Strange as it may sound, the man most directly responsible for the launch of Rep. Barney Frank's legendary 32-year career in Congress was Pope John Paul II.
In 1980, the Pope issued a directive barring priests from holding public office, a move that forced the retirement of Father Robert Drinan from his House seat representing Massachusetts' 3rd District.
It also gave Frank, then a member of the state legislature, an opportunity to seek national office. It was an unexpected break for Frank, who until that time had assumed that his role in politics would be mostly behind the scenes.
"I was an accidental congressman," he says. "I didn't know I was going to go to Congress. I'm not one of these kids who thought I could always do this."
But Frank went to Capitol Hill, and went on to become one of the most prominent members of the House, carving a legacy that depends largely on the political ideology of the beholder.
To the left, Frank is a liberal hero—a gay rights champion fiercely devoted to economic and social fairness, and a skillful legislator who successfully passed a landmark bill in 2010 designed to tame Wall Street.
To the right, he is a villain, an intractable defender of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who irresponsibly pushed banks to give mortgages to poor people who couldn't pay them back—and in so doing helped cause the financial crisis.
What both sides agree on is that Frank is one of the smartest members of Congress, whose sharp wit, tenacity, and ability to guide legislation through to enactment will leave a mark on the financial services industry long after he retires at the end of his current term.
As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee between 2007 and 2011, Frank played a key role in the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, better known as Dodd-Frank, and in helping to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which most experts agree saved the financial system.
That may well be enough to secure his place in history, but his record is both far deeper and more complicated than that, covering other vital issues such as reform of Fannie and Freddie, the expansion of affordable housing and contributions to lesser known but still important banking bills.
While bankers have not always agreed with Frank's actions, they have seldom seen his equal on Capitol Hill.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, he's a 10," says Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. "In terms of knowledge, brains, understanding—he's way up there."
Frank's career is full of contradictions.
He's a liberal icon known for his fiery partisanship—but has time and again proved able to work closely with bankers and with Republicans, including former Rep. Mike Oxley and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, on highly contentious issues.
He worries a lot about poverty and pushes against economic disparities, yet he also is a defender of the free market.
And while he has had a successful career, he lacks one of the most distinguishing characteristics of politicians—an all-driving need to be loved by the public.
Frank has a razor-sharp tongue in public and private. He famously told a constituent in 2009, after she compared President Obama to Hitler, "Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining-room table. I have no interest in doing it."