June 14, 2011
I met Anthony Weiner once. Well, I sort of met him. In 2005, when he was battling the Bronx’s native son, Fernando Ferrer, for the Democratic mayoral nomination, the Brooklyn/Queens Congressman made a brief foray into enemy territory to appear at a rally staged by South Bronx Churches, the local community-organizing arm of the Industrial Areas Foundation. He came in late and left early. Standard IAF practice is to allow politicians exactly three minutes to speak. Just as he was cranking up, a little Puerto Rican woman approached and tapped him on the shoulder: “Your time’s up,” she whispered. “I’m not used to shutting up so soon,” he laughed, and the crowd laughed with him. The IAF knew the value of Twittering long before Twitter existed. Weiner would later become adapt — or inept — with the Tweet.
He was then subjected to the standard IAF practice of demanding yes-or-no answers to the questions on their agenda: Do you support our proposals on education reform? housing for the homeless? gun control? Like almost everybody I’ve seen in this hot-seat, Weiner started off with, “I’ll answer your question, but first I’d like to say ...” — whereupon the leader would interrupt: “Just answer the question, Congressman: yes or no?”
At first baffled by the whole process, he learned quickly. He answered yes to everything, then excused himself: “I hate to go, but I’ve got another meeting in Brooklyn. You’re doing a great service to the community.” Exiting by a side aisle, he paused only to shake hands with people along the way, and grabbed mine for a New York second. So I sort of I met Anthony Weiner.
As far as I know, the Bronx never saw him again. Ferrer won the primary and Weiner went back to his job, and his other activities, in Washington.
The IAF likes to put politicians in their place as the servants, public servants, they ought to be — it’s good for them to experience a little embarrassment once in a while. Unlike many bigwigs that I’ve seen at these meetings, flush-faced and seething at the constrictions imposed on them, Weiner seemed to take it all in good humor, aware of the irony and also aware of the power of these usually powerless people to make or break him at the polling booth. I respected him for that.
While I never became a Friend or even a Follower of Weiner, I found his talk-show appearances refreshing — a guy with Brooklyn brashness who’d gleefully bash big oil, big ag, big tobacco, big everything except big government — an unapologetic liberal who dogged the right at every turn. He was often outlandish — I guess we should have suspected something right there — but some of his pranks bordered on genius. In 2009, in the midst of the health-care frenzy, he simultaneously introduced two bills, one to abolish Medicare and the other to extend Medicare to everyone. It was an unforgettable stroke of legislative irony; he designed those bills not for passage but to expose the absurd contradiction of supporting a single payer for the elderly and opposing it for the rest.
When the news broke last week of Weiner’s Twittering trysts, my first thought was: “Uh-oh, he’s a goner. Now all we have left is Dennis Kucinich.”
Thus far, Weiner has resisted the pressure from most of his party, including President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to resign. After the customary rehab and the less-than-customary self-flagellation, he could hold on to his seat, hang low, so to speak, continue to cast votes toward the liberal cause, and let his term mercifully expire.
In any case, whether he quits or stays, he’s finished in politics. People will forgive adulterers — look at Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, though the fate of the latter remains to be seen — and they’ll sometimes even forgive paid sex — look at Eliot Spitzer, disgraced governor turned CNN commentator — but they’ll never forgive a pornophile, especially when the porn is of himself. A twit on a Tweet. That’s about as creepy as it gets.
But who knows? Weiner and Jon Stewart were college buddies. What a sidekick that guy would make!
I can see it now ...