By J.G. Collins
For reasons I’ll discuss, ultimately, Anthony Weiner has no choice but to see the New York City mayoral race through to the end. His private transgressions, while despicable, pale in comparison to his Democrat predecessors and colleagues both in history and in his home state.
Bill Clinton took advantage of a naïve and emotionally needy intern from the ultimate position of power; then, he perjured himself about it when he was deposed in a civil lawsuit that accused him for similar behavior. And while the lie itself was, indeed, “only about sex”, as his defenders claimed, the gravity of the lie in the context of a lawsuit over sexual misbehavior should be readily apparent. Saying Clinton’s lie was just “about sex” in those circumstances is like saying a falsified mortgage application is like a lie about money by some pick-up artist trying to score with a gold-digger.
Clinton, of course, is hardly alone among presidents prone to indiscretion.
FDR famously died in the company of his long-time mistress. If accounts of early 1960’s White House staff are to be believed, JFK pimped young girls to his friends and sampled their wares whenever Jackie’s absence allowed.
Closer to Weiner’s home State of New York, Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned when he was reported to be “Client 9” in a high-end prostitution ring called the “Emperor’s Club VIP”. Spitzer’s efforts to hide his trysts – including, allegedly, arranging them out of state in violation of the Mann Act and paying the agency pimping the prostitutes with wire transfers that were allegedly intended to avoid money-laundering laws — exposed him to criminal prosecution and prison time. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Spitzer was never charged.
More recently, blatant and repeated sexual harassment by a member of the New York State Assembly quietly disappeared after the Assembly paid a $100,000 taxpayer-funded “confidential settlement” that many believe was better described as a payment of “hush money”. The settlement was brokered by New York’s second leading Democrat, one of the “three men in a room” triumvirate who, with the governor and the Senate majority leader, actually governs New York, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Silver has remained in office, despite calls by even the New York Times to resign. Some of the Democrats that are the more obstreperous critics of Weiner have quietly acquiesced to Silver’s inherent corruption to silence victims of the harassment. He enjoys these Democrats’ full support. The Assembly member who Silver protected, went on to repeat his offenses against other staff, even after the $100,000 settlement. (So much for Weiner’s being held to a higher standard because he’s “a repeat offender.”)
So, why has Weiner earned such wrath from his fellow Democrats when others were possibly guilty of worse – even criminal — offenses?
There are three reasons:
First, Weiner botched press and public relations after his post-resignation e-trysts were first revealed. The hastily called press conference in his campaign office with his offended wife, Huma Abedin, was an incredibly poorly executed attempt to shut down questions by saying, “My wife has forgiven me; let’s move on.” Weiner compounded the errors for the remainder of the week by saying, stupidly, that he would tolerate the same kind of “personal behavior” he exhibited among his senior staff and commissioners. (Really, Mr. Weiner? After all the pain, heartache, and destruction it has caused you?) Then, with cameras running, he confronted a woman who was clearly repulsed by his behavior and asked if she would vote for him instead of moving along to a friendlier venue. The video was catastrophic and repeated endlessly on local television.
The proper treatment of Weiner’s scandal would have been to face the cameras and face the music: take all questions in a press conference after a brief statement; or, instead, have a one-on-one televised interview with hard-nosed political reporter like CBS News’ Marcia Kramer where no question was off limits and the reporter had as much time as they liked.
After that, Weiner simply should have stopped talking about his offense. When asked further, he should simply refer to the prior interview and, if necessary, belittle reporters who persist. (I thought you worked for XYZ News. When did you start with the National Enquirer?)
Second, Weiner doesn’t come from an elite or favored class of the far Left that largely comprises New York City’s Democrat activist leadership and base. He’s an (obviously) heterosexual white male of little personal means who graduated from a state university. He’s not Ivy League; he’s not rich; he’s not gay or minority and he’s not embraced by any of New York’s ethnic conclaves — the Greeks, the Irish, the Italians, the Jews. (Many of New York’s Jewish community don’t consider Weiner to be “really” Jewish because, supposedly, his mother was a gentile.) He has no natural constituency to stand up for him, to advocate for him, or to defend him. Even worse, Weiner’s not currently in a position of power where he can use his standing to rally supporters or punish adversaries.
Third, but most importantly, Weiner presents a threat to a mayoral victory by the first female, openly lesbian mayor that is coveted by many Democrat activists.
Under primary rules, if no candidate earns 40% of the vote, there must be a run-off. Forcing Weiner out now leaves the possibility of electing Christine Quinn as New York’s first female – and first openly lesbian – mayor, a huge morale boost and social statement for New York’s Democrat activist base. As the primary winds down, and with Weiner out of the race, Quinn can cut a deal for an endorsement from Bill de Blasio or John Liu, two “also rans” in the race.
But if Weiner continues his race, and there is a run-off, polling shows the likely winner of a head-to-head race of Quinn and former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson is Thompson.
Anthony Weiner still has a chance to redeem himself and, more importantly, to save his infant son from years of torment by his young classmates in seven or eight years. But he needs to act quickly.
The first step is to reframe the “Carlos Danger” issue with a much better PR effort. Weiner should do the press conference or the interview mentioned above; then, follow it up with an appearance on Jon Stewart’s program or with David Letterman so that he be seen to laugh with all of us at himself instead of being the target of ridicule. (See Hugh Grant after he was arrested with a prostitute, who redeemed himself among the public with an appearance on Letterman.) Every time Carlos Danger is raised now, Weiner looks like a victim because he allows himself to be. Use the puns; do the double entendre. Weiner needs to foreswear the shame that has subsumed him the last week, see the humor of his stupidity and share it.
Second, after the bloodletting, Weiner and his team need to refuse any further discussion of the adventures of “Carlos Danger.” Its as simple as saying, “We’ve spoken at length about this issue and now we would like to address the issues we’ve been talking about since the beginning, but that have been ignored to sell newspapers and provide material for late-night comics.”
Weiner needs to stick to his talking points and his agenda for New York, wherever he goes. With luck, he can push the Democrat primary into a run-off and into a debate where he can subsume less able debaters like Quinn or Thompson. From there, he could still win the primary.
Of course, he could stay in the race and do as he has been doing, without a game change.
My advice, then, would be to change his son’s name on his birth certificate from “Weiner” to “Abedin”. Having seen Anthony Weiner’s high school graduation photo, I’m sure he’s very well experienced in knowing how cruel kids can be to other kids.
Ultimately, Weiner has no choice. He has to stay in the mayoral race if for no other reason than to spare his son the cruelty of other children when he hits fifth or sixth grade and the other kids cruelly mock him for his father’s indiscretions (who should have, admittedly, never entered the race knowing what he had done.)
When you think about it, if you were Anthony Weiner and it were your kid, you would do the same.
J.G. Collins is the managing director of The Stuyvesant Square Consultancy