If the last week didn’t convince Anthony Weiner (D-NY) to resign, it’s hard to see what will.
Democrats in Washington couldn’t have made it clearer that they want Weiner gone fast. Within minutes of his nationally televised confession on Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for an ethics investigation and was seconded immediately by DCCC chair Steve Israel (D-NY). By the end of the week an array of Democrats, including DCCC official Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), were openly demanding he step down. On the Senate side, Harry Reid more or less told Weiner to drop dead, acidly saying his advice to the lawmaker would be to “Call somebody else.” On the other side of the ledger, virtually no Democratic officials have moved to defend him.
But Weiner has stuck to his guns, emerging from 24-hour deathwatch unbroken after an onslaught of humiliating stories ranging from a reported X-rated photo to dozens of pages of alleged raunchy chats to a New York Times story on his wife Huma Abedin’s pregnancy.
“I betrayed a lot of people and I know it and I’m trying to get back to work now and try to make amends to my constituents, and of course to my family of course,” he told the New York Post on Thursday. “I’m going to go back to my community office and try to get some work done.”
While the shouts for his resignation may be intense in DC, take the Amtrak to New York and the scene looks very different. Local politicos say they aren’t surprised to see Weiner digging in.
“He’s not going anyplace,” Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant told TPM. “He’ll do whatever he wants. Generally, New Yorkers tend not to respond to people in Washington. This is their city and they’ll decide — if his constituents want him gone he’ll leave. It’s that simple.”
Polls show Weiner’s constituents at least somewhat open to giving him another chance. A workaholic, Weiner has always kept up a visible presence in his district and his pariah status in DC will likely send him retreating even further into Queens.
“The guy goes to a million events in his district,” one Democratic consultant, who asked not to be named, told TPM. “If I know him, he’ll start going to community meetings, meeting with folks, and that’s going to be the thing that ultimately decides his fate.”
Nonetheless, the same consultant noted he faces serious risks — the same Marist poll that showed an encouraging 56% of his voters against resignation also put his favorability rating underwater at 38-42, a significant sign of trouble. There are already several credible politicians whose names have been floated in the press as potential primary challengers, including City Council member Mark Weprin and ex-councilman Eric Gioia.
Then there’s the issue of just how effective he’ll be as a lawmaker even if he survives the initial frenzy. He doesn’t have the advantage of being a quiet bit player who can shrink into the background like Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) after his prostitution scandal. Nor does he have a long and storied legislative career to fall back on, like Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) after his legal woes. His overwhelming role in the party has been as a spokesman against the GOP, riling up progressives with a constant stream of cable appearances. Few Democrats are likely to want him as the face of their party in a partisan fight anytime soon, robbing him of his overwhelming raison d’etre going forward.
“When Charlie Rangel got into trouble, everybody stood up for him,” Sheinkopf said.. “When Weiner falls in to trouble, he has less friends. Charlie’s been there 40 years, so it’s different — even though Rangel was originally accused of not paying taxes, a much more significant legal issue than acting like an immature adolescent.”
Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, told TPM that Weiner’s lack of allies reflected a number of factors.
“It seems to me he’s got no friends in part because of his brashness, his personality,” Muzzio said. “Democrats are also really [upset] with him because they just won a special election in New York, they had momentum, they had issue, then WHAM — the whole Weiner thing stops momentum totally. He’ll be the poster boy for Republicans now.”
In the end, Democrats’ may be forced to destroy Weiner’s district to save it. New York is slated to lose two seats after the latest census and reports indicate that Weiner’s may be on the chopping block.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.