Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a quick-witted and outspoken voice of the liberal House caucus for more three decades who helped write the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial systems since the Great Depression, announced Monday he wouldn’t seek re-election next year.
President Obama praised the Democratic lawmaker for championing affordable housing and gay rights issues, among other causes.
“This country has never had a congressman like Barney Frank, and the House of Representatives will not be the same without him,” said the president in a prepared statement. “For over 30 years, Barney has been a fierce advocate for the people of Massachusetts and Americans everywhere who needed a voice.”
Mr. Frank, 71, who is considered the most prominent openly gay politician in the country, said during a press conference in Newton, Mass., that he initially planned to seek a 17th and final two-year term before retiring. But he said he changed his mind in part because redistricting would leave him with a significantly different constituent base.
“To go into a new district - 325,000 people new - and ask them to trust me with being their advocate on their problems, and then say, by the way, that expires in two years. … I would have a hard time telling people that,” he said.
The lawmaker began his political career in the Massachusetts state House, where he served for eight years before winning a seat in the U.S. House in 1980.
Mr. Frank, who is as deft discussing fishing rights issues vital to his coastal district as he is Wall Street-related matters, said he plans to spend his post-congressional career indulging in two passions - writing and advocating public policy issues.
“I expect to be saying the exact same things as a private citizen … a year and a month from now that I’ve been saying as an elected official, but I think I will find my motives less impugned, and I will be able to talk more about the merits,” he said.
As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee in 2010, he achieved his most high-profile legislative success with the passage of the landmark Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The measure, designed to rein in Wall Street markets with an intricate layer of new laws, was a direct response to the financial crisis that almost crippled Wall Street in 2008.
Conservatives have criticized the law, co-authored with now-retired Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, saying it has handcuffed the financial and lending markets and has inhibited a full economic recovery. Many Capitol Hill Republicans have vowed to repeal the measure.
Mr. Frank lately has pushed for significant cuts to military spending as a way to lower the nation’s debt.
Despite Mr. Frank’s blunt approach and staunch liberal positions, he is known for having a good working relationship with many Republicans. He also has earned the respect of colleagues for his detailed knowledge of House rules and parliamentary procedures.
But his political career was threatened in 1989 after The Washington Times first reported that a male escort operated from Mr. Frank’s Capitol Hill house from late 1985 through mid-1987.
Mr. Frank acknowledged at the time that he “had reason to believe” the activity was ongoing and “kicked him out” when he confirmed it. The lawmaker said at the time he knew his house guest, Stephen Gobie, was a prostitute, but didn’t know he was running a ring out of his house.
The House rejected motions to expel or censure Mr. Frank, instead voting 408-18 to adopt an ethics committee recommendation to reprimand him on charges stemming from his relationship with Mr. Gobie.
The lawmaker lost his Financial Services Committee chairmanship when Republicans took control of the House in January. Rep. Maxine Waters of California is the next senior Democrat on the panel, giving her a leg up on being voted as its top Democrat after Mr. Frank’s term expires in January 2013.
• Jerry Seper contributed to this article.