NEW YORK — Rep. Anthony Weiner built his political persona around the striving, straight-talking culture of New York’s outer boroughs: He was Queens, in a suit and tie.
That explained the Democrat’s bluntness, his vulgar streak, his volcanic temper and his love of cameras. Weiner seemed to be living by the code of a place where everybody was trying to climb the ladder — and nobody expected you to apologize for it.
In the real world of Queens and Brooklyn, however, Weiner looked a little different to his constituents on Tuesday. The code there might allow for “sexting,” his constituents said.
It doesn’t allow for lying or crying about it.
“Here, we forgive and forget pretty fast. But not like that,” said Tony Escobar, 35, who was working at a European men’s boutique called Anthony’s in Queens’s dense Forest Hills neighborhood. Escobar said that he never liked Weiner, but that he respected him — he had a “name” in Forest Hills as a guy who was responsible and real.
“From the beginning, he should have hid himself” if he couldn’t make himself tell the truth, Escobar said of the congressman. Escobar looked as sharp as the clothing store, in a sea-green shirt and a stylish haystack of gelled hair. His face bore a look of disgust. “But he lied.”
Weiner’s district runs from Queens south to Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay waterfront, through neighborhoods shared by recent immigrants, old-time residents and real-estate refugees from yuppie Manhattan.
In Forest Hills, you can buy a steak for $39 at a place so fancy its name includes odd punctuation: (aged.). Or you can walk around the corner to the T-Bone Diner (established in 1934) and order a sirloin for $16.95 — a price that includes soup, potatoes, coffee and a choice of pudding or jello.
Weiner grew up in Brooklyn, the son of a schoolteacher. Later, he was the political protege of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a man of sharp elbows and serious media savvy. Weiner made his name here through intense retail politics: Old folks get their flu shots at his office, and regular folks remember meeting him in senior centers and neighborhood shops.
“I cut his hair. I’m not talking about him,” an angry hairstylist in Sheepshead Bay told a reporter who came calling about her wayward congressman.
But Weiner also succeeded on the force of his example. On the surface, he was a Queens mother’s dream: educated enough to succeed in the wider world, but able to retain the street smarts he learned as a kid.
On Tuesday, some in the district said they could forgive him for the pictures he sent to women electronically.
“He’s got a — waddayacallit? He’s got a flaw,” said Joseph Clark, 66, a transplanted Texan who has lived in Forest Hills for 13 years and was spending his noontime at the Tap House bar. Clark said he was reserving judgment about whether Weiner is finished as a politician.
Over at the Austin Fancy Cut on 71st Road, Selma Haar, 73, still couldn’t believe the news.
Weiner “should be ashamed. He’s only married — it’s going to be a year next month — and he puts on a different face,” said Haar, who was waiting for a blow-dry at the salon.
She fumbled for a headline in Tuesday’s New York Daily News, to show a visitor how bad things had gotten because of this man. She looked relieved to hear that the visitor had already seen it, so she wouldn’t have to look at the words again (“My Weiner and I’ll Cry If I Want To”).
But if Weiner’s constituents disagreed about the severity of his original actions, they seemed more outraged that he had lied about them.
The congressman’s tendency to speak from the heart was at the root of his in-your-face persona — excused it, somewhat. Without that, what was he?
“If the person can lie,” the operator of a restaurant in Sheepshead Bay began as she ate a bowl of chunky crimson-colored borscht on the shaded patio behind her restaurant.
“You know, everyone lies,” her daughter, Lilya Safarian, 26, interrupted.
But her mother insisted: This is different. “If he can lie” now, she said in accented English, “maybe he can lie to me also.” She declined to give her name.
Behind the counter at the Pasticceria Amore in Queens, Scarlett Palacio, 23, said that Weiner had not followed a clear rule. Everybody messes up, she said. But the decent thing to do is tell the truth about it.
Or, if you can’t, have the decency to stay silent.
“If you screw up, you gotta man up for it,” Palacio said.
If Weiner’s situation made anybody in Brooklyn happy, it was those who approached politics with the same hard-edged, take-no-prisoners attitude as Weiner did — but from the other side.
Working on a boat along the Sheepshead Bay waterfront, Tony Santella is a Republican with a variety of opinions about Weiner. Most involve expletives: “I hated that [bleep] before.”
“Me? Me?” said Santella, a grizzled man in his 40s. He was incredulous about the picture that Weiner allegedly sent to a woman, in which he held up a piece of paper that said “Me.”
“I was so happy,” Santella said.