When campaigns schedule voter meet-and-greets outside of subway stops, they typically entail candidates standing on sidewalks with handfuls of flyers, trying desperately to shake hands with frenzied commuters–often uninterested in being pestered on their way to or from work. But this wasn’t the usual candidate.
This was former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who held court this evening on the Upper West Side. For well over an hour, Mr. Weiner stood surrounded by a crowd of attentive voters, spectators and reporters, fielding one question after the next after the next.
“If I had a soap box I’d climb up on it,” mused Mr. Weiner early on in the conversation, which was reminiscent of the atmosphere at the famed Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park.
Aside from an early heckler, the reception was overwhelmingly positive, with various locals stopping to pose for photos, listen in and wish Mr. Weiner well. Others peppered him with questions on a host of topics, including education, bike lanes, the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactic, affordable housing and hospital closings.
Among the most interesting came near the end, when Mr. Weiner was asked to name one former mayor and one national political figure he most aspired to be like.
On the city side, he cited Ed Koch. “I liked the first two terms of Koch. This idea of doing this,” he said, gesturing to the group. “Like, he seemed to take joy–the same way I do–in meeting people and talking to them. There wasn’t this sense of condescension with Koch. And then third terms … you hear what I’m saying, get tough.”
On the national level he pointed to Bill Clinton–another Democrat who faced a sex scandal–and with whom he has a close personal connection, as his wife, Huma Abedin, is a close aide of the former president’s wife. (Hillary Clinton is also the leading contender for the White House in 2016.)
“Bill Clinton redefined our party as the idea party,” he said of the former president, while also acknowledging several “mistakes” including the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court last week. “But he made us the law enforcement party. He said, ‘I will not cede that to Republicans. We’re tough on crime too.'”
He also hit New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, a potential presidential candidate, for his “sin” of pulling funding from a project that would have vastly expanded rail capacity between New York and New Jersey in 2010.
“We can’t do it if we have short-term Republican, Iowa politics coming into play,” said Mr. Weiner, perhaps hinting at attacks he’ll face down the road. “I think even the most steadfast Republican commuter would say, ‘I wish that Governor Christie said yes to that money coming into expand it.'”
And as the campaign shifts to a more negative phase, Mr. Weiner, now a front-runner in the polls, was also asked whether he could be counted on to tough it out through Election Day.
“Before you go, can you assure us that you’re gonna to stay in the race, even if the going gets really, really tough, which it will be?” asked one woman, expressing concern about supporting a candidate who might drop out, presumably in the face of more lewd images or revelations of exchanges with additional women.
But Mr. Weiner assured her that she had nothing to worry about. “First of all, it’s 70 days until the primary,” he said, arguing that ramped-up attacks are just a sign that he’s on the right track.
“People hitting me is a proof point that they don’t know what to do, that I’m running a campaign in a different way. I’m not worshiping at the altar of every interest group. I’m putting out ideas, I’m talking to people, and it makes them nuts. You know, someone once yelled out to Harry Truman at a campaign stop, he yelled out, ‘Give ‘em hell, Harry.’ And you now what he said? He said, ‘I’m just telling them the truth and it sounds like hell to them.'”
“The very evidence that I’m doing it right is how crazy I’m making them,” he added, “and I’m not gonna stop doing it.”
That was good news several in the crowd, who had complained earlier about City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
“You gotta beat her, please beat her,” they pleaded as he left.