There are still people who want to believe the best about Anthony Weiner. Some of them are in his old congressional district, where I now reside, and they’ll still tell you about the bantamweight fighter for the middle class hustling to get their potholes paved or their beachfronts freed of litter. They probably voted for Bill de Blasio or Bill Thompson or Christine Quinn because they were the adults in the room, but they wished their old congressman could have just stayed offline.
August 29, 2016, may finally mark the end of Anthony Weiner’s career as a political creature. Make no mistake: After a second sexting scandal destroyed his 2013 mayoral campaign, as documented in the exhilarating Weiner, he could never return to elected office. He would be the first to tell you that, as someone who understood New York Democratic primaries as well as anyone, his ship had sailed. But Weiner post-2013 was working on another reclamation project. He was undertaking the gradual process of becoming a respectable public figure, appearing weekly on NY1, penning op-eds, getting quotes in newspapers, and sparring with Donald Trump and his princelings on Twitter, his favored medium and the site of his repeated undoings.
Now Weiner has deleted his Twitter account. The Daily News is dropping his column. NY1 has put him on “indefinite leave.” His indefatigable wife and top adviser to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, announced today she is separating from him. Weiner owns another New York Post cover today, this time for sexting he carried out with a buxom Donald Trump supporter through a long chunk of last year, long after he had told the public he was in therapy to get his habits under control. He even featured his five-year-old son in one of his underwear shots.
We can pretend to understand the dynamics of the Weiner-Abedin marriage, though we really don’t, and even the intimate shots in Weiner can only be an approximation of what these two people feel about each other. In the documentary, released to critical acclaim in May, we see Abedin and Weiner as a team, willing to put aside the strife of his original 2011 sexting scandal for the goal of redeeming his career and capturing the ultimate prize, City Hall. When it all goes to hell, Abedin appears as disturbed by the prospect of her husband’s campaign failing as she is by his pathological sexting.
Abedin, though, stuck with him for reasons we’ll never understand. Tempted as the media and the public might be to analyze their marriage, we cannot know its interior, even though it lived and died in the camera eye. Did she truly love him? Did Hillary’s camp want to avoid another ugly headline, until they couldn’t any longer? What matters now is what’s left for Weiner in the public, where he’s constructed his life as a politician and talking head. From the age of 27, when he was elected to the New York City Council, until now, he was always someone we wanted to hear from.
Yet there was a hollowness to the Weiner brand, as much as we’ll fondly remember the gusto he brought to elected office and the way, for a time, he captivated the outer-borough taxpayers who dreamed of Ed Koch’s resurrection in the curly-haired kid from Park Slope. He was an indifferent legislator who played no role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, despite the screaming he did over universal healthcare. He could be an astute observer and a quick study of policy, but his political career always seemed a triumph of charisma over substance, the idea of a great leader over an actual one.
Weiner has admitted his emotional wiring is faulty, that there is some deficit inside of him. He is incapable of feeling shame. Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor, was felled in a prostitution scandal and attempted a political comeback the same year as Weiner, running for city comptroller. Spitzer was defeated too and retreated into private life, running his family’s real estate empire and declining most interview requests. He seemed to understand that his time as a public figure had come and gone. Weiner, with a self-destructive craving to be at the center of every conversation, is built differently.
Maybe it isn’t fair to say this is the end of Weiner. He could reactivate his Twitter account in a few weeks. He could get back onto some television shows. He could subject himself, in a year or two, to a fawning, all-access magazine profile that details his time in seclusion. He can get a celebrity therapist, a new girlfriend.
But the grim truth for Weiner, and one he’ll have to face in the days to come, is that even if he’s unwilling to walk away from the public, the public will walk away from him. His story will have an expiration date. The New Yorkers and national political junkies who, despite everything, took his opinions seriously won’t anymore. Most galling for the former politician is that people will eventually stop talking about him. There are still people who want to believe the best about Anthony Weiner. There’s a lot fewer of them today.