NEW YORK — The television cameras were ready, microphones lined the podium, and reporters pointed their digital recorders at Democratic mayoral candidate Christine Quinn as she began her highly anticipated Wednesday morning news conference.
“We’re here today to talk about three proposals that will make commuting New Yorkers’ lives easier,” she started.
“You’re killing us,” interrupted Marcia Kramer, the dean of local television news reporters.
“I know,” Quinn said gleefully.
The reporters — and most of New York, really — wanted to talk only about Anthony Weiner.
The previous evening, with his wife, Huma Abedin, beside him and speaking in support, Weiner acknowledged in a remarkable, and remarkably awkward, news conference that he had continued to send explicit messages and lewd photos of his anatomy to young women on the Internet after being forced to resign from his House seat for the same kind of behavior. Among the revelations was that Weiner used the name “Carlos Danger” as his moniker during his communication.
The explicit messaging occurred as Weiner was well into his political comeback tour in preparation for jumping into the race for New York mayor. He soon became a front-runner.
But now his rivals, who had been reluctant to so much as utter Weiner’s name, wanted to talk of little else. They called on him to leave the campaign and questioned his judgment and integrity.
At a debate in the Bronx, one Latino mayoral candidate said Weiner’s use of the amorous pen name Carlos Danger reflected poorly on Hispanics. Another rival called him a distraction from middle-class issues, prompting Weiner to respond that his accuser was “playing to the cameras.” Everyone, including Weiner, cracked up when he was asked if he prefers Facebook or Twitter. The cameras clicked.
Weiner, who over his career has delighted in media coverage, was getting run over by it. The media scrum around him dwarfed those that orbit presidential candidates.
New Yorkers on the train and in pizza places folded over tabloid headlines such as “Meet Carlos Danger.” An excoriating editorial in the New York Times demanded that Weiner “take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the Web and out of the race for mayor of New York City.”
Political operatives compared the embattled couple to B-League Clintons. Weiner tried to find a message to stay on, and Abedin’s defenders insisted that she spoke to set the record straight, not just to stand by her man. Even Eliot L. Spitzer, the disgraced former New York governor who followed Weiner’s path back into politics as a candidate for comptroller, had to answer questions about whether he had continued to frequent prostitutes. (“Absolutely not,” he said at a campaign stop. “And we’re done answering those questions.”)
On Wednesday evening, Weiner also continued to face unsavory queries. The gregarious candidate, who entered the race and quickly crowded his challengers out of the debate, looked blankly at a reporter who was shouting, “Do you use any other aliases other than Carlos Danger?”
Weiner chose to answer a different question. “It’s been rough,” he said, adding: “I don’t know what impact this is going to have, but I am going to keep doing what has made me successful.”
Another thing Weiner has kept doing is glossing over the central criticism that threatens his bid: that he willfully misled the city’s voters by suggesting that his erotic-messaging days were behind him. “If I wasn’t specific enough about the specific dates about when these revelations would come out, or about what they are about, my mistake,” he said in Manhattan. In the Bronx, he said that he had answered all the questions asked of him in a New York Times Magazine article in April. The tell-all piece told less than all.
If the purpose of the race for Weiner was a return to political viability, with the potential perk of becoming mayor, he suddenly found himself back where he started. But he is unlikely to drop out, as doing so now would mean certain political oblivion. Instead, he woke up to a new reality.
On Wednesday morning, the flat-screen television hanging above reporters in Room 9 of City Hall showed footage of the Weiner-Abedin news conference alongside feel-good advertisements from Quinn. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who is leaving office after three terms, walked down the City Hall steps with a sheaf of the day’s newspapers rife with Weiner news tucked under his arm. Reporters gathered outside City Hall gates for Quinn’s news conference, which was privately advertised as the moment she would break her silence about Weiner.
After an extended throat clearing about proposals related to the city’s subway system, she gave the reporters what they had been promised.
“The circus that former Congress member Weiner has brought to the mayor’s race in the last two months has been a disservice to New Yorkers. A disservice to New Yorkers who are looking for someone who has the judgment and maturity to lead this city and who has the record of actually delivering for them,” she said, adding, “We see a pattern of reckless behavior, consistently poor judgment and difficulty with the truth. New Yorkers deserve something completely different.”
For good measure, she added: “There is a clear pattern here of difficulty with the truth. Difficulty with the truth is not a good characteristic in a mayor. New Yorkers need to know that their mayor is going to be honest and upfront with them.”
She left the news conference and entered the gates of City Hall, where she gave a hug and whispered to Bill de Blasio, the public advocate of New York and himself a mayoral candidate who had hoped to occupy the progressive-outer-borough-white-guy space before Weiner entered stage left to better reviews.
“The front pages are always about Anthony Weiner,” De Blasio said, calling the former congressman “a never-ending sideshow that is distracting us from the debate on the serious issues of this election. It is time for him to leave this race. It is time for him to step aside.”
Without hearing the other candidates’ attacks, New Yorkers in Weiner’s base got the message.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Sheila Rogoff, 77, who was sipping coffee at a bagel place on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn with a friend. “When I heard the news, I said, ‘He better get a refund from his psychiatrist.’ ” Rogoff said she had planned to support Weiner, whom she had considered “a nice Jewish boy,” but now “I really don’t know.” She was bothered, she said, by his inability “to control whatever his urges are” and that she was hardly aware of anyone else in the race. “To me it represents a loss.”
Her friend Maxine Friedman, 62, nodded along and expressed doubts about Weiner’s habit of “self-aggrandizement” and “this sort of excessive pride,” which she considered part of his “illness.” “When you are in a political position, one of the main things is judgment. When you are mayor, your calls affect millions of people. That’s a concern.”
Down the block, George Alway pored over the Daily News coverage of the Weiner story. “I feel like he should go into another line of work,” he said. “He’d be too busy doing that kind of stuff instead of being mayor.” That said, Alway added that none of the other candidates seems up to snuff. “If Weiner drops out, we’re still in a pickle.” But he shows no signs of leaving.
On Wednesday evening, dressed in a white shirt and yellow tie, Weiner arrived at a college near City Hall for a hearing about public housing. His press secretary had surprise cupcakes for members of the media. But they had a surprise for Weiner, too. Standing next to a New York Post photographer was a man dressed in a Zorro costume. The photographer deflected queries, saying the man was not doing interviews. But when Weiner emerged, Zorro approached. He said his name was Carlos Danger.
He rushed the candidate, shouting, “Why did you steal my name?”
Weiner looked terrified.