UPDATE: Congressman's ouster could put 9th CD on chopping block, potentially weakening clout of Jewish communities.
Saying revelations of his online relationships with women involving lewd pictures had made it impossible to do his job, embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner gave in to pressure from Democratic Party leaders — including President Barack Obama — to leave Congress on Thursday.
The resignation, following three weeks of coverage of his online escapades and a failed cover-up attempt, is a stunning fall from grace for a polished politician who carefully cultivated his political ties to the Jewish community.
While he had hoped to continue fighting for the people who elected him, "Unfortunately the distraction I have created made that impossible," said the seven-term incumbent, 46, at the Council Center for Senior Citizens in Midwood, Brooklyn, where he announced his first campaign for City Council 20 years ago, and his successful bid for Congress seven years later.
"Today I am announcing my resignation from Congress so my colleagues can get back to work, my neighbors can choose a new representative and most importantly that my wife and I can continue to heal from the damage I have caused."
Some speculate that with Albany required to eliminate two congressional districts because of a declining state population, the departure may make Weiner’s 9th an easy target.
"It makes it easier if there is no incumbent," said Democrat political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
Weiner's resignation would set the stage for a special election between candidates designated by the Democrat and Republican parties in Brooklyn and Queens to continue the term through next year.
Sheinkopf said the Democrats' selection of a candidate may send a signal about the district's future. "You'll know by the person who runs," said the consultant. "If it's a caretaker, or someone prepared to raise money and possibly run in another district."
Among those Democrats mentioned as candidates to succeed Weiner in a special election are former Queens Assembly member and City Council member Melinda Katz, a candidate in the1998 House primary won by Weiner and now a lawyer in private practice; Queens Assemblyman Rory Lancman; Queens Councilman Eric Gioia and brothers David and Mark Weprin, who have each served in the Assembly and City Council. A possible Brooklyn candidate is David Yassky, a former Councilman now commissioner of New York's Taxi and Limousine Commisssion, who ran in a 2006 primary for the Brooklyn seat vacated by Major Owens and won by Clarke. Republican Bob Turner, who won 40 percent of the vote in last year’s race against Weiner, is also likely to run again.
The new district lines must be decided by a bipartisan commission that has not yet been formed. It must be in place by this time next year, when candidates for Congress begin gathering petitions for the ballot.
The 9th, perhaps the most concentrated Jewish district in the country, includes Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills and the Rockaways in Queens, and areas of Flatbush, Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn.
“It would be extremely outrageous to try to eliminate the district,” said Kalman Yeger, a political consultant in the Flatbush portion of the district. “People would be screaming bloody murder and calling their Albany representatives to make sure we have a unified voice in Washington.”
Yeger, a former aide to Fernando Ferrer when he was Bronx borough president, noted that the district was expanded in the early ‘90s, when now-Sen. Chuck Schumer was the representative, to include central Queens because the people in both areas, including the large Orthodox communities, had similar interests.
The sprawling area of greater Flatbush, which contains smaller communities like Midwood, East Flatbush and Kings Highway, is already divided into districts, represented by Weiner, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Ed Towns and Rep. Jerry Nadler, all Democrats.
“If the communities are chopped up [further], we will have no voice in Washington,” Yeger said. “It will be like we don’t exist.”
But Forest Hills resident Manny Behar, a former director of the Queens Jewish Community Council who has worked at City Hall and Queens Borough Hall, said it was too soon to make dire predictions.
“A lot would depend on how the redistricting is done,” said Behar. “Right now the district is mainly in Queens and has a part of Brooklyn. If it was divvied up where Central Queens was divided into several neighborhoods, the neighborhoods would not have any influence in any of them, and that becomes a real problem.
“But if Central Queens is put into one district we would be significant in that district and it could be less of a problem.”
The federal Voting Rights Act protects districts that are heavily black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American but not those with predominant religious groups. Since Weiner’s district is surrounded by areas that are protected, with any changes subject to approval by the Justice Department, it could stand out as attractive for elimination.
Although the redistricting committee, appointed by the minority and majority of both state houses, will make recommendations, the final decision will be left to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — both Democrats — and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican. Since control of the Legislature is split there will have to be compromises between the leaders, such as losing one likely Democrat seat and one likely Republican seat or setting up even matches between incumbents in merged districts.
A Jewish political insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationships in Albany, said Silver is known to be protective of members of Congress who formerly served in his caucus, which includes a large portion of the downstate delegation. Representatives Nadler and Towns, Greg Meeks and Joseph Crowley are all former Assembly members. Weiner served in the City Council.
“Eventually, Dean and Shelly will have to come to a deal and if past deals are any indication, they will do one upstate and one downstate,” said the insider.
A spokesman for Silver, Michael Whyland, said on Tuesday that the Weiner controversy would have no bearing on redistricting.
“The speaker has indicated that the process is ongoing and still eight months to a year away,” said Whyland. “Whatever is going on is really not a factor in anything right now.”
While heavily Democratic, the 9th CD has grown increasingly conservative, supporting the Republican candidate in larger numbers in each of the past three presidential elections, a factor that may be tied to residents’ worldview following 9/11.
As calls for Weiner’s resignation increased, the Jewish communities of the district have not openly spoken out on behalf of the staunch Israel supporter, who has also helped Jewish organizations apply for Homeland Security funds to protect institutions.
But in interviews, leaders said they are pained by the spectacle of a man widely viewed as a rising star and mayoral material three weeks ago reduced to a national punch line with a career in flames.
“As far as I am concerned, his major advantage is that unlike other politicians he is accessible,” said Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, who recently retired as rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. “His office is always ready to help. It’s very unfortunate and tragic.”
The rabbi declined to say whether he felt Weiner should resign as continued details and images of his secret life of social media connections before and after his marriage emerge. “We’ll have to see how this plays out. But [Manhattan Rep.] Charles Rangel didn’t resign. [Bill] Clinton, the president of the United States was impeached and didn’t resign. The question is, will his resignation help heal the situation or not? The way I see it right now he is compelled by circumstances to resign, which would make me very unhappy.”
A Marist poll last week found that 56 percent of district residents want Weiner to stay in office, as compared to 60 percent of Americans who want him to step down in a survey taken by Public Policy Polling. Fifty-five percent of women in the latter poll said Weiner should step down while more men, 66 percent, want him out.
“I don’t think the district should be eliminated based on personalities,” said David Weprin, an Assemblyman who won the seat last year previously held by his brother and father. “I would not want to see a seat lost in Queens, especially since our population has not gone down while upstate it has since the last update.” The law requires that all districts have equal populations — 719,298 each this time.
On the matter of Weiner’s future, Weprin said, “I personally resent national Democrats dictating whether the congressman should resign or not. The process should play out through the ethics investigation to determine if there were violations that warrant resignation. I don’t think the media, national Democrats or the Republicans should be deciding the direction this is going.”
Weprin said he had made no decision about whether to run except that he would not compete in a primary campaign against his brother.
David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council said that his organization would lobby to ensure that no Jewish neighborhood is left politically isolated by reapportionment.
“Our concern has traditionally been that Jewish communities aren’t fragmented so that those Jewish communities cannot get an elected official’s attention,” said Pollock, who noted the success of voting blocs in neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Williamsburg.
“There is no magical number” of effective voting, Pollock said, “but clearly the Williamsburg community can get Congressman Towns’ attention and Yvette Clarke has been responsive to Crown Heights and Flatbush.”
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