The resignation of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) marks the end of yet another promising political career for a New York public servant. He was smart, brash, acerbic, funny, driven and unafraid to take the fight to his opponents. Weiner’s trajectory was supposed to take him from Capitol Hill to City Hall as mayor of New York City, an arc that began with a mayoral run in 2005. Not anymore.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg was running for a second term in 2005. I was a policy adviser to Bloomberg during his first campaign and an informal adviser on the second reelection. He was still a Republican then. And I was (and continue to be) a registered Democrat. In New York City, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 1, that’s important because only a party’s registered voters can cast ballots in their primaries. Why I’m telling you this will become clearer in a moment.
Weiner was running a long-shot campaign for the Democratic nomination against former Bronx Borough president Fernando Ferrer. It was a long shot because Weiner was one of four candidates; he had been in Washington since his election to Congress in 1998; Ferrer lost the nomination in a runoff the last time around, and Ferrer was Latino, a major voting bloc in the city that wanted to see one of its own as mayor. But Weiner caught fire with a scrappy campaign and one of the most effective ads I’d seen: the “Diner” ad.
Weiner walks through a diner and talks about giving the middle class a tax cut. Not only that, he said how much of a cut he’d give and how he’d pay for it.
If we as Democrats don’t offer ideas that really help, we don’t deserve to win. I’m Congressman Anthony Weiner. I’m running for mayor because I do have real ideas. I’m the only Democrat proposing a 10 percent tax cut for middle-class families. I pay for it by asking multimillionaires to pay just a little more. And by getting rid of the worst-performing 5 percent of city programs.
I had always thought Weiner was the best Democratic candidate in the field then. But I also didn’t think he could win the nomination. So I was set to vote for him in the primary comfortable in the knowledge that he wouldn’t be on the ballot to give Bloomberg a run for his money that November. That is, until I saw the “Diner” ad. Then friends who didn’t pay attention to local politics started asking me about Weiner. If I wanted Bloomberg reelected I had to vote for Ferrer in the primary.
Weiner came in a distant second, but Ferrer didn’t get 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff against him. Weiner chose the statesman route and conceded the primary to Ferrer. A challenge could have hurt Weiner’s chances down the road with voters of color, particularly Hispanics, in a future run.
A few years after that election, I would tell Weiner that story. “I was going to vote for you in the primary,” I told him. “But I saw that ‘Diner’ ad and thought, ‘Holy [expletive], he could win!’ ” We had a good laugh about it because we knew he wasn’t done yet. We knew that he would make another run for City Hall and that his chances of winning would be infinitely better once Bloomberg cleared the stage.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening now is beyond remote now that Weiner has resigned in disgrace. Felled by a no-sex sexting scandal committed literally by his own hand 20 days ago when he accidentally sent an intimate photo meant for a 21-year-old college student to his entire Twitter following. Just one more spectacular — and disappointing — fall of a New York politician who squandered abundant political promise.
[Correction, 3:30 p.m.: Fernando Ferrer was not the 2001 Democratic nominee. It was Mark Green. Ferrer lost to Green in a runoff during that election. How I could have forgotten that is beyond me. The text above now reflects this.]