UPDATE: Frank’s written statement is below the fold.


The thorn in the side of many right-wingers, and the senior openly gay member of Congress, Rep. Barney Frank, does not intend to seek re-election in 2012, according to a statement from the 16-term congressman’s office.

Office of Congressman Barney Frank

Barney Frank to Hold Press Conference to Announce Plans Not to Run in 2012

NEWTON, MA – Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts 4th Congressional District, Ranking Member of the House of the House Financial Services Committee, will hold a press conference in Newton, MA today to formally announce and answer questions about his decision not to run for re-election in 2012.

The press conference will be held at Newton City Hall at 1:00 pm in the auditorium.

Neither Congressman Frank nor his staff will be available for any questions before the 1:00 pm event.

The brilliant, acerbic wit will be missed. A note on Frank’s district (CNN):

Frank’s district, centered around the liberal Boston suburbs of Newton and Brookline, is considered safe Democratic political terrain. Frank did, however, receive an unusually strong challenge from Republican Sean Bielat in 2010.

***

At 71, it’s understandable that Barney Frank wants to step away from the rough and tough battle for re-election. His brilliant, acerbic wit — it has withered many a person during town halls as well as colleagues when he spoke from this House floor – will be missed. However, I’m sure that the accomplished politician will make his voice heard for quite some time to come on many issues, including LGBT rights and financial regulatory reform.

Frank is a good example of the evolution of LGBT politicians at the federal level. Listeners will recall that Frank never ran as openly gay — he was outed in a scandal that resulted in a formal House reprimand. He subsequently ran and was re-elected, and his LGBT advocacy grew out of that de-closeting experience.  His junior colleagues — Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Tammy Baldwin — ran initial campaigns out of the closet, a phenomenon that we now see much more frequently in this generation of LGBT politicians. Today’s LGBT politicians are able to campaign mentioning their sexual orientation in passing, but focus on the issues relevant to their constituents.

Frank has had significant bumps in the road dealing with the transgender community, most notably in his position on an inclusive ENDA in the past. It proved to be a very public and raucous learning experience for the Congressman. It exposed the serious political and strategic gulfs that exist within the LGBT community. It also showed that it’s difficult to serve as an out elected member of Congress (and therefore ”represent”) and not step on land mines affecting our community.

***

Reaction from  Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. Solmonese, a Massachusetts native, worked for Frank on one of his first campaigns for Congress:

“Barney Frank has exemplified true leadership over his more than 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.  As the first openly gay Member of Congress, Barney defied stereotypes and kicked doors open for LGBT Americans.  Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would never have happened without his leadership. But it goes beyond that. His service as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee during a time of great economic upheaval made a gay man one of the most powerful people in the country and he used that power for great good. America, Massachusetts and LGBT people are better off for Barney Frank’s service.”

Background on the Congressman’s tenure from his office:

Frank began his political career in 1967 as the Executive Assistant to Mayor Kevin White of Boston.  In 1971, he served as the Administrative Assistant to Congressman Michael Harrington of Massachusetts.  In 1992, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives – he held that seat for eight years.  In 1980, he ran successfully to succeed Father Robert Drinan as Representative of the Fourth Congressional District of Massachusetts, a seat he has held, throughout the various redistricting of that district, for more than 30 years.  In 2007, Frank became Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.  He serves as Ranking Member (the senior Democrat) of the Committee today.

Frank’s written statement follows:

I will not be a candidate for reelection to the House of Representatives in 2012.

I began to think about retirement last year, as we were completing passage of the financial reform bill. I have enjoyed—indeed been enormously honored—by the chance to represent others in Congress and the State Legislature, but there are other things I hope to do before my career ends. Specifically, I have for several years been thinking about writing, and while there are people who are able to combine serious writing with full-time jobs, my susceptibility to distraction when faced with a blank screen makes that impossible.

In 2010, after the bill was signed into law, I had tentatively decided to make this my last term. The end of next year will mark 40 years during which time I have held elected office and a period of 45 years since I first went to work in government full time as an aide to Mayor Kevin White in late 1967.

But with the election of a conservative majority in the House, I decided that my commitment to the public policies for which I have fought for 45 years required me to run for one more term. I was—and am—concerned about right-wing assaults on the financial reform bill, especially since we are now in a very critical period when the bill is in the process of implementation. In addition, recognizing that there is a need for us to do long-term deficit reduction, I was—and am—determined to do everything possible to make sure that substantial reduction in our excessive overseas military commitments forms a significant part of the savings over the next 10 years.

But, my concern for these two issues today cuts very much in the opposite direction—namely, in favor of forgoing a year-long full-time election campaign and instead focusing the next year on those two issues in Congress.

Two factors lead me to this view. The newly configured district contains approximately 325,000 new constituents, many of them in a region of the state that is wholly new to me as a Member of Congress. A significant number of others are in the area along our east-west border with Rhode Island which I have not represented for 20 years. This means that running for reelection will require—appropriately in our democracy—a significant commitment of my time and energy, introducing myself to hundreds of thousands of new constituents, learning about the regional and local issues of concern to them and, not least importantly, raising an additional 1.5 to 2 million dollars.

This would compete with two other obligations which I neither want to nor can avoid. First, I will continue to represent hundreds of thousands of people in the current 4th District to whom I am committed as the person they voted for a year ago. I have acquired a strong attachment to many of the people and causes I have worked with here. The Congressional redistricting removes from the district I represent virtually the entire fishing industry of Southeastern Massachusetts. It very substantially reduces the number of Azorean-Americans I will represent, and again removes almost completely people of Cape Verdean ancestry. Introducing myself and learning about the new area while continuing to give the existing area the full representation it deserves would make demands of my time that would detract from my focus on the national issues.

There is another, equally important consequence of the fact that so many of the people in this district would be new constituents that help persuade me to announce my retirement. The obligation of a Member of Congress to work as an advocate for the people he represents on local and regional issues that require or involve Federal government response are of paramount importance. And I am proud of the work I have done in that regard for the people I have been privileged to represent over these years. But as in almost every case, where there were significant local or regional issues involving environmental matters, transportation matters, housing matters etc., it took more than two years to resolve them. The relevance is that running again for one more term, I would be asking 325,000 new constituents to give me the mandate to be their advocate with the federal government for only two years. Starting on a series of projects only to be passing them along in various stages of incompletion to a successor two years later is not a responsible way to act.

There is one other factor that influenced my decision as I went through this year. Our politics has evolved in a way that makes it harder to get anything done at the federal level. I believe that I have been effective as a Member of Congress working inside the process to influence public policy in the ways that I think are important. But I now believe that there is more to be done trying to change things from outside than by working within. I am announcing today my retirement from elected office after 40 years but not my retirement from public policy advocacy and given the nature of our current situation, in some ways I believe I may have more impact speaking, writing and in other ways advocating for the changes that I think are necessary than trying to bring them about inside our constricting political process.

In summary, I am required to choose. I have to choose between fulfilling my obligation as a ranking member of the Financial Services Committee on behalf of financial reform and my responsibility to continue to be a full representative of the people who voted for me in 2010, and on the other hand to engage in a full-fledged Congressional campaign in a district which is very different than the current one. I am also required to choose between concentrating my efforts on trying to change the political equation in the country over the next year and doing the best I can within the conflicts and restrictions of the current set of forces. Given this, I am going to do what Massachusetts politicians often do, quote a former President from Massachusetts, although not the one usually cited. I do not choose to run for reelection in 2012.