SALEM — Retiring and openly gay congressman Barney Frank, the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, has endorsed Democratic Congressman John Tierney of Salem over Tierney’s openly gay Republican challenger, Richard Tisei.
Frank’s endorsement of Tierney comes amid a tight race for the 6th Congressional District, which includes all of Cape Ann and much of the North Shore.
Frank said in a Thursday conference call with reporters that the climate in Washington has become so partisan that “there are no effective moderate Republicans.”
“I have become more partisan in reaction to the Tea Party,” Frank said as he explained his endorsement, adding that Tierney’s election would be “better for the advancement for the legal equality we are seeking.”
“The fact that Richard Tisei is openly gay is a good thing now, and a good thing for the country,” Frank said, but it is not a reason to endorse him.
In backing Tierney, Frank is also endorsing a congressional ally with whom Frank has worked extensively in addressing commercial fishing issues linking the fleets of Gloucester and New Bedford, which is in Frank’s representative district. Both Tierney and Frank, for example, have called for a “change in leadership” within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and for a reconsideration of NOAA’s and the Department of Commerce fishery management policies.
Tisei said it is not news that Frank would back Tierney, who he admits “has a good record on LGBT issues, and so do I.”
Tisei — who does not endorse the national Republican platform against same-sex marriage — said that, if elected, he would have a national voice on equality and fairness issues close to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, especially as a member of the House majority party.
“There is not an analyst in the entire country who is predicting the Democrats will retake the majority,” Tisei said, giving him an opportunity to break the mold of what it means to be a Republican. “You will never have equality unless you have people on both sides.”
But Frank said Tisei’s party affiliation would only add to a Republican majority with a leadership that has moved so far to the right, it would refuse to take up any anti-discrimination legislation Tisei might champion.
“Tisei’s election is a further obstacle to them even coming up,” Frank said, because there is no guarantee that even if he is elected, Tisei will be effective. “If Mr. Tisei is suggesting he will get (House Speaker) Mr. (John) Boehner to bring up LGBT legislation, he is wrong on that.”
Tisei, a former state senator and state Senate minority leader from Wakefield, said he understands there are those in the Republican leadership who disagree with him on social issues, but said his calls for equality will stand out.
“He’s singing in a chorus with a lot of other people,” Tisei said of Tierney and the Democrats. “I will provide leadership.”
At one point in the conference call, Frank was asked about an organization that supports him, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and its endorsement of Tisei. Frank said that, given the number of people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community serving in office, it does not make sense to back someone solely on their orientation, as had been the case 10 or 20 years ago.
“I think the Victory Fund is suffering a cultural lag,” Frank said.
Tisei, however, said it is Frank who is behind the times.
While Tisei said Frank played an important role in the advancement of gay rights, Tisei said: “I represent the next wave.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached via email@example.com, or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.