Barney Flashback: 1989

By Chris Daly 

The news that Barney Frank is retiring from the U.S. House at the end of this term prompted me to think back over the years that I covered him while I was a political reporter in Boston (for the AP, then for The Washington Post). I went to the Post archive, only to be reminded that the Post claims copyright to all my stories, so I had to pay to get access to my own work. (This was all part of the infamous “rights grab” a decade ago by big publishers who used their market power to treat all work as if it were “work for hire” — which, in my case, it was not.)

Anyway, here’s my Barney Frank story from 1989 (free to you, and now free to all comers).

For Now, Constituents Supporting Rep. Frank

The Washington Post

Aug. 31, 1989

By Christopher B. Daly

In the week since Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) acknowledged his involvement with a male prostitute, many of his constituents apparently have decided to stand by their congressman, at least for now.

With a mixture of anger, sympathy and disappointment, voters and public officials in southeastern Massachusetts generally agree that Frank’s record of accomplishment will outweigh the revelation that he paid for sex from a man who later said he had run a prostitution ring out of the congressman’s Capitol Hill apartment. Many of those who still support Frank, an acknowledged homosexual, said they are willing to overlook an isolated lapse in judgment. But even his supporters warn that the fifth-term congressman could be in political jeopardy if there are any more such revelations.

“Because it’s something of a personal nature, not something that happened in the halls of Congress, people don’t know quite how to react to it,” said state Rep. Stephen Karol, a Democrat from Attleboro. “This was something that was done by a public official in his private life. Most reasonable people are being very cautious and making sure they don’t rush to judgment.”

Karol, echoing a sentiment voiced by other Democrats in state government, added that he personally supports Frank and admires the way the congressman has dealt with the reports openly and honestly.

“I was very saddened by the congressman’s difficulty. I think it’s certainly very serious,” said A. Joseph DeNucci, a Democrat from Newton who serves as state auditor, an elected position. “I just happen to believe that he’s one of the best congressmen in the country. He has served his district, where I live, very well and capably. He has provided tremendous constituent services for the people in the district.” DeNucci added, “No question, this is seriously going to offend some people. To be frank, it troubles me somewhat. However, as a public person, separating the incident from his public abilities, I can overlook it.”

Responding to a published report, Frank confirmed last Friday that he paid a male prostitute, Stephen L. Gobie, for sex in 1985. Frank said he also tried to rehabilitate Gobie by hiring him as a personal aide but fired him after hearing complaints about Gobie’s activities in the congressman’s Washington apartment when Frank was out of town. On Monday, Frank asked the House ethics committee to investigate.

Despite extensive coverage in the local newspapers, television and radio, the affair has met with more shrugs than outrage in the 4th Congressional District, where many voters refer to their witty, caustic liberal congressman on a first-name basis. Frank’s district-a product of gerrymandering-runs from Brookline and Newton, two prosperous and politically liberal suburbs just west of Boston, through the wealthy Republican towns of Wellesley and Dover to the distant suburbs, then south to the industrial port city of Fall River, more than 50 miles from Boston.

Considered a brash state legislator, Frank was first elected to Congress in 1980, filling a vacancy created when Rep. Robert Drinan (D-Mass.), a liberal priest, was ordered by the Vatican to renounce political office. In 1982, Frank survived a bruising fight with Rep. Margaret M. Heckler (R) when the two incumbents’ districts were merged. Since 1982, Frank has won handily, even after openly acknowledging his homosexuality. In a 1987 interview with The Boston Globe, Frank confirmed persistent rumors that he was gay, then went on to defeat a Republican supporter of the Rev. Pat Robertson in the 1988 election with 70 percent of the vote.

At the lushly landscaped town dump in Wellesley, a favorite midday meeting place, all the residents in today’s lunch hour crowd had heard the news about their congressman, and most were openly, if somewhat reluctantly, supporting him.

“I like Barney,” said Frank Jones, a retired printer. “He’s a good congressman, but he sure doesn’t use good judgment.” Jones said the disclosures about Frank have been a topic of conversation this week and that his relatives in Fall River feel as he does. On balance, Jones said, he would rather have a gay congressman “than a crook.”

Only Charles Plouffe, a retired insurance salesman and long-time Wellesley resident, said he thought Frank should resign. “I don’t see how they can run in people like {Oliver} North, when this fellow is a disgrace to moral people,” Plouffe said.

“I still say it’s better to keep it in the closet.” Plouffe said the Frank affair was “a main topic of conversation” among his golfing foursome. “Two of them’s Democrats, and they are singing a different tune now,” he said. “Since this thing broke, I don’t hear anybody defending him.”

Still, Frank has many loyal supporters, due in part to his strong backing for Israel in an area with many Jewish voters, his attention to constituent services and his reputation as a brilliant, hard-working advocate for working families and the elderly. Polls conducted for Boston newspapers and television stations immediately after the story broke reported that 65 percent of the district’s voters believed Frank should not resign and that 59 percent of those surveyed said the revelations would have no impact on their voting.

One critical moment for Frank occurred last weekend when the congressman kept a promise to march in a parade in Fall River, home of many Portuguese Americans. Striding alongside the city’s mayor, Frank was greeted with cheers. Doug Cahn, the congressman’s press secretary in Washington, said the office has received “hundreds” of telephone calls from constituents in the past week, and he said they were running 8 to 1 in support of Frank.

State Rep. Marjorie Clapprood, a liberal Democrat from suburban Sharon and a staunch Frank loyalist, said she was at a senior citizens’ center last weekend. “It was being talked about,” Clapprood said. “The comments were, `Isn’t it awful’ and `How do you think his mother feels?’ There was no sniping,” Clapprood said.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

The line above appears at the end of the version retrieved from the Post archives. Actually, the “permission” by the copyright owner (me) was coerced. I dispute the Post’s efforts to limit your right to read it.

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One response to “Barney Flashback: 1989

  1. Pingback: Barney | Karin Zeitvogel

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