A couple of the folks who sat down to share memories of what it’s like to work alongside retired Rep. Barney Frank can’t wait to see how the Massachusetts Democrat will come across when his life story is screened this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“Compared to What,” which is scheduled to debut April 27 in New York City, follows Frank’s final year in office, but also reflects on the breadth of his decadeslong legislative career, as well as his personal life.
None of the lawmakers interviewed for the film — a roster that includes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; retiring Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala.; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; and ex.-Sen Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. — is currently scheduled to attend the debut, an oversight Frank said he totally understands.
“I am very respectful of their time,” the former pol told HOH, adding, “Members will hear about it, but I wouldn’t want to impose on them. “
Retired Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, who also participated in the film, told HOH that he is unable to make the trip. He noted, however, that he’s very interested in checking out the end product.
Oxley said he was interviewed by filmmakers Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler over a year ago and that the documentarians focused mostly on the nitty gritty of the time the two lawmakers spent together leading the House Financial Services Committee.
“It was very much on the professional level,” he said of their line of questioning.
One thing Oxley said he hopes shines through is the good times they shared. To wit, he noted that he and Frank often enjoyed watching strange bedfellows emerge during the heat of a legislative tussle.
“I think we were talking about when I was chairman and we had [ex-Rep., now Sen.] Bernie Sanders and [retired Rep.] Ron Paul on the committee … and we had the far right and the far left meeting around the bend,” he said of unifying factors like personal privacy issues.
Per Oxley, those who only know Frank by his somewhat-prickly reputation might be surprised to learn the man was often quite diplomatic.
“I think a lot of people think Barney is a very partisan, outspoken guy. And he plays that role sometimes. But at the heart of him is a legislator,” Oxley asserted. “He was not one for flowery rhetoric or scoring political points.” While acknowledging that Frank “defended his positions exceptionally well,” Oxley suggested that they collaborated more than they quarreled.
He pointed to the fact that Frank was often amenable to limiting personal grandstanding by members in order to allow committee witnesses additional time to testify and field probing questions as proof they were able to set aside ideology in lieu of advancing the greater good.
“We saved a lot of time for the committee and earned the undying appreciation of those witnesses,” he estimated.
Bachus gave Frank equally high marks for putting good governing first.
“While Barney Frank and I had philosophical differences on many issues, we found common ground on the need to stop abusive subprime lending. We worked on a bill in 2005 and 2006, but each of us ran into political resistance on our own sides,” Bachus told HOH. “Barney said on the floor that if we had passed that legislation, a number of bad loans would not have been made and we wouldn't have had as deep of a financial crisis, and I agree with him.”
Their relationship, though occasionally rocky, still sounds preferable to the toxic climate that plagues the current Congress.
“Barney and I shared a belief that you should run a committee in a fair and open way, that you can differ sharply on policy but in a way that respects the legislative process. His word was always solid and he would not act one way with you in person and another way behind your back,” Bachus stated.
Longtime pal Jim Segel is the lone interviewee we could find willing to make the trek to Tribeca; he said he’s taking his wife and daughter to the show.
Although he’s largely been by Frank’s side for as long as he can remember — the two met during their days at Harvard University and their careers have intertwined (Massachusetts Legislature, Frank’s 1980 House campaign, Financial Services work) ever since — Segel appears psyched to share his friend with the rest of the world.
“They are used to him being abrupt and seemingly insensitive, and hopefully the film may show another side of him that is also thoughtful and sensitive and does exist,” Segel suggested.
Of course, he still cherishes the in-your-face theatrics as well.
“I loved his answering a critic in the Massachusetts Legislature in 1977 who had just said: ‘First (Barney) had offered a bill to legalize prostitution; then to create adult zones that could encourage pornography; then bills to legalize marijuana; and now to legalize gay marriages; what can he offer next?’ And Barney stood up and said, ‘I am going to keep offering legislation until I find something that the gentleman from New Bedford enjoys,’” Segel recalled.
Should Hollywood catch Frank fever and decide to give him the full dramatic treatment, Segel could see “Alpha House” star John Goodman stepping into his shoes.
Bachus, on the other hand, is game for as realistic a depiction as possible.
“While I won't pretend to be a Hollywood casting director, I'd point out that with Barney gone from the House and me retiring at the end of the year, we'd both be available to play ourselves,” he quipped.