Skip to main content

Could Anthony Weiner make a political comeback?

By Errol Louis, Special to CNN
July 18, 2012 -- Updated 1357 GMT (2157 HKT)
Anthony Weiner announces his resignation from Congress at a June 2011 news conference.
Anthony Weiner announces his resignation from Congress at a June 2011 news conference.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner sets off frenzy of speculation about running for New York mayor
  • Errol Louis: Despite his fall over raunchy texts, Weiner taken seriously by New York politicos
  • Louis: New Yorkers tolerate politicians' bad behavior and see Weiner as a pragmatic centrist
  • His worst sin was lying, Louis says, and if he can apologize, he'll likely make a comeback

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York City all-news channel.

(CNN) -- In recent days, with the tiniest poke of a toe in the political waters -- a few comments to news organizations about the recent Supreme Court ruling on President Barack Obama's health care law -- former Rep. Anthony Weiner has set off a frenzy of speculation that he may be planning to run for mayor of New York in 2013.

At first glance, a second political act for Weiner might seem impossible. It was a little more than a year ago that the liberal Democrat crashed and burned on national television, tearfully resigning after right-wing bloggers exposed his bizarre habit of sending raunchy photos and messages to strangers.

But he's being taken seriously in New York political circles -- an acknowledgment of his considerable energy and talent for championing middle-class values, and a testament to the city's habit of tolerating and rehabilitating fallen pols.

On Wednesday night, when asked in an interview with People magazine whether he is considering a bid for mayor, Weiner said he is not planning a campaign -- but he didn't rule out a run for political office in the future.

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

It was June 2011 when comedians of late-night TV were feasting on Weiner's misery. Conservatives crowed over the scalp they'd claimed -- and were ecstatic when a Republican won the special election to replace Weiner. A few months later, with no longtime incumbent to protect the seat, Weiner's district was eliminated altogether when population changes required New York state to reduce the size of its congressional delegation.

That appeared to be the final chapter in Weiner's political career. He claims to have no plans beyond caring for his newborn son and insists that recent news stories are simply wrong.

But that's not the end of the story to those of us who have been watching Weiner since the days when, at age 27, he became the youngest member of the New York City Council.

Although known across the nation as a left-wing firebrand, Weiner has had a profile in New York as a pragmatic, centrist Democrat willing to break from the city's liberal orthodoxy. In 2005, when Weiner made a first run for mayor, he publicly castigated the eventual Democratic nominee for proposing the re-imposition of a local tax on every stock trade to raise money from Wall Street (a favorite but unworkable liberal plan).

Weiner often railed against the rising cost of living for his financially squeezed constituents (45% of whom voted for John McCain in 2008) and co-founded a bipartisan Middle Class Caucus in Congress.

As the third and final term of Mayor Michael Bloomberg winds down, the field of Democrats running to succeed him lacks a candidate with Weiner's loud, laserlike focus on middle-class issues. That absence has political insiders wondering if there might be room at the table for Weiner.

Even more tantalizing is Weiner's $4.5 million political war chest that would, if activated, qualify him for $1.5 million in public matching funds and land him near the city's $6.7 million campaign spending cap. That makes him one of the best-funded mayoral candidates in New York, and more than just the punch line of a joke.

As for the ick factor -- the creepy cause of Weiner's resignation -- he might end up benefiting from the wide latitude New Yorkers tend to allow public figures when it comes to their personal lives.

Back in the 1920s, one of New York's most flamboyant and corrupt mayors, Jimmy Walker was married but carried on affairs with women who frequented the speak-easies that flourished in the city during his tenure. Walker eventually left his wife to run off with a "chorus girl" he later married, but the carousing didn't stop him from getting re-elected in 1929 (when he defeated none other than Fiorello LaGuardia).

Fast-forward to modern times when Mayor Rudy Giuliani used a press conference to announce plans to separate from his second wife -- who apparently learned of his intentions from news reports -- and tried to have her kicked out of Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence, so that his new girlfriend could move in. Giuliani eventually straightened out his personal life: He got a divorce and girlfriend Judith Nathan became wife No. 3. New Yorkers more or less shrugged.

Even ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after admitting to hiring prostitutes, has returned to public life, hosting a nightly show on Current TV and recently offering weekly commentary alongside other ex-officials on the New York political TV show "Inside City Hall." As host of the show, I have received exactly one complaint to date.

Many New Yorkers -- admittedly, not all -- treat politicians the way they would a plumber or auto repairman: If you've hired the guy to unclog your sink or fix the brakes, he should be judged on that performance, and what goes on in his personal life should remain between him and his wife. In fact, according to a NY1/Marist College poll, a majority of Weiner's congressional constituents thought he should not have resigned after the sexting scandal.

The biggest hurdle Weiner has to clear is the dishonest way he handled the early stages of the scandal. As the salacious photos emerged and the blogosphere exploded, Weiner unwisely had his office ring up various press outlets and went from one show to another, offering blatant lies and denials about how photos of his privates ended up on Facebook and Twitter.

That left a bad taste in the mouths of reporters, producers and editors. As the New York Daily News editorial board notes: "Weiner's sexual escapades were, in fact, the least of his sins. He proved to be a stone-cold liar as he tried to save his skin."

If it's true that, as Weiner insists, he had no physical contact with the women to whom he sent raunchy messages, he will likely get as least as much latitude as Giuliani and Spitzer. And if Weiner has the support of his family -- and is prepared to make a full apology for the lying -- he can eventually expect to find his way back into some form of public service.

Your move, Mr. Weiner.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT