After the most recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings showed an increase in spending by former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s campaign committee, journalists and political pundits began speculating about Weiner’s chances of success should he run for city-wide office in 2013. Anthony Weiner, after serving in Congress for twelve years, resigned in January of 2011 after admitting to using Twitter to share sexually suggestive pictures. Prior to his Twitter scandal, many political strategists believed Weiner to be a leading candidate in the 2013 mayoral race. Weiner amassed a campaign war-chest of $4.5 million, which to this day is surpassed only by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The question remains: Does Anthony Weiner have a plausible chance to return to public life in 2013? If Weiner mounts a successful campaign for mayor, he would not be the first politician to return from controversy and recapture the respect of his constituents.
Congressman Barney Frank and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry made successful comebacks from embarrassing scandals in the early 90s. Frank reportedly paid a male prostitute for sex and exerted his congressional influence to avoid parking tickets. Worse, the prostitute operated a ring out of Frank’s home without his knowledge. Despite repeated calls for Frank’s resignation, he mounted a political comeback, winning re-election campaigns ten more times before deciding to retire from Congress in 2012.
Mayor Marion Barry of D.C, after serving in office for eleven years, was sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted of one count of misdemeanor drug possession. After serving his jail sentence, Barry won city council elections and even made it back into the mayor’s office.
For Congressman Frank and Mayor Barry, second chances and redemption were possible in their political careers. Weiner’s political standing pre-scandal was strong: he had built consistent support from voters in his district to stabilize his position in Congress for years to come. He was poised to be a top contender for the mayor’s race in 2013, and he had $4.5 million in campaign funds to spend. These factors provide confidence for the former Congressman as he assesses his potential bid for city-wide office in 2013.
At first glance, the comebacks of Frank and Barry seem to establish a strong precedent for political resurgence. However, strong contrasts between the scandals exist. First, Congressman Frank never resigned from office, and never sought a position higher than that which he held at the time of the scandal. Since Weiner did resign, his condition is not comparable to Frank’s.
Mayor Barry’s story provides a more useful comparison, providing valuable insight into what a successful path for Weiner could look like. Barry was out of the public eye during his prison term; Weiner has been keeping a low profile since his resignation in an attempt to give the public time to forgive him. Most importantly, Mayor Barry did not run for mayor again right away, instead choosing to pursue a seat in the city council. This Barry model could provide a valuable template for Weiner to follow.
If Weiner’s ambition is to reach the status of a top mayoral contender again, he should first seek a lower city-wide office. It is important for Weiner in this stage in his comeback to demonstrate to all the voters of New York that he can be an effective advocate in government again. He will best be able to accomplish tangible results out of the public advocate’s office, as a watchdog for future corruption. Public advocates have also been leading mayoral contenders in the past, with Mark Green winning the Democratic nomination in 2001 and current Public Advocate Bill de Blasio surging in polls and fundraising.
Weiner would face Councilwoman Lelita James, State Senator Dan Squadron, who is considering a run for the job, as well as other candidates who are not currently in elected office. Weiner would have overwhelming advantages in spending and name recognition over the rest of the field. Another factor in Anthony Weiner’s decision is that if he chooses to spend his $4.5 million during the 2013 election cycle, the city will give Weiner an additional $1.5 million to spend on the race. The option to collect those matching funds expires after this cycle.
Anthony Weiner was a strong and consistent legislator for liberal issues on the city council and in the House for almost twenty years. Prior the scandal, few in the Democratic Party denied that Anthony Weiner was a skilled and effective defender of health care and pro-choice legislation with a special ability to get work done. The question left to be answered is whether sending sexually revealing pictures to a young woman will continue to haunt Weiner. Given his strong legislative record and his ability to spend up to $6 million on the race, Anthony Weiner should throw his hat in the ring in the public advocate’s race to find out.