He left Congress in disgrace, but don’t blame his iPhone. The reason Anthony Weiner is not in Congress today is not that he was caught sexting an unknown number of women. No, the reason he was forced to resign is that he was such a despised member of Congress that his own party, including the president, jumped at the chance to get rid of the self-righteous, hectoring Chuck Schumer Mini-Me. Other more popular congressmen have survived real sex scandals far worse.
If you were writing a movie or television show about Congress and looking for a character the audience was sure to loathe, you’d start with Weiner. Here’s a guy who regularly condescended to every member of Congress but whose intellectual talents were such that he originally aspired to be a weatherman. In Congress, he was the political equivalent of a minor celebrity, famous mostly for being famous: in 12 years, he was the lead sponsor of one bill. He narrowly won his first race, for a seat on the New York City Council, after anonymously sending voters race-baiting fliers. That’s never a pretty sight, but considering he did it immediately after the Crown Heights riots, it puts him in the same slime bucket where anti-Semitic tax cheat Al Sharpton wallows.
On the City Council, he made a huge issue out of the millions of dollars of unpaid parking fines by U.N. diplomats and staff. As a former New York resident, I call that a noble cause, but then Weiner got to Washington and was busted for—you got it—thousands of unpaid parking tickets for his congressional car.
Right before he resigned from Congress, Weiner took time from his sexting hobby to go after Clarence Thomas and his wife. Writing on his blog, he ripped into Justice Thomas for failing to disclose that Virginia Thomas, a private citizen, worked at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. (Everyone in Washington knew Thomas’s wife worked at Heritage—that being part of the point of her being hired—and Thomas amended the financial disclosure forms.)
Okay. But then The New York Times uncovers that Weiner’s wife —a State Department employee working as Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff—is getting paid handsomely on the side for consulting with private clients and not reporting it. That’s an abuse of public trust.
With a guy like Weiner, you almost have to put the scandal stuff into the positive column: OK, he is a self-obsessed creep who got elected using race-baiting fliers and is an incredible hypocrite who’s accomplished little, but on the other hand, he is into sexting.
Now, Weiner is running for New York City mayor, an endeavor he has already failed at twice: once by running and losing a Democratic primary and once by declaring that he was going to run before chickening out when Big Daddy Bloomberg decided to stay at the table for a third term. The major asset Weiner has going for him is over $4 million he collected when he was in Congress before his donors realized he was spending late nights trying to raise the favorables of his various body parts.
Running for mayor is as vain an effort as sending those embarrassing pictures and only proves that he has learned absolutely nothing from the incident that forced him to resign his House seat. Which should not come as a shock, since Weiner seems to have the depth and self-reflective qualities of the attack Chihuahua he resembled on his never-ending cable appearances back in the day.
So Weiner will run, squander this small fortune, and then start looking for something else to run for or some small cable show, maybe with Al Sharpton: The Crown Heights Follies. But here’s a simple, foolproof suggestion that guarantees that for once in his life Weiner will put the public first and prove that he might believe all the platitudes of public service he spouts: don’t run and instead give the millions to charity.
Today in New York City, almost half the population is living below the poverty line. They aren’t waking up each morning obsessing over guns or gay marriage or the IRS. They just want to have a better shot at a better life. With that $4 million and change, Weiner could make a lot of dreams come true. He could send hundreds of kids to college or give hundreds of kids a chance at college. He could start a microloan program to help families break the cycle of poverty that has accelerated so dramatically under President Obama. He could make a real difference.
Or he could blow it on people like me: political consultants who don’t need the money and will tell him he has a chance when he probably doesn’t. He’ll spend it on ads that will make him feel good for a few weeks and probably sad when he’s an old man. Weiner will pay out for focus groups and polls, trying to find the silver bullet that will put the past back in his pants.
Weiner could do something good and selfless that might just make people think he was more than what he so clearly seems to be. Then if he wants to run for office again, fine, he can go out and raise money from people who know who he is and what he has done, the good and the bad. It’s the only honest way forward.
Right now Anthony Weiner is trying to build a future based on money taken from people he fooled. That’s called a scam. I don’t know if Weiner deserves better, but New York sure does.