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Frank, Barney (b. 1940)  
 
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United States congressman Barney Frank is known for his intelligence, his quick and acerbic wit, and his spirited defense of his social and political beliefs. He has been a leader not only in the cause of gay and lesbian rights, but also on issues including fair housing, consumer rights, banking, and immigration.

Frank was born on March 31, 1940 in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father owned a truck stop. As a youngster Frank developed an interest in politics. He did not, however, foresee a career in government for himself because he observed in politics a dismaying amount of corruption and an inhospitable attitude toward Jews. He had, moreover, realized at the age of thirteen that he was gay, which also seemed an obstacle to a political career.

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Nevertheless, Frank remained an avid student of politics. After receiving a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1962, he entered the university's graduate program in political science. In addition to offering courses in government from 1963 to 1967, he worked as the assistant to the director of the Institute for Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1966 and 1967.

Frank left the graduate program in 1967 to work on Kevin White's campaign to become mayor of Boston. Following White's victory, Frank was his executive assistant for three years and then spent a year as an administrative assistant to Representative Michael J. Harrington of Massachusetts.

Frank began his own political career with a successful run for the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1972. He was subsequently reelected three times. He quickly established a reputation as a smart and liberal lawmaker, a defender of social services, and a champion of the rights of gays and women. The feisty young congressman was chosen "legislator of the year" by a number of state and national organizations.

While serving in the Massachusetts legislature, Frank returned to Harvard, earning a law degree in 1977, and later teaching public policy for a year at the Kennedy School of Government.

Frank first ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1980, when the incumbent, Father Robert Drinan, retired. Drinan endorsed Frank to succeed him, but Boston's Humberto Cardinal Medeiros tried to mobilize Catholics to vote against him because of his pro-choice stance. With narrow victories in both the primary and general elections, Frank became the Representative of the Fourth District of Massachusetts and began his career on the national stage.

The liberal freshman congressman zealously defended programs that protected low-income people, the elderly, and other groups at risk, and he was also a vigorous opponent of initiatives by the Reagan administration to give tax breaks to large corporations, especially those in the oil industry, at the expense of the general populace. One commentator noted that Frank showed "a combination of humor and conviction that left even ideological opponents paying him grudging respect."

Redistricting following the 1980 census put Frank into a difficult race for reelection in 1982. The redrawn Fourth District included only about thirty per cent of Frank's former constituents and pitted him against long-time Republican Representative Margaret Heckler, for whom pundits predicted an easy win.

Heckler attacked Frank as too liberal, but Frank countered that the conservative Heckler's staunch support for Reagan's policies had been detrimental to many citizens in the district, particularly those whose causes he had advanced, including blue-collar workers, the elderly, and those with low incomes. At the end of a bitterly contested campaign Frank emerged with sixty per cent of the vote. In subsequent elections he won by comfortable margins or ran unopposed.

Although always an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, Frank was closeted at the beginning of his political career. Fearing that disclosing his sexual orientation would jeopardize his chances for election, Frank "made a conscious choice for a political career over a personal life." Gradually, however, he came out to various friends and colleagues, but it was not until 1987 that he commented publicly, when questioned by a reporter from the Boston Globe. The response of Frank's constituents was overwhelmingly favorable; letters of support outnumbered those critical of him by a margin of six to one.

In the next year's election Frank's Republican challenger, Debra Tucker, tried to use Frank's sexual orientation as an issue in the race, but the tactic failed, and Frank won reelection with 70 per cent of the vote.

Frank faced scandal in late 1989 when the Washington Times ran an article based on an interview with Stephen Gobie, a hustler and convicted felon, who had worked as Frank's housekeeper and driver for two years beginning in 1985. Gobie, who had lived in a part of Frank's townhouse during the period of his employment, had been running a prostitution ring and claimed that Frank had been aware of his activities.

Frank acknowledged that he knew of Gobie's background but said that he had tried "to be Henry Higgins" and transform the young man's life. Once the landlady told him of the suspicious activity that was occurring at the townhouse in his absence, however, he had immediately fired Gobie.

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