Despite the fact that there are at least three candidates running for mayor of New York City who would make history if elected — Christine Quinn (D) would become the first woman and openly gay mayor, John Liu (D) would become the city’s first Asian-American mayor and Bill de Blasio (D) would become the first mayor in an interracial marriage — the media seem to be fixated on one candidate: former congressman Anthony Weiner (D).
Weiner’s political comeback attempt has morphed from punch line to rumor to reality, and he has dominated the headlines. Part of this is because comeback stories are irresistible to reporters and to voters. Comeback stories involving tawdry sex scandals are even more irresistible. But there is an even more juvenile reason why Weiner continues to hog attention: his name. The pun-filled “Weiner-gate” headlines seem to practically write themselves.
Endless coverage of Weiner — his name, his scandal, his sexts — may be amusing to those following this race as mere spectator sport. But it is annoying to those of us who are following the race as voters who will soon have to contend with one of these people leading the city in which we live. Even more annoying to me as a woman and feminist, is that yet again I am watching a man run for office who is married to a woman I’d much rather vote for.
Although she is now known to most Americans, unfortunately, as Anthony Weiner’s beleaguered wife, Huma Abedin is a powerhouse in her own right. In addition to once serving as the traveling chief of staff for then-senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, she later served as the secretary of state’s deputy chief of staff. Along with speaking multiple languages, her keen grasp of foreign affairs, particularly in the Middle East, is credited with making her a tremendous asset to the State Department. Additionally, her gifts for discretion, humility, loyalty, kindness, bipartisanship and diplomacy have earned her fans across the world, and across the political aisle. These are not adjectives used to describe her husband, one of many reasons it is hard to envision him successfully serving as mayor.
It is no secret that one of the reasons Weiner’s congressional career did not survive his scandal is because he burned so many bridges among colleagues that few stepped forward to save him. (Unlike conservative Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) who thanks to his party’s support continues to serve despite being engulfed in what could be considered a far greater scandal–solicitation of prostitutes). To crystallize the extent of Weiner’s burned bridges his campaign has struggled to secure staff. Though Rudolph Giuliani popularized the image of the combative, uncompromising mayor, the reality is that to get things done in a city like New York, coalitions must be built and compromises must be made. That’s hard to do if few people like you. It’s impossible to do if no one respects you. In the illustrious words of Rodney Dangerfield, these days Weiner gets “no respect.”
But his wife does, in spades.
Because of Abedin’s close relationship with Hillary Clinton, many comparisons were drawn between the two women when Abedin faced similar betrayal and humiliation. For me, however, a more jarring comparison is the similarities in their romantic trajectories before and after the scandals. Both women possess more discipline and class than their husbands ever will, yet they have ended up pouring much of their professional and personal capital into helping their men get elected. A generation after Hillary first met Bill, Huma seems to be doing the same thing all over again. That’s not a judgment of them. It is a judgment of the fact that we still live in a society that is harder on women, particularly women candidates, than men.
Had Hillary dallied with a male intern at the State Department her professional reputation would be toast. She wouldn’t be traveling the world basking in adulation and commanding six-figure fees for speeches like her husband now does. Similarly, it is hard to imagine a female candidate being caught red-handed in an affair while in office, and then later being accused of exhibiting “Fatal Attraction”-like trespassing tendencies days before an election, and still win a seat in the House the way former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford just did.
Many felt Sanford’s ex-wife, Jenny, would have made a better member of Congress than he. Similarly, behind Laura Bush’s occasionally derided “Stepford Wife” persona was an independent-minded woman who was far superior to her husband in terms of intellect and scholarship. We all know that FDR never would have become president without Eleanor, and then there’s Michelle Obama who was once her family’s primary breadwinner and whose own husband would probably admit is smarter than he is.
Yet for some reason these women are rarely the names we get to see on the ballot. Part of it may be their personal choice and preference, but in the case of Eleanor Roosevelt, the world was simply not ready. Decades later, it is still questionable whether America can be as forgiving of female candidates as it often is of imperfect male candidates.
Keli Goff is a Special Correspondent for The Root. Follow her on twitter @keligoff.