NEW YORK—When Anthony Weiner first booked a sit-down interview with Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, Weiner was leading the polls and on what appeared to be a trajectory to at least the run-off in this year’s mayoral election.
What a difference a few weeks make.
Shortly after booking the interview Weiner’s political world crumbled when new allegations surfaced that he continued his illicit online activity a year after his resignation from Congress. In a Siena Poll released on the morning of the interview on Aug. 12, 80 percent of the 814 polled said they disapproved of him.
“I didn’t even think of canceling this interview,” Weiner said. “I haven’t changed my schedule at all since things have gone in a different direction.”
The move is typical for Weiner’s campaign: take criticism front and center until the press is worn out, and then spend the remaining—often limited—time talking about his ideas. His refusal to hide has left him open to weeks of questions about his personal life, questions he often takes clench-jawed, usually giving a similar apology or explanation wherever he goes.
The BuzzFeed Brews interview was no different. When Smith opened with questions relating to the scandal, Weiner sat back, sipping on his iced coffee, offering short, but polite answers to many of the same questions he has fielded from the press for the past few weeks.
When Smith wore out his scandal-related questions and began to talk about issues such as stop-and-frisk, and healthcare costs, the twinkle in Weiner’s eyes returned. Weiner opened up and even pushed back on Smith for not allowing him to finish his thoughts.
Weiner has released 125 ideas while on the campaign trail. Some are more realistic, such as digitizing the city budget, utilizing brownfield sites to solve the housing crunch, or having students use Kindles for text books. Others are more farfetched, such as making New York the capital of call center jobs, reforming the tax code (would require Albany and/or Washington approval), giving tickets for baseball games and theatre to kids who participate in digital learning during the summer months.
Despite releasing two policy books and traveling all across town to talk about them, people still crave talking about his personal life. And it has worn on him.
“Substance does not get covered in politics,” Weiner said. “There has been a chronic disconnect between what has been going on on the campaign trail and what gets reported.”
Weiner says the voters he engages with on the trail are interested in hearing his ideas, although one wonders if they are gathering to hear him speak, or catch a glimpse at the man who has graced the cover of the daily tabloids for weeks.
Weiner’s ideas come unbound to union needs, something he claims his fellow candidates can’t do. He has broken from the pack of Democratic candidates on issues such as healthcare and retroactive pay for city workers, he says, because he is not fighting for union endorsements like his fellow candidates.
“When you make a campaign that is on the foundation of ideas, and not endorsements, you have the freedom to do the right thing,” Weiner said.
He takes exception to how close his fellow Democratic candidates, Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, and Bill Thompson, are to the unions, and believes their relationship with the unions will ultimately be a way for him to get back into the race.
“I think I am benefiting from my fellow candidates running the opposite kind of campaign, and fundamentally not being able to run any other kind of campaign,” Weiner said.
To make the run-off, Weiner will need roughly 25 to 30 percent of the vote, a tough task considering the crowded field. Smith asked Weiner who he would vote for if he didn’t make it. Weiner said the term-limits issue was a disqualifier, and he would have a hard time voting for Quinn.
“I apologized many times for my personal failures. I don’t remember hearing Speaker Quinn apologize once for term limits, or once for the slush fund,” Weiner said. “I don’t mind people making mistakes. It is a matter of taking some ownership of them.”
Weiner has taken countless hits regarding his personal transgressions, but perhaps one of the most damaging articles came from the New York Times, which categorized his Congressional career as lackluster at best.
Weiner dismissed the article, calling the New York Times “lazy.”
“The New York Times doesn’t want me to win,” Weiner said. “Their heads are exploding over the idea.”
He added, “I am not treating the New York Times endorsement as an end.”
On Sept. 10, voters will head to the polls to select who will represent the Democrats in the Nov. 5 general election. They will pull back the curtain, step up to the lever machine, and when they see Anthony Weiner’s name, they will likely stop. It may be to chuckle, remembering the tabloid headlines. It may to curse his name for bringing embarrassment to New York City politics—again. But there will be some who remember his ideas and pull the lever to vote for him.