Weiner Draws Cheers From Forum Following Confessional Press Conference

Anthony Weiner at this evening's candidate forum.

Anthony Weiner at this evening’s candidates’ forum.

Scandal, shmandal.

Less than an hour after a hastily-convened press conference where he admitted to engaging in lewd online conversations with a young woman long after his resignation, former Congressman Anthony Weiner appeared back in top form, drawing loud applause at a mayoral forum dedicated to HIV and AIDS issues at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis center.

In a buoyant mood, acting as though nothing had changed, Mr. Weiner even thanked the media for not leaving after his high-profile event.

“I want to thank–all kidding aside–all the members of the media who hung around to see this debate go on,” Mr. Weiner said at the beginning of the forum. “My colleagues and I have a lot of ideas. One of the things we need to do is realize that the issues we talk about here about today may not affect billions of people but they affect millions of people.”

Still, Mr. Weiner began his opening remarks with a nod to the day’s revelations.

“Look, I admit it, there are a lot of people who probably listen to me and say, you know what, you’re not a very good messenger … because you made some mistakes,” he said. “And that’s right. I don’t dispute it. But what I can say is even if you wouldn’t think for a second to vote for me. I think I want you to listen to the ideas that I have, how willing I am to fight for them and please give me a chance.”

And, throughout the lengthy forum, the focus did remain largely fixed on the topic at hand–besides the opening remarks made by former City Councilman Sal Albanese.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve had this distraction, the latest psycho-drama with Weiner,” Mr. Albanese said. (Before the forum began, Mr. Albanese’s name tag was next to Mr. Weiner’s, but he ended up sitting at the opposite end of the row of candidates for undetermined reasons.)

Seemingly unfazed by this potshot and the dramatic media circus that preceded the forum, Mr. Weiner, however, didn’t deviate from his message. The ex-congressman repeatedly touted his history of standing up for LGBT rights, eliciting uproarious applause from the crowd.

“When I ran in 2005, when there was a little upstart with the local parade on Staten Island, a gay pride parade on Staten Island, where people said, ‘Wait a minute, there are no queers on Staten Island.’ I was out there marching with them,” Mr. Weiner triumphantly remarked, drawing applause yet again.

His fellow candidates also seemed to take frustrated note of Mr. Weiner’s reception. At one point, perhaps in a bid to channel some of his energy, two other candidates–first Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion Jr., and then long-shot comedian candidate Randy Credico–emulated Mr. Weiner’s signature debate move, standing up when it was their turn to speak.

Mr. Credico also tried to one-up Mr. Weiner, making the case that the disgraced former congressman’s actions amounted to little more than chump change next to his own years of cocaine use and other tribulations. “His scandals are nothing!” he quipped.

Later, in his closing remarks, Mr. Weiner thanked Mr. Credico for the comic relief.

“After the day I had today,” he said, “it was nice to laugh.”

But many members of the audience were by no means dissuaded from supporting Mr. Weiner, despite the latest revelations. In fact, some said they thought his performance at the forum was further proof that private lives need not intersect with political ones.

Juanita Chestnut, 54, said she worried that focusing on Mr. Weiner’s sexual transgressions would preclude people from viewing him as a strong candidate for public office. “I don’t think we should hold that above his head because if we keep holding things–other bad things that people done–we might lose out on the good things they can offer us in our city,” she said.

Ms. Chestnut said she felt that female voters in particular should forgive him.

“I know women are going to act differently, but they have to put that aside,” Ms. Chestnut stated. “Because those are old pictures, those are old people. You know, all those things in the past. He’s working on the future and he wants to fight for us.”

Ronald Raye, 43, another forum attendee, pointed to Mr. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, who stood by her husband’s side during the tumultuous aftermath of his scandal and at the press conference. If she could forgive him, Mr. Raye argued, voters should, too.

“He might be a good father, he might be good to her, but he has a personal problem with his–you know–his issue. And I know people who are married and love their mate, but still don’t know how to stay with one person,” he explained. “That’s a personal issue, it’s too personal–in my opinion–to even be paired with anything that has to do with politics. For me, it’s two separate entities.”

Former Comptroller Bill Thompson, one of the last candidates to weigh in on the revelations, did not agree. “I think the comments that I heard today were deeply disturbing,” Mr. Thompson told a throng of reporters after the forum. “And I think at this point, he is–I think Anthony needs to think of this city and the people in the city first, not himself.”