With my years of experience reporting on New York City politics way back when, I can take you inside Anthony Weiner’s curious mind on this convulsed day and tell you this much with certainty: It’s not the demise of his congressional career that’s got him upset. It’s the fact he now has zero chance of being elected mayor in 2013.
New Yorkers don’t really care much about Washington. Members of Congress come and go. In the old, old days, Congress was where county leaders stuck pols who were a little bit eggheadish or uncooperative, or who might be the type to refuse to turn a blind eye to a little honest graft. “Send him down to Washington.” “Get him out of our hair.” In more recent years, the House of Representatives has risen a bit in stature, but only a bit. Hard workers like Chuck Schumer (once a House member), Carolyn Maloney, and Jerry Nadler have given the city’s congressional delegation more gravitas than it once had. But basically, give a New York City pol a choice between being a member of Congress, grappling with the weighty issues of our time, and public advocate, the citywide ombudsman job that has no meaningful duties and exists for no good reason—and nine of 10 would take the latter.
The mayoralty, for New York pols, is what it’s all about. And Weiner was already oh-so-close. He would have been the frontrunner in 2013. And if he’d won, he’d have been an absolute hero to Democrats in New York and to a lesser extent around the country: He’d have been the first Democrat to move in to Gracie Mansion since Rudy Giuliani first won the job in 1993. He’d have arrived as Charles II after the Cromwell interregnum, hailed by the people as the restorer of the natural order. Now, the next mayor will probably still be a Democrat, but Weiner’s fall quite likely increases the odds that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will run as a Republican. As the leading Democratic contenders are all either Manhattanites or pretty liberal or both—considered liabilities in running for mayor, even of New York City—Weiner’s collapse makes it somewhat more likely that the mayoralty will stay in GOP hands if Kelly runs.
As for Weiner’s district, it is likely to remain Democratic—but it’s also likely to disappear when new district lines are drawn in advance of the 2012 elections, when New York will lose two congressional districts, one of them very likely to be Weiner’s. So whoever becomes the representative of the district will probably possess those parking and members-only-elevator-riding privileges for about a year (the special election will not take place until this fall, I’m told, either in September or November).
Who wants a job for a year? Well, of course, several people might, because running for an open seat is a no-harm no-foul kind of operation, assuming one doesn’t have to give up one’s current seat. Two of the three leading Democrats would have to, if they won, which raises the question of why they’d leave safe seats for a job that’s going to sunset in a year (the one who doesn’t is former assemblywoman Melinda Katz). I’ve written previously about the two Republicans who could run, and both are credible. One, Robert Turner, ran against Weiner in 2010 and received a shockingly high 40 percent of the vote. Weiner’s district is strongly but not overpoweringly Democratic. And in low-turnout special elections, you just never know.
Is Weiner finished for good? Of course not. The proper course of public self-flagellation and remorse will someday to make it plausible for him to mount a return to politics.
Robert Hornak, spokesman for the Queens County GOP, argues that the district has been trending Republican—Al Gore got 67 percent of the vote in 2000, but Barack Obama won just 55 percent in 2008. He also notes that Turner ran only a “nominal” campaign. He makes fair points, but it doesn’t sound like the national GOP is planning on playing very hard in this one. “More than a half-dozen things would need to fall into place for this to happen for us,” says a Republican campaign source in Washington. So Weiner’s successor will probably be a Democrat but will probably have very little in the way of a future.
More interestingly, what about Weiner himself? Is he finished for good? Of course not. The proper course of public self-flagellation and remorse, and the inevitable softening of public sentiment as new scandals come along to make Weiner look like an amateur, will combine someday to make it plausible for him to mount a return to politics. Accepting a humble and beyond-reproach job—running some do-gooder nonprofit agency, say—would help polish the apple, as will his impending fatherhood. We can already imagine the newspaper profiles four or five years hence, a couple of adorable children by then, Huma Abedin still at his side, as a more mature and chastened Weiner bares his soul for The New York Times. Evangelists turn to Jesus, Jews and secularists to the Times. Both work nicely for the intended audience.
But that’s several Yom Kippurs into the future. As of now, the idiot has thrown it all away. He’ll be avoiding the FDR Drive so he doesn’t even have to catch a glimpse of Gracie Mansion.