WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat who helped to craft the landmark overhaul of financial regulations that bears his name, will not seek re-election in 2012, his office said on Monday.
Frank, 71, one of the most outspoken liberals in Congress, will hold a 1 p.m. EST/1800 GMT news conference to discuss the decision, according to his office. [Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy.]
He has represented his Massachusetts district since 1981, and is known for his detailed knowledge of banking and housing regulations, as well as his acerbic wit.
"Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in it," he told a detractor in 2009.
He was one of the first openly gay politicians to serve at a national level.
Democrats expect to retain control of Frank's seat as they try to win back control of the House of Representatives in the November 2012 elections.
Frank has said to several aides that he did not want to die in Congress. He has indicated that he would be interested in heading up the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to media reports.
With then-Senator Christopher Dodd, Frank led a comprehensive overhaul of Wall Street regulations following the 2007-2009 financial crisis. The Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010 with little Republican support, was one of the most ambitious legislative efforts of Obama's first term in office.
Frank's departure will deprive Democrats of the law's chief defender at a time when Wall Street and Republican lawmakers are trying to dilute its impact.
Republican presidential candidates argue that it is placing new burdens on the economy while the unemployment rate is stuck at 9 percent, and have vowed to repeal the law even as regulators are still putting it into effect. [See the 10 best cities to find a job.]
Frank has fended off efforts to weaken the law's consumer protections, but has shown an openness to some of the banking industry's complaints. Earlier this year, for example, he said a new crackdown on debit-card fees was too harsh.
FEW FRIENDS ON WALL STREET
Still, he will not be missed on Wall Street.
"I think they will cheer that he has taken himself out of the running. I don't think he had many fans on the Street," said Ken Polcari, managing director of ICAP Equities.
An advocate of affordable housing, Frank would have had a hand in efforts to reshape the government-owned mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
House Republicans have been trying to unwind the enterprises, but the administration and other policymakers have warned against removing support too quickly given the weak state of the housing market.
Representative Maxine Waters, an even more vocal critic of Wall Street, is next in line to succeed Frank as the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, which oversees the economy, housing finance, and the Federal Reserve and other major financial regulators.
Waters faces an ethics investigation following allegations that she broke House rules by trying in 2008 to help a bank in which her husband served on the board of directors.
Frank survived an ethics scandal in 1989 after he admitted hiring a prostitute as a personal aide. Frank apologized and said he had never used official funds.
Democrats say they expect to hold on to Frank's seat. President Barack Obama in 2008 won 61 percent of the vote in the district, which stretches from upscale Boston suburbs to Fall River, a blue-collar fishing town.
But the district has become more conservative after it was redrawn this year, and one Republican said Frank's retirement gives his party a better chance of victory in a state where all House seats are currently held by Democrats. The Massachusetts delegation will fall to nine from ten in the 2012 election.
"There is no obvious heir to the throne on the Democratic side. And on the Republican side Sean Bielat who challenged him in 2010 could make a very strong contender," Republican strategist Todd Domke said. [See a slide show of 5 bright spots in the U.S. economy.]