New York Democrats are distancing themselves from Anthony Weiner as their scandal-plagued former colleague tries to resurrect his political career with a run for mayor of the Big Apple.
Weiner, a former New York congressman, gave congressional Democrats a black eye when he resigned from the House in 2011 after sending sexually explicit tweets to young women who weren’t his wife.
“I would never tell someone not to run. It’s going to be up to the people,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “But I’m solidly behind the next mayor, who’s [former New York City Comptroller] Bill Thompson.”
“He’s entitled to run,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y) said. “I’m sure Anthony won’t be quiet. He’ll be his usual loquacious self, and what’ll happen is [that] voters will make up their minds.”
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) characterized Weiner as “a very intelligent man [who] probably thought about his family and all the things that candidates have to do.”
But asked if he’d ruled out an endorsement for his former colleague, Rangel was direct.
“I never ruled him in,” he said.
Once a rising star in Democratic politics, Weiner’s career was derailed in the summer of 2011 when he tweeted sexually suggestive pictures of himself to a number of women he met online.
Exacerbating the fallout, Weiner was initially adamant in his claims, both to the press and to Democratic leaders, that he had nothing to do with the tweets.
After several weeks of mounting pressure, Weiner resigned from Congress in disgrace, returned to New York and all but disappeared from public life.
Following weeks of not-so-secret preparations, Weiner added his name to the long list of candidates vying to replace Michael Bloomberg (I) as the next mayor of New York.
In a YouTube video released Tuesday night, Weiner alludes to the scandal that sunk his congressional career but argues that he’s a changed man.
“I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it my entire life, and I hope I get a second chance,” he says in the video.
“Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down, but I’ve also learned some tough lessons.”
Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, appears in the video to reinforce that message.
“We love this city, and no one will work harder to make it better than Anthony,” says Abedin, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton.
Yet the reaction from Democrats is an indication that many in the party still consider Weiner to be a political liability.
Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton intends to support Weiner’s mayoral bid despite their close relationship with Abedin, the New York Post reported last week.
And Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a onetime mentor to Weiner as he rose from congressional aide to prominent lawmaker, has repeatedly declined to weigh in on Weiner’s mayoral aspirations.
Complicating the issue for Democrats, Weiner is launching his bid at the same the party seeks to make political hay out Rep. Mark Sanford’s (R-S.C.) return to Congress.
Sanford fell from grace in 2009 when, as governor of South Carolina, he admitted an extramarital affair that toppled his marriage and threatened his political career.
Democrats have highlighted Sanford, who was elected to the House earlier this month in a special election, as “the newest face” of a Republican Party already struggling to attract female voters.
“Good luck with that,” Emily Bittner, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said after Sanford’s win.
A number of Democrats were quick to draw a distinction between Weiner and Sanford, noting that Weiner isn’t trying to return to Capitol Hill.
They said they’re not concerned Weiner’s reemergence on the political stage will undermine the gender-based message surrounding Sanford.
“I don’t think it’s going to have any implications for Washington, other than the fact that people will probably make reference to what happened here in D.C.,” Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), head of the DCCC, declined to weigh in on Weiner this week.
“If I start to lose focus on winning 17 House seats and start analyzing what’s happening in the election for mayor of New York City, I’m doing a huge disservice to my colleagues in the House,” he said.
Weiner has a tough road ahead.
A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday found that he has the support of only 15 percent of voters, placing him second in the crowded field of Democrats but well behind front-runner Christine Quinn, the head of the City Council, who is polling at 25 percent.
Other Democratic candidates include Thompson; Bill de Blasio, New York’s public advocate; city Comptroller John Liu; and former City Councilman Sal Albanese.
The election is Nov. 5.