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Life of the Party

"That PlayStation 2," he said in February. "I'll be surprised if I get re-elected, if I spend any more time with that thing." Weiner has since conquered his first obsession, a snowboarding simulation titled SSX, but the switch hasn't made things any easier. "I've moved on to a racing game called Grand Tourismo 3," he said last week. "But I actually haven't had much time to play it."

Weiner even has a few youth-centric items on his legislative agenda. Last year, he turned his frustration with dropped cell-phone calls into a bill that would force telecommunications companies to disclose more information about their mobile services. The high interest rates attached to store credit cards prompted another measure, which would demand that retail outlets prominently display the percentages they charge. A few days before last Valentine's Day, he held a press conference on the issue in front of a Victoria's Secret on East 57th Street. Standing before a backdrop of red panty-and-bra sets, Weiner cut up his well-used Banana Republic card for the cameras.

In May, "Page Six" spotted Weiner at Nobu, huddling with Sopranos actor Joe Pantoliano. The pair were hatching a plan to combat "runaway production," which robs the city of jobs and revenue as studios take their shoots north of the border. "I get a sense that he knows what will work and what won't," says Pantoliano. "He's the kind of guy who won't be pissing into the wind."

Recently, Weiner found himself in the gossip pages again -- this time without any celebrity help. On September 13, Weiner was dining with a group of nine northeastern lawmakers at Washington's Capitol Grille when a lobbyist invited three young female staffers to join them at their private table. "When I socialize in Washington -- to the extent that I do -- I am always careful not to tell people that I'm a member of Congress, because I figure that can only buy me more trouble," says Weiner, who on this occasion went with "auto-parts salesman" instead.

His bluff was called the next day, when Weiner e-mailed one of the girls, Diana Davis, to keep the conversation going. She noticed the congressional e-mail address, and teasingly apologized for not realizing he was a congressman. His response: "Apologies like yours are best offered in person." Davis then passed their exchange on to Vicky Ward, the Vanity Fair writer who had been tailing her for a December article on the Beltway's "nexus of lust and power." The story, which does not mention that Weiner is single (he and Alli Joseph broke up this summer), suggests that he invited Davis to "visit his office." Sounding somewhat Clintonesque, Weiner asserts that he never used those exact words in his correspondence with "that woman." Vanity Fair's spokeswoman says the magazine will be running an editor's note that will clarify that he did not invite her "to his office."

Many weekday evenings find Weiner on a shuttle to La Guardia, heading back to press the flesh with constituents. "He's the best roommate in history -- he's never around," jokes Representative Mike Capuano, a Boston Democrat who shares a small two-bedroom with Weiner just off Capitol Hill (and who also attended the dinner described in Vanity Fair). "I don't even have to fight him for the bathroom, because he's up early in the morning and off to the gym."

Last winter, I joined Weiner on one of his regular spins through his district. Our destination was the Rockaways. He pounded the pavement of its neighborhoods during his congressional race, and cites the area as a key to his victory. Weiner sees an initiative to revitalize the Rockaways -- home to some of the most beautiful barrier beaches on the East Coast, but more often associated with the thousands of units of public housing erected there in the sixties -- which he is putting together with Representative Gregory Meeks, as a first step toward building himself a lasting legacy.

Whether he is manning his Explorer or the 1983 Chevy Cavalier (complete with pushpins to hold up the sagging roof lining in its faded blue interior) that serves as his wheels when he's in D.C., Weiner displays New York?honed motorist skills. Running late to our appointment at the Hammel Senior Center, we pull up at a red light. The light changes; the sedan in front of us does not budge. "C'mon, it doesn't mean you stop forever," Weiner shouts at his windshield. "You stop for a while, and then you keep going."

"We're getting very close to lunchtime," Weiner says by way of explaining his impatience, "and the seniors do not like to be interrupted when they're eating." When we arrive, Weiner is in the building before I can get out of my seat belt. He's made it with a few minutes to spare; the old folks are still playing Pictionary.

As Weiner is invited to try his luck at the easel, a tall, thin black man shouts a now-familiar greeting: "Hey, I saw you on TV!"

"What did you see me on, Love Connection? America's Most Wanted?" asks Weiner.

"Survivor!" one of the elderly ladies offers.

"Survivor -- exactly. You have no idea how close you are, sweetie. You have no idea."

"I have this older district, and that's probably for the better," Weiner says later. "On many issues, I feel a stronger sense of connection with people of my grandmother's generation than I do with my card buddies." That connection could be more a product of electoral calculation than heartfelt affinity; he is a career politician, after all. But watching Weiner work this senior center, and the next one, I'm struck by how genuine he seems. "He truly enjoys this. This is what he lives for. He's just one of those guys who like to be in it," says Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, who has been close with Weiner since the two lived in the same summer house in Dewey Beach in 1987. "It's odd that we get along," Stewart adds. "I'm pretty cynical; he really believes in this stuff. Actually, you know what? I don't like him."

Since Weiner can't openly admit to aspiring for a Senate seat -- not with Hillary Clinton and his former mentor in his way -- he consistently cites another goal: Matching the run of Representative Manny Celler, who represented his patch of Brooklyn for 40 years. Certainly, Weiner has demonstrated the requisite willingness to put the duties of his office above all else. Last spring, Weiner's older brother, Seth, was killed in a hit-and-run accident. While sitting shivah, the congressman received a call from President Clinton, who wanted to offer condolences, and also to remind Weiner that his support was needed on an imminent vote. Weiner flew to D.C. in time to say "yes" to free trade with China, then jetted back to Brooklyn to rejoin his family.

Not that Weiner wouldn't mind a little more power: "It's been a long time since the city has had a chairman of a full committee," he says. "Admittedly, I'm about twenty years away from that. But I plan to be around here for a while." Unless, of course, he opts for the one other political job that appeals to him; while he says "there's no ?Draft Weiner' movement anywhere on the horizon," he also won't rule out a run for mayor eventually. "If you get up in the morning, and you look out the window and see things that you want to fix, congressman is a pretty good job to have," he says. "But when you're mayor, you can fix some of those same problems with a single phone call, before you even make it to the office."

Weiner says his relationship with the current mayor improved substantially once he got to Washington because he's on the House Judiciary Committee and is a tough-on-crime, law-and-order Democrat.

His relationship with the next mayor, Michael Bloomberg, got off to an awkward start after Weiner's staff made copies of The Portable Bloomberg available to the press during the campaign. But Weiner said he and the mayor-elect have buried the hatchet. When he saw Bloomberg in Washington recently, he says he cracked, "So apparently you do travel through Queens," a reference to one of Bloomberg's quotes in the booklet, and Bloomberg laughed and took it in stride.

So what do the cards hold for Weiner? In the immediate future, New York will lose two congressional seats in the redistricting process that follows every census. The conventional wisdom holds that one will be carved out of upstate Republican strongholds, the other from Democratic territory in the city or its suburbs. Weiner's seat, say the experts, will likely remain intact; a party insider predicts that the congressman may even find himself presiding over a slightly higher proportion of Jewish voters once the new lines are drawn next summer.

"If God is good to him," says Sheinkopf, "he can last as long as he wants."