She approached in a knit white top and navy-blue business skirt, her dark, almost black hair down to her shoulders. She wore bright-red lipstick, which gave her lips a 3-D look, her brown eyes were pools of empathy evolved through a thousand generations of what was good and decent in the history of the human race. The harsh, cheap buck lighting in the coffee shop couldn’t lay a glove on her. By the time she sat down, the harmony of angels had vanquished the tinny background music from every corporate space on the planet. Of course, you’d seen pictures before. But you’d also seen pictures of the Taj Mahal. It didn’t quite come up to actually being there.
“Hi,” she said graciously, before turning to give Weiner a peck on the cheek. The couple engaged in some small talk; they like to discuss each other’s day, their scheduling. Then she left. Weiner watched her go and then returned to what he was talking about, boilerplate polspeak about how great a mayor he was going to be, the way he was going to put a Kindle in every child’s backpack, and how he didn’t think charter schools should pay rent when co-located in public-school buildings. Something like that.
A few days later, I saw Huma again, this time in the couple’s apartment, a nifty, reportedly $3.3 million spread owned by a longtime backer of the Clintons. This was the so-called domestic segment of the reporting process, a quick sitting with the modern young couple and their 18-month-old son. There were to be no searing re-creations of the sexting scandal, no intrusive inquiries about personal lives. Huma was a famously private person, give or take a Vogue spread or two, and wanted to keep it that way. It being Saturday morning, the young family was in relaxation mode, Weiner in his customary ball cap and shorts, Huma in new jeans and a cool striped summer shirt. She wore no lipstick, little makeup at all.
When Huma brought over some cookies and a cup of coffee, Weiner told her not to say how much the flat little things cost per pound. “He’ll just write how rich we are,” he remarked. After a decade in a Forest Hills bachelor pad, the plush surroundings were an issue for the man who couldn’t get through a half-hour without claiming to be the champion of “the middle class and those struggling to make it.” His present circumstances mattered little, Weiner contended; when he put his head on his pillow at night, he didn’t “think about the skyline of Manhattan” but rather “this iconic view of a stoop in Brooklyn and the elementary schools,” the P.S. 39 world in which he’d grown up. The middle class was as much a symbol as a reality. It was “an aspirational thing,” the candidate explained.
Jordan, a natty little fellow with a passion for fedora hats, had “locked an eleven o’clock nap,” as his father called it. So, treading lightly, I asked Huma how she might approach being First Lady of New York. Starting as an intern in 1996 during Hillary’s First Lady days, Huma certainly knew the territory.
“Huma will be a kickass First Lady,” Weiner threw in, adding that the position has “been vacant for a long time.” With the Bloomberg period, Giuliani announcing his pending divorce at a press conference (without telling Donna Hanover first), and Bess Myerson, America’s first Jewish Miss America, in the role of Ed Koch’s supposed paramour, traditional New York City First Ladies had been few and far between in the past half-century. Asked if she planned to move into Gracie Mansion should Weiner be elected, Huma said, “I really haven’t thought about it. I guess I am going to have to start.”
As the conversation turned to kids and travel, Huma showed me a picture of her father, Syed Zainul Abedin, which she keeps in a small frame on the windowsill. Born in India in 1928, Syed Zainul Abedin was educated at the Aligarh Muslim University, in a western Uttar Pradesh town where, in 1803, a regiment under the command of the British East India Company waged war against the Maratha Empire. With rimless glasses and a large shock of hair swept across his forehead, Syed Zainul had the look of a young threadbare scholar, which is basically what he was, Huma said. This was how she came to be born in the notably unexotic locale of Kalamazoo, Michigan, during her father’s brief tenure at Western Michigan University. Two years later, the family moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she grew up.
“My father had that perfect-British-education thing. He had a system of what I was supposed to read and in what order,” Huma said, walking across the room to a large bookcase and pulling out a softcover copy of Anna Karenina. At the corner of the first page was written “L6.” That meant, Huma said, “level six … I was supposed to go through the levels. Silas Marner was level one.” She pulled out two more volumes, The Count of Monte Cristo, marked “L15,” and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “L19.”