The next day, Weiner held a press conference at Grand Central to call attention to all the prospective bacon he had brought home. Pointing to figures on a blue poster board, the pie-chart-loving congressman ticked off the numbers: $1.7 billion for transit, $1.85 billion for Medicaid, tax cuts for the middle class. Best of all, Weiner said, was the funding of an extra 440 cops in the street. This was a result of his own cops program, proof of what he was bringing to the table as the city’s best man in D.C.
It looked good on poster paper, but Weiner’s doubts were apparent even on the Acela ride up from Washington (the self-confessed “cheapest guy in the House,” he made sure to get his congressional discount) the evening the stimulus bill went through with no Republican votes. Sure, the Dems had the majority, but if the Republicans were going into lockstep noncompliance, getting stuff done was going to be a lot harder, not to mention more time-consuming.
And, over the winter, Weiner began to see other flaws in his plan. He had always said that one of his advantages over Bill Thompson in the mayor’s race was “I get under Bloomberg’s skin.” Weiner had Bloomberg psyched out as a deck-shoe-wearing Über-boss, someone not used to schoolyard give-and-take. Get him out of his imperial comfort zone and he could lose it. “You won’t believe why he doesn’t like me,” Weiner said, shaking his head.
The incident dated back to 2001, during Bloomberg’s first mayoral campaign. Michael Wolff, onetime columnist for this magazine, had obtained a copy of The Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg, which had been privately published by employees of Bloomberg L.P. Now largely expunged from public memory, the booklet featured some unfortunate quotes, stuff like “The three biggest lies are: The check’s in the mail, I’ll respect you in the morning, and I’m glad I’m Jewish” and “It’s like the guy who goes into a bar, and walks up to every gorgeous girl there, and says, ‘Do you want to fuck?’ He gets turned down a lot—but he gets fucked a lot, too!”
Weiner, thinking he’d “have a little fun,” called a press conference to protest another bit of reputed Bloomberg wit and wisdom: “I make it a rule never to go to Queens—and since that eliminates both airports, I don’t travel a great deal.”
“I know I can run the city better than the current mayor,” Weiner says. “But sometimes there are walls even your ambition and skill can’t push through.”
Weiner said, “Bloomberg calls me to ask me to cancel the press conference. I asked him if he really said all that stuff. He said, ‘I don’t know, I might have.’ So we went ahead. He said it was his single worst day of the campaign—that’s what he tells people—which says something about the charmed political life he leads.”
Apparently, the mayor, who, according to almost everyone, “can’t wait to run against Weiner and stomp him,” has not forgotten. Case in point is a March 6 Post story, “Weiner’s Naughty Hottie$,” which detailed how some Brazilian models had illegally donated to Weiner’s mayoral campaign. Weiner had walked into that one with his grandstanding for an increase in supermodel visas in order to create jobs in the “fashion industry [that] is super-important in New York.”
Assuming the story came from the Bloomberg campaign, Weiner said, “You really have to tip your hat to an organization that can find out the immigrant status of someone who wrote me a $300 check.
“People think I’m paranoid. But I’m not,” said Weiner, whose contention was more or less borne out by an April 6 Times story revealing the Bloomberg campaign had run a so-called telephone push-poll, a staple of mudslinging politics, that contained “questions featuring negative information about Mr. Weiner.”
Put this together with the persistent rumor that Senator Chuck Schumer, whose wife, Iris Weinshall, was Bloomberg’s Department of Transportation commissioner for six years, had taken aside his former protégé to tell him to drop out of the campaign, and the pressure mounts.
“It isn’t that I don’t have the stomach for the race,” said Weiner. The fact was, he said, that running for mayor right now “just didn’t feel right.”
This didn’t mean becoming mayor wasn’t a “definite priority,” Weiner said, driving out of Bushwick. “I know I can run the city better than the current mayor. I know it. But sometimes there are walls even your ambition and skill can’t push through.”
Of course, there were other reasons to avoid having your head handed to you by Mike Bloomberg.
Weiner’s Blackberry rang. He got that goofy-happy look for a moment before his voice rose an octave or so. “Asia? What’s with Asia? … No, I don’t have anything against Asia … Asia’s great. But it’s far. Very far.”