The Unknowable Anthony: Even In The Spotlight, Weiner Went It Alone

aw e1308145855964 The Unknowable Anthony: Even In The Spotlight, Weiner Went It AloneIn 2004, ANTHONY Weiner sidled up to George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant, on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Boston and suggested the two of them head over to Fenway Park. The D.N.C. had arranged for delegates to run around the legendary baseball stadium, and Mr. Weiner wanted to take full advantage. Mr. Arzt remembers him fielding grounders at shortstop for hours on end, dismissing Mr. Arzt’s entreaties to head back to the convention.

“I could imagine staying out there for an hour or so, but he wouldn’t leave. It was like he was imagining being on the Yankees or something,” Arzt recalled. “It was like being with a little kid out there.”

Long before his naked body was thrust across our computer screens, everyone in New York seemed to know Mr. Weiner. First, he was the precocious city councilman, dubbed “The Future President” in Cosmopolitan’s Most Eligible Bachelors issue. Then, as a mayoral candidate in 2005, New York was introduced to the wisecracking kid from Brooklyn, knocking a spaldeen down the street with a stickball bat. Later, he became a hero to the Daily Kos crowd for his mocking takedowns of Republicans.

But he remained a virtual unknown to many who came in contact with him. Fellow lawmakers and former staffers say they can’t recall his ever talking about his personal life. Even in casual conversation he still seemed to be putting on the act of the wise-cracking quipster ubiquitous on MSNBC. But conversations with colleagues, political activists in Queens and old girlfriends reveal a much different Mr. Weiner. Those who have known him for years described someone riddled with self-doubt, even as he was singularly focused on political advancement—someone who strove to be taken seriously, but struggled to control his own impulses.

In 2008, Mr. Weiner was positioning himself to run again for New York City mayor. He had been making a string of policy pronouncements designed to prove that he had the intellectual chops for the job. There had been a number of drownings up and down the East Coast, including seven in one weekend at city beaches. In response, Mr. Weiner called a press conference to announce that he had secured federal money to hire extra lifeguards. Dozens of TV cameras and print reporters showed up. When it was over, Mr. Weiner rolled up his pants and shirt and went frolicking along the beach, alongside some scantily-clad female lifeguards. The papers reported on the press conference the next day, but readers may have missed it alongside the photo of the smiling congressman next to a pair of bikini bottoms.

The moment was vintage Weiner. Despite manaical efforts to control how he was portrayed, he seemed unable to keep his wilder instincts from emerging.

In 2005, a New York Sun reporter was invited to tag along as Mr. Weiner’s aides picked him up from the airport and witnessed the congressman browbeating his young charges for ordering him the wrong hamburger at McDonald’s. In a 2009 profile in New York, Mr. Weiner told the reporter his nickname was “Anthony Not to Be Fucked With Weiner.”

Such slip-ups are unimagineable from Senator Charles Schumer, whom Mr. Weiner once worked for and with whom he has often tried to align himself, suffering by comparison in the process.

The senator went to Harvard, and then Harvard Law, and has always been easy with the Wall Street types who fill his campaign coffers. Mr. Weiner, who lost a student government race at SUNY-Plattsburg, loathes dialing for dollars. At events, Mr. Schumer is known to ask acquaintances about their families or careers; Mr. Weiner talks about the Mets.

Mr. Weiner’s brashness, those who know him say, underlies someone with deep insecurities, who was only confident in his political abilities, who always feared he was dating outside of his league, and who needs the adoration of fans, and especially female fans, for validation.

“He is the kind of guy who is so unlikeable, who had absolutely no rap with girls whatsoever,” said one political operative who has known Mr. Weiner since before he was in the Council. “Who wrapped himself up in public office because he thought no one would like him otherwise.”

A former girlfriend said that the entire time they dated, they only went out to dinner or to political events, and never once to a movie, or concert, or any event that revealed an interest outside of politics. Mr. Weiner would go to a dozen political events in a night, browbeating the organizers to let him speak first so that he could leave early and head to the next stop.

Despite the immense pressure being brought to bear by those in his own party, friends and associates say they can’t imagine his resigning from office, and abandoning the only interest he has in the world, the only thing he believes will make him matter to people.

“He made clear [when he sent the salacious texts] that he was doing this as a congressman,” said one longtime friend. “I think there is an emptiness about him and being in office is the only way to fill it.”

dfreedlander@observer.com