Others at the forum expressed similar views. Bloomberg was a disaster, people of color couldn’t even get home from their poverty-wage jobs without being stopped-and-frisked. Someone with political chops and plenty of moxie was needed to stand up. “Yeah, why not Anthony Weiner?” said one transit worker. “Weiner’s a fighter. You see him go up against those Republican assholes back in 2009, 2010? Everyone else sitting there just taking it—Obama too—and Weiner’s the only one screaming back. That’s a hell of a lot more important to me than whether he showed off his cock.”
That was it, the Weiner hope. Call it just one more symptom of a broken system, but seemingly devastating reports decrying Weiner’s high-handedness and failure to pass meaningful legislation while in Congress tended to miss the point. To many New Yorkers, it didn’t matter if Weiner threw a salad against a wall and was a raving a-hole to work for. Congress wasn’t the political battleground that mattered. What did matter was all those page views that Weiner generated during the famous House-floor flip-out over supposed Republican foot-dragging in delivering federal subsidies to injured 9/11 workers. Weiner’s made-for-TV neo-lefty bombast and welcome big-city snideness might have been grandstanding—but it was grandstanding you could believe in.
In the mid-spring New York Times Magazine article that all but announced his entry into the race, a newly Zen Weiner mused about how, if he ever returned to electoral politics, “I might not be so good at it.”
After Weiner officially jumped in with a YouTube video in late May, the above comment would prove prophetic. Across the great metropolis, from banquet rooms in Inwood to stifling old union halls in Corona to offices in Harlem, through Gravesend, Maspeth, and on the Grand Concourse, Weiner traveled to mayoral forums and campaign events, a thrilling cook’s tour of New York’s ever-transforming array of peoples and passion. Only the candidates remained the same, parroting near-identical answers in the South Bronx and Borough Park. One hoped Weiner, cut from classic New York wiseass cloth, noted incisive molder of message, might spice up the mix. But, perhaps rusty from all that time on the DL, Weiner, often bolting to his feet to deliver head-stratchingly rambling commentary, was certainly not blowing anyone away.
He often seemed to be winging it. At a forum held in the temple-of-capital offices of the Kirkland & Ellis law firm on the 50th floor of the Citigroup Center, Weiner suddenly went all Bolshevik, declaring that big Manhattan firms were mistaken if they thought they could sustain themselves “dealing with rich people,” because “you’re going to run out of them sooner or later. There are only so many oligarchs who are going to buy apartments, only so many millionaires who can sue each other.” You could appreciate the outer-borough class antagonism, but a few days later, in Harlem at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network on 145th Street, Weiner, likely the last man on Earth rocking a BlackBerry holster, turned inexplicably wonky, droning on about his 60-20-20 affordable-housing plan (“60 percent market, 20 percent affordable, 20 percent low-income”). The audience, many of them elderly nycha residents living with the not-unreasonable fear that their public-housing homes will soon be torn down to put up exactly the sort of urban renewal Weiner was touting, sat on their hands. Sharpton, who had warmed up the crowd declaring “everyone is entitled to a second chance,” was miffed about Weiner’s wet-blanket performance. “I set it up for him. Then he puts everyone to sleep,” the Rev groused. “Don’t want to say it, but Weiner blew it.”
As I watched him make the rounds, it was easy to wonder why he was even bothering, if he wanted to be mayor at all. As the other candidates sat like good little students, eyes forward, hands clasped, Weiner was a Ritalin prescription waiting to be written, fidgeting, covering his face with his hands, off in his own private Idaho. At the Kirkland & Ellis forum, in an incident that would come to be called “Slouchgate,” journalists tweeted how the former congressman looked “bored.” Weiner, monitoring the real-time feed from his spot on the dais, later complained, “Hey, stop breaking my chops, will ya?”
It was only when he was talking about himself that the candidate appeared fully engaged. For the most part, the sexting scandal has remained the hairy elephant in the room, invoked more often than not by Weiner himself. On a downtown street, a woman wanted to take a picture with the congressman. She put her arm around him but quickly removed it. “Oh,” Weiner joked, in apparent reference to his assumed unsavoriness, “you want to get close, but not that close.”