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“Huma? Hey, Honey? Was I Happy Before I Started Running for Mayor?”

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Video: Anthony Weiner's Journalism Adventure

Not that Weiner could claim to be sure of anything at the time. The truth was he seemed to still be in a state of shock, a character in the creep-show movie of his own making.

So now, in mid-July 2013, dropped down midway between plot points of the Anthony Weiner comeback saga, what is the concerned citizen to think? It is a conundrum most recently underscored by the even more outlandish copycat candidacy of Eliot Spitzer. This is New York, and Spitzer and Weiner are nothing if not New Yorkers, but how much show-me-yours-and-I’ll-show-you-mine can even the most diverse of electorates take? Anthony and Eliot: This was a government? At least Spitzer was only running for comptroller, some gnomish position. Weiner wanted it all, to be the 109th king of the hill in a procession that dated back to Peter Stuyvesant’s wooden leg. Yet, knowing what you knew, could you really bring yourself to pull a lever for the man—entrust him with the leadership of the beloved hometown?

Amid this melodrama is the all-too-serious fact that the upcoming mayoral election will likely be a crossroads in both the immediate and long-term history of the city. Many think that once the reign of Mike Bloomberg, an anomalous product of one man’s wealth and power, comes to an end, the clock will be reset to the old-school political tumble New York has always been known for: the turf battles between ethnic entities, the knock-down, drag-out between labor and management, and a swing back to the public sector. But twelve years is a long time and this is a different city. It looks different, and it feels different; the days before bike lanes and $4,200-a-month studio apartments grow more remote by the moment.

The new mayor will have to deal with the real problems Bloomberg will leave behind—income inequality, inadequate housing, failing public schools, over-aggressive policing, creeping generic yuppie/hipster gentrification—while still maintaining the go-go atmosphere of a twentieth-century city charging headlong into the 21st. It is a challenge that presents the Democratic Party with an opportunity for great success or cataclysmic failure. After all, these are the same Democrats that have lost every mayoral election since 1993 despite having a six-to-one advantage in voter registration over the Republicans. For most newer, younger New Yorkers, Bloomberg and Giuliani are the normal state of affairs, not machine machers like Robert Wagner or even Ed Koch. My 23-year-old son, a New Yorker born and bred, has lived through the crack era, the conquest of crime via ­CompStat computations, the horrors of 9/11, the rise of Brooklyn, the tourist influx, the stock-market crash, Hurricane Sandy, and who knows how much $20 gourmet pizza, and none of that happened under a Democratic administration save three years of David Dinkins highlighted by the Crown Heights riots.

With this history, it’s no surprise that the Democratic mayoral forums have been greeted with much frustration and dread. It wasn’t that the candidates were so bad. Each came equipped with requisite up- and downsides. Comptroller John Liu is personable, knows the money, comes from an emerging segment of the electorate, but he is likely fatally damaged by the federal investigation into his campaign funds. Public advocate Bill ­de ­Blasio is tall and well liked by progressives, but you can’t remember anything he says five minutes later. Bill Thompson amazed everyone (himself included) by coming within five points of Bloomberg in the 2009 election, has union support, but reeks of hackdom, plus Al D’Amato loves him—and what’s up with that? Then there’s City Council speaker Christine Quinn. In line to be the first woman and gay person to occupy City Hall, with her burnt-orange hair and blackboard-screech pronunciation, Quinn has the look of someone who could ­actually be a mayor of the City of New York, to tourists at least. But she’s saddled with the time-bomb baggage of facilitating Bloomberg’s hated overturn of the term-limits law. When a leading candidate in your once-dominant party’s most contested ­primary election since 1977 is a widely perceived subverter of the democratic process, accused partner in a Faustian bargain with the ruling billionaire, this is a problem. All of which meant that Weiner had an opening.

“They’re pygmies. I hate to say it, but they make Bloomberg look good,” said one lady, a retired legal secretary, assessing the field at a Brooklyn mayoral forum in early April. “I came in thinking anyone but Quinn; now I’m anyone but all of them.”

“What about Weiner?” I asked. The congressman’s entry into the race was barely a rumor at the time.

“Anthony Weiner?” the woman replied slowly, as if re-pixelating the image of a long-dead relative. “I like Anthony Weiner,” she finally said. “He was an idiot, but put Anthony Weiner up against this bunch and he’d do well. He’d blow them away.”


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