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05.26.13

Anthony Weiner, Reality Star of Sorts, Returns to the Stump

The disgraced politician returns to the trail, but as often as he changes the subject, the sex questions keep coming, reports Lloyd Grove.

“Get used to it!” the woman shouted at Anthony Weiner.

The disgraced former congressman—and current candidate for mayor of New York City—understandably gave a start. Get used to what? The abuse reserved for a married public official who tweeted photos of his privates to women he’d never met and then lied about it? The painful mockery that followed his resignation? The endless puns?

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Anthony Weiner greets veterans during a Memorial Day weekend campaign appearance at Co-op City in the Bronx. (Jessica Dawson)

“Get used to it—Mayor Weiner!” the woman elaborated.

The candidate looked relieved as he asked for her name—Joanne Schwartz, a 42-year resident of Co-op City, the Bronx high-rise housing development where Weiner campaigned Sunday—and expressed gratitude for her support. “If I win by one vote, I’ll know who to thank,” he told his beaming fan.

Razor-thin and wearing a crisp gray suit, a dark tie, and an American flag lapel pin, Weiner had used much the same line moments earlier on two shabbily dressed Dickensian-looking codgers with missing teeth who swore fealty to his candidacy. “We love you!” they yelled at him with antic energy. “If I win by two votes,” Weiner replied, “I’ll know who to thank.”

Video screenshot

Here's what Anthony Weiner was really saying in his first campaign ad.

Then he continued to work the largely African-American crowd, many of them veterans and their spouses from American Legion Co-op City Post 1871, who gathered for Memorial Day Weekend observances on folding chairs in a park nestled on the edge of the apartment complex. Weiner had a definite aura of celebrity, and many greeted him as eagerly as they would a reality-show star (which, in a way, he is). But not everyone was thrilled by Weiner’s presence among the public officials on hand to deliver patriotic speeches.

“I dare him to look at me!”  said Co-op City resident Carolyn Nelson, screwing up her mouth as though she’d tasted something rotten. She added: “I won’t say anything great about him. We need more politicians who can be a good influence on our children. Not him.”

When it was Weiner’s turn to speak and he strode confidently to the lectern, Nelson turned away. The candidate proved himself a master of misdirection.

“I was sitting on a bench a moment ago, having a bagel, waiting for the commemoration to begin,” Weiner recounted to the crowd, “and a man walked by and said, ‘You’re a bum! I would never vote for you’”

The reason? Not the obvious one. As Weiner continued to quote his antagonist: “I would never vote for you because you voted for Obamacare!’ And I said to him, ‘Happy Memorial Day!’” 

After the formalities—which included bagpipes, the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a wreath laying, a multigun salute, and “I’m Proud to Be an American” blasting from the loudspeakers—Weiner submitted himself to a media availability. It was in many ways cringeworthy, featuring a manically persistent television reporter grilling him repeatedly on the possible existence of heretofore unpublicized dirty pictures, but you had to give the candidate credit: he stood there manfully and fielded every unpleasant question until his press aide wondered if anyone had anything else to ask.

In due course Weiner, posing for cellphone snapshots and conducting the occasional voter encounter, made his way through a thicket of boom mikes and video cameras to a waiting SUV. But before leaving, he had a dialogue with Jenesis Vaughn, an 8-year-old second grader at PS 182 who told the candidate she wanted to be a journalist one day.

“What kind of reporter do you want to be?” Weiner bent down to ask the vivacious little girl. “A print reporter, for a newspaper, or a TV reporter?”

“I just want to be a TV reporter,” she answered eagerly.

Weiner bent down lower, as if to impart a confidence. “You might not want to go into TV—it’s a dying industry,” he told her. “The Internet is where it’s at.”

The Internet, as he knows only too well, is a double-edged ... um ... sword.