Anthony Weiner is running for mayor of New York City. But, can he win? And does it even matter?

May 22, 2013

While you were sleeping, Anthony Weiner was announcing his decision to run for mayor of New York City this year.


Former Rep. Anthony Weiner is running for mayor of New York City. (AP photo)

Now that the debate over whether or not he will run is over, the one question that remains is this: Can Weiner maybe, possibly, holy-cow-are-we-seriously-talking-about-this win?

Short answer: Almost certainly not.  Long answer: Almost certainly not but that doesn't mean he can't/won't impact the contest.

Let's start with an assessment of Weiner's assets.

1) He is well known. In a Quinnipiac University poll released this morning, Weiner takes 15 percent of the vote -- good for second place behind City Council Speaker Chris Quinn at 25 percent. In a race where most voters are likely to pay passing attention -- at best -- having some significant name ID (even if it comes from taking pictures of you, well, stuff, and sending them to randoms) isn't the worst thing.

2) He has money. Weiner has $4 million sitting in a campaign account and will qualify for another $1.5 million in matching funds from the city.  Even if he can't raise any more -- and there are questions about who will give to Weiner at this point -- that should be enough to communicate his message in a crowded field of candidates where he is, as we noted above, pretty well known.

3) He isn't running against any stars. Quinn is the frontrunner in the race by dint of her prominent position on the City Council and the fact she has been running for the job for years. But, no one in the field has soared and Weiner is, without doubt, the most charismatic and naturally gifted candidate in the race.

Of course, Weiner's disadvantages are myriad -- and much more problematic.

1) He sent pictures of his man parts to women he didn't know on the Internet. To repeat: He sent pictures of his man parts to women he didn't know on the Internet. That action turned into a national scandal. Also, he resigned from office in June 2011 -- just more than 700 days ago. The relative freshness of the scandal may explain why  49 percent of New Yorkers don't think Weiner should run for mayor this year, according to the Q poll. (Worth noting: Among Democrats, 44 percent say he shouldn't run while 41 percent say he should -- a more toss-up judgment.)

2) The New York tabloids. Weiner isn't running for mayor in a quaint burg like Columbus, Ohio or Portland, Maine. He is running for mayor in the media capital of the world. The tabloid culture of the Big Apple coupled with Weiner's unfortunate -- for him -- surname means that he will have to weather a series of splashy headlines like this one in today's New York Post. (And, in truth, that one is on the tame side in terms of what is coming for Weiner.)  As the Weekly Standard notes, the overnight timing of Weiner's announcement almost certainly was an attempt to stay off the front pages of the tabloids. One Democratic operative close to the City's politics suggested that the tabloids could well turn Weiner into a "pinata."

3) See #1.

Simply because Weiner almost certainly can't win doesn't mean his bid won't have an effect -- on both the race and him.

To a person, all of the Democratic strategists we chatted with this morning agreed that Weiner's entrance into the race virtually ensures that no candidate will get the 40 percent of the primary vote needed to avoid a runoff.

"He guarantees a runoff but doesn't guarantee his own place in that runoff," said one Democratic consultant who keeps a close eye on politics in New York City. "It looks to be a major gift to [former NYC Comptroller] Bill Thompson [who is] running the slow but steady race while Quinn is the hare."

Added another party strategist: "[New York City Comptroller] John Liu, [New York City Public Advocate] Bill DeBlasio, Chris Quinn and Bill Thompson all share one dream today: that they may be fortunate enough to face this Anthony Weiner in a run-off."

The other obvious impact of Weiner's candidacy -- and we strongly suspect this is why he is really running -- is to wash himself clean in the eyes of the electorate. As in, this bid is less about Weiner winning (he is smart enough politically to know it's a major long shot) than about him withstanding all of the bad stories, punny headlines and ridicule so that when he runs again for office (and he will run again) he can say: "Look, we covered all of this ground in 2013."

"This campaign seems to be way more about Anthony and rehabbing his image than it is about voters and the City," said one New York City-based Democrat. Bingo.

So, no, Weiner almost certainly won't be the next mayor of New York City. But, that doesn't mean his candidacy isn't without purpose.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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