Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York City mayoral race

Weiner’s Non-Redemption Campaign

The Anthony Weiner comeback is a godsend for journalists as well as a source of worry for his rivals in the race to be the next mayor of New York. It’s not just that Weiner is a fascinating character whose ambition, ego and single-minded drive for political power makes for a compelling story. Anyone who has followed his career has to admit that he has natural political talent and the ability to make people notice and even follow him, traits that have always stood him in good stead as he rose up the political ladder. But if he is to be successful in his attempt to revive his career after the bizarre scandal and the lies that forced him to resign from Congress in 2011, shouldn’t the Weiner reboot be predicated at least in part on the idea that he is a changed man from the guy who popularized the word “sexting” and whose brazen denials and false accusations of a hoax on the part of his critics outraged the nation?

As Maggie Haberman reveals in a must-read story in Politico today, the answer to that question is no. Weiner is not entirely unrepentant in that he’s sorry he got caught and for the humiliation he caused his wife. But there’s no pretense that he has undergone any real introspection about the character traits and problems that sent him off the rails. Indeed, as he tells Haberman in an interview, he seems to think New Yorkers want him to be the exactly same obnoxious guy whose aberrant behavior made him one of the most notorious figures in our recent political history.

Weiner is within his rights to act in this way, and if a majority of New Yorkers agrees that he is still the best man to lead their city government, he’s going to wind up the next mayor. But both he and his backers are taking a huge gamble. Without any sense that he understands what drove him to bad behavior or any real commitment to change, what guarantee does anyone have that he won’t slip back to it or do something else that is just as weird, or even worse, in the future?

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The Anthony Weiner comeback is a godsend for journalists as well as a source of worry for his rivals in the race to be the next mayor of New York. It’s not just that Weiner is a fascinating character whose ambition, ego and single-minded drive for political power makes for a compelling story. Anyone who has followed his career has to admit that he has natural political talent and the ability to make people notice and even follow him, traits that have always stood him in good stead as he rose up the political ladder. But if he is to be successful in his attempt to revive his career after the bizarre scandal and the lies that forced him to resign from Congress in 2011, shouldn’t the Weiner reboot be predicated at least in part on the idea that he is a changed man from the guy who popularized the word “sexting” and whose brazen denials and false accusations of a hoax on the part of his critics outraged the nation?

As Maggie Haberman reveals in a must-read story in Politico today, the answer to that question is no. Weiner is not entirely unrepentant in that he’s sorry he got caught and for the humiliation he caused his wife. But there’s no pretense that he has undergone any real introspection about the character traits and problems that sent him off the rails. Indeed, as he tells Haberman in an interview, he seems to think New Yorkers want him to be the exactly same obnoxious guy whose aberrant behavior made him one of the most notorious figures in our recent political history.

Weiner is within his rights to act in this way, and if a majority of New Yorkers agrees that he is still the best man to lead their city government, he’s going to wind up the next mayor. But both he and his backers are taking a huge gamble. Without any sense that he understands what drove him to bad behavior or any real commitment to change, what guarantee does anyone have that he won’t slip back to it or do something else that is just as weird, or even worse, in the future?

Weiner resists being “put on the couch” by reporters who want to know what’s going on inside his head and insists that the election should be about the issues, not his personality traits. Fair enough. He claimed in his roll-out video that he “made some big mistakes and I know I let a lot of people down. But I’ve also learned some tough lessons.” But if so, what possible lessons could he have learned if he’s convinced that it’s OK to be the exactly same person who made the mistakes?

One needn’t be an advocate for the culture of therapy that pervades so much of contemporary American life to understand that when you break down, you’ve got to come to terms with what brought you to that point and caused the behavior that caused the problem. Weiner appears completely without interest in doing so and not just because he’s said that—contrary to what his aides promised when he resigned from Congress—he didn’t undergo therapy or rehab. Redemption is, as Haberman notes, always a popular theme with voters. But if Weiner’s mea culpas are this perfunctory and he thinks people want him to be the same person he was, that sounds like a formula for future trouble.

As much as Weiner wants the race to be about issues, any election to an executive post eventually comes down to personalities and trust. Despite New Yorkers liking politicians with combative styles—Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch being just two of the most recent outstanding examples—it’s an open question as to whether they are willing to buy into the idea that Weiner’s hyper-aggressive personality is so attractive as to overwhelm concerns about what brought him down in the first place. As Politico makes clear today, Weiner thinks the answer to that question is yes.

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Weiner’s Wife Is the One to Watch

It’s been more than 48 hours since the Anthony Weiner reboot began, but so far the indications are that the plight of the middle class in New York City is about the last thing anybody is talking about. Instead, the main topic of discussion about Weiner’s candidacy is what everyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the last two years always knew it would be: the bizarre sexting scandal that forced his resignation from Congress in 2011.

It should be no surprise that we’re still talking about the fact that Weiner’s career was buried under a deluge of national derision about his habit of sending lewd pictures of his body parts to women and the disgust over his weeks of lies and false accusations that his political opponents had concocted the story in order to discredit him. After all, it’s not just the tabloids like the New York Post and the New York Daily News that are engaging in an orgy of front page headlines with puns at Weiner’s expense. Even the ultra-liberal public radio station WNYC was quizzing him about his problems. Fellow New York Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo summed it up for most members of his party as well as the citizens of Gotham when he replied to a reporter’s suggestion that Weiner might win by simply saying that if so, “Shame on us.”

But what is just as interesting as the circus freak atmosphere of Weiner’s campaign is another angle of it that was explored this morning by the New York Times. Rather than just being the suffering yet faithful spouse in this drama, the Times claims Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin is the driving force behind his attempted comeback. Indeed the paper claims the main reason why some Democratic consultants have even considered joining his campaign is because they feel doing so will give them access to Abedin and a leg up toward a job with the next presidential campaign of her personal patron and surrogate mother, Hillary Clinton. That means that rather than merely being a prop in her husband’s soap opera whose presence is intended to deflect outrage about his personality defects, it is Abedin who is actually the more interesting subject for scrutiny.

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It’s been more than 48 hours since the Anthony Weiner reboot began, but so far the indications are that the plight of the middle class in New York City is about the last thing anybody is talking about. Instead, the main topic of discussion about Weiner’s candidacy is what everyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the last two years always knew it would be: the bizarre sexting scandal that forced his resignation from Congress in 2011.

It should be no surprise that we’re still talking about the fact that Weiner’s career was buried under a deluge of national derision about his habit of sending lewd pictures of his body parts to women and the disgust over his weeks of lies and false accusations that his political opponents had concocted the story in order to discredit him. After all, it’s not just the tabloids like the New York Post and the New York Daily News that are engaging in an orgy of front page headlines with puns at Weiner’s expense. Even the ultra-liberal public radio station WNYC was quizzing him about his problems. Fellow New York Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo summed it up for most members of his party as well as the citizens of Gotham when he replied to a reporter’s suggestion that Weiner might win by simply saying that if so, “Shame on us.”

But what is just as interesting as the circus freak atmosphere of Weiner’s campaign is another angle of it that was explored this morning by the New York Times. Rather than just being the suffering yet faithful spouse in this drama, the Times claims Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin is the driving force behind his attempted comeback. Indeed the paper claims the main reason why some Democratic consultants have even considered joining his campaign is because they feel doing so will give them access to Abedin and a leg up toward a job with the next presidential campaign of her personal patron and surrogate mother, Hillary Clinton. That means that rather than merely being a prop in her husband’s soap opera whose presence is intended to deflect outrage about his personality defects, it is Abedin who is actually the more interesting subject for scrutiny.

As the Times article and other reports make clear, Bill and Hillary Clinton are appalled at the idea of being dragged into the Weiner free-for-all. They have said they won’t endorse any candidate in the Democratic primary and the consensus is that both the former and the would-be future president both think of Weiner with the same contempt that many parents view the spouses of their children. But their affection for Huma is apparently so great (Weiner’s wife is also a close friend of Chelsea Clinton) that she will continue working for Hillary even while her husband dives head first into tabloid hell with Abedin’s encouragement.

That makes Abedin a clear asset to Weiner, especially as he attempts to raise more money from the Clinton campaign base (the Times lets drop that the Mr. and Mrs. Weiner are currently living in a fabulous Park Avenue condo that is owned by a donor to the Clinton campaigns). But while her political smarts that are so valued by her boss Hillary are also being put to good use by Weiner, the extra attention won’t necessarily be helpful in terms of attracting votes.

Abedin came under fire last year when Rep. Michele Bachmann and some other Republican members of Congress sent a letter to the secretary of state that, among other things, noted the ties that some members of the Clinton staffer’s family had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. That accusation, which was part of a paper that actually raised serious questions about State Department policy that deserved a discussion, was drowned in a backlash against Bachmann that was driven by the affection many in Washington have for Abedin, including prominent Republicans like Senator John McCain.

But while Abedin’s possible connections to extremists should have raised some eyebrows, it should also be conceded that talk about her as an Islamist Manchurian candidate seems far-fetched. Her marriage to a Jew and support for mainstream Democrats may make perfect sense to conspiracy theorists, but for the rest of us those things make it difficult to portray her as the thin edge of the wedge that would theoretically be seeking to impose sharia law on one of the most secular as well as Jewish cities in the world.

That said, if the press ever does tire of asking Weiner why he sent strangers pictures of his genitals or ferreting out the as-yet-unpublished photos that he has told us are still out there, somebody is bound to start asking him about his wife’s views about Israel, the Palestinians or the current Egyptian government. Whether that forces Abedin to come out of the closet as a Muslim Zionist in order to persuade more New Yorkers to trust Weiner again or merely gives her another opportunity to play a victim, as was the case with Bachmann’s accusations, its hard to see how that discussion helps Weiner or Clinton.

In the meantime, most members of the press continue to focus on Weiner’s gaffes (the picture of Pittsburgh instead of New York on his website that was eventually corrected) and the disgust he generates among many Democrats, rather than his preferred talking point about the middle class. The disgraced former congressman may still be the only candidate in the race who can even pretend to care about the outer boroughs of the city or how those who are neither part of the city’s elites nor the poor are being priced out of Gotham. Unfortunately for him, and the cause of helping the middle class, the hypocrisy of Weiner’s pretense is only accentuated by the attention given to his wife since it reminds voters that he is about as solidly planted among the Manhattan elites as any Park Avenue socialite.

But instead of obsessing about the slim chance that Weiner may become mayor, perhaps the only really interesting thing about his campaign is that it will give us a chance to learn more about the woman who might become the White House chief of staff in 2017. As such, let’s hope Weiner hangs around in the race and that his wife continues to emerge from the shadows long enough for us to get a better handle on her views, whatever they might be.

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Damaged Candidates Can’t Be Redeemed

Mark Sanford is the gift that keeps giving to Democrats. The latest revelations about his messy personal life has not only further encouraged those hoping the Dems could steal a seemingly safe Republican seat in South Carolina. They’ve caused the National Republican Campaign Committee to bail on the special election to choose a successor to Senator Tim Scott. The NRCC officially waved the white flag on the former governor’s effort to win back his old seat when it announced it would cease sending money to aid Sanford’s campaign.

The only way to interpret that decision is that the NRCC believes the news that Sanford is being taken to court by his ex-wife over an alleged trespassing incident is a crippling blow to his hopes of defeating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. If he is fated to lose a seat than any competent Republican should hold with ease, then they seem to be saying that he should do it on his own dime rather than with the funds they’ve raised from GOP donors.

This is good news for Democrats, but the lessons of the impending Sanford debacle should also make them think twice about the prospects that they’ll be stuck with Anthony Weiner, the other damaged ex-politician who is trying to wriggle his way back into office. Weiner, who appeared to be re-launching his career by submitting to an all-too-revealing personal profile that ran on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine this past week, got what some are seeing as encouraging news with the results of a new poll about the New York City mayoral race that showed him running second among Democrats.

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Mark Sanford is the gift that keeps giving to Democrats. The latest revelations about his messy personal life has not only further encouraged those hoping the Dems could steal a seemingly safe Republican seat in South Carolina. They’ve caused the National Republican Campaign Committee to bail on the special election to choose a successor to Senator Tim Scott. The NRCC officially waved the white flag on the former governor’s effort to win back his old seat when it announced it would cease sending money to aid Sanford’s campaign.

The only way to interpret that decision is that the NRCC believes the news that Sanford is being taken to court by his ex-wife over an alleged trespassing incident is a crippling blow to his hopes of defeating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. If he is fated to lose a seat than any competent Republican should hold with ease, then they seem to be saying that he should do it on his own dime rather than with the funds they’ve raised from GOP donors.

This is good news for Democrats, but the lessons of the impending Sanford debacle should also make them think twice about the prospects that they’ll be stuck with Anthony Weiner, the other damaged ex-politician who is trying to wriggle his way back into office. Weiner, who appeared to be re-launching his career by submitting to an all-too-revealing personal profile that ran on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine this past week, got what some are seeing as encouraging news with the results of a new poll about the New York City mayoral race that showed him running second among Democrats.

Sanford is hoping that this latest divorce fallout won’t hurt him once people find out the details. To be fair, if he is telling the truth about the incident it sounds as if what is happening is a case of his ex-wife using an innocent misunderstanding to take revenge on him. But even if that is the case, it’s an untimely reminder of his past bad behavior that is bound to influence wavering voters. He may have convinced a plurality of GOP primary voters in his old district that he should be forgiven, but the odds that a majority of general election voters will agree just got even smaller.

That’s a lesson that should inform Democrats as they contemplate the second coming of Anthony Weiner.

The fact that a new NBC/Marist poll showed Weiner getting 15 percent of the Democratic vote in a New York primary might lead some to conclude that the former congressman could do even better once he starts campaigning and spending the reported $4 million in contributions that have been sitting in his bank account since his 2011 meltdown after his sexting scandal and the lies that led to his resignation. Weiner’s entry into the race shakes things up since without him on the ballot, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn may win the nomination outright. With him, it looks as if she will be forced into a runoff.

But the sanguine interpretations of this poll should be placed in perspective. As Chuck Todd pointed out this morning on his MSNBC show “The Daily Rundown,” Weiner has 100 percent name recognition, something that can’t be said of his potential rivals this far away from a vote. They have room to grow, as they get better known. Weiner does not. If 15 percent is the best he could do now against them, the idea that he is some sort of potential juggernaut is probably a myth. As the New York Times’s Nate Silver also pointed out in his blog, Weiner’s negatives make him a long shot to win the nomination.

But what if Weiner’s financial advantage and the lack of another credible Democratic mayoral candidate from the outer boroughs—as opposed to the Manhattan-based Quinn—does enable him to come out of nowhere and win the nomination the way Sanford snagged the GOP nod for his congressional seat? Though there doesn’t appear to be a formidable Republican in sight to keep up the city’s streak of five straight cycles without electing a Democrat mayor, a backlash against Weiner could turn around the otherwise unpromising prospects of a contender like Joseph Lhota.

There are those that think New York is more sophisticated than South Carolina and that few there will hold Weiner’s bizarre behavior and lies against him. But cynical New Yorkers are also less likely to buy into a plea that Weiner has redeemed himself and should be forgiven the way many in the more religious south might be inclined to do.

As the Times profile showed, Weiner’s personal issues are far from resolved. The idea that the Democratic Party would gamble away their seemingly certain chance of winning back Gracie Mansion on the idea that Weiner deserves another chance would be a colossal mistake. Like the national Republican Party that is pulling the plug on Sanford, Democrats would be well advised to urge their members to pass on Weiner’s comeback.

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