Beware the candidate with nothing to lose, especially a smart one. That’s what I kept thinking as I ate breakfast with Anthony Weiner on Tuesday. He has already lost a lot. His seventh congressional term went kaput thanks to an incredibly dumb tweet and a ham-handed attempt to hide the truth. But the newly minted candidate for the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York City wants back in the political game. And he’ll be a force that can’t be ignored if folks take him as seriously as they should.
Weiner looked even thinner than I remembered. His hair was shaggier, too. Yet, over a plate of steak and eggs near his Park Avenue South apartment, Weiner was as feisty as ever as he talked about his chances. And his chances are looking good right now.
When rumors swirled in the spring that he would jump into the race for City Hall, the Marist Poll in April put his support at 15 percent, 11 points behind frontrunner Christine Quinn, the city council speaker. This put him No. 2 in a field filled with folks who have been actively running for the nomination for months. Now that he’s in the race, Weiner’s support is growing at Quinn’s expense. The Marist Poll released last week shows Weiner with 19 percent among registered Democrats and 19 percent among likely Democratic voters. He’s still behind frontrunner Quinn, who garnered 24 percent among both registered Democrats and likely Democratic voters. But Quinn’s lead over Weiner fell to just five points.
Part of Weiner’s popular standing no doubt has to do with his scandal-inspired name recognition. But I think he’ll hang onto that support. Sure, some of the 64 ideas in his “Keys to the City” are recycled from his 2005 campaign. But that doesn’t mean that they and his other interesting proposals shouldn’t be debated. And because Weiner is a man with nothing to lose and no support from the political establishment, he is free to discuss and defend his ideas unencumbered.
There are a few questions that will be answered over time that will have an impact on Weiner’s campaign. The Big Apple is a majority-minority city. How will Black, Latino and Asian voters cast their ballots? Does Weiner even stand a chance of securing enough of their votes to allow him to force a runoff with Quinn?
Weiner insists the stories about him being a political leper no one wants to work for are flat-out wrong. He claims to have hundreds of volunteers. That’s good. But how many of them are there for him and his campaign for mayor and how many of them are using his candidacy as a gateway to a still-undecided Hillary Clinton presidential campaign? After all, Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is in the inner sanctum of Hillaryland. But if things start to go south in the campaign’s final stretch, will these eager staffers turn out to be fair-weather friends who take flight to save themselves?
Finally, what happens if (when?) another photo surfaces? Will the electorate turn its back on him? Or will potential voters greet the new pic with a “so what, who cares?” shrug? Even though New York City is the cradle of second chances and reinvention, I’m not sure what kind of impact a new pixelated revelation would have on Weiner’s campaign.
At this point in the campaign, Weiner reminds me of the 2001 nothing-to-lose candidacy of Mike Bloomberg. Having worked on that first campaign as a policy adviser, I can tell you the billionaire businessman pursued City Hall with little public support and no support from much of the political establishment. But as the campaign wore on and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gripped the city in fear and uncertainty folks soon saw and felt that Bloomberg didn’t need the mayor’s job. He wanted the mayor’s job. That’s a powerful quality to have, especially in a crowded field.
Weiner doesn’t need the job. He’ll survive personally and financially if the candidacy comes up short. But there’s no doubt he wants the job. Over the next couple of months, we’ll see if New Yorkers will do for Weiner what they did for Bloomberg.
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