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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 19, 2005

Barney Frank is feted by past and present colleagues

Cleveland--Present and past Cleveland area members of Congress joined gay Democrats in tribute to Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, while raising $4,000 toward political activities.

Frank, the most senior and most recognizable openly gay member of Congress and a founder of the Stonewall Democrats, was in Cleveland August 12 to speak before 250 people at the Cleveland City Club and to be honored later by the Cleveland chapter of the group he founded.

Frank sees himself in a special time in American history as it intersects the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality and his role as its spokesperson.

�If I was 20 years older, it would not be possible. The country wasn�t ready yet,� said Frank. �In 20 years, it won�t be necessary. I�m here at the right time.�

At an evening reception in Bounce nightclub, Frank was regaled with tributes from current House Democratic colleagues, Reps. Sherrod Brown and Dennis Kucinich.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who was with Frank at the City Club for his noon address, was represented by an aide at the fundraiser reception.

Former colleague Mary Rose Oakar was also present at the reception. Louis Stokes and Dennis Eckart, all former Cleveland-area House members, wrote remarks that were read from the stage.

Frank was praised by all for his intellect and political prowess, his willingness to work on behalf of the underserved and disenfranchised, and his effective partisanship.

�It was Barney Frank who got [Federal Reserve Chair] Alan Greenspan to finally admit he doesn�t believe in a minimum wage,� said Brown. He noted that in his freshman year, 1992, incoming Republicans were told that if Frank appeared while they were speaking on the House floor, they should just yield their time and sit down to avoid an embarrassing confrontation.

Frank showed his partisanship in return by taking aim at Log Cabin Republicans.

�Gay Republicans say they are going to change the Republican Party,� said Frank, �and I support that.�

�But you don�t change behavior by rewarding it by voting for it,� Frank said.

�Stonewall Democrats need to stand up to the prejudice against political partisanship,� said Frank.

�In America today, given the right-wing domination of the Republican Party, moderate Republicans are a thing of the past.�

Frank called the relationship of LGBT people to the Democratic Party �mutually reinforcing.�

�The best way to deal with [the Democratic] Party is for those who care about LGBT issues to vote,� said Frank. �We still suffer from a reluctance of people in our community to do basic political work.�

Frank repeated that sentiment later when asked if there should be a national entity discouraging Democratic members of Congress from doing things harmful to the LGBT community, like allowing the confirmation of anti-gay judges.

�No,� he said. �Members of Congress need to hear from people in their states. Everybody wants someone else to do their work for them.�

Frank praised the Congressional Black Caucus.

�As a group, they have the best LGBT voting record in Congress,� said Frank. �Even better than gay members--when you count the ones who are not out.�

In addition to members of Congress, local officials and dignitaries came to the reception to be with Frank.

Candidates included out candidates Nickie Antonio, running for city council in Lakewood, and Mark Tumeo, seeking a council seat in Cleveland Heights. They were joied by Cleveland mayoral candidates Bill Patmon and Robert Triozzi. Mayor Jane Campbell was represented by staff.

Cleveland city council members Martin Sweeney and Jay Westbrook attended, as did Lakewood council member Mary Louise Madigan, Cuyahoga County judge Carolyn Friedland, Lakewood municipal judge Pat Carroll, and Cleveland municipal judges Kathleen Ann Keough and Joe Zone.

AFL-CIO executive secretary John Ryan and Plain Dealer columnist and public television host Dick Feagler were also there.

Earlier, Frank appeared on Feagler�s TV show, talking about domestic partner benefits. He introduced a bill on July 13 to offer domestic partner benefits to federal employees.

At the City Club, Frank spoke of his mother Elsie, who died August 7 at age 92. A political activist herself, she helped her son win tough early races by appearing in his television commercials.

He also talked about economic justice. Frank is the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, and is recognized as Congress� top authority on housing policy and an advocate for consumer protection and fair lending practices.

Frank said President Franklin D. Roosevelt saved capitalism in the 1930s by mitigating the inequalities in it.

�Now everything Franklin Roosevelt did in that regard is under attack,� he pointed out.

Frank added that Americans ultimately will rise up and revolt against a system where they fall farther behind economically while those in control get wealthier. He read part of a speech by Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan to support his belief.

�I�m prepared to take the policies [causing economic inequality] hostage,� said Frank, �until we get a consensus that we will do a better job not just of increasing wealth, but seeing it�s shared in a way that�s both fair and in no way interferes with production.�

Frank also suggested that the time may be ripe for Democrats to win elections by waging what Republicans call �class warfare.�

Known as a champion of partisanship, Frank did not ignore the Republicans.

�The Republican Party in America today is the most ideologically disciplined, cohesive and monolithic political party, with the possible exception of the Shass Party in Israel--both drawn together by a mystical religious view,� said Frank.

During the question and answer period, Frank spoke about being an openly gay national leader.

�Many people believe that [being gay] disqualifies you from being a moral leader,� said a questioner. �Can you speak to the profound fear that exists in the psyche of so many people that allows these fears to be negatively manipulating so many people?�

�My favorite way is to look at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,� said Frank.

�When I graduated high school, I was interested in politics, but I thought I could never run for Congress. Not because I was gay--I figured I would never tell anyone--but because I was Jewish.�

�I outed myself at my bar mitzvah as being Jewish,� said Frank. �I couldn�t hold that back.�

�Today, as we saw in the 2000 campaign with Joe Lieberman, being Jewish is not a factor at all. It�s the same with gays and lesbians. It�s based on knowledge.����������������

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