Weiner and Spitzer — Meshugganah Chutzpah

At the far edges of chutzpah—Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.

Even in New York City, a town famed for chutzpah, Weiner’s performance yesterday was far-out. There he was trying to deflect disclosures that his practice of wholesale sexting didn’t end after he abruptly resigned his seat in the U.S. Congress two years ago when his sending many women naked pictures of himself and raunchy online messages was first revealed.

“I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out and today they have,” declared Weiner at his press conference. He sent them for more than a year after he quit Congress vowing to deal with his sexting habit.

After his short stay out of politics, Weiner came back in full force in May announcing he was running for New York mayor to succeed term-limited Michael Bloomberg. And, in recent weeks, as he campaigned aggressively, he had shot up in the polls and was the front-runner. He insisted yesterday he would remain in the race.

Spitzer, who resigned suddenly as New York State’s governor in 2008 for “personal failings”—it was revealed that he was a regular client of a high-priced prostitution ring—announced earlier this month he was running for the Number 3 job in New York City, comptroller.

Lavishly spending from his family’s fortune made in New York real estate, Spitzer has been on a hyper-intense campaign, paralleling Weiner’s, and also, according to the polls, making political headway.

This week, a new Spitzer TV commercial flooded New York TV beginning with Spitzer declaring, “Look, I failed. Big time.” But having as New York attorney general been “sheriff of Wall Street”—taking on wheeler-dealers there—he said he should now be given “a fair shot” to return.

Weiner and Spitzer have become veritable gags in New York City politics—indeed, laughing stocks on the national level.

Andy Borowitz’s humor blog on The New Yorker website yesterday was headlined, “Weiner Continues Sexting During Apology.” It claimed—in jest, of course—that “Weiner stirred controversy today by continuing to send dirty texts throughout a press conference devoted to apologizing for his behavior. Mr. Weiner was halfway through his apology when reporters noticed him remove a phone from his pocket and aim its camera lens unmistakably in the direction of his pants. After seeing the candidate snap a photo of the pants region and then send a text, reporters bombarded Mr. Weiner with questions, asking him if he had in fact just sexted.

‘Yes, I did, but I swear this was the last time,’ he said. ‘This behavior is now behind me.’ Mr. Weiner then concluded his press conference by removing his shirt and snapping a quick shot of his naked torso.”

And serious issues about stability are being raised.

Frank Bruni in his column in The New York Times on July 9 wrote that Weiner was “angling for a gigantic promotion. In the narrative he’s constructed, his mortification has made him a new man, so we’re supposed to give him an extra measure of our trust and hand him the reigns of the most important and most complicated city in the country. I know we like our mayors brash, but we needn’t accept delusional in the bargain.”

As for Spitzer, Bruni skewered his record as governor charging—accurately—that he “was shaping up to be a self-righteous, self-defeating disaster of a governor.”

As governor for little over a year, Spitzer proclaimed himself a “steamroller”—and in his dysfunction exhibited the sensitivity of such a machine.

Commented Dan Janison in a column in Long Island’s Newsday on July 12, “Politics is just one business, of course, where ruthlessness can be a character reference and hypocrisies are inevitable. But a prospective public servant’s ability to act sensibly also is worth considering.”

Weiner and Spitzer are Democrats. Dr. Kenneth Sherrill, Professor Emeritus of political science at the City University of New York’s Hunter College, has stated that “the two of them, in two different races, may have the effect of pulling each other down” by giving Republicans a chance to present Democrats as morally challenged.

There has been, however, a history in America in recent years of forgiving scandal-scarred politicians. President Bill Clinton managed to survive the scandal involving his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, beat impeachment and now has become an elder statesman of the Democratic Party. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford abruptly resigned in 2009 after he disappeared for a week and it was disclosed that he was in Argentina pursing an affair with a woman there—but he was elected to a seat in Congress earlier this year.  In an article this month on this, The New York Times related that “all across the country” politicians “tainted by scandal, some of them seemingly mudded beyond saving,” have gone on to survive politically.

Still, can Weiner and Spitzer make it when their behavior, perhaps forgivable to some, is combined with a lack of stability and an absence of sensibility—and a meshugganah arrogance?

About the Author
Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York at Old Westbury who has specialized in investigative reporting for more than 50 years. He is the host of the TV program “Enviro Close-Up with Karl Grossman,” (, the writer and presenter of numerous TV documentaries and author of seven books.