Anthony Weiner is irritated there are still people who aren’t ready to take him seriously. Two years after resigning from Congress in disgrace after tweeting photos of his crotch to several women and then falsely claiming a hacker had victimized him, he’s running for mayor of New York—testing the turnaround time for political redemption. The Democrat says he wants to put his past behind him and talk about the issues facing the city; yet for many New Yorkers his past is an issue. Sitting in a cupcake shop below his Park Avenue South apartment in a fraying green T-shirt and jeans, he laments that politics has become just another kind of entertainment. “It’s too much about the atmosphere. ‘He wears a shirt wrinkled,’ ” Weiner says, mimicking news reporters. “I did an event on hunger and the slug on the story said, ‘The Weiner Show.’ These are important things that citizens care about, and I just think you dishonor it.”
One of seven Democrats vying in the Sept. 10 primary to succeed independent Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg Businessweek parent Bloomberg LP, Weiner portrays himself as a wiser version of the liberal whom New Yorkers sent to Congress six times before his career imploded. He begins some speeches with an apology and an implicit assurance that he no longer suffers from uncontrollable urges and bad judgment. “I put my colleagues in a terrible position by the dishonorable thing that I did,” he says in the cupcake shop. “The priorities that I had, from the days after I did these things, was to try to repair my life, repair my marriage, to turn attention to my son.”
Much as Weiner says he’d like people to move past that chapter in his life, he’s often the one keeping it front and center. At a gay pride parade on June 30, he waved a rainbow flag in front of the Stonewall Inn, where the gay rights movement began. “We love Weiner, and you can quote me on that!” a man shouted. Without missing a beat, the candidate called back, “You know that’s my name, right?”
Weiner says his ideas for the future set him apart from his rivals. In Keys to the City, a 21-page blueprint to improve New York, he outlines 64 proposals, including placing a “Kindle in every backpack” to replace heavy school textbooks; using schools as afternoon community centers; putting 2,000 wheelchair-accessible taxis on the streets; and expanding ferry service in the five boroughs. Weiner presents these as bold new policies, when many of them—ferries, taxis, schools—are applause-getters candidates have batted around for years. He says he’ll install smart parking meters that change rates according to demand for spaces—a plan Bloomberg already proposed.
A centerpiece of his campaign, which he proudly describes as “heresy” for a Democrat, would require city workers and retirees to pay 10 percent of their health-care premiums, or about $1,200 a year. Smokers would pay 25 percent. Weiner says unions would go along with his plan for the good of the city. Harry Nespoli, chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, which negotiates contracts with the city, dismissed the proposal—just as unions did when the city tried to do something similar, in 2009.
Weiner’s name recognition has nonetheless helped him move to the front of the pack. A June Wall Street Journal/NBC New York/Marist poll showed him with 25 percent of the vote—placing him ahead of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who’d been considered the favorite before Weiner joined the race. “I am to a large degree a disrupter in this campaign and I’m being honored for that by the voters,” says Weiner. The headline numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. No candidate is near the 40 percent necessary to avoid a runoff between the top two finishers, and Weiner has the highest unfavorable ratings in the bunch: 45 percent of respondents to the poll said they wouldn’t vote for him under any circumstance.
Democratic Party leaders, labor unions, and big name Democrats with pull in New York, including Bill Clinton and Senator Charles Schumer—Weiner’s onetime boss and mentor—have kept their distance. On Father’s Day, while Weiner was campaigning at a street fair with his young son in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, Schumer was just blocks away at the same event. The senator told reporters he had no plans to stop by and say hello. “Elected officials seriously dislike him,” says George Arzt, a political consultant who was press secretary to the late Mayor Ed Koch. “They’re shunning him.” In May, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked how he would react if Weiner got elected. “Shame on us,” he said.
For now, Weiner can at least count on support from one popular New York figure with powerful friends—his wife. Huma Abedin was pregnant with their son during the scandal while she was serving as a top aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She stuck by him, and helps Weiner make the argument with New Yorkers that they too should give him a second chance. “She’s an enormous intellectual resource, has an enormous network of people,” Weiner says. “So she’s going to do what she can.”