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Barney Frank’s Public Hunt Hurts His Senate Chances Barney Frank’s Public Hunt Hurts His Senate Chances

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Barney Frank’s Public Hunt Hurts His Senate Chances


Barney Frank wants a Senate seat, but will Gov. Deval Patrick go along? (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)()

Media types swoon at the prospect of retired Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., in the Senate, rightfully recognizing in the 72-year-old raconteur both great copy and a staunchly liberal worldview backed up by a veteran committee chair’s command of policy.

But, say Massachusetts Democrats and people close to Gov. Deval Patrick, Frank has undercut his own explicit hopes for the seat likely to be vacated if Sen. John Kerry is confirmed as secretary of State. Frank’s very public lobbying for the job—he disclosed his aspirations on Morning Joe—make Patrick, the man who would have power of appointment, less likely to go along.


“Barney has everything going for him except being Barney,” said David Guarino, a Boston-based public-affairs strategist. “The way this is rolled out is classic Barney and is every reason why he probably won’t get it.”

Patrick likes running things. He has told intimates that, after his second term expires, he would like to run something else. And, beneath a usually affable and occasionally prickly veneer, Patrick is a tough customer. In persuading Patrick to a point of view, the bull-in-the-china-shop routine that Frank has pulled for years with maximum effectiveness is generally not the way to go.

Patrick is close to Frank, even officiating his wedding last year, and there is little daylight between them ideologically. But he does not enjoy marching orders.


“What I know of the governor, this kind of behavior will not be rewarded,” said Guarino, who dealt with Patrick on occasionally adversarial terms as a senior aide to former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. “He doesn’t like to be told what to do.”

Patrick acolytes revel in the telling of Patrick’s victory over another state House speaker, Robert DeLeo, in 2010. DeLeo wanted a gambling bill to include carveouts for the state’s racetracks, and staged a dramatic press conference at the foot of the State House’s Grand Staircase daring Patrick not to support him. The governor did not, and the bill died. A year later, the state adopted gambling legislation far more similar to Patrick’s version.


There are reasons beyond merely the personal. When Patrick tabbed Paul Kirk to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, for whom Kirk had worked as a staffer, he did so secure in the knowledge that Kirk would be a caretaker, loyally following the party line and not making waves.


Frank, behind whom has sprung up a lobbying effort to pressure Patrick, could be counted on ideologically, but not behaviorally. And, Democrats say, an intemperate remark by interim Sen. Frank could harm the chances of whatever Democratic nominee emerges. Frank’s knack for drawing the spotlight could also drain attention from that candidate, who will be facing, many Bay State Democrats expect, former GOP Sen. Scott Brown, who has told people close to him he plans to run again.

Further, Brown’s election in 2010 was enabled in part by the unabashed inside-dealing of the Democrats who run Beacon Hill. After stripping then-Gov. Mitt Romney of Senate appointment power in 2004, when it appeared that Kerry might become president, they changed the law back in 2009 to give Patrick interim appointment authority. Patrick handed the seat to a former Kennedy aide, the Kennedy clan eventually rallied around Democratic nominee Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Brown was able to make enormous political hay from the unseemly incestuousness of it all, arguing that it was not Kennedy’s seat but, famously, “the people’s seat.”

For now, the only Democrat officially running is the delegation’s dean, Rep. Edward Markey, whose campaign is being guided by well-seasoned advisers including John Martilla (who held a senior role in Joe Biden’s 1972 Senate election), Larry Rasky (Jimmy Carter’s deputy campaign press secretary in 1980), and Chuck Campion (a special assistant to Vice President Walter Mondale).

Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch has told labor allies that he will seek the seat, and is working with another Carter White House veteran, Ed Jesser. State Sen. Ben Downing is expected to make known his intentions within days. Rep. Michael Capuano has also not publicly ruled out a run. Markey was reportedly peeved by Frank’s open interest in the seat.

Patrick on Thursday told reporters, according to the State House News Service, "I've talked to a number of potential candidates. I don't think that the field is complete yet. I don't know that, but I don't think so based on the conversations that I have had.”

Patrick is also quietly guarding the roster of potential interim appointments, who would need to, as Frank has, commit to not running in the special election to succeed Kerry. But that has not prevented his longtime top political adviser from diving into the controversy, publicly opposing Frank as an interim senator and unspooling on a popular liberal blog a list of potential picks.

“I have a lot of respect for the congressman and what he’s done,” political adviser Doug Rubin said on Thursday. “I think there are a lot of talented people who would bring a set of different life experiences to the job.”


Asked whether Frank’s maneuvering had made Patrick more or less likely to pick him, Rubin declined comment, saying, “That’s between the congressman and the governor.”

It has all made for a crackling few days in Massachusetts politics, whose denizens often seem to crave drama even more than their paychecks and the occasional payout. Since Kennedy’s death, the state has seen a Senate special, resulting in Brown’s election, the 2010 governor’s race, and the nationally watched 2012 Senate race in which Democrat Elizabeth Warren toppled Brown, not to mention high-profile investigations and criminal trials involving elected officials. On tap are the special election to succeed Kerry, this fall’s Boston mayor’s race, and twin Senate and gubernatorial elections in 2014. Business, for the political class, is good.

And at least one Democratic source familiar with the negotiations thinks that Frank’s bombast could play in his favor: “The governor’s boxed. I feel the former congressman’s capable of dropping bombs, verbal and otherwise, and I think that might put a quiver in the heart of our governor.”

Frank on Thursday said he had been taken aback by the level of controversy generated by what he called his discussion of public-policy matters with the governor.

“I am shocked that you and others in your business want to make an issue of the public business,” Frank told a reporter, his voice rising.

He said he did not regret informing Patrick of his interest in the seat and did not think it would hamstring his chances. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt me,” Frank said. “Why would it hurt me? The governor would have to be pretty petty.”

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