On what should have been the first day of his retirement from Congress, former representative Barney Frank instead burst back onto the political scene, revealing that he had asked Governor Deval Patrick to appoint him to temporarily fill John Kerry’s Senate seat while a special election is held.
Frank said his 32 years in Congress made him especially qualified to help settle spending and entitlement fights that were pushed off several months by the New Year’s Eve fiscal cliff compromise between President Obama and congressional leaders.
“The first months of the new Senate will be among the most important in American history. I may be a little immodest, but I called the governor and said I think I can be a help in reaching a fair solution to some of these issues,” Frank told the Globe Friday.
Asked if he has any interest in holding the seat permanently through a special election, the former congressman said “absolutely not.”
The likelihood that Kerry will resign later this month to become secretary of state has presented Patrick with the question of who should replace the senator until a special election, a delicate issue for which the governor has sought a quiet and deliberative solution.
Frank’s acknowledgment that he had called the governor and requested an appointment forced Patrick to publicly address the topic.
The governor gave a laugh when asked if he would have preferred that Frank kept their conversation private.
“Does it matter, in the case of Congressman Frank, what I would have preferred?” Patrick said as he spoke with reporters at a State House news conference, in a nod to Frank’s irrepressible personality.
Turning serious, the governor said, “Congressman Frank is a really gifted legislator, and he’d be a great senator — even on an interim basis. I have a lot of factors I’m considering, and he’s definitely on the list.”
President Obama announced last month that he would nominate Kerry to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has decided against serving for the administration’s second term.
This week the senator began a series of briefings at the State Department, both to bring him up to speed on world issues and prepare him for his confirmation hearing. It will likely be held at mid-month, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is expected to receive swift confirmation.
When Kerry resigns, Patrick will have to fill his seat temporarily, before a special election is held 145 days to 160 days from the date of resignation. Were Kerry to resign around Obama’s Jan. 21 inauguration, the election would have to be held by the end of June.
The Globe previously reported that Patrick had reached out to Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, about being a candidate in the special election. She reportedly said she was not interested in running for the seat, but the two did not broach the topic of her interest in the interim appointment.
Representative Edward J. Markey has already declared he will seek the Democratic nomination in any special election, while Republican Scott Brown, knocked out of office in November by Senator Elizabeth Warren, has hinted that he will seek the Republican nomination.
When Kennedy died in 2009, Patrick declared he would not pick an interim replacement who would also be a candidate in the special election. Under the specter of Kerry’s departure, the governor has repeated that preference, saying he does not think the same person can serve effectively in Congress while campaigning in the special election.
That has touched off a parlor game about possible appointees, including political luminaries such as Michael S. Dukakis, the former governor.
Patrick aides have also raised the possibility of a low-profile choice, such as outgoing Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez. They note the governor would favor someone without a personal political agenda.
That idea was blasted Friday by Martin T. Meehan, formerly Frank’s colleague in Congress and now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“These are important times. The idea that any person off the street could do this is ludicrous,” said Meehan. “To be able to affect national policy and national legislation takes years. The idea that Governor Patrick thinks he can appoint someone without that experience is wrong for Massachusetts and wrong for the country. Barney is an outstanding legislator, and he’d be a fantastic pick.”
Meehan has ruled out accepting either the interim appointment or being a candidate in the special election.
The governor refused Friday to get drawn into discussing individual names.
“I think in every case the other person has treated [the conversations] as confidential. In Congressman Frank’s case, he’s chosen not to on his end. I’m going to keep my end confidential,” Patrick said.
Frank’s announcement Friday suggested something of a change of heart. During a previous Globe interview in mid-November, he flatly ruled out being a candidate to replace Kerry.
“If I wanted to stay in Congress, why wouldn’t I prefer being a senior member of the House rather than the most junior member of the Senate?” Frank said at the time.
The 72-year-old said he wanted to write books, teach, and speak on the lecture circuit after 45 years in public life. He began down that path Thursday, when he retired as the 112th Congress expired and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III was sworn in to represent the Fourth Congressional District in the 113th Congress.
On Friday, during an appearance on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe,” and later in an interview with the Globe, he repeated his vow not to be a special election candidate.
Nonetheless, Frank said the temporary nature of the interim appointment, and the new issues confronting the Senate, would make the interim job appealing.
He said he changed his mind about continuing in Congress “as I sat in the caucus room and listened to them as they outlined the deal.”
While the fiscal cliff deal raised tax rates on individuals earning more than $400,000 per year, it delayed for two to three months any resolution to government program cuts or changes in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
“I think there are progressive ways to work on Social Security and Medicare. I think making the case against them (Tea Party Republicans) on the debt limit is important,” Frank said.