The Jewish Speaker of the House that could’ve been.
Congressman Barney Frank: gay, Jewish, soon to be retired, renowned for wit under pressure. One of the first two openly gay members of Congress, he’ll soon be the first congressman married to another man. But in a new interview, we learn that Tip O’Neill, Frank’s Democratic Massachusetts House colleague and the Speaker during the 1980s, had another first in mind for Frank.
BF: Robert Bauman had written a book in which he outed me. He incorrectly referred to somebody as my boyfriend—he wasn’t, he was a close personal friend—but he referred to me as gay. The press didn’t pick it up, but I thought, I’d better tell Tip. So I went to Tip. We were sitting on the floor, it was a bad day, we were losing the vote on the Contras, and I sat next to him. I said, Tip, I’ve got to tell you something. Bob Bauman is coming out with a book that says I’m gay.
“Awww, Bahney, don’t listen to that shit. You know they say these things about people.” I said, well, Tip, the point is it’s true. He said, “Oh Bahney, I’m so sad.” That’s when he told me he thought I was going to be the first Jewish Speaker. He acted as if it was the end.
JZ: When O’Neill said I thought you were going to be the first Jewish Speaker. Was he right in the end?
BF: I’d have a shot, I would have had a shot at leadership.
We were this close to having the most memorable Jewish parliamentarian since Benjamin Disraeli as Speaker of the House. I guess it’s time we started grooming Eric Cantor; somebody buy him a joke book.