Very few politicians have such celebrity status that they’re known by just a first name. Barney Frank is one—and, after more than 30 years of representing his Massachusetts district in Congress, he’s retiring when this legislative session ends. He is famous for his brilliant one-liners, his brusqueness, his liberalism, his role as a partisan attack dog, his effectiveness in getting legislation passed—and for being the first sitting member of Congress to come out voluntarily as gay and to get married to another man while in office.
For The Advocate’s exit interview, I spoke with Frank twice. The first time was at the Elsie Frank Walk for Kit Clark Senior Services on September 29, an annual fund-raiser held in honor of Barney Frank’s mother. On an overcast day, in a chilly drizzle, we met in Pope John Paul II Park in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, right off a highway overpass by the ocean. The congressman spoke to me amid the pounding music from the loudspeakers, the balloons, and people milling around. Frank was visibly happy near his husband, Jim Ready; after we spoke, he kept putting his hand on the man affectionately, touching him as if to check that he was still real.
The second interview was October 8, at the end of a Brookline, Mass., fund-raiser for Joe Kennedy III, Robert F. Kennedy’s grandson, who is running to take Frank’s seat in Congress. Dozens of people wanted to shake the congressman’s hand, congratulating or thanking him for all he’d done for Brookline. We spoke as the catering staff cleaned up around us, before he and his husband left to head back up to Ogunquit, Maine.
When my tape recorder first went on, Frank was talking about how the Kit Clark fund-raiser came to be named after his mother, who got involved in public life at the age of 70, after being in one of her son’s campaign commercials. The circumstances of that commercial give a sense of the public climate at that time.