Anthony Weiner: Were his dreams of being mayor just Twittered away?

It's clear Anthony Weiner wants to be mayor of New York. Just as clear, say analysts, is that 'Weinergate' will arm his political rivals for years to come, and isn't likely to 'just go away.'

Susan Walsh/AP
Congressman Anthony Weiner waits for an elevator near his office in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner makes no bones about it – he wants to be mayor of New York City.

He has already run once (he lost in the primary in 2005), told the media of his interest in running again in 2013, and has raised cash for a possible run.

He’s described as brash, aggressive and fast talking – all traits that appeal to many New Yorkers.

So, what damage has he done to his political ambitions with what the media is terming “Weinergate,” the uproar over a lewd photo that went from his Twitter account to a coed in Seattle?

Congressman Weiner denies he sent the photo, but that’s as far as he goes. He suggests someone may have hacked into his account, but he does not want an official investigation – instead he’s hired a law firm and private investigator. He says he can’t say if the photo is his … uh, underwear. And, after a round of talk shows on Wednesday, he now says he won’t talk about it anymore.

Weiner’s problem illustrates how in politics it’s not just the possible scandal that matters but – even more importantly – how it gets handled. Do the public and media feel like they are hearing the truth? Is it the kind of scandal that might reflect on a politician’s character?

In Weiner’s case, political analysts say the congressman has muddied the waters.

“What he has provided has been very confusing,” says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “We’re back into a vocabulary of non-denial denial.”

The non-denial denial is best remembered for Watergate when political figures would deny a journalist’s story was accurate but left open the possibility it might be true. President Bill Clinton was credited with a non-denial denial during the Monica Lewinsky affair.

How this shakes out for Weiner will depend on how the story develops, says Doug Muzzio, a political commentator and professor at Baruch College in New York.

“If in fact he did not send the image, and it’s not his crotch, then the impact is short term,” says Mr. Muzzio. “Negative but short term.”

But, if it turns out he sent the image and it is of himself, Muzzio says the affect could be “worse than Chris Lee.”

Chris Lee was a Republican congressman from upstate New York who posted a shirtless photo of himself on a dating service. He was married, and the embarrassment resulted in his resignation.

Mr. Miringoff does not think the issue will just go away if Weiner refuses to talk about it. “This is a high visibility political figure, and it’s not just going away if he takes a hike on the Appalachian Trail – that’s been done already.”

Miringoff is referring to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who admitted in 2009 that he had been unfaithful to his wife. As the scandal started to break, his staff said he had gone for a hike on the trail when in fact he was in Argentina with his paramour.

Why do men do these sorts of things?

Muzzio calls it the “Spitzer syndrome,” for New York’s former governor, Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after it turned out he used a call-girl service on a trip to Washington.

“There is this feeling of invulnerability, and maybe they feel they can’t get caught,” he says.

Although Weiner is a Democrat, in a district that has a 3-to-1 Democratic advantage, in 2010 his win against Republican Robert Turner was by only a 60-40 margin.

“He had to spend a considerable amount of money,” says Mr. Turner, a retired media executive. “He got a good scare.”

One of those reasons is because of the changing nature of the district. Some 40 percent of the population is Jewish. But, within the Jewish community are conservative Russian and Orthodox Jews who voted for Turner.

Turner imagines that even if Weiner survives the brouhaha, it will provide ammunition for possible rivals in 2013 for the mayoral primary. “I think there are a number of candidates who would take him on and would get a little ammunition with this one,” he says.

At the end of the day, Muzzio says the flare-up has certainly provided some political entertainment and an endless supply of puns, ranging from Weiner Roast to Weiner’s Pickle.

Even Weiner laughed about them. “When you’re named Weiner it kind of goes with the territory,” he said.

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