U.S. Representative Barney Frank, co-author of the biggest rewrite of Wall Street rules since the Great Depression, will retire instead of seeking re-election next year, according to a statement released by his office.
Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, led the House Financial Services Committee during the 2008 credit crisis and was a top negotiator on the $700 billion banking-industry bailout. In 2009 and 2010, he was the lead House negotiator on what would become the Dodd-Frank Act -- a 2,300 page overhaul of the U.S. financial regulatory system.
One of the first openly gay members of Congress, Frank has served in the House since 1981, representing a district that includes Boston suburbs Newton and Brookline and stretches out to cities including Taunton and Fall River.
A lawmaker who never shied away from attacks, Frank became well-known for his willingness to engage those on the other side of an issue -- on the House floor, in committee hearings or through the media, often using quick wit and humor, according to Michael J. Wilson, national director for Americans for Democratic Action, a self-described “independent liberal political organization.”
“Barney Frank is an icon to liberals everywhere and even though conservatives oppose him, they know he is smarter and funnier than they are every day of the week,” Wilson said today in a statement.
Frank, 71, will make a formal announcement today at a press conference in Newton. He also will meet with reporters in Washington tomorrow, according to the statement.
Frank led the push for the regulatory overhaul that bears his name along with Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who retired from the Senate instead of seeking re-election in 2010. They shepherded the measure through a year-long battle fraught with partisan fights and fueled by millions of dollars from groups lobbying to shape the future of financial oversight.
The legislation, which included creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, regulatory oversight for the $708 trillion swaps market and new tools to wind down failing firms, was cleared for final passage in the early morning hours of June 25, 2010 after an all-night negotiating session led by Dodd and Frank. President Barack Obama signed the measure into law less than a month later.
The departure of Frank may pose problems for the banking industry, with Representative Maxine Waters of California in line to succeed him as top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, according to Jaret Seiberg, a senior policy analyst with the Washington research group at Guggenheim.
“Waters at times is very hostile to the banks so this is a situation worth watching,” Seiberg wrote today in a note to clients. Representatives Carolyn Maloney of New York and Mel Watt of North Carolina may also be contenders, Seiberg wrote.
Frank’s retirement will mark the end of a three decade-long career where he has been at the forefront of fights on affordable housing, gay rights and defense spending. The decision also is a reversal for Frank, who told the Boston Globe last year that he would run again in 2012.
His congressional career survived a 1990 House reprimand for using his office to help a male prostitute. The House voted against more severe punishments, including expulsion, after Frank was accused of using his influence to fix parking tickets that the man had accumulated. Frank, at the time, said he “should have known better.”
After serving as chairman of the Financial Services panel from 2007 through 2010, Frank was swept into the minority as Republicans took control of the House in last year’s elections. Frank himself faced a tougher-than-usual race, at one point loaning his campaign $200,000 in his contest against Marine reservist and businessman Sean Bielat, the Republican challenger.
Bielat attacked the lawmaker for failing to identify problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage finance firms operating under U.S. conservatorship after being seized during the credit crisis.
Frank, who defended himself by noting that Democrats were not in the majority for much of the run-up to the economic collapse, won re-election with 54 percent of the vote.
Representing a heavily Democratic district that stretches from the Boston suburbs south through the city of New Bedford, Frank won his 2008 race with 68 percent of the vote against a Republican rival who raised just $40,000. In 2006 no one ran against him. Frank has almost $390,000 cash on hand for the 2012 campaign, according to federal filings.
His support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as his push for affordable housing, made him a target for Republican attacks like those Bielat deployed in the 2010 campaign.
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker seeking the Republican presidential candidate, said during an Oct. 11 debate sponsored by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post that Frank and Dodd belonged in jail for their relationships with the mortgage firms.