As surely as the camera adds inches, Anthony Weiner was always bigger on screen than in person.
Weiner’s plan to stage his resignation this afternoon outside of a Jewish women’s center in Sheepshead Bay, where he launched his loud if inconsequential political career, was surely intended as a way of bringing his career full circle. But being brought down by a scandal that for all its salaciousness means little in its own right is the more meaningful bit of symbolism.
A politician and nothing but for his entire adult life and once the wunderkind of city Dems, Weiner emerged as a citywide figure with his late entry into the 2005 mayoral primary field. Surrounded by tired Democratic regulars who’d waited their turn and with Bloomberg still down in the polls after his Olympics debacle, the young Congressman’s ability to project an outer-borough middle-class vision of New York immediately resonated. In part because he entered the field just a few weeks before the primary, the thinness of his Koch-meets-Schumer shtick — that he offered almost nothing credible about how he would achieve his plans — was barely noticed by the public even as the press rapidly tired of is how-am-I-doin’ rehash and the lack of substance behind it. When taken off script, Weiner had little to say.
After managing enough votes to apparently enter a runoff with former Bronx Borough president Fernando Ferrer, Weiner’s star continued to rise when he wisely withdrew – having learned from Mark Green’s 2001 general election defeat when Ferrer and Sharpton effectively withheld minority support from the white Democrat. Low turnout among black and Latino voters became the turn card in Bloomberg’s inside straight draw.
But for all his political savvy (sexts aside), unlike his Harvard-educated (undergrad and law degree) mentor Schumer, the SUNY Plattsburgh grad rarely had substance to undergird his shtick. And unlike Schumer, the would-be mayor never showed much patience for the duties and limitations of his legislative position.
His House record showed more interest in TV-time and MSNBC canonization than in substantive legislating. While cultivating his Koch Dem appeal in the city, Weiner cultivated a national rep as a liberal lion with scripted bursts of temper that placed the dismay of his righteousness over the goals he was allegedly concerned with, most memorably when he lambasted NY GOP Rep. Peter King on the house floor over the 9/11 first responders bill – a moment replayed endlessly on cable news, but which set back the efforts of other, far more engaged Democrats to strike a deal.
While another would-be executive in a legislative role, Sen. Hillary Clinton, earned respect with her work ethic and willingness to take to the job, Weiner seemed to see it as a prop or a waystation, accomplishing little of note while earning the enmity of colleagues as he jumped in front of camera lines while seeing to eschew behind-the-scenes work. Ironically, the Dems’ thin bench after their ’10 drumming meant that his MSNBC performances were enough to generate discussion among leadership of adding him to their ranks.
Most all politicians are like celebrities in being susceptible to magical thinking – with so many variables and no do-overs it’s all but impossible for them to rationally account for their wins and losses. I’m inclined to think that Weiner’s charmed rise, in spite of his lack of any noteworthy accomplishments outside of his runs for office, gave him an adolescent sense of political immortality that in turn affected his personal behavior.
As Cindy Adams noted today, Weiner has never been anything but politician. “He has no money… no skills. No law degree, no business degree. A lobby position, no. Municipal post, forget it. Teaching children? Duh. A think tank? I don’t think so. And TV is already full up on maybe-sex-offender talk-show hosts.”
More to come after Weiner’s presser.