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Winning With Weiner

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Television is pivotal to staying above the fray and establishing your brand as the ideas candidate. You have plenty of money to run bright, glossy, sophisticated ads: $4 million in your campaign account, with another $1.5 million coming from the city’s campaign-finance system. We would bare-bones everything else—no field operation, no mail, a vanilla website with the policy particulars—and devote the cash to TV. The first ad would be the only one to address the scandal, and for that we’d gamble: Huma, direct to camera, either 30 or 60 seconds. “This is who my husband is. He can be an idiot. He made a massive mistake. But I’ve forgiven him and we’ve moved on, and he has a lot to contribute to this city. I’ve given him a second chance, and I hope you will, too.” She’s loved by voters, and it would be phenomenally powerful, especially with women. And you need all the help you can get with women.

But you must talk only about the wonky stuff: cops, kids, economic development, the middle class. Apologize, but don’t dwell on the redemption angle. What you did isn’t nearly as bad as Mark Sanford’s adultery; on the other hand, people find your behavior creepier, and you don’t possess Sanford’s folksy charm. So you need to stick relentlessly to policy and resist your compulsion to crack jokes. It will take tremendous self-discipline, and we’re concerned that you’re not capable of controlling yourself for four months. We’re not worried about you sending new lewd photos, or that more old ones will turn up. But being humiliated doesn’t appear to have instilled much humility or common sense: Last month, you sent a female reporter for Politicker a series of smart-ass, borderline-flirtatious e-mails. Boasting to a Times reporter about how easily you’ve been making money as a business consultant made you look brattyand it invited the Post to highlight the dubious dealings of some of your hedge-fund clients. We would assign you a no-nonsense press person, and you will have to obey when he tells you to shut up. Still, can you play it cool in a debate when Chris Quinn says, “Nancy Pelosi and President Obama told you to resign from Congress. Your name is now ‘disgraced Anthony Weiner.’ And you want to be mayor of New York?”

Ah, yes, the other candidates. Quinn knows you could articulate the case against her better than her other rivals; she’ll try to ignore you and point to her record of making decisions on city issues. Bill de Blasio is already trying to get out in front of your candidacy by establishing himself as the white, liberal challenger to Quinn. Bill Thompson is eager for you to join the festivities—it would help the math for his making a runoff. John Liu? Seeing a former aide being convicted in a fund-raising case doesn’t seem to have slowed him down, so he’s not going to worry about you.

Those four have a head start, and they don’t have your baggage. What you need to remember, though, as you quietly, doggedly stick to the issues, is that each of the other contenders has significant flaws, and none has generated much excitement so far. If you can spend the summer appearing to be a decent, thoughtful guy, you will become a credible alternative. And then we need to get lucky—but only a little lucky. If Quinn, De Blasio, or Thompson stumble, it won’t take much more than the 15 percent you’ve already polled to sneak into the runoff. Then the scandal becomes very old news; your resurrection will be the hottest political story not just in New York but around the country. That kind of momentum, combined with the sober policy foundation you’ve established during the summer, gives you a shot at converting some of the daunting 40 percent who now tell pollsters they don’t like you. That might be the biggest win of all.

Remember, at this point in 2001, Mike Bloomberg was written off as a political sideshow, too. Granted, Bloomberg had created a globally dominant company, had billions in the bank, and he’d kept his pants on. But strange things have a way of happening in New York politics. Acme is ready to help make “Weiner” synonymous with one of the strangest—in a good way, this time.

E-mail: chris_smith@nymag.com.


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