Are the wheels coming off the Weiner mobile?
It certainly looks that way, after the campaign manager of the Anthony Weiner comeback tour quit abruptly over the weekend, leaving the campaign rudderless with just six weeks until primary day.
Against a tepid New York City mayoral field, Weiner rode a tsunami of media coverage into first place in some summertime polls, but this week has brought nothing but bad news for the Weiner campaign. On Tuesday, it was revealed that his illicit communications with women online continued after he quit Congress in a sexting scandal. The tabloids have been ruthless in their mockery and have even begun to single out his wife, Huma Abedin—a longtime Hillary Clinton aide—for opprobrium. Meanwhile, national Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama campaign mastermind David Axelrod, have urged Weiner to quit the race.
Questions about Weiner’s cyber-habits have turned the once-sleepy mayoral race into a spectacle, with hordes of press from around the world following Weiner at routine campaign stops. On Friday, Weiner had one campaign event, a stop on the southern tip of Staten Island, as far as reporters could possibly travel in a New York City election. He still was greeted by a phalanx of cameras and microphones, and one elderly woman, a retired assistant principal, angrily confronted him in front of the press, telling him she would have been fired for engaging in behavior like his. She also refused to shake his hand, announcing, “Who the hell knows where it’s been?”
Weiner’s campaign manager, Danny Kedem, was a veteran of a number of a congressional races around the country but was a relative newcomer to the city’s political scene. He was brought on after most of the city’s top political operatives had signed on with other candidates or wanted to avoid what was sure to be a circus surrounding Weiner’s return.
Kedem did not return a phone call seeking comment, and Weiner’s campaign spokeswoman would only confirm that Kedem had left. But New York political operatives said the staff exodus was a sign of a campaign that may not be able to withstand many more weeks like the last one.
“The credibility is gone and the campaign manager had to follow,” said Bill Cunningham, who helped guide Mike Bloomberg’s first successful mayoral campaign. “If he were to stay there, you are in some way trying to justify what Weiner has said and your own credibility has gone down the tubes, and your ability to get into other campaigns down the road will be compromised. He probably looks at this and says, ‘I don’t want to be tarnished.’”
Scott Levenson, a longtime Democratic consultant who worked on David Dinkins’s successful 1989 mayoral effort, said he knew of campaigns where the campaign manager and the candidate stopped speaking midway through. But in those instances, nobody quit, he said; that Kedem did shows how difficult Weiner’s situation is.
“The fact that the Weiner campaign couldn’t even save the perception of another bad news cycle suggests that they have lost all control,” he said. “The bump he got from name recognition and his own talent is not going to be enough to address the character issues in the long term.”
And now without a manager, the Weiner campaign has an even more difficult task to restore its previous place atop the polls. It has always been a bare-bones outfit, one driven largely by Weiner himself, but now the candidate will need to master another layer of organizational complexity. And more defections could follow.
“There are plenty of instances of a candidate trying to be a campaign manager,” said Cunningham. “He can make his own schedule, he can get around town on a Citi Bike, or by the subway, but how long will other staffers decide to stick this out? He can get to the candidate forums by himself if he wants, but he is going to look lonelier and lonelier doing it.”
Weiner, however, seems unlikely to drop out. Thanks to city’s generous campaign financing system, he has $3 million in public money that he can use to rehabilitate his image. If he were to drop out, that money would be lost to him.
Still, he does seem to slowing down. On Saturday, one of the final Saturdays available for the candidate to do the kind of things mayoral candidates do on weekends—greet voters at farmer’s markets and outdoor concerts, do neighborhood walks and attend block parties—Weiner had no public events. On Sunday, he just had one—an appearance at a church in Brownsville, Brooklyn, at 8:15 in the morning, announced just 90 minutes before it was slated to start. There too, though, Weiner had to fend off a series of questions about his staff. He was spotted later in Union Square, a New York Mets baseball cap low over his ears, his only companion his toddler-aged son.