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Barney Frank’s Retirement Leaves Jockey for Position on Financial Services Committee

As you may know, Rep. Barney Frank plans to retire, which means by next year, both lead co-sponsors of Dodd-Frank will be out of Congress, having secured a legacy of sorts through attaching their names to that legislation.

Frank, who has been in Congress since 1980, reportedly sought retirement after redistricting maps were completed. Frank’s district gained some more conservative areas and lost New Bedford, a blue-collar stronghold for him. In addition, he had a difficult re-election campaign last year, eventually defeating Sean Bielat 53-43. Frank has scheduled a 1pm ET news conference in Newton to make the announcement.

Frank, an intelligent spokesman for the Democratic position in the media, also was the most prominent openly gay member of Congress in the history of the United States. He has been tarred in recent years by the right as the man who single-handedly brought down the financial system by forcing banks to lend to poor people, a trick he managed while in the House minority, apparently. But he always gave as good as he got.

There are options for Frank’s replacement for the Congressional seat, including a couple of the candidates chased out of the US Senate race by Elizabeth Warren – Newton Mayor Seti Warren and former City Year co-founder Alan Khazei. The bigger question is who replaces Frank as the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. If Democrats take back the House in 2012 – not an impossibility – that would be a chairmanship, and arguably the most powerful one in the House.

Second in line in terms of seniority on Financial Services is Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). The mostly bogus scandal of her attempts to influence Treasury with OneUnited Bank, as well as her out-of-step-for-Washington anti-Wall Street profile, may be an impediment to her getting the top spot. Behind her is Rep. Carolyn Maloney, already passed over for the top spot of the House Oversight Committee. After Maloney comes Reps. Luis Gutierrez (known more for his immigration advocacy), Nydia Velazquez (ditto) and Mel Watt (traditionally a conservative figure on these issues).

I’m not sure Waters will be allowed to retain the top spot, and Maloney has already been passed over once before. If this falls all the way to Watt, as a make-good to the Congressional Black Caucus for Waters, the lead decision-maker on the committee for Democrats will be quite in step with big banking interests. Normally you would say that virtually clinches it for him. But I could see a lot of activist support for Waters, which would change the tenor of the committee considerably. Potentially, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus could demand that one of its members get the top spot as well.

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David Dayen

David Dayen