During the first debate of Anthony Weiner’s once-improbable mayoral campaign, the former congressman openly wondered whether he had been sucked “into some kind of vortex” as he was asked to pelt questions against the absent front-runner candidate, Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
“So this is a question to Chris Quinn that I got the first shot at answering?” Mr. Weiner said to the moderator at an education debate this afternoon. “I feel like on the first day of the campaign, I’ve been sucked into some kind of vortex.”
Mr. Weiner seemed aware that every time he spoke and presented one of his relatively snarky answers, a horde of cameramen on the 10th floor of NYU’s Kimmel Center would be snapping away, documenting every movement he made. Mr. Weiner, whose political career collapsed after a Twitter scandal two years ago, seemed to both revel and chafe in this role, standing to answer questions while his Democratic rivals sat and wise-cracking with the moderator as the crowd giggled along. (When questions didn’t seem to suit him, he would rest a hand on his cheek or toy with a pen in front of him.)
At one moment in the debate, he openly resented a time limit that had kept him from bellowing out a three-point educational policy platform–reluctantly sitting down only after the moderator insisted he was out of time. Later in the debate, he ensured, after the bell had rung, that his other two points were heard.
“I said the three things you want to do in an open school … There should be gifted and talented programs where they have space,” he explained, speaking rapidly. “The second thing is they should have resources that most schools don’t really have … The third thing, we should let the charters come in and compete with the two others ideas, but I want them to compete on level footing.”
Tacking to the right of his rivals, Mr. Weiner focused on his own centrist education policy that included merit pay for teachers and a sarcastic refusal to skewer charter school advocate Eva Moskowitz, once a member of the City Council and now a teachers union nemesis, in front of the anti-Bloomberg New Yorkers for Great Public Schools audience.
“I have no bloody idea,” he answered a question about whether Ms. Moskowitz received “unfair special treatment” from the Bloomberg administration. “Sure, yes seems to be the answer of the day.”
Mr. Weiner, not quite as fiery as he was in his congressional days, refused to criticize his opponents. However, he attacked Albany for how it chooses to fund city public schools. Staying in character, he even seemed to refer to an alleged joke Gov. Andrew Cuomo made about his candidacy while doing so.
“I may have to fight with Governor Cuomo on some things–honestly, he started it,” Mr. Weiner said, again drawing laughter from the crowd. “My view is that every single day we should be chafing at the yoke of Albany control on everything. We’re going to have a conversation here on charters–Albany is in charge. We have a conversation for the formula of how we’re going to change the way school teachers are fired or laid off in times of crisis–Albany is in charge … Every July 4th, we should have a declaration of independence from Albany.”
There was little jousting among the five Democrats, which did not include Ms. Quinn because she skipped the debate, though long-shot Democrat Sal Albanese jabbed the hardest at “Tony Weiner” after he denounced Albany.
“First of all, it’s great to see my old colleague Tony Weiner back in action and I notice his aggressive posturing, he’s been in office forever but now he’s taking on Albany which is great. Welcome to the fight,” Mr. Albanese said sarcastically.
“Thank you?” Mr. Weiner retorted mockingly, drawing further laughs from the crowd.
But not everyone in the audience, many of them educators, were enthralled or amused by Mr. Weiner. The response seemed more hostile than Mr. Weiner has experienced so far during his short time on the campaign trail
“He did not take this seriously,” Linda Patterson, a retired principal, said after the debate. “I did not want to hear his jokes … I want a straight response, an adult response. I didn’t appreciate his adolescent demeanor.”
Additional reporting by Jill Colvin