At a stop at the New Kings Democrats club, however, the issue came to the surface. Chris Owens, a well-known community organizer, asked, “I have a three-word question for you: How dare you?” Saying he was a parent with two sons, Owens told Weiner he was not only “outraged and disgusted by what you did but also by the fact that you have the arrogance to run for mayor now.” Weiner first attempted to slide past this, but then met it head on. “Look. I’m going to win this election, okay?” Weiner said. “I’m going to govern this city really well. I’m going to do it based on a foundation of Democratic ideals, and I’m going to do it on a foundation of progressive values, and I’m going to do it smart … all right? And let me tell you something, if you don’t like me, don’t vote for me … okay?” Nothing I’d heard Weiner say during the campaign carried the same conviction.
Whatever his troubles in the forums, Weiner’s gift for nitty-gritty day-to-day retail politics remained manifest. Buttonholing subway riders, commanding his aides to look up whether Oscar or Felix said a particular line in The Odd Couple, wading into a jam-packed crowd of black hats at a rebbe’s wedding (he called it “yidlock”), is what Anthony Weiner was put on this Earth to do. The man is a natural. Never happier than with a bullhorn in his hand, Weiner walked through the Brooklyn LGBT Pride Parade in skinny orange-y chinos (“How I roll!”) offering shout-outs to dozens of people hanging out of windows just to get a glimpse of him. Near the end of the parade, a few drunken revelers started chanting, “Everyone deserves a second chance.” It mattered not at all that a middle-aged woman kept shouting, “We need a grown-up!” A skinny man with a very thick skin, Weiner took it all in stride, reveling in the grand tableau of American democracy at work.
Still, even after a twenty-year career during which he was often characterized as a political Sammy Glick, you had to wonder whether the stated goal—Mayor Weiner, actually doing the job—was really what mattered most to the candidate. Cynics suggested he was only in the race because his pre-scandal war chest—much of it donated by the right-wing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in favor of his superhawk pro-Israel position—was burning a hole in his pocket. Then there was the hoary “redemption” theme, the conventional wisdom that Weiner had willed himself into the race for no other reason but to “clear his name.” In the run-up to his announcement, Weiner had been telling people that he couldn’t stand the idea of his young son growing up to read that the scandal was the last thing his father had ever done in politics.
There were less charitable analyses. Sal Albanese, a long-shot mayoral hopeful who’d spent fifteen years in the City Council, much of it serving with Weiner, said, “If I did what Tony did, I’d go hide on a mountain. I’d become a hermit. Work in a soup kitchen, anything. I wouldn’t run for mayor. Only Tony Weiner would think, Oh, I got it, I’ll run for mayor! He has no shame … I’m no psychiatrist, but there’s something fundamentally wrong there.”
It was not an uncommon opinion heard around town, that Weiner was somehow crazy, a variety of “narcissist,” “opportunist,” and/or “sociopath,” his decision to run for mayor having sprung from the same dark exhibitionist place in his soul that caused him to send half-naked self-portraits to blackjack dealers in Las Vegas.
The kicker in this was, of course, that it seemed to be working. Apparently doomed to single digits, he astoundingly kept moving ahead; he was neck and neck with the teetering Quinn, outpacing Thompson and the rest. “Name recognition” was cited as his strong suit. It was a perfect modern irony: The sexting episode, the candidate’s self-described “worst moment,” the spectacular crash and burn that had supposedly buried him, had become the enabling vehicle of his increasingly storied comeback. The sheer rubberneck stretch of his unwholesome celebrity had granted him an ever-blossoming bouquet of press, while his opponents, Quinn included, were left to battle over a few lonely notebooks.
Riding through a rainstorm on the way to a mayoral forum on the southern shore of Staten Island, Weiner had clearly grown weary with such talk. “For two years, people have been telling me, with 100 percent assurance, what I should do,” the candidate said. “ ‘You should stay dark for five years, you should go form a coffee commune in Mexico and change your name.’ What I’m doing right now feels right to me. It is what I do, what I’ve always done: running for office, doing public service. I want to win, and I think I’ve got ideas that no one else does. Why is that so difficult to believe?