Brilliant timing: The most recent fantastical candidate for mayor, alleged ballot-rigger Malcolm Smith, is barely off the stage, and here comes Anthony Weiner, disgraced erection-tweeting former congressman. Weiner probably didn’t completely control the timing of the story floating his return to active politics; it appears he’s been talking to a Times Magazine reporter since at least February. Regardless, the bigger question is whether Weiner has learned much about self-control since he tweeted and lied his way out of office in 2011.
The Times story includes tears and talk of therapy, and some genuine introspection; no doubt Weiner and wife Huma Abedin have gone through many painful hours trying to figure out his bizarre behavior and patch up their marriage. He’s still spinning, though: His catastrophe was brought about by “one fateful Tweet,” Weiner says. Well, yeah, literally — instead of sending his boner-in-boxers photo to one 21-year-old college student, the congressman gave all 45,000 of his followers a rude surprise. Yet the incredibly dumb, classless behavior had gone on for three years — pretty much the entirety of his romantic relationship with Abedin, including after they’d married and when she was pregnant.
While that’s bad enough, it’s forgivable, on a human level. Politically, Weiner’s biggest problem may be how he reacted when the scandal broke. There is no shortage of lying in politics, but it’s rare when it occurs so blatantly and publicly: Weiner held a press conference claiming his Twitter account had been hacked and barked at reporters who challenged him. Yet the toughest thing for the public to get past, if Weiner officially reenters politics, is that it sounds like it’s still all about him. The Times story is of course a portrait of two people dealing with a maelstrom and its aftermath, but Weiner’s talk of running for mayor this year doesn’t include any indication of what he’d offer the city, only what it would do for him.
Speaking of calculation: Weiner’s reemergence is good for Christine Quinn, at least temporarily. Attacks on the Democratic front-runner had started to gain traction, helped by Quinn’s overreaction to a negative TV ad, and today’s Quinnipiac poll shows her dropping five points, though enjoying an eighteen-point lead over Bill de Blasio. But that run of bad news will be buried as Weiner sucks up all the media oxygen for a week or so. If he does actually run, though, Quinn has reason for worry: Weiner is an agile, aggressive campaigner, and he’d likely take some votes from her Manhattan base.
When I’ve talked to him in the past two years, Weiner has seemed much the same guy: A little quieter, but still ferociously smart, alternately funny and pugnacious, and obsessively strategic. Could Weiner win? Highly doubtful, but who knows? I’ll never forget supposed experts promising me Mike Bloomberg had no chance in 2001. Bloomberg had many billions of dollars, of course, and no fresh, humiliating scandal in his past. The one sure thing is that, even if he never officially enters the field, Anthony Weiner is already running — to rehabilitate his reputation, if not for City Hall.