After 16 terms in office, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) plans to retire in 2012. Frank, 71, announced his retirement Monday at the Newton City Hall, citing the new congressional map as the reason.

A quick-witted liberal firebrand, Frank is known for his advocacy on gay rights and financial reform.

“I was planning to run again and then the congressional redistricting came,” Frank said on Monday. “I know my own capacity and energy levels and it would have been a mistake ... I could not have put the requisite effort in.”

Frank told reporters that he was too old to campaign in a new district and to represent hundreds of thousands of new constituents.

“I think I’d win,” he said, adding that “it would have been a tough race” and “I don’t like raising money.”

The congressman raised more than $760,000 through the third quarter of the year and had $389,606 in cash on hand, but he said he would need far more for the next campaign.

But he couldn’t leave without a parting shot to his former colleague, ex-House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who has suddenly become a frontrunner in the GOP presidential contest.

“I did not think I lived a good enough life to see Newt Gingrich as the Republican nominee," Frank said Monday. "He would be the best thing to happen to Democrats since Barry Goldwater."

Even though he announced his retirement on Monday, Frank said, he would not drop out of the political debate. “I‘m not retiring from advocacy of public policy.”

“I will be neither a lobbyist or a historian,” Frank said, in another dig at Gingrich, who claimed he was hired by Freddie Mac as the latter. He said he would do “some combination of writing, teaching, and lecturing.”

Under Democratic-led redistricting, Frank’s 4th district seat is gaining some more conservative towns while losing the blue-collar stronghold of New Bedford.

Democratic sources say that Frank’s decision was not a surprise and that they are not worried about holding the seat, although redistricting will make it slightly less Democratic. President Obama won the new district with 61 percent of the vote; Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won it in 2004 with 62 percent.

In 2010, Frank faced his first serious challenge in decades from a little-known Marine Corps reservist named Sean Bielat. The congressman campaigned (and spent) heavily to defend his seat and ultimately won with 54 percent of the vote.

Brookline School Committee member Elizabeth Childs (R) was already planning to run against Frank. State Rep. Dan Winslow (R), considered a strong potential candidate, has opted not to run.

Seventeen House Democrats have announced plans to retire so far this year; half are running for higher office.

In 1987, Frank became the first congressman to voluntarily announce that he was gay.

“Barney Frank has been at the center of every important development for the LGBT community in Congress,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “He’s spent the last forty years building up a degree of goodwill, admiration and respect that is going to be incredibly difficult to replace.”

Frank chaired the House Financial Services Committee from 2007 to 2011, helping move bailout legislation through Congress and, along with Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), creating sweeping Wall Street reforms designed to prevent another major financial crisis.     

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is next in line as the ranking member on the committee, but the process of replacing Frank might be complicated.

A couple years ago, Frank expressed interest in becoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. However, he said more recently that he is “too old.”

“This country has never had a Congressman like Barney Frank, and the House of Representatives will not be the same without him,” said President Obama in a statement.

View Photo Gallery: The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee played a key role in shepherding the regulatory overhaul bill through Congress. Now he turns his attention to reworking federal housing policy.


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