If you ask Frank how Democrats will get on without him, he mentions another famous liberal Democrat.

“You know Franklin Roosevelt died,” Frank told reporters after his Newton news conference Monday. “You know all kinds of people leave and die. It’s a very big ocean, we don’t leave waves.”

But Frank is leaving a rather big wave with his name on it: the Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act. Some say it goes too far in regulating businesses, others say it doesn’t go far enough. But many agree it’s the most sweeping change to U.S. financial regulation since the Great Depression. And without Frank, or Sen. Chris Dodd, who retired last year, the act might die in the water.

“I worry about it,” said University of Maryland law school professor Michael Greenberger.

He said Dodd-Frank will be vulnerable without Frank to defend the law.

“At points, (the) congressman was almost single-handedly protecting the principles that were enunciated in that legislation from a terrific Republican onslaught that was aided by Wall Street lobbyists.”

Frank also has a institutional knowledge about the banking and financial sectors, which Greenberger said will be hard to replace.

“There are others in the House Democratic caucus who will step into the fray. I think the Occupy Wall Street movement will insist on that, but I do believe his shoes are very hard to fill,” Greenberger said.

Frank said changes to his district largely drove his decision not to run again. But there’s also the question of clout. When Democrats lost the House, Frank was no longer top dog on the House Financial Services Committee, and that may have contributed to his desire to retire at the end of his term. But he still has influence, and many people worry that Massachusetts will lose its influence without Frank. Whoever replaces him will start at the bottom of the ladder.

Before Frank rose to leadership on bank regulation, he was best known for coming out in the 1980s and championing gay rights legislation. Now it’s common for Massachusetts lawmakers to support that agenda, but that’s not the same as having gay people in office, said MassEquality’s Kara Suffredini.

“We know when people know a gay person they are more likely to support equality,” she said. “There’s no accounting for the power of having an openly gay person in Congress. We now are lucky to have four, with Frank gone we’ll only have three.”

Of course, not everyone is sad to see Frank go.

“This is a very good day for Massachusetts Republicans. And I would dare say it is a good day for the United States of America,” said Tom Mountain, chairman of the Newton Republican Committee.

He blames Frank for playing a role in the financial crisis.

“Barney Frank is overdue from retiring from Congress. He should have retired a long time ago,” Mountain said.

Mountain’s fellow Republicans across the country celebrated Frank’s announcement.

Although Frank is perceived as extremely partisan, his colleague, Rep. Mike Capuano, said Frank excels at compromise. He said Massachusetts — and the country — are losing a leader who cooperates.

“There’s some people who want to run and think they’re going to change the world attitude. And God bless ‘em. But the political system, if you want to change it, you have to learn to work it, and Barney was good at it,” Capuano said.

Capuano said Massachusetts needs another leader who is willing to work for change, and won’t just simply demand it.

And if Frank’s successor falls short, Capuano predicts Frank will speak out about it.

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