Anthony’s Exposure: New York Has a Long Hard Weiner Problem

After a nationally watched campaign in upstate New York, Kathy Hochul made her New York City debut Monday morning at the

Staying or Going? Either way, Anthony Weiner isn't making it easy for New York. (photo credit: azi paybarah / observer)

After a nationally watched campaign in upstate New York, Kathy Hochul made her New York City debut Monday morning at the stately University Club on West 54th Street.Hundreds of guests attending the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Breakfast milled around a breakfast buffet of muffins and fruit salad, while their host, Nora Brenes, introduced Mrs. Hochul as the winner of a special election “that came about as a result of our male New York congress members who keep taking their shirts off,” according to one attendee.

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The crowd laughed, because an Anthony Weiner joke at a Democratic political function is one that needs no explanation. He is, much to the chagrin of his New York colleagues, everywhere: overshadowing their message, imperiling a safe congressional seat, and affecting their redistricting plans.

This won’t change anytime soon. Unlike Ms. Hochul’s predecessor Chris Lee, who quickly resigned after shirtless picture that he had posted on Craigslist surfaced in the media, Mr. Weiner has reacted to his unwanted exposure by digging in his heels. And even if he resigns — as many Democrats seem to expect he will — his colleagues are likely to be dealing with the after-effects until the next election.

Just before 9 a.m., Mrs. Hochul exited the University Club with one male aide, and headed north on 5th Avenue. When asked about Mr. Weiner, an aide said simply: “We’re running to another event.” Mrs. Hochul stared ahead, kept walking and never looked back.

“Her rock-star status may have been cut short, briefly, by this other item in the news,” Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo, a supporter of Mrs. Hochul, said dryly.

Ms. Hochul isn’t the only one feeling muzzled.

Hours after Mr. Weiner’s remarkable June 6 press conference, when he admitted sending lewd images of himself to “about” six women over the

last three years, Nancy Pelosi attended a Democratic Congressional

Campaign Committee fundraiser, hosted by wealthy gay and lesbian supporters on Crosby Street, in Soho. Although the House Minority Leader had already called for an ethics investigation into Mr. Weiner’s behavior, she made no reference to him in her remarks at the event, according to attendees. Outside, she waved to a well-wisher across the street, but ignored a reporter’s shouted question, before climbing into a large black SUV.

Two days later, Mr. Weiner was still consuming all the oxygen in New York.

“I know there must be somebody collapsed out in the hallway because the media have walked out on what I think is probably the most important issues of the day,” complained Queens Congressman Joe Crowley, after reporters bolted from a press conference inside Queens Borough Hall to ask one of the attendees, City Comptroller John Liu, about Mr. Weiner’s fate.

(Asked whether he had ever sent indecent messages, Mr. Liu said, “I think social media is like every other form of communication and elected officials should maximize communications with constituents and with the general public as much as possible,” before humorously jabbing his questioner.)

The press conference had gathered dozens of elected officials for the intended purpose of pushing for same-sex marriage.

“I’d like to focus back the attention, if we can on the issue at hand,” Mr. Crowley said.

He wasn’t exactly successful. At the end of the hour-long press conference, Mr. Crowley expressed his displeasure.

“To make a statement like we’re making today, and instead of talking about being able to further the rights of all New Yorkers, we’re talking about a colleague of ours,” Mr. Crowley said, was disappointing. Mr. Weiner, who supports the issue, was not invited.

Mr. Weiner’s implosion has put Mr. Crowley, the Queens county leader, in a particularly difficult position–both personally and politically. He and Mr. Weiner were elected in the same year, from neighboring districts, making for a closer relationship than Mr. Weiner enjoyed with almost anyone else in the delegation.

“This has been a distraction for all of us,” Mr. Crowley told reporters. “I had a conversation with Anthony, and he certainly was very disappointed in himself and I think he expressed it. And I think he’s a friend of mine, and I’m very friendly with Huma,” he said, referring to Mr. Weiner’s wife. “I wish the best for both of them.”

As the local county leader, Mr. Crowley also has to worry about the slew of potential successors should Mr. Weiner resign. Reporters were eager to know who might be in line for such a special election.

“May I answer that question?” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, whose district includes portions of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Crowley.

“The Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, has requested the Ethics Committee conduct an investigation. So, let’s allow for that process to move forward and see what it yields,” Ms. Velazquez said. “We don’t know if he broke the laws and the rules. Let’s wait and then, if anything, he will have to answer to the voters. This decision is between him and the voters.”

A few days later, a triumvirate of top Democratic leaders—including Ms. Pelosi—began  calling for his resignation, leaving in doubt whether Mr. Weiner could hang on to face the voters in 2012.

His resignation would trigger a special election in what is not entirely friendly territory for Democrats.

“If the stars were aligned a Republican could win the district,” said Democratic consultant and statistician, Jerry Skurnik. He called Mr. Weiner’s two-borough district “the most Republican district in the city,” outside of Staten Island, and said it could be appealing despite the threat of re-districting.

“If you have a chance to be elected to Congress, and you’re young, and ambitious, you might want to take it, even if there’s a possibility that the district will be wiped out,” Mr. Skurnik said.

Already Republican City Councilman Eric Ulrich is considering a run for the seat. The 27-year-old is, almost comically, similar to Mr. Weiner, in youthful zest and oratory skills.

Two Democrats whose names have been floated are Assemblyman Rory Lancman (who attended the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Breakfast that featured Mrs. Hochul), and City Councilman Mark Weprin, who maintains close ties to Mr. Crowley.

Mr. Lancman declined to speak about Mr. Weiner’s seat, and Mr. Weprin was decidedly deferential. “Anthony has been a great Congressman and if he and his wife want to, I think he will ride this out and go back to trying to be a great Congressman,” said Mr. Weprin.

With Democrats slated to lose one congressional seat, Mr. Weiner would seem to present them with an ideal opportunity to cut out an incumbent.

The Jewish and white ethnic neighborhoods that were so delicately slipped into his 9th Congressional District suddenly are likely to be absorbed by Mr. Weiner’s colleagues.

Independent redistricting advocates, like former Mayor Ed Koch, acknowledge that political factors — like Mr. Weiner’s toxicity — will play a role in how lines are redrawn.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said Mr. Koch, about Democrats carving up Mr. Weiner’s now vulnerable district. In an interview, he said, “If you have someone who is under attack for a host of reasons, similar to that of Weiner, and the Democratic Party believes it would lose that seat if Weiner ran, there’s nothing wrong with if they have to give up the seat, to say that’s the seat we will give up. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Dick Dadey, executive Citizens Union, a government watchdog group, agreed.

“Before this revelation, he was assured of having a safe seat,” said Mr. Dadey, in an interview. “He’s given them the opportunity to consider his seat now, given his actions.”

Decisions about redrawing legislative lines “are based more on merit but they’re not apolitical,” said Mr. Dadey. “You can never take the politics out of redistricting, whether it’s non-partisan or not.”

“There’s always going to be decisions made who to place up against each other,” said Mr. Dadey. “Those who are not on strong ground are more vulnerable, no matter who draws the line.”

Eliminating Mr. Weiner could allow Mr. Crowley to cut the Bronx portion of his own district, and Gary Ackerman, who mostly represents Long Island, could potentially shift westward into friendlier Queens territory.

But all of that is secondary to the overriding concern of Mr. Weiner.

“They just want him fucking gone,” said a delegation source.

But there’s also the chance that Mr. Weiner will simply not quit.

Despite his obvious short-comings, Mr. Weiner’s electability one year from now is hard to dismiss entirely.

“He’s unstoppable,” warned Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who has a complicated relationship with the Congressman.

Mr. Sheinkopf worked on Mayor Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign, which fed unflattering stories about Mr. Weiner to the media. The resulting coverage, and Mr. Bloomberg’s blank check, drove Mr. Weiner to drop out of the race in May.

But earlier this year, Mr. Sheinkopf leapt to the Congressman’s defense when he was attacked by a millionaire reformer unhappy with Mr. Weiner’s opposition to independent redistricting.

Now, Mr. Sheinkopf is cautiously observing the scene.

“Nobody wants a primary with Weiner, because Weiner is indefatigable,” said Mr. Sheinkopf. “He raises money. He works hard.”

“Not only can he come back, he can completely rehabilitate himself in about a year,” said one Democratic lawmaker. “He can’t be as funny, but can be self-deprecating…I can see it going away.”

Even his old adversary, Mr. Bloomberg, seemed to agree. Perhaps revealing more than he intended to in a conversation with gossip columnist Cindy Adams, the mayor said “the public quickly forgets. Half don’t even remember Monica Lewinsky. In Sao Paolo recently, they’d forgotten Goldman Sachs’ chairman Lloyd Blankfein”, who contributed to our financial crisis. [Update: An earlier version attributed a slightly longer quote to the mayor.]

“I think some of these people do things like that just because they’re bored,” Mr. Bloomberg was quoted saying.

Many, though, doubt Mr. Weiner has much left to hang onto, after the release of so many damaging pictures made him a national punchline.

Bob Shrum, a Democratic consultant, echoed the David Broder sentiment that “the worst thing that can happen in politics is if they laugh at you.”

“There is a very high quotient of him looking ridiculous.” Mr. Shrum said.

The congressman “lost his capacity to be a credible, persuasive public spokesman.”

And that, ultimately, may be the longest lasting scar from Mr. Weiner’s implosion.

Anthony’s Exposure: New York Has a Long Hard Weiner Problem