Anthony Weiner’s comeback: How soon is too soon?
By Aaron Blake,
Just 13 months after succumbing to scandal that involved pictures of his crotch being broadcast for the world to see and repeated lies about it, those close to former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) are already talking about a comeback.
The New York Post got the ball rolling on the chatter this weekend, and the New York Times followed with a story Monday citing Weiner’s friends, who said he was weighing his options when it comes to a run for either New York City public advocate or even mayor in 2013.
Nobody doubts that politicians can overcome scandals involving sex and lies; we’ve seen it at the highest levels (Bill Clinton, anyone?).
But the question for Weiner is how soon is too soon.
When it comes to scandal, timing is everything. More specifically, the more time you can lie low after your scandal, the more people will forget about it or open their hearts to forgiving you.
Weiner’s situation, though, presents an uneasy choice.
While he would undoubtedly benefit from some more time spent below the radar mending the wounds he has inflicted upon himself and others (specifically his family), the 2013 mayoral contest may prove irresistible for several reasons.
First is that the seat hasn’t been open for more than a decade. If he sits this one out, he could very well be waiting eight or 12 years for another open seat race.
Second is that the current crop of candidates is rather undistinguished. None of the four big-name candidates for the job raised more than $800,000 over the last six months, according to recently filed fundraising reports, and a poll in April showed 30 percent of New Yorkers undecided. (We should emphasize that it’s early, but the fact is that there is an opening for someone else right now.)
That crowded field also means the threshold for victory is considerably lower than it might otherwise be; a candidate needs 40 percent to avoid a runoff. In other words, as long as Weiner can convince 40 percent of New York Democrats that he’s a changed man (or if they never cared in the first place), that might be good enough. He doesn’t need majority support.
Given all of that, a run for mayor may prove too tempting to pass up for Weiner, who has been eyeing such a campaign for the better part of a decade.
At the same time, he’s got a few things standing in his way.
Most politicians who survive political scandals survived by winning reelection to their current office. Weiner, though, would be seeking an entirely new office with many new constituents who have never voted for him before.
Thus, he doesn’t have loyalty on his side.
While a poll conducted around the time of his resignation showed most of his congressional district constituents weren’t holding a grudge, that doesn’t directly apply to a mayoral run. Voters outside his district may not give the benefit of the doubt to a man whom they have no long-term voting relationship with. And even if they don’t think his scandal disqualifies them, that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically vote for him.
The second thing standing in his way is the unanswered questions. There is still some ambiguity about just what happened when and who was involved (including a 17-year-old girl from Delaware who exchanged messages with him). And the fact is that Weiner didn’t just lie once; he lied repeatedly and without regard for his political future.
Weiner quashed some of that controversy by resigning, but the moment he starts running for office again, it’s all fair game, and the local (and national) media are going to want some more answers.
The whole episode is still incredibly fresh in most political junkies’ minds — we can still see the Twitter pictures in our heads — and that means there will be lots of scrutiny.
There is little doubt that Weiner would be better served to wait a little longer before launching his political comeback.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll be content to do that. And though it will be difficult, it doesn’t mean he can’t win in 2013.