Why Weiner’s Folly Is New York’s Loss

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Photo: 2002/Daily News, L.P. (New York)

In a time long ago, before Twitter existed, Anthony Weiner’s campaign day ended at the Staten Island Yankees ballpark. He worked the aisles, gabbing happily with old ladies and little kids, then climbed up to the concession area behind home plate and bought a beer. Then he did something really unusual: He didn’t insist that his beer be off the record. I can’t remember another politician I’ve covered voluntarily consuming alcohol in public; the few who had a glass of wine with a dinner interview only did so after extracting a promise the drink never appear in print; whether it was public or private, they all looked so uncomfortable and unfamiliar with adult beverages that they might as well have been picking up nuclear fuel rods. Weiner looked like a guy at a game on a hot day with his sleeves rolled up drinking a beer. Which was one of the things that made me like him.

I know many people didn’t, especially his New York congressional delegation colleagues and some former staffers, who frequently described him as a publicity hog and a bully who had little time for unglamorous legislative slogging. True enough. Yet Weiner’s showboatery was usually in service of a good cause: His rants shaming congressional Republicans over health-care reform and compensation for 9/11 victims were calculated to win Weiner liberal points back home, especially in preparation for the 2013 mayoral race — but they were equally sincere and effective, coming at moments that helped turn the debates in the right direction, when most of his Democratic colleagues were too scared or too tame to speak up so forcefully. And Weiner did plenty of quiet, useful work when cameras weren’t around: I remember walking with him for hours late at night through the wreckage of Flight 587, which happened to crash in part of Weiner’s district, Rockaway Beach, as he comforted neighbors whose homes were burning and cheered on the firefighters who were trying to rescue survivors.

All that should be part of Weiner’s political legacy, but it will of course be dwarfed by Ginger Lee and naked snapshots from the congressional gym. Sad, stupid, bizarre, self-inflicted. There are plenty of cheap psychoanalyses on the web and in the papers trying to explain his recent behavior; I’m not qualified to add anything on that front. What I do know is that Weiner loved this city, he loved politics, and he had the talent to use the latter to make the former a better place. Somewhere along the line that regular guy drinking a beer in Staten Island got lost. But we’ve all lost something with Anthony Weiner’s political demise.

Related: Times: Weiner Has Told Friends He'll Resign [NYM]