Six days into the bizarre scandal swirling around Congressman Anthony Weiner, no one has issued a poll claiming to measure what it means to his chances of becoming mayor. Well, here’s some bold analysis to save Quinnipiac, Marist, Siena, Harris, Zogby, Nielsen, and the rest some phone calls: This ain’t good for Weiner 2013.
The Queens-Brooklyn Democrat’s tactical skills have never been in doubt. Weiner ran a smart 2005 mayoral primary campaign against front-runner Freddy Ferrer, positioning himself as the champion of the white outerborough middle class and nearly pulling a major upset; then, instead of pushing ahead with a fratricidal runoff, he quit while he was ahead and let Ferrer be drubbed by Mike Bloomberg in the general election. Four years later, Weiner declined to challenge Bloomberg’s grab for a third term — gutless, perhaps, but strategically savvy, positioning him as the favorite for 2013, a standing he enhanced by making headline-grabbing Washington speeches shaming Republicans, which endeared him with city liberals.
The question about Weiner has always been about his maturity, which is why the current Twitter foolishness is so damaging. Whatever the facts surrounding the photo that may or may not show the congressman’s boxer-brief endowment, Weiner’s reaction to questions about the trouser-tweet has been amateurish. First he tried to play it off as malicious hacking, then he angrily blasted a reporter as a “jackass,” then he bumbled into a ridiculous sort-of admission that it’s him in picture. Okay, so Weiner is embarrassed (and let’s not forget the role of Andrew Breitbart in getting this started) — but if this is how he deals with uncomfortable personal questions, voters are going to have a tough time imagining him leading the city in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. True, a bad temper and contempt for the press are hardly disqualifiers (see Koch, Ed, and Giuliani, Rudy), but those guys were already in City Hall before their nastier sides took over.
So if Weiner is reeling, who does this help in the maneuvering for 2013? Christine Quinn, the City Council president, has been doggedly building credibility in the business community to complement her progressive credentials; Weiner’s stumble gives her a big opportunity. How Quinn deals with Bloomberg’s proposed budget cuts is a major test. Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, had already been courting the blue-collar outerborough crowd and the public school parents unhappy with the mayor’s reforms; Weiner’s problems should give de Blasio more of a hearing with them as well as with donors. Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, could be well-positioned to pick up liberals who defect from Weiner. Bill Thompson is probably the new, still-very-early front-runner purely on having lost a surprisingly close race to Bloomberg in 2009. But the biggest winner is the candidate we don’t know. The last five mayoral elections have been won by a political novice — or, in Giuliani’s case, at least someone who hadn’t spent his life in politics. This time around, it could be a rich guy recruited or inspired by Bloomberg. But scandal, however silly, befalling someone inside the system increases the appeal, and the gravitas, of someone from outside.