The Weiner Factor

Anthony Weiner is signaling that his exile is over, his penance performed. He seems on the verge of entering the Democratic Party’s crowded field of mayoral candidates, a development that would shake up an already unsettled race. If he does, he will bring with him not only the memories of his famous humiliation, but a campaign treasury of more than $4 million. That would make him well-endowed, indeed, but we already knew that.

The sputtering sound you’ve been hearing has been Speaker Christine Quinn’s spit takes. For she, more than any other candidate for the Democratic nomination, has the most to lose with Mr. Weiner in the race.

The Speaker’s primary campaign has been designed with one goal in mind: Win 40 percent of the primary vote and avoid a runoff with the second-place finisher. Ms. Quinn has held her own against a multi-candidate field. But in a one-on-one runoff against a presumably formidable foe, she won’t be able to rely on personal narrative and old-fashioned retail politics. She’ll have hard questions to answer about her years on the Council, and that could get complicated.

The chatter about Mr. Weiner’s possible candidacy speaks to his party’s anxiety about its available choices. Nobody, including the front-runner, Speaker Quinn, has captured the party’s imagination. Democrats haven’t won a mayoral race since 1989 – some may well be wondering if the party has forgotten what it takes to run City Hall.

Anthony Weiner is not going to be the next Mayor of New York. But he may have a large say in determining who that will be. Anthony Weiner’s possible entrance complicates all candidate paths, but as the second white Manhattanite to join the field, he hurts Ms. Quinn the most. And he doesn’t need a lot of support to create chaos in the Democratic Party. All he needs is a few percentage points here and there.

Let’s say, for example, that without Mr. Weiner in the race, Ms. Quinn is hovering around the magic threshold of 40 percent, while her top rival – at the moment, probably Public Advocate Bill De Blasio – has a little more than 30 percent, with others – former Comptroller William Thompson, current Comptroller John Liu, and former Councilmember Sal Albanese splitting the rest.

In that scenario, Ms. Quinn emerges with the nomination outright. But if Mr. Weiner enters and peels off just a few votes from Ms. Quinn – even if he finishes dead last – the campaign’s dynamics change dramatically. It sets up the potential for a Quinn-De Blasio or Quinn-Thompson runoff (the two most-likely scenarios). And that will allow the second-place finisher to mount a stop-Quinn campaign among Democrats who already have demonstrated their uneasiness with her – an uneasiness that will surely harden as her foes pile on for her perceived deviations from party orthodoxy on matters like development and minimum wage laws.

With Mr. Weiner in the race, Ms. Quinn would have to run a defensive campaign designed to offend as few voters as possible – if she goes on the attack against second-tier candidates, their supporters could deliver payback in a runoff.

Right now, it would seem, Anthony Weiner is one of the most-powerful people in New York politics.

And you can be sure he knows that.