Franks, Gary 1954(?)–
Gary Franks 1954(?)–
“My message will be different than what many people have heard from a black congressman,” Gary Franks, the first black congressman elected from the state of Connecticut, told Nick Ravo in the New York Times. Franks, who is the first black Republican delegate to serve in the House of Representatives since 1935, defeated liberal Democrat Toby Moffett in 1991. Elected from the fifth district, only four percent of which is comprised of black voters, Franks appealed to constituents from the wealthy towns of Weston and Wilton, as well as the mill towns astride the Naugatuck River. During his campaign, the fiscally conservative Franks emphasized the liberal legacy of Jimmy Carter—whose presidency he said contributed to double-digit inflation and more than 20% interest rates—and speculated that the policies of his opponent, Moffett, would be equally ineffective. Franks detailed to Ravo, “The key to the American way is making people self-sufficient. The worst myth out there is that you can do this through policies that tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and spend.”
A native of Waterbury, Connecticut, Franks was president of his senior class at Sacred Heart High School. He also played basketball at Sacred Heart and was named an all-state player. His father, who had not finished the sixth grade, worked in a mill, but he managed to finance the education of all six of the Franks children. Gary and his siblings graduated from college, and three earned doctoral degrees. “I’m the only one with just one degree,” Franks related to Ravo. After graduating from Yale University in 1975, Franks worked as an industrial and labor relations executive for corporations in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Several years later, he started his own real estate firm and earned a reputation as a successful entrepreneur.
Entering politics at the local level, Franks was elected alderman in Waterbury. After three effective terms, he decided to run for a congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on the Republican ticket. Although Franks was defeated in his bid for state comptroller in 1986, he appeared at shopping malls and supermarkets campaigning vigorously for election to the House. Since he is black, people he approached assumed he was a liberal Democrat. Franks recounted to Ravo that as residents passed him by in the wealthier Fairfield County towns, he would say to them, “Wait, I’m a Republican!”
At a Glance…
Born Gary A. Franks, c. 1954; raised in Waterbury, CT; married; children: one stepdaughter. Education: Received degree from Yale University, 1975. Politics: Republican.
Politician, Industrial and labor relations executive, Fairfield County, CT, late 1970s; real estate entrepreneur; alderman in Waterbury, CT; U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC, Republican congressman from Connecticut, 1990—.
Addresses: Office —U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515.
Then, he continued, “They’d turn around and say, ‘Oh, in that case, we’ll give you some thought.’” Moffett, his opponent who had served in the House from 1974 to 1982, was considered a strong contender. Some charged that Moffett’s defeat was brought on when he angered voters by changing his residence to Newton, Connecticut, in the fifth congressional district, after living three years in Branford, a town in the third congressional district. But Democrat and minority leader on the Board of Aldermen John A. Sarlo predicted in the New York Times that Franks would be victorious on his own merit against Moffett’s comeback try: “He’s held in high regard by all people. He is going to run well.”
In November, 1990, Franks won a seat in the House in an unlikely scenario. No black Republicans were members of the Senate, or mayors of major American cities, or governors of any states. The last black Republican senator, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, left office in 1978. The only two other black Republicans—former mayor of Cincinnati J. Kenneth Blackwell and Kentucky businessman Alphonse Brown, who ran for Congress at the same time as Franks—were defeated. Aside from advocating abortion rights for women, Franks supported traditionally conservative programs. He promoted the death penalty for chief drug pushers and supported a constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning. In addition, he favored cuts in the capital gains tax and opposed increases in federal income tax rates. Franks even countered the Civil Rights Act of 1990 on the grounds that some federal agendas, including welfare, increased dependency on government programs, rather than personal enterprise.
Party members applauded the addition of Franks as the highest-ranking black Republican official elected. He “surprised analysts,” wrote Frank McCoy in Black Enterprise, “who doubted that the black conservative Republican could win a seat in a 96% white, mostly blue-collar, traditionally Democratic district.” National Republican leaders capitalized on Franks’s ascendancy as a means to attract more minority membership to the party. In the wake of Franks’s election, Ed Rollins, acting co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, depicted Republicans to the New York Times as members of “the party of opportunity.” With ideological links similar to the self-help beginnings of Booker T. Washington, Franks finds no incongruity between his political views and his race. Historically, black Republicans outnumbered Democrats in various regions of the United States before 1932, he reminded voters in his campaign. “The pendulum can swing both ways,” Gary Franks informed Ravo. “Right now, it’s way over [to the left], but it’s starting to go back.”
Black Enterprise, January 1991; April 1991.
Jet, September 24, 1990.
Newsweek, July 15, 1991.
New York Times, August 9, 1990; November 7, 1990; November 25, 1990.
Time, November 19, 1990.
Politician and entrepreneur Gary Franks was the first African-American congressman elected from Connecticut. His father, who had not completed the sixth grade, was determined that his six children would become college graduates, and all did. A Connecticut native, Franks graduated from Yale University in 1975. In the late 1970s, after working as an industrial and labor relations executive in Fair-field County, Connecticut, he opened his own real estate business and became highly successful.
Franks entered local politics as alderman in Waterbury, where he served three terms. He ran unsuccessfully for state alderman in 1986. His earlier success, however, led him to run on the Republican ticket for the U.S. House of Representatives. He won the seat in November 1990, at a time when African-American representation in highly visible positions, such as mayors of major cities or in the U.S. Senate, was slight. Franks platform included advocacy of abortion rights, the death penalty for top drug dealers, and a constitutional amendment to prohibit burning the U.S. flag. Franks also favored cuts in the capital gains tax and opposed increases in federal income taxes.
His victory made him the nation's top-ranking elected black Republican, and he was highly touted by Republicans, who saw him as attractive enough to encourage more minorities to join the Republican Party.
After serving three terms in Congress, Franks was unsuccessful in his bid for reelection in 1996. He was a candidate for election to the U.S. Senate in 1998, but was defeated.
See also Congressional Black Caucus; Politics in the United States
Bigelow, Barbara Carlisle, ed. Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 2. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1992.
"Connecticut Salon a Favorite among 3 Blacks Seeking GOP Seats in U.S. House." Jet. September 24, 1990, 16.
Franks, Gary. Searching for the Promised Land. New York: ReganBooks, 1996.
McCoy, Frank. "Freshmen on the Hill." Black Enterprise. April 1991, 25.
raymond winbush (2001)