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Anthony Weiner Leaves Behind a Big Hole in NYC Politics

A year later, his absence is still felt. Could Anthony Weiner be poised to return? Harry Siegel reports.

Richard Drew / AP

A year after resigning from Congress in humiliating fashion, Anthony Weiner has been laying low. But with the unimpressive Democratic field languishing and the New York City’s elites openly pushing for new candidates to enter the field, the city’s political vets, many of whom are still appalled that the party pushed him out, aren’t discounting the prospect of a return.

“Does he run for mayor next year? Anything’s possible,” said longtime New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Is it likely? Probably not, though it depends on the strength of the field. Everything that could be written about him has already been written.”

After all, New York already has its share of scandalous politicians who’ve remained in or returned to the public eye. Rudy Giuliani’s second wife stayed in Gracie Mansion after learning that her husband was leaving her from a press conference. He later ran for president. Eliot Spitzer resigned as governor after it emerged he liked to keep his socks on while bedding hookers. He then hosted a primetime show for CNN before being downgraded to Current TV. David Paterson, Spitzer’s lieutenant governor, was forced to give a memorable press conference shortly after his unexpected promotion to explain—with his wife standing beside—that yes, he’d had multiple affairs, including with a staff member, but his wife had cheated on him first. Paterson now hosts a drive-time radio show on WOR.

So why not a new shot for Weiner, who didn’t even actually play around, but instead—perhaps half as bad, but certainly at least as cringeworthy—sent sexually charged messages and photos (including the shot of his penis famously waved about by Andrew Breitbart) to several women he met online, and then initially lied about it after accidentally sending a shirtless photo as a public tweet. After trying for weeks to hold on, Weiner finally succumbed to intense pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other powerful Democrats and gave up his seat in a district where he remained popular, and quite possibly could have won reelection.

Without an office to keep him in the public eye, the humiliating coverage eventually petered out, but his career seemed to do the same.

“I still can’t get over a guy resigning over a sex scandal without sex,” said veteran New York political consultant Jerry Skurnik. “It’s like putting someone in prison for stealing Monopoly money.”

After two decades in office, there’s no question the former Chuck Schumer protégé loves the cameras and attention, and he also seems to have few other options. While Giuliani made a fortune in business after leaving office, Spitzer has leaned throughout his career on the fortune of his father, real estate developer Bernard Spitzer, and Paterson is the son of longtime New York political power Basil, Weiner has no family or personal fortune to fall back on. While he’s reportedly done some political advising, he’s spent his adult life as a politician, has no law degree or other obvious credentials, or family wealth to fall back on. He also has a new child to support with his wife, Huma Abedin, the deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who remained with him.

The one-time frontrunner to follow Michael Bloomberg as mayor, Weiner had a schizophrenic political identity even aside from his sex tweet peccadilloes. He balanced roles as a voice of the outer-borough middle-class in New York (“Manhattan is always going to be the dog here in New York, and we’re always going to be the tail”) with a Washington identity as a cable-talk-show regular who’d emerged as one of the Democrats’ highest-profile voices of liberal righteousness during the health-care fight. Neither role has yet been filled in his absence.

“You got a whole lot of Democrats who don’t succeed in television and they see some other Democrats who get on frequently as media hounds,” said a national Democratic consultant who also questioned the wisdom of the party leaders who pushed Weiner to resign. “Even if they happen to be really strong spokespersons for the party’s image,” like Weiner, ”there’s a little bit of cable envy.”

Pushing Weiner out was “basically a failure of will on the part of the Democratic leadership, an unforced error,” said Skurnik, pointing to Republican Bob Turner’s upset win in the high-profile special election to replace him. “The idea that Weiner not resigning would have hurt Democratic congressional candidates in Ohio is based on people basing their decisions on politics on the latest blog post.”

“Stupidity doesn’t bar you from public life, corruption does,” said Sheinkopf. “If I’m Anthony Weiner and I’ve got a lot of money in the bank, I go through this year and let everything work its way out” before deciding if it’s time to reenter the stage.

But of course, the puns are almost unavoidable when Weiner’s name is evoked now, making a comeback that much more difficult.

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“If his name was Anthony Siegel this never would have happened,” said Skurnik. “It would have been a one-week story but the press couldn’t let up because of his name. Other things would have happened even though it was the summer.”

But now that a year has passed—about as long as Spitzer took to begin his comeback—and with New York’s political class openly unhappy with the state of the mayoral field, there could be a moment for Weiner to rise again, consultants said.

“If the public wants him back in, why shouldn’t he return,” said Sheinkopf, who suggested Weiner should reintroduce himself when he does return with an ad saying: You know, I made a mistake. It was a bone-headed thing to do. I got lost. It happens to people in public life. But before that I served the people of this city for 19 years as a councilman and a congressman. I did a good job. I took time away, and I’m where I should be now, and I’m back. Why? Because we’ve got to save New York for the middle class. Together we can.”

“The politicians drove him out of office, but the public never wanted him gone,” said Sheinkopf. “The politicians had a lot more to do than the public with him leaving office. There weren’t people on the streets at rallies saying throw the bum out.”