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Anthony Weiner, and Everyone Else Who’s Running the New York City Mayor’s Race

July 18, 2012

The 2012 elections will eventually be over, and we’ll have to find our entertainment elsewhere.  Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, not content to wait, let it be known this week that he is considering a run for mayor of New York in 2013.

Although Weiner’s political image is now and probably forever blurred with his digital image, Weiner is actually a well-credentialed national Democrat.  He started out working in then-Congressman Chuck Schumer’s office right out of college, in 1985 – first in Schumer’s D.C. office and then in the district office.  Schumer encouraged Weiner to engage in local politics.  In 1991, when the New York City Council was expanded from 35 to 51 seats, Weiner ran an aggressive, hard-edged campaign and won an upset Democratic primary victory to become the youngest New York City Council member ever, at 27 years old.

Representing a moderate to conservative Democratic district, Weiner paid diligent attention to district issues, like cleaning up graffiti, adding police officers, and funding local re-development projects.  So when Chuck Schumer gave up his House seat to run for the Senate in 1998, Weiner was well-positioned to succeed his mentor.  He won the seat and held it until 2011, when it came to light that he had sent lewd photos of himself to a woman other than his wife.  He initially claimed his Twitter account had been hacked and the photos were not of him, but eventually admitted that he had sent inappropriate photos and messages over the years to several women who were not his wife.  He resigned his seat in June 2011.

During a dozen years in Congress, Weiner established himself as a leading liberal – first as a vocal critic of the Bush Administration, then as a vocal defender of the Obama Administration.  He was known for his vigorous pro-choice advocacy, his opposition to the second Iraq War and to Bush-sponsored arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and his strong support for the health care reform – he fought for the “single payer” option.  All the while he maintained the loyalty of his district with advocacy on behalf of the middle-class, of Israel, and of New York City, including his famous screaming rant at Republicans on the House floor for opposing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.  He gained a reputation as a tough partisan, once calling the Republican Party “a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.”

The text messages men send live after them; the good is oft interred with their political careers.  Republicans and Jon Stewart made sure that everyone in the country saw Weiner’s amorous self-portraits.  Until this week’s People magazine interview, Weiner hasn’t really come to attention with anything that could help voters think of him other than as that weirdo texter who resigned in disgrace just a year ago.  So I can’t imagine that he could run a viable race in 2013, notwithstanding the $4.5 million campaign fund he is sitting on – which comes with $1.5 million in New York City matching funds provided he runs for something next year.  Weiner is reportedly also considering running for the Number 2 spot in New York, the public advocate position.  That might be a better idea – not necessarily because he would win, but because it could afford him an opportunity to start to rehabilitate his image.  He is just 47 years old, which leaves a lot of comeback time if he makes good use of it.

*          *          *

Speaking of the 2013 Mayor’s race, it is beginning to look like pretty much everyone who is anyone in New York City politics will be running.  The major candidates include Bill de Blasio, who is now the public advocate; John Liu, the comptroller; Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker; Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president; and William Thompson, the previous comptroller.  Although all are (or, in Thompson’s case, recently were) holders of high New York City offices, it turns out interestingly enough that holding high New York City office is no sure path to the mayoralty.

Of the seven mayors who have served since 1954, one had been Comptroller, two had been Manhattan Borough President, two had been Congressmen, and two had not held elective office – in other words, only three of seven came to the mayoralty by way of another city office.  Of the 11 people to serve as Public Advocate (or its predecessor position, City Council President) since 1954, six ran for mayor and none won.  Eight out of nine comptrollers ran for mayor (including Liu), and only one won – Abe Beame, in 1973.  Five out of nine who served as Manhattan borough president since 1954 ran for mayor, and only one won – David Dinkins, in 1989.  Of the three who served as City Council speaker since that position was created, all have run for mayor, and none have yet succeeded.

Speaker Quinn has successfully made her position a very visible one by working closely with Mayor Bloomberg, supporting most of his high-profile initiatives while maintaining some distance from some of Bloomberg’s more controversial positions, like the Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy.  So it’s not surprising that Quinn has a big lead in early polling.  A Quinnipiac poll in June showed Quinn at 26 percent of the Democratic primary vote, to 13 percent for Thompson, 10 percent for de Blasio, 7 percent for Liu, and 4 percent for Stringer.  Undecided voters account for 34 percent, leaving lots of room for the race to develop.

Quinn would be the city’s first female mayor, and the first lesbian.  She leads the field in fundraising and visibility, but she will certainly take heat in the primaries for her close affiliation with the Republican/Independent Bloomberg.

Thompson would be the city’s second African-American mayor, after David Dinkins from 1990 to 1993, in a city that is about a quarter African-American.  Thompson ran surprisingly well against Bloomberg in 2009, but he has practically disappeared from view since then.  His fundraising effort has seemed half-hearted, and commentators speculate that the fire may be gone from the Thompson belly.

De Blasio is a Brooklynite, and he represented a fairly liberal district in the City Council before running for Public Advocate in 2009.  As his predecessors found, the public advocate position doesn’t lend itself to high-profile accomplishments, and the position has been difficult to parlay into higher office – even for someone like Mark Green, who had city-wide, even state-wide name recognition before becoming public advocate.  Still, de Blasio’s fundraising has been vigorous, and he’s likely to be in the primary for keeps.

Taiwanese-born Liu would be the city’s first Asian-American mayor – the city is about one-tenth Asian-American.  Liu once stood to be a formidable candidate, until serious allegations of corruption in his 2009 campaign for Comptroller surfaced.  His campaign treasurer is facing federal charges, as is a former fundraiser.  Liu made a big point of managing his own campaign, presumably as a show of his managerial prowess – so it’s hard to see how he escapes blame, even if he himself is never charged.  Liu says he won’t run for re-election; he’s either going to “go big or go home,” he says.  He’s a combative figure, and if he runs he’s likely to stay with it to the end.  He based his campaign for Comptroller on strong appeals to the Asian-American vote, labor unions, and African-Americans – he made a big show of his support for Thompson’s mayoral candidacy.  If he and Thompson both run this time, he isn’t likely to take the African-American vote.  So far, Asian-Americans and labor unions seem to be remaining loyal.

Stringer will presumably compete with de Blasio for the white liberal vote, with an emphasis on Manhattan while de Blasio plays better in Brooklyn.  Like the public advocate, the borough presidents do not tend to be highly visible, and find it hard to generate recognizable achievements – although the Manhattan BP is usually better positioned than the other four in this regard.  At 4 percent in the Quinnipiac poll, Stringer clearly has quite a way to go.

After getting through the Democratic primary, the winner has to face the Republican nominee.  For most offices elected by New Yorkers, the Republican nominee is a footnote.  But Republicans have won five mayoral elections in a row (counting Bloomberg’s time as an Independent), and speculation has run rampant around two-time Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who served first under David Dinkins, and again during Bloomberg’s entire tenure.  Kelly has been quite popular, although some of his policies like stop-and-frisk have not worn well.

Still, after 20 years of Republican mayors, and 20 years of mayors with no previous electoral experience, I suspect New Yorkers are ready for a return to normal.  Kelly has never run for office, and the Quinnipiac poll shows him losing by big margins to Quinn, Thompson or de Blasio.  (Apparently Quinnipiac didn’t poll Kelly versus either Liu or Stringer.)

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