06.16.11

Weiner’s Last Words

The New York congressman had vowed to tough it out. But as his wife, Huma Abedin, returned from overseas, the pressure to surrender his seat became overwhelming, says Howard Kurtz.

Anthony Weiner pulled the plug on his congressional career Thursday afternoon after a bizarre sexting scandal short-circuited his chances of remaining in office.

In keeping with the raucous nature of his tabloid scandal, one person shouted “Pervert!” as Weiner read his remarks and shouted such ribald questions as, “Are you more than seven inches?” There were early reports that the heckler was a Howard Stern staffer.

It was a cringe-inducing end to a sleazy episode that began with a bulging underwear photo that Weiner initially claimed might not be his. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, was conspicuously missing from his side.

Finally bowing to political reality after the sheer humiliation of having his virtual sex life exposed, an emotional Weiner said he had hoped to remain in office. He again apologized “for the personal mistakes I have made and the embarrassment I have caused.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “the distraction I have created made that impossible.”

Most important, said Weiner, is that “my wife and I can continue to heal from the damage I have created.” He had to repeat the line twice because the heckler all but drowned him out.

Video screenshot

At first Weiner sounded like someone positioning himself for a future run for public office, describing how his father went to college on the GI Bill and that “the middle-class story of New York is my story.” But then he got down to the business at hand.

For two long weeks Weiner had remained defiant, insisting he would cling to his seat even as members of his own party grew louder in demanding his resignation. It takes a certain intestinal fortitude to blow off Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and lots of other Democrats who are telling you that you’ve become a national embarrassment.

The congressman apparently was gambling that the furor would die down if he just toughed it out—especially if he played the tried-and-true “rehab” card by announcing that he was seeking unspecified treatment at an unspecified facility. By the time Weiner had to face his Brooklyn and Queens voters next year—assuming party elders didn’t use redistricting to ax his seat—the scandal would likely have been old news.

Each time the worst seemed to be behind him, Weiner would suffer another setback. First there was the teary news conference where he admitted he had lied about sending out the infamous underwear photo; then some of his online gal pals went public, along with his X-rated pictures and texts; then his penis picture began to circulate after someone on the Opie & Anthony show took a picture of that picture; then it emerged that he had snapped shirtless shots of himself at the House gym. And the disclosure that Abedin is pregnant added an overlay of pathos to the seamy tale.

Still, could an elected official be forced to resign in a sex scandal that didn’t involve actual sex? Was what Weiner did worse than what Bill Clinton did in the Oval Office, or the assorted misdeeds of Mark Sanford, David Vitter, and John Ensign? Unfortunately for Weiner, the media’s appetite for a sociological debate over sexting kept his saga in the news even when not much else was happening.

When Abedin, who works for Hillary Clinton, returned from an overseas trip, expectations rose that Weiner would bow to the pressure and step down. Democratic leaders tried to give him a final shove by leaking word that he would be stripped of his committee assignments.

Weiner’s stock was such that he was considered a strong contender for mayor of New York. That, of course, was before he sent the errant tweet that started the unraveling of his career—along with his fateful decision to lie about it.