Photo via Flickr user Katjusa Cisar
After a brief honeymoon period during which it looked like he might actually win his dream job, Anthony Weiner is tanking in the polls and has almost no chance of getting elected mayor of New York City. (When the latest news stories about you involve your staffer calling a former intern a “slutbag” and a porn being made of your life, it’s safe to say your political career is in trouble.) Plenty of people will be happy to see him go, mostly because of his habit of sending wiener pics and sexts to women who are not his wife, then lying about it until he gets exposed in every sense of the word. But if he loses the election (or his long-lost sense of dignity spurs him into withdrawing from the race) over the headline-friendly penis photography habit, he’ll have been cast out for the wrong reasons. Weiner has done many terrible things in his storied political career, and the sexting—and the torrent of lies that has gone with it—doesn’t even scratch the surface. Here are three of the most glaring reasons we should be glad he (probably) won’t get the chance to reach higher office:
He Won His First Election by Exploiting Racial Tensions
Way back in 1991, Anthony David Weiner (as his name read on campaign literature) was running for his first elected position, a city council seat in a conservative, heavily Jewish district in Brooklyn. At the time, the city was still dealing with the aftermath of the Crown Heights riot, during which long-simmering tensions between Orthodox Jews and blacks rose to the surface and basically destroyed a neighborhood. Weiner took advantage of this by sending an anonymously penned flyer out that claimed one of his opponents, Adele Cohen, was an ally of the city’s deeply unpopular black political leadership and then–presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, even though Cohen had never met Jackson. It was a nasty, cynical strategy, and he likely wouldn’t have won the close race without it. Lately, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki has been bringing up that flyer again—but Weiner has responded to criticism of his tactics in ‘91 with lies.
At a meeting of local Democrats in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in June, I saw Weiner get asked about the incident. True to form, he massaged the truth. “One of the candidates in the race accepted an endorsement that was unpopular, and I wrote a flier about it,” he said dismissively. “This other candidate had accepted the endorsement of two unpopular people, a presidential candidate and the mayor. In retrospect, given the time that it was, Crown Heights was going on, I should not have done it. And ever since then I think I’ve had a remarkable record.”
Weiner was asked about the fliers again at a debate in Staten Island later that week, and responded by saying essentially the same thing—the blatant race-baiting was just “quoting the New York Times,” according to him. He lied yet again when I asked him about the fliers after he announced plans to take up the “food-stamp diet” the next day. Politics—and New York politics in particular—can be a dirty game, and maybe we shouldn’t hold Weiner accountable for mistakes he made when he was 27 years old. But as long as he keeps denying his past misdeeds, it’s worthwhile to keep calling him on them.
He Spent His Time in Congress Preening for the Cameras
Weiner engaging in his favorite pastime: talking to an audience. Photo via the Center for American Progress's Flickr account
Weiner came to national prominence during the health care debate a few years ago by appearing on talk shows and on the floor of Congress to give fiery, impassioned speeches that endeared him to liberals who thought mainstream Democrats were pussies afraid to go after their GOP opponents. But as a brutal New York Times investigation in June showed, many of his colleagues and staff hated him. He was obnoxious and rude—when he got angry, he’d throw salad against the wall, or break his cell phone—and seemed only to care about attracting media attention. He failed to produce any legislation during 12 years in Washington with the exception of a single bill that benefited a major campaign donor.
It got a little lost in the wake of his juicier scandals, but the Times story, by that paper’s staid standards, doesn’t fuck around:
The more lasting impression left by Mr. Weiner, according to more than three dozen people interviewed, was of a go-it-alone politician whose legislative record was thin and whose restlessness could spill into recklessness.
To his detractors, Mr. Weiner’s showy style was not just annoying. It revealed a willingness to risk upsetting a delicate consensus to elevate his own profile.
In July 2010, members of the New York City delegation were working quietly to line up some Republican support for a bill to pay for the treatment of Sept. 11 rescue workers. In a moment that became famous on cable TV, Mr. Weiner blew up at Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from Long Island, on the floor over Republican opposition to the bill, though other Democrats saw Mr. King as still on their team.
Mr. King said the explosion antagonized other Republicans, impeding the bill. “That was really his first and last venture into it,” he said. “He really never seemed to comprehend the nuances and complexities of it.”
Weiner’s had a history of not being able to rein in his anger—another story has him yelling at current NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg about “tearing out [his] fucking bike lanes” once he was running the city. Looks like he won’t get the chance, to everyone’s benefit.
Weiner sticking to his guns and denying the occupation of the West Bank in 2013.
Many of the progressives who lionized Weiner for his attacks on Republicans probably disagree with his views on Israel, to put it mildly. Just as you’d expect from a pandering politician whose base consists in part of Orthodox Jews, his stance on Israel and Palestine is outrageous. Essentially, he claims that the West Bank is unoccupied, something it’s hard to picture even Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu saying with a straight face. Weiner’s anger isn’t just reserved for GOP politicians and bike lanes—he’s spent his career accusing everyone from the Times to a professor at Columbia (whom he tried to get fired) of being anti-Israel.
Presumably his batshit crazy views on the subject wouldn’t matter much if he somehow won the election, as the mayor of New York doesn’t tend to take part in negotiations on a two-state solution. But his ideas, particularly his tarring of all Palestinians as terrorists, have troubling implications when you consider that the NYPD has been systematically spying on Muslim communities for years now. Weiner, by the way, opposes both of the police oversight bills recently vetoed by Bloomberg. (Among the people running for mayor, only “hipster” candidate Bill De Blasio favors both.)
Weiner is the twisted byproduct of our cable news-driven media universe, a partisan who doesn’t actually do anything and instead rouses, in more ways than one, his fans with sound-bite-ready pieces of empty rhetoric. Sydney Leathers, the sexting partner that revealed his latest crop of seediness, told Howard Stern that his health care speeches were a “huge turn-on,” which is probably exactly what he wanted to hear. There's a lot of evidence that indicates Weiner cares more about the sexy parts of politics—the speechifying, the crucifying of others, the cameras that follow him everywhere—than actually getting stuff done. His naked ambition, coupled with his substance-free zealotry, is a far better reason to despise him than anything to do with actual nudity. So it's nice that Weiner's apparently on his way out for good, at last, but I wish it were for his politics and not his penis.
Matt Taylor is a Brooklyn-based writer whose reporting about politics has appeared in Slate, Salon, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic, the New Republic, and New York. You can follow him on Twitter: @matthewt_ny
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