On Anthony Weiner's home turf, some sympathy but no support (+video)

The patrons of the Shalimar Diner are Anthony Weiner's people, part of the Queens district that elected him to Congress seven times. They were behind his bid for mayor, too – until Tuesday.

By , Staff writer

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    New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner leaves his apartment building in New York on Wednesday. The former congressman acknowledged sending explicit text messages to a woman as recently as last summer, more than a year after sexting revelations destroyed his congressional career.
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On Wednesday morning in a diner deep in Queens, a group of New Yorkers are discussing the future of their former congressman, Anthony Weiner. Just hours earlier, he and his wife, Huma Abedin, had stood before a frenzy of New York media, admitting that he had been ‘sexting’ again, even after he resigned his seat.

Locals have been kvetching about politics for decades at the Shalimar Diner, an old Queens haunt in Rego Park that sits in the heart of Mr. Weiner’s former district, where 3 of 4 residents are registered Democrats. He won seven straight elections here by whopping margins, and these are his people: wage earners, lunch-pail union workers, life-long residents. Archie Bunker’s fictional house sits just a few blocks away, and the CBS sitcom “The King of Queens” is set here.

As some patrons might say of Shalimar: “Itsa place fuh tawk of Noo Yawk pahlatics.” But it's also a place that Weiner in all likelihood needs to hold if he is going to have any future prospects as mayor, since the people here say they have always been big Weiner supporters. 

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Yet on this morning, not a single voter voices support for their former congressman.

A few of the patrons are hunched over their bacon-egg-and-cheeses on a roll, sipping from New York’s iconic-blue Anthora coffee cups. A stack of Newsday tabloids sits near the entrance, it’s headline “Stand by your man” blares between a picture of a grimacing Weiner and a distraught Ms. Abedin.

But Denise Guardascione, who has been a waitress at Shalimar for 24 years, is not standing by Weiner.

As she flies from the kitchen’s flipping doors with a row of plates in her hand, she stops to talk to David Schantz, a former community board member and a worker active in 32BJ, a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

“I was all for this guy – I really wanted him as mayor, I really did, because I figured he was the best they had,” says Ms. Guardascione, a 47-year resident of Queens. “You cheat me once, I can forgive it, but I won’t forget it. But the idea that you did it a second time? The second time? You’re history, honey. You’re with the fishes, someplace else. You’re gone.”

Mr. Schantz, another long-time Rego resident who’s been dining at Shalimar for 16 years, agrees.

“I really feel for Huma much more than I do for him,” he replies. “I liked Anthony; I liked his policies, his political positions. But not to be forthright about it, and cover it up, and then say, 'I’m ending it,' and then doing it again? That concerns me, as far as his temperament is concerned.”

“I’m not a therapist and I’m not a moral crusader,” continues Schantz, who voted for Weiner every time he ran for Congress. “But here’s what I think: If you have a certain persona in your private life, it could carry over, particular since he’s running for public office.”

Shalimar’s patrons do not simply discuss politics, they rub shoulders with it. Karen Koslowitz, the district’s councilwoman, dines here, as does Melinda Katz, a former councilwoman now running for Queens borough president. Ms. Katz comes here with her husband, Curtis Sliwa, the pugnacious founder and CEO of the Guardian Angels, an international volunteer organization of unarmed citizen crime patrollers known for their scarlet berets.

Yet for all this political tradition, Shalimar’s owner, Chris Karayiannis, prefers to keep his restaurant strictly nonpartisan.

“If you’re a business, you can’t take any part in it,” he says. “I never take no sides. I can’t. Al Hevesi, he was my best customer since 20 years. One time, when he was running, he comes, he says, 'Chris, I’m running, can I put up the poster?' I says, 'Al, you know the rules: no.' ”

Alan Hevesi served as New York State comptroller from 2002 to 2006 – the same office Eliot Spitzer now seeks. Mr. Hevesi was driven from office for using state employees to care for his ailing wife in 2006. He was sentenced to a $5,000 fine and permanently banned from holding elective office again.

So the patrons here at Shalimar are no strangers to scandal and controversy. Which makes their lack of support for Weiner telling. The polls will be forthcoming, of course, but given the opinions of some of his own people, Weiner’s mayoral bid may indeed be sleeping with the fishes.

“I kind of feel sorry for the guy,” says Greg Keshishian, a management consultant who has been dining here with his brother for years. “I mean, honestly, I don’t have any personal animosity towards him, it's not like I’m enraged, I just think it’s a little pathetic, and he ought to let it go.” 

“Even if he has the best policies in the world, and he’s a great manager, he’s lost his credibility,” Mr. Keshishian says. “I think for that reason alone he should just drop out. If he wants to do public service, there’s many other ways. Let him run the Red Cross if he can get that job, you know what I mean? There’s other things he can do and really do good in the world.”

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