Anthony Weiner strode toward the stage, one of five Democrats trying to become New York’s next mayor and about to debate education policy. His plan to attend was confirmed less than a day earlier, after frontrunner Christine Quinn canceled her appearance.
Weiner, 48, stopped in the aisle to greet voters with handshakes and hugs, maneuvered among scores of photographers documenting his every move and joked with a woman in the third row that she was too far away to throw something and hit him.
“Anything I should know before I go up there?” he asked the maximum-capacity crowd yesterday.
“Say something that I want to hear,” someone responded.
“I know better than to mess with you,” he replied with a smile.
With that began the disgraced former congressman’s first mayoral debate, or his first time “seeing live fire” in the context of the campaign, as he said in his opening statement. It also marked the return of a politician known for charm, combativeness and a very public fall from elective office, now on a quest to persuade voters that he deserves a second chance.
Having declared his candidacy only last week on the YouTube.com website, Weiner distanced himself from his opponents with his first remarks to the crowd. He stood to talk as he handled almost every question; none of the other candidates did that. He took off his jacket, appearing in rolled-up shirtsleeves while the others wore dark suits.
He highlighted his “middle-class” Brooklyn roots and public-school education, and defended a proposal to help teachers remove disruptive students from classrooms -- a measure that opponents say would further disadvantage blacks and Latinos. He joined his rivals in calling for curbs on standardized tests. He pledged to press state lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, for increased funding and city oversight of charter schools and hiring of educators.
“My view is that every single day we should be chafing at the yoke of Albany control on everything,” he said. “We’ve shown we can manage our own affairs.”
Weiner sat with chin in hand, and bantered with former city Comptroller Bill Thompson, seated next to him. He attempted at one point to yield his response time to Comptroller John Liu before the moderator forbade it. He elicited laughter from the audience when former City Councilman Sal Albanese labeled his posture toward Albany as “aggressive,” and he responded wearily, “Thank you?” Unlike the others, he almost always stopped talking when the bell rang to signal his time was up.
In the first voter survey released since Weiner entered the race, he trailed only City Council Speaker Quinn in the race for the Democratic nomination, receiving support from 19 percent of party members to her 24 percent, according to the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York. Quinn was at 30 percent without Weiner in an April Marist poll, the college said on its website.
Yesterday’s survey had the city’s public advocate, Bill de Blasio, third at 12 percent and Thompson and Liu trailing with 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively, while 23 percent were undecided.
The Sept. 10 primary remains “wide open,” said poll director Lee Miringoff. The May 22-24 telephone survey of 492 registered Democrats had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The debate in New York University’s Kimmel Center was hosted by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a collection of nonprofit community and advocacy organizations, parent groups and unions that oppose many policies implemented by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent. He is a founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Weiner didn’t attack opponents by name, even when the moderator seemingly opened the door to such comments. Throughout the 58-minute event, attended by about 400 people, no one mentioned the lewd interactions Weiner had on social media that led him to resign as a member of Congress from Brooklyn about two years ago.
Still, reminders of that downfall were there. Just behind and to the side of Weiner’s seat, an easel displayed the Twitter handles of each of the participating candidates. His @AnthonyWeiner topped the list.