Barrett: Weiner's Democracy Lesson

Barrett: Weiner's Democracy Lesson

(Photo from Weiner for Mayor)

We all know how sacrosanct the rights of the electorate are to Anthony Weiner, the congressman running for mayor. During the term limits debate last fall, Weiner railed about how the will of the voters should be respected. (Of course, the will of voters had twice favored term limits that would have made it easier for him to become the next mayor.)

Turns out he's only a champion of our rights when it involves getting Mike Bloomberg out of his way.

The morning Kristen Gillibrand was anointed as New York's next U.S. Senator, I was on Brian Lehrer's WNYC show talking about the selection with Irene Liu, a Times Union reporter. I had already blogged twice about Gillibrand's bizarre voting record and was, as usual, venting on air. Weiner called in to sing Gillibrand's praises (he was not a scheduled guest). He was even willing to question some of his own House votes to praise her. Maybe, in the age of 24-hour spin, even that's not unusual.

What I found beyond the ken, though, was this gem: 

"I think people need to take a little bit of a deep breath and get to know her a little bit and I think she's going to be a terrific senator. I don't think she's going to have a primary. I think she's going to serve there for a long time." Weiner appeared to be arguing that unelected governor David Paterson should be able to pick an unelected senator, whose views and votes are demonstrably different than many New York Democrats, and that she should skate to the general election. Our only choice should be her or Pete King in November. Instead of saying that if she isn't "terrific" (after all, he was saying this morning she was picked), or if many Democrats don't think she's "terrific," we should have a full-throated debate about her, Weiner was rushing to award her the seat "for a long time." In fact, he was dialing up a show to volunteer this lesson in democracy.

Just to make sure I got this right, I called the congressman, read him the quote and asked if he had second thoughts. He didn't. "I don't think a primary for a primary's sake is a good thing," he said, adding that he still doesn't think that ultimately there will be one. He thinks Gillibrand is changing her positions on immigration and other issues to adapt to a statewide constituency and broaden her appeal beyond the boundaries of her upstate, Republican-plurality, district, and that we should just wait and see who she becomes, as opposed to who she's been.

A newspaper in Weiner's district ran a front-page story saying that he's the illegitimate son of Chuck Schumer, his mentor and first boss (Weiner was a Schumer aide eons ago). It was a spoof, but some readers took it so seriously that a woman with a support group for illegitimate children called in to offer counseling. Weiner reportedly picked up the phone himself and tried to convince the woman that his parents live in Park Slope, and are quite real, and she told him that she understood. "You're in denial," she is reported to have said.

The point is that Schumer, the actual father of the Gillibrand candidacy, took almost precisely the same position as Weiner at the press conference an hour or so after our WNYC dialogue, delivering a long lecture about the importance of a Democratic unity behind Gillibrand. He didn't actually forbid a primary. He saves that for phonecalls. Carolyn McCarthy, the anti-gun Long Island congresswoman who instantly declared her willingness to run against the 100-percent NRA-rated Gillibrand, went on NY1 that night and was asked if she'd been pressured not to run against the brand-new senator. She said she'd gotten calls from senators (we only had one at the time, Shuck Chuck) trying to talk her out of it.

Weiner's argument for Gillibrand, by the way, was that "she's got the New York ethos." She does "a lot of her fundraising, frankly, down in New York," observed Weiner, "she understands the rhythm." Weiner ostensibly believes that she can represent the city because she knows how to raise money here (was that the quid pro quo beat he was referring to?). Equally baffling was Weiner's response when Lehrer asked about Gillibrand being the only member of the state's delegation to vote against the TARP bill, which was, with all its flaws, a New York bailout bill. "I'm not sure that she didn't have that vote right and I had it wrong," said Weiner.  

Research assistance: Sudip P. Mukherjee and Jana Kasperkevic

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