In his first appearance alongside rivals vying for the Democratic mayoral nomination Tuesday, Anthony Weiner didn’t have to try to stand out in the field.
The only one of five candidates to appear on the dais without a jacket, Weiner, in a blue shirt and orange tie, also garnered the most attention from the media even before he fielded questions from New Yorkers for Great Public Schools.
When he rose for his first chance at the microphone, he quickly noted that it was his “first time seeing live fire in the context of this campaign.”
And the awkwardness he seemed to face amid his re-entry into the political arena in a haze of tawdry tabloid headlines, jabs from rivals, and a smackdown from Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemed to fade as he slipped into the scrappy campaign posture he has shown in prior races.
“If I wind up being mayor I might have to fight with Gov. Cuomo,” Weiner told a packed room at New York University’s student center when asked if he would try to wrest more school aid from Albany. “But, honestly, he started it.”
Weiner, whose quip was greeted with laughter, was referring to Cuomo’s headline-making “shame on us” remark last week when asked what would happen if Weiner were elected mayor two years after being forced out of office by a scandal.
The veteran Democratic lawmaker, 48, resigned from Congress in June 2011 after mistakenly sending an explicit photo of himself to all his Twitter followers, rather than to the 21-year-old college student it was intended for.
He initially lied to the press by saying his Twitter account had been hacked, while refusing to deny that he had taken the photo of himself. He ultimately confessed and resigned under pressure from fellow Democrats, including President Barack Obama.
Last week he announced his entry into the Democratic primary in a YouTube video.
“Look, I’ve made some big mistakes, and I know I’ve let a lot of people down,” he said in the video. “But I’ve also learned some tough lessons.”
Releasing his statement by video allowed Weiner to avoid scenes like that of his resignation press conference at a Brooklyn senior center, at which hecklers called him a “pervert” and shouted lewd questions.
Tuesday’s debate was a chance to shift the conversation about his candidacy from the scandal to some of the 62 ideas in a “keys to the city” platform he’s developed.
“[Video] protects him from personal contact and awkward demonstrations, signs and street theater,” Baruch College political science professor Douglas Muzzio said. “But you’ve got to eventually campaign on the street.”
Muzzio said that just by virtue of entering the race Weiner has gained politically. And regardless of the outcome of the primary, the campaign is a victory for the humiliated pol, especially if there is a runoff and he is one of the last two standing, as was the case in 2005.
“In one sense he’s won already, by thrusting himself into the middle of a campaign, and whatever ego needs he has are being fulfilled,” Muzzio said. “There may be another race down the road, and this is part of his redemption tour.”
The public schools debate was particularly useful for Weiner since the frontrunner, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, didn’t show up as scheduled, ostensibly because the sponsoring group is harshly critical of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education policies, and Quinn hopes to win Bloomberg’s endorsement.
When asked a question that was meant for Quinn, Weiner said “It’s only my first day on the campaign trail and already I’m being sucked into some kind of vortex.”
The latest Marist Poll, taken after Weiner’s announcement showed the nature of that vortex, with Weiner landing in second place with 19 percent, behind Quinn’s 24 percent among registered Democrats. She is more or less tied with the undecided vote, at 23 percent, and would have to win over nearly all of them to reach the 40 percent mark to win the primary without a runoff.
Weiner's presence is expected to be most harmful to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is at 12 percent and is the only current candidate without a minority or gender base, relying instead on appeal to outer borough voters. De Blasio represented part of Brooklyn in the City Council for two terms and still lives there. Weiner served parts of Brooklyn and Queens in the House.
“It really cuts into Bill’s geographic, outer borough base, even though Anthony Weiner is now a member of the Manhattan upper class,” said Muzzio. “He gave up his Brooklyn roots, even though he shot the video in Brooklyn.”
Former comptroller William Thompson, the 2009 Democrat nominee, was favored by 11 percent of Democrats surveyed by Marist, while his successor as comptroller, John Liu, who would be the city’s first Asian American mayor, polled at 8 percent.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, former Councilman Sal Albanese, who was at just 1 percent in the poll, was the only one to take a shot at Weiner, saying he was late to the game fighting for education reform.
The video shows Weiner outside his childhood home in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He later lived in Forest Hills, Queens, before moving to Gramercy Park with his wife after leaving Congress. He has been working as a consultant for major corporations.
Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, appears in the video, as does their young son, Jordan, who was born several months after the scandal broke.
Weiner has millions in his political war chest from before his resignation, when he was considered a frontrunner to replace Bloomberg, who has exhausted his allowed three terms. With nearly $5 million hand, he is second only to Quinn's $7 million, as of the last filing, though none of Weiner's money was raised for the current campaign.
He has reportedly had difficulty putting a campaign team together, but has hired Barbara Morgan, a former spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Education, to handle his press and Lisa Hernandez Gioia as his finance director. His campaign manager is Danny Kedem, who has worked on some local political races and was a field manager for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
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