When I asked U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) last week if he was the most dangerous man in Washington, D.C., his response was classic frank talk: "Yeah, you could say that. I have nothing to lose or gain. I can do pretty much whatever I want," he said in his Boston chowder-thick accent.
Frank, whose self-outing in '87 made him the first openly gay man in Congress, was in Portland to do some political glad-handing at the West Hills manse of the most powerful non-elected gay man in Oregon, real estate broker and fundraiser extraordinaire Terry Bean.
Given that Frank supports Hillary Clinton's presidential bid and Bean is a huge fan of Obama, it was a little weird. Neither said much about the elephant...um…donkey in the room, other than Bean stating Obama will win. Yet the two men agree on one thing: their support of Portland City Council candidate Nick Fish, who worked for Frank as a congressional aide in '81.
I met Frank once before at Bean's house—in '04, at a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.). I recall thinking how scary he was. On Friday night though, Frank was different. Gone was the smug sourpuss. In fact, I'd call him downright giddy. So what happened in the years since our first meeting?
Well, in two words, Democratic control.
Frank, who's represented the liberal Massachusetts bastions of Brookline and Newton—since '81, has been on an upswing since the Dems took control of the House in '06. He became the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, a powerful job since the committee watches the banks.
"I'm kind of a big shot," he said. "I wasn't always, but I am now."
When Frank, a major advocate for gay concerns, was pushing gay-rights legislation (the controversial Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the House in '07, lacks protection for transgendered folk), a few congressmen and women feared it might affect free speech. An example of Frank's new juice? Frank said he calmed their nerves by saying: "If it passes you can still call me a fag, but I wouldn't recommend it—especially if you're a banker."
Frank relishes his role as a political top dog. But he says he doesn't want to bark in the House for more than four more years. After he retires, he plans to teach a little and write.
"I want to write a book about how my life in Congress mirrored the gay rights movement," said the 68-year-old. Given that Frank introduced his state's first gay-rights bill in '72, founded the National Stonewall Democrats in '98 and was a big reason his was the first state to offer same-sex marriage in '04, it could be his autobiography.
But Frank's not done in D.C., not yet. "It's OK to be a liberal again," he said. Considering that comes from a man who "has nothing to lose," that's just the type of dangerous talk our country could use right about now. Whoever wins the big gig, we can thank our lucky stars we've still got Barney Frank.