If Anthony Weiner was bored being out of the media spotlight, he must be one happy camper now that the political media are buzzing that he is mulling a citywide run next year, nothwithstanding the sexting debacle that ended his promising career. He’s playing coy about the rumorsto an extent, but told People Magazine this week that won’t rule a campaign in or out. For now, he says he’s focused on being a dad.
(Weiner did not respond to a message we left for him on Tuesday.)
But given the fact that he hasn’t found other work outside the home since his fall from grace last year, and the $4.5 million war chest he’s sitting on (that some editorial writers believe he should return to the donors), it’s a safe bet that the ex-congressman will try to achieve a greater political legacy than the one he has currently left behind.
The question, then, is how the voters will react. New Yorkers are forgiving folks and will likely be mindful that Weiner broke no laws and was seen as a pretty effective congressman, up until the point he spent a week lying about his sleazy Twitter exploits.
But it’s less a question of forgiveness as one of trust and credibility. Whether it’s public advocate or mayor, Weiner will find himself in a crowded Democratic primary field running against prominent people who won’t have his negatives, and those opponents need not even raise the scandal – late night comics and newspaper columnists wil have a field day all on their own.
Weiner may then find that you can withstand and overcome questions of ethics, as in the case of Charlie Rangel, or questions of fidelity, as in the case of Rudy Giuliani, quicker than you can get past the cringe factor and the punchline factor.
That’s what top Democrats, from Nancy Pelosi to President Obama, were thinking when they knocked Weiner’s legs out from under him while he was trying to cling to his job a year ago: They were fearful this sideshow would cost their party control of the House.
The same thinking may still be in effect among top consultants, local Democrat leaders and major political donors: Who needs a sideshow? We need credible candidates with solid ideas to recapture City Hall for the first time since 1993.
The best way to overcome the punchline factor would be for Weiner to pick a decision day and emulate two disparate people who had to claw their way back from scandals: Pee Wee Herman and Eliot Spitzer.
After he was arrested for public indecency, Herman (aka Paul Reubens) made his first public appearance at the 1991 MTV Music Awards, at which he asked the crowd “Heard any good jokes lately? … Oh that, one? So funny, I forgot to laugh.”
(Hugh Grant also took a similar strategy in 1995 when he appeared on the Tonight Show after his arrest for soliciting a prostitute and showed a sense of humor about it all.)
If he is to run, Weiner should get back in the spotlight, acknowledge the jokes and his own stupidity and help the public move on.
But he can learn a greater lesson from Spitzer, who has never really left the public spotlight, delivering policy lectures, granting interviews and even working as a CNN anchor. By showcasing his continued expertise on policy, Spitzer wisely pushed his story on to the next chapter and (for the most part) nullified the punchlines. Weiner, always a scrappy debater and self-described policy wonk, could do the same.
“The timing on this is very good,” says Dem political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “He’s got to get out there early and move around.”
While public advocate might seem like a good job to help Weiner get his street cred back while planning a mayoral run, Sheinkopf said he should be careful not to give the impression that he views that amorphous office as “a consolation prize.”
Given his high popularity in his district even at the height of the scandal, Sheinkopf sees it as possible that he’ll still have support among his core constituents: Jews.
“He was a terrific community case worker, highly visible with absolutely unstoppable energy,” said the consultant. “On the other hand this will be an outer-borough campaign, and given the changes we are seeing we don’t know who will be voting in any significant fashion.”