Weiner Confronts Disappointed Supporters in the Rockaways

Anthony Weiner in the Rockaways.

Anthony Weiner in the Rockaways.

Anthony Weiner returned to the Sandy-damaged Rockaways last night–in the heart of his old congressional district–to rally his former base as he tries to rescue his spiraling campaign in the wake of his latest sexting scandal.

But the event served as a bitter reminder to some of his staunchest supporters, who spoke with disappointment and anger that Mr. Weiner, they felt, had blown his chances at City Hall. With his self-destruction, they said, he had also destroyed any hope of electing a candidate who cared about the far-flung peninsula, where boarded-up houses still line the waterfront.

Charlie Ciliberti, 45, a community member for more than 20 years, was among those who chased Mr. Weiner out a side door after he spoke, hoping to confront his former representative in Washington.

“I wanted to tell him, ‘Man up! Just take it like a man. And that’s it. Get over this shit. Stop doing this shit and become our mayor.’ Because you know what? He would take care of this neighborhood,” said Mr. Ciliberti, who, like others, described feeling abandoned by the city after Sandy.

Mr. Ciliberti spoke passionately about Mr. Weiner’s record before his resignation. “He’s the only one that knows our town. He’s not going to forget about us like everybody else does,” he argued. “Every politician forgets about Rockaway … Bloomberg can care less about us … he did nothing for this neighborhood after the hurricane.”

Mr. Weiner, he felt, was on track to win the race before the latest revelations, but now seemed like a long-shot. “Everybody I know wanted to vote for him,” Mr. Ciliberti said.

For his part, Mr. Weiner asked the group to look beyond the scandal, and vowed to make rebuilding a priority in his administration. He made some of his first public appearances after he resigned helping with recovery efforts, and has long said that one of his biggest regrets in leaving Congress was being absent for the storm.

“I know I’m an imperfect messenger for a lot of these things. I know that there are things in my background that you now know about that are embarrassing,” he said, speaking in a windowless ballroom where he joked he’d spoken more than 1,000 times before. The neighborhood “might be this far away place to City Hall” now, he claimed, but it wouldn’t be in a Weiner administration.

Not everyone was interested in forgiveness. Philip McManus, a member of the group Friends of Rockaway Beach, confronted Mr. Weiner during the question-and-answer session. “I want to ask you a question about trust,” he said. “I would like to know how can I trust you with my family and my community when you can’t be trusted in your own family?”

The question drew an impassioned response from Mr. Weiner, who forcefully defended his candidacy.

“Look, you, sir, know some embarrassing things about me and my personal life,” he replied. “That’s part of the cost of being an elected official, I guess. People look into those things. I’m embarrassed by it. I’ve dishonored my wife. But sir, I didn’t do anything to you.”

Mr. McManus later told Politicker he was unimpressed with the response. “It was all fluff. Smoke and mirrors,” he said. “My question was about integrity and about trust … It’s not personal. When someone lies to someone, that should be a moral issue. It’s not just his wife he lied to. He lied to the people.”

“He’s a pig,” he forcefully added. “He betrayed us as a public when he did what he did.”

But others said they were sticking by Mr. Weiner’s side. Patrick Clark, a local artist, blamed the media for turning the campaign into a tabloid circus, and said he hoped Mr. Weiner would still win.

“I’ve been in Rockaway nearly 30 years, and you’ve been here for us from the beginning. You stood by us. You supported us in Congress. You never walked away from us. And I think during this campaign, we’re gonna see all the candidates out here. But once one of them is elected, I don’t think we’re gonna see ‘em out here at all unless it’s you,” said Mr. Clark, 58.

“I’d like to have a mayor with a controversy,” he reflected, “rather than having a mayor that we’re never going to see again.”

Here’s Mr. Weiner’s full response to Mr. McManus’s criticism: