Should the Black Caucus follow Barney Frank's lead?

OPINION - With so many members in safe districts where they can be re-elected repeatedly without much of a struggle, in some ways it's an inevitable cycle and at times apathy can set in...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Rep. Barney Frank announced his retirement yesterday after 32 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is truly the end of an era. The exit of the fiery Massachusetts Democrat opens the door for a fight over his powerful chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee, if the Democrats are able to win back the House next fall.

His retirement also highlights the make up of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and one detail about them: they aren’t exactly spring chickens.

To be sure, it’s not all of them. Recent rising stars like Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) are a couple of solid CBC members from a younger generation. They are of the generation that didn’t march with Martin or even participate in the Freedom Rides and instead studied him and the civil rights era.

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The majority of the CBC however is older with the likes of Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), John Conyers (D-MI), John Lewis (D-GA) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) members of Congress with ties to a different generation entirely. Simply put these members are the core of black beltway political power outside of the oval office.

Is it time for new blood?

For example, with decades in Congress allegations of corruption and impropriety can sometimes surface. Specifically, with Maxine Waters (D-CA) whose rise to chairman of Financial Services Committee may be more difficult than is usual based on only on seniority. With Frank’s retirement announcement Rep. Waters began the usual phone lobbying of democratic leadership to line up support for her to take over job as chairwoman. But it may not be that simple.

Waters who has been in Congress for 20 years and who is the highest ranking woman in the CBC, is in the midst of an House ethics investigation and thus may not be the natural successor to Frank. It’s up to the democratic leadership to determine if putting Waters in the position is a smart political move. With decades in Congress, comes more cynicism and opportunities for political shenanigans that can lead to ethics charges.
Beyond Waters, another CBC staple Rep. Charlie Rangel who was chairman of the all powerful Ways and Means Committee from 2007-2010 also got into hot water. Rangel had a long drawn out ethics investigation of his own after allegations of wrongdoing. In the end, Rangel was censured by the House making him the 23rd member in history to be officially censured by the chamber.

The criticism of the president and what he has or has not done for the black community is a debate that has gone back and forth in recent months. Some of the criticism has been fair.

But is it possible that in addition from what the Obama administration can do more can be done by CBC members in the House? It’s also possible that now is the time to look outside of that membership towards rising stars who can run and win and become new members of the CBC.

Perhaps those who have been in the Congress for an entire generation can allow a younger crop to take the mantle and work to enact legislation for our communities (if the Democrats are able to take back the House of course). Maybe we need to shake up our crew of 42.

With so many members in safe districts where they can be re-elected repeatedly without much of a struggle, in some ways it’s an inevitable cycle and at times apathy can set in. Obviously, this is not true for all members but it’s a fact that when members of Congress are in safer seats, they may not necessarily have an ear to the streets of their districts. With so many years in power, it’s possible that it may be time for some of the elder CBC members to either step aside or step up.

It might be time for a changing of the guard. Let’s keep everyone honest. It’s not about whether we like the seasoned members of the CBC who have worked tirelessly for a generation; it might just be that it’s time for new ideas and a new perspective on political power representing the African-American community in Congress.