He Beat a Conservative Republican to Get His Real Start in Congress

In 1980, Barney Frank defeated conservative Republican Congresswoman Margaret Heckler decisively. Heckler, an 8 term Republican did not believe she could lose. After all, she confided to me, “I have all the veterans. I have this wonderful family of mine to roll out for all to see and Barney Frank is just a fat, big mouth liberal …”

During the early months of the election struggle, Heckler was tortured by which color pink she should make her bumper stickers. There were countless battles with her stockbroker husband John Heckler about whether or not the bumper sticker should be deep pink or simply a lighter shade of pink.

When I came on to her campaign as press secretary, I told the congresswoman, whom I had worked for while in college in Washington, DC during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, that we needed to speak freely to the press, and especially to the Boston Globe.

“You are not to speak to the Boston Globe or to the Herald,” she demanded when the campaign was just getting underway.

“If we don’t speak to those newspapers, we are out of business,” I replied.

Frank’s candidacy in her newly redistricted seat was the beginning of the end of her political career.

I was much younger then, a 30-year-old still searching for himself and for some meaning in life.

I had been immediately fascinated by the younger and bolder Barney Frank who came out of the box dutifully a raging Democrat ready to battle the long serving congresswoman. He showed what he was made of when he represented Beacon Hill in the state house.

During the first few weeks of the campaign, Frank ran a half dozen press releases a week about the vital issues of the day. He commented on every aspect of public policy like the great warrior he would become for social welfare causes, justice issues and for the use of innovation or daring with economic issues and in foreign policy.

He was making a name for himself in the sprawling district.

“We’re not running press releases,” Mrs. Heckler told me. “I don’t care if he runs 50 and I run none. My record speaks for itself. Voters will support me over him.”

However, I knew Frank was going to win early on after viewing his first major television political advertisement. That advertisement was about everything to come in his career as a politician.

Frank was much heavier then than he is today. He weighed about 250 pounds. He was out of shape, fat, disheveled but so, so smart and quick – and so aggressive and so fixed on beating Heckler at a game she had been playing for 16 years.

In that advertisement now so much a part of an era most Americans living today cannot recall because they weren’t born or can’t remember, Frank is at bat on a local baseball field. He’s dressed like a pol but without the suit jacket.

The pitch comes in to him. He swings. He hits the ball into the outfield. He drops the bat and all 250 pounds of him starts for first base. He rounds first base as the outfielder runs for the ball. He rounds second building speed running madly. Now he’s rounding third looking wild eyed. The outfielder has the ball. He tosses it toward the catcher.

The ball bounces once into the catcher’s glove. Frank slides in on his back under the catch.

He’s hit a homerun and in the background, a huge approving roar is heard from the large crowd watching.

That first advertisement and first win over a popular longtime Republican congresswoman set the standard early on for Frank.

He will be missed in retirement – there is no doubt about this.

There aren’t any Barney Frank’s coming up the ladder in the House today.


Joshua Resnek is the vice-president and executive editor of the Independent Newspaper Group, publishers of community newspapers in Boston’s neighborhoods and on the North Shore.

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