06.10.11

Will Weiner's Mentor Abandon Him?

Democratic powerhouse Sen. Chuck Schumer helped pave Anthony Weiner’s path to power. Lloyd Grove reports on why he’s standing silent as his protégé’s career goes up in flames. PLUS, the politicians who successfully weathered sex scandals.

Anthony Weiner’s former boss and longtime mentor, Sen. Chuck Schumer, is perhaps the only New York politician who could persuade the embattled congressman to resign.

But even as House and Senate Democrats from around the country are lining up to call for Weiner’s head in the wake of revelations that he’s been promiscuously lying about his rampant sexting, the seven-term congressman is clinging to his seat in New York’s 9th congressional district and Schumer has shown no inclination to give his protégé the push.

“The feeling seems to be that the only way Weiner will resign is Schumer telling him to leave,” says a well-connected New York Democratic political consultant, who asked for anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation. “That’s the only circumstance people can imagine because their relationship is so close—and it will only happen if Weiner’s mentor abandons him.”

The consultant noted that even though the notoriously arrogant Weiner is widely disliked among members of the New York delegation, they are keeping their powder dry. Only one of them, Brooklyn Rep. Edolphus Towns—who suffered his own ordeal in the scandal machine in 1992 with his 408 overdrawn checks on the House bank—actually issued a statement of support on Tuesday, bizarrely praising Weiner’s “honesty and integrity.”

The 60-year-old Schumer, to whom the 46-year-old Weiner lied about trolling for women on the web when the scandal broke in late May, initially offered his ex-aide public support and pointedly didn’t demand Weiner’s resignation on Monday after conservative Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart published damning new photographs and messages that forced the married congressman to admit wrongdoing at a humiliating press conference.

“Chuck is not that forgiving a guy,” says longtime New York political consultant Norman Adler. “I wonder if he’s even speaking to Anthony right now.”

“By fully explaining himself, apologizing to all he hurt and taking full responsibility for his wrongful actions, Anthony did the right thing,” Schumer said in a statement after watching Weiner’s self-immolation on national television. “He remains a talented and committed public servant, and I pray he and his family can get through these difficult times.”

And even though Weiner didn’t come clean to his former boss until 10 minutes before facing the ravenous New York press corps, Schumer publicly concurred with the congressman’s position that it “should be up to his constituents to decide” if he remains in office.

As the scandal dragged on this week, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, furious at Weiner for threatening the Democrats’ chances to retake the House in 2012, was apparently orchestrating a coordinated effort to drive him from office. But Schumer and his staff have studiously avoided further comment. His aides won’t even say if the two have spoken since Monday afternoon.

“Chuck is not that forgiving a guy,” says longtime New York political consultant Norman Adler, who has known both men well over the last quarter century. “I wonder if he’s even speaking to Anthony right now. But I strongly suspect that nobody can save Anthony Weiner, including Chuck Schumer, whether or not Chuck puts his arm around Anthony’s shoulder and says to him, ‘It’s time.’ Even then, I doubt if Anthony would listen—his level of arrogance is so imposing.”

Weiner was a skinny kid, a 20-year-old senior at the State University of New York, when young congressman Schumer gave him an internship in his Capitol Hill office. Spotting a budding political talent, Schumer ended up hiring the smart, aggressive Weiner as a Washington aide and then his district director, and later boosted Weiner’s rise to the New York City Council and ultimately Congress in 1998, when Schumer risked his House seat (the one Weiner now holds) to beat incumbent Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato.

“Chuck has been his rabbi and confessor, and Anthony has invoked Chuck’s name at every stage in his progress through politics,” Adler says. “I remember when he was working in Chuck’s office way back in the 1980s, and I thought Chuck found a kinsman—somebody that reminded Chuck of himself as a young man.”

As time went on, of course, Weiner revealed himself to be a completely different political animal. While both shared a love for being the center of attention, Schumer worked hard behind the scenes to help his colleagues with their problems and master the intricacies of policy—in other words, to be liked and respected. Today Schumer is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s trusted hand-picked deputy, and strongly positioned to take Reid’s place should he ever retire.

Weiner, by contrast, focused his talents on being a public advocate for liberal causes, finding ways to insert himself into controversies in order to grab credit and bask in the spotlight. Before he married top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin last year in a wedding ceremony officiated by former president Bill Clinton, he’d also developed a reputation as a playboy who was often seen in the company of glamorous young women. Few if anyone suspected he also had a narcissistic compulsion to send photos of his genitals to female recipients on the Internet.

“I don’t think he’s going to resign,” Adler maintains, noting that Weiner is doubtless taking comfort not only in the sparse statements of support he is receiving (including on Thursday from Barbara Walters), but also in this week’s Marist poll suggesting that 56 percent of Weiner’s constituents want him to stay put. Adler says he doesn’t even think the congressman is terribly apprehensive about being hounded by the Capitol press when Congress returns to session next week. He is also facing a House Ethics Committee investigation requested by Pelosi. “People are talking about him,” Adler says, “and at some level he’s a guy who’s addicted to publicity. He reminds me of the head of the American Tobacco Co. whose motto was, ‘Irritate them, irritate them.’ If you talked to lobbyists and other people who have worked with him over the years, they have the same impression of Anthony. It’s a quirk in his nature.”

Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.