As he ducked out the side door of a Knights of Columbus hall in Rockaway on Wednesday evening, Anthony Weiner was followed by a stalwart soul who has continued to support him.
“You kidding me, running out of here?” the supporter, Charlie Ciliberti, asked.
Just a moment before, Weiner had told the crowd inside how much he loved the contention and tumult of New York politics and how important he felt it was for a real democracy. And here he was, fleeing.
“Andrew’s making me,” Weiner told Ciliberti.
Weiner had told worse and much bigger lies, but few that were more ridiculous.
He then said, “Talk to Andrew.”
Andrew being a fresh-faced aide who was escorting Weiner in the absence of his communications director, Barbara Morgan, who had called a former intern a slutbag, a twat, and a cunt to a political reporter. Andrew was now hurrying to join Weiner in a waiting black SUV.
“He has to go,” Andrew told Ciliberti.
“What are you running out of here for?” Ciliberti asked.
“We have a tight schedule,” Andrew said.
This appearance before the Friends of Rockaway that Weiner was so abruptly leaving on Wednesday evening happened to be the sole event on the day’s official schedule.
“Give me your business card,” Ciliberti asked.
“I don’t have one,” Andrew said. “Andrew@Weiner.com.”
The SUV looped through the parking and onto Beach 90th Street at VIP speed and disappeared up Beach 90th Street. Ciliberti was left standing on the sidewalk. He recounted his exchange with Weiner and Andrew.
“Andrew@Weiner.com,” Ciliberti repeated, sounding a little hurt and amazed, as if he could not quite believe anybody would say such a thing to him. “Andrew@Weiner.com.”
Ciliberti added what he had felt like saying to this candidate who had departed, blaming Andrew and generally sounding like a nutbag.
“Is Andrew telling you to sext, you fucking idiot?”
Ciliberti said he had caught himself for a reason that was surprising until you thought about it.
“I like him,” Ciliberti. “I would vote for him in a second because he cares about this neighborhood.”
Ciliberti declared his guiding passion in politics.
“We love our neighborhood. It's a beautiful neighborhood.”
Rockaway is also a paradise in trouble, with high-crime housing projects at one end, a whole gated community nearly obliterated by Hurricane Sandy at the other. The folks who live in between are still recovering from the storm and wondering how they will ever pay for flood insurance. They also fret about what can be done to replenish and preserve the beach that makes Rockaway a working person’s paradise.
And with all of this comes a feeling that Rockaway is too often forgotten. But not by Weiner. He has often acknowledged that the Rockaway vote was what put him in Congress in the first place. His past efforts on its behalf were what earned him an invitation to be the primary speaker at Wednesday’s gathering.
“I'll talk to you after,” he told the media mob waiting outside when he arrived.
Weiner then strode into the Hall of the Knights of Columbus of the Monsignor William F. Burke Rockaway Council #2672, named after the founder of the parish band. Weiner stood with his hands on his hips until he was introduced.
“Anthony Weiner is the mayoral candidate for mayor,” said John Cori of the Friends of Rockaway.
Weiner stepped up giving no sign he would rather be doing anything else.
“Could I ask all my friends in the media not to get in between me and the citizens,” Weiner said.
He had begun with the most standard ploy by shamed politicians, making the press the bad guy. The crowd of course responded favorably.
“A lot has transpired since I saw you last,” Weiner said. “But it’s great to be back.”
He managed to sound humble and chastened as he said, “I know I'm an imperfect messenger.”
He spoke as if he lived in Rockaway as he suggested that Hurricane Sandy was something that the leaders should have anticipated. The implication was that when it hit it was only what he himself had expected.
“We were due for a 100-year storm,” he said. “The clock was ticking.”
He criticized the city for being obsessed with building “hipster-looking concessions” rather than concentrating on restoring the community. He proposed keeping the ferry that had been instituted after the subway connection was knocked out.
“It took an act of God to get a ferry here,” he said. “Now we have to make sure it stays here.”
He went on, saying that "all we’ve ever said as a community is help us with a little bit of subsidy.” He proposed using some unspent funds to subsidize flood insurance. He further suggested lowering the premiums by expanding the risk pool in the way of car insurance, not likely a popular idea among high ground folks, but well received here.
“We cannot say we can’t rebuild, we have no choice,” he said again sounding like he lived up the block rather than in a multimillion dollar pad on Park Avenue South in Manhattan.
Cori noted to the crowd that when he was in Congress, Weiner had once arranged for 150,000 tons of sand to replenish the beach at Rockaway.
“I actually carried each bag of sand myself,” Weiner joked. “I don’t know if you’re aware of that.”
He took a few questions, only one of which touched on his personal troubles. A man asked how Weiner could be trusted to run the city when he can’t be trusted by his own family.
“That’s a fair question,’ Weiner said. “I’m embarrassed by it. I dishonored my wife. But, sir, I didn’t do anything to you.”
He added, “You can just say you don't want to vote for me. I get that, that’s the way it works.”
He tried to turn the scandal to his advantage by suggesting it is a kind of trial by fire.
“If you want to be mayor, you have to stand the heat.”
He implied that the opponents who are calling for him to drop out of the race are seeking to disenfranchise the voters.
“Let the citizens of this city decide who’s going to be their mayor,” he said. “I want it to be up to you. If you decide not to vote for me, Godspeed.”
Weiner spoke of a campaign stop where a guy began yelling at him, and others began yelling at the guy in his defense.
“Heckling the guy heckling me,” Weiner now said. “This is Nirvana for me. This doesn’t happen in St. Paul.”
Weiner continued, “This is something I genuinely honor. This is something I think democracy can’t do without.”
A measure of how well Weiner was doing with the crowd came after a final question involving the beaches. Weiner spoke in general of jetties and the importance of something called a T-groin. A man who has been plagued by Weiner puns all his life seemed sure the topic would spark some muttered groin jokes, especially given the recent developments. But there was nary a snigger.
“You need T-groins,” Weiner said.
He concluded by saying, “Thank you all very much. God bless.”
Then, he ducked out the side door to avoid the very kind of tumult he had just said he honored and felt was so necessary. He sped from the neighborhood he had spoken of as if it were home and returned to his actual residence in Manhattan.
The falseness of it all might have made someone already unfavorably inclined to Weiner wonder if politics for him is a kind of sexting, unplugged and on a mass scale, with polls rather than a pole.
Among the less overly sexual, but more revealing texts that led Weiner to resign from Congress, was one he sent to a 17-year-old student where he described himself in a political fight.
“I came back strong. Large. In Charge. Cape and tights shit.”
He sent a similar text to a middle-aged blackjack player among very overt sexual messages.
“Cape. Tights. Looking for my sidekick.”
On Wednesday evening in Gotham, the SUV was Batman-black, but Weiner was decidedly capeless and wearing gray trousers, not even the flashy pants he has sometimes sported. His only sidekick was Andrew.
But he still had Charlie Ciliberti’s vote as the candidate most likely to help his neighborhood.
Weiner may even imagine that there are enough Cilibertis out there for him to win.