“It’s embarrassing and sad. I want to believe this was a weird, unusual moment and when it passes the city will go back to its real self.”
Now, no one is denying the various accomplishments of the Bloomberg administration. It is a relief to come out of a bar without smelling like a Kool menthol. Certainly the surface temperature of race relations has been reduced, even if the underlying reality hasn’t changed as much.
However, for this aging, Queens-bred Big City loyalist, someone who has sworn to never, ever vote for Mike Bloomberg following his amoral offering up of the beloved hometown as a backdrop for the 2004 GOP gangster convention and the subsequent setting loose of Popeye Kelly’s army to make sure a discouraging word was never heard by a Bushian ear, Anthony Weiner’s lament was easy to take, even a little inspiring.
Sure, it was self-serving, but if you don’t think there hasn’t been a general decline in the democratic process around here, you must have missed the sorry Paterson-Kennedy-Gillibrand soap opera, in which an unelected governor blathered his way into making a senator out of a gun-and-tobacco flogger.
Delivered with a proper mix of regret and outrage, by someone who was driving his own car through the mapless back channels of Brooklyn, Weiner’s spiel had a down-home ring to it. Which made sense, since the house I grew up in, that noble manse along the banks of the mighty L.I.E., sits within the current gerrymander of Weiner’s district. Take out 40 years, and he would have been the congressman I would have written to protest his cowardly, now supposedly disowned vote to support the Iraq War. Both our moms were New York City public-school teachers, so you could say we went back.
This outer-borough bonhomie was a bit of a surprise, since Weiner is supposed to be a prick. He was allegedly such a hard-ass that early last summer, during his mayoral front-runner days, the Times, seemingly out of the blue, did a story on how Weiner was among the “most intense and demanding” of Capitol Hill bosses. The piece described Weiner as “a technology fiend who requires little sleep and rarely takes a day off, routinely instant messages his employees on weekends, often just one-word missives: ‘Teeth’ (as in, your answer reminds me of pulling teeth).” These management practices, the article goes on to explain, could “offer clues” as to how a Mayor Weiner “might handle perhaps 300,000 city workers.”
Even if Weiner does occasionally point at an aide and say, “Ticktock!” when he wants to know what time it is, he revealed little of this supposed side of himself to me. Weiner acknowledges he can be a dickhead sometimes, but, as we all know, everyone in politics is kind of a dickhead.
At least he is the dickhead wiseass we know. Case in point would be a visit along with brand-new secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to the Statue of Liberty on the Friday following Barack Obama’s inauguration. Decked out in cowboy boots and hat, Salazar was making his first official appearance outside D.C. since his swearing-in, a massive score for Weiner, who was happy to show off his pull with the new administration. The reopening of the statue’s crown, closed since the 9/11 attacks, is one of Weiner’s most enduring talking points. To be lifted by your dad to look out the window inside Lady Liberty’s head was an iconic New York kid experience, the congressman often said. Just remembering it gave him “chills.” Marched up to the top, Salazar agreed: The view was awesome; the crown should be open.
Later, on the boat ride back to Manhattan, the secretary’s Westernwear became a topic of discussion, specifically his bolo tie, the clasp of which was engraved with his last name spelled out in block letters. Did everyone out West have their names on their ties, it was asked. “Hey, I got my name on my tie,” Weiner said, pulling the deep-blue garment from inside his coat. Given to him by an Annapolis grad, the tie was embossed with large gold “N.”
“See that N,” said Weiner. “It stands for Not to Be Fucked With … That’s me, Anthony Not to Be Fucked With Weiner.”
Weiner pulled up in front of the old Bushwick High School building. Opened in 1913, the “traditional” school was shut down in 2006, when 23 percent of the long-dwindling student body managed to graduate on time. The four smaller high schools now occupying the building are showing better results, but exactly how much better was the question. Weiner was critical not of mayoral control of schools but rather of Bloomberg’s vaunted management skills. “Spending on schools has gone up 40 percent. But have we gotten 40 percent improvement? The answer is no, and that is directly responsible to lack of imagination and mismanagement of this administration.” These were the real issues of the upcoming mayoral campaign, Weiner declared, forgetting he’d told a number of TV outlets he “wasn’t doing politics today.”