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Anthony Weiner Won't Win New York's Mayoral Race—But He Could Spoil It

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Anthony Weiner announced his New York City mayoral candidacy Wednesday morning by posting a campaign commercial that ostentatiously flaunted his supposedly newfound humility. He feeds his baby, reminisces about playing stickball and going to public school as a kid in Brooklyn, and bemoans the high cost of housing. Like most things he does these days, Weiner's announcement was treated mainly as a joke. Political observers give Weiner, the presumptive frontrunner before his spectacular downfall in 2011, little to no chance of winning. Quinnipiac polls show he is running second among Democrats to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, but he has the highest name recognition and highest negatives of all six Democratic candidates, suggesting that he may be close to the ceiling on his support. The poll released Wednesday showed New Yorkers wanted Weiner not to run, by a margin of 49-38.

Still, even if he has little chance of winning, a well-known, quick-witted, polarizing candidate like Weiner will surely change the contours of the race. Here is a guide to who the winners and losers may be.


Bill Thompson: The former City Comptroller and 2009 Democratic mayoral nominee is lagging, tied for third with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at 10 percent in the polls. But Thompson, who is Caribbean-American, is the only black or Latino candidate in the race. Weiner could split off white voters from Quinn and de Blasio and improve Thompson’s chances of finishing second and getting into a runoff (If no candidate wins more than 40 percent in the September 10 primary there will be a runoff between the top two finishers two weeks later.) “In a six-way primary this becomes a game of slivers,” says Bill Cunningham, former communications director for Mayor Bloomberg. “This becomes a game of dissecting the vote and Thompson’s been at that all along. [Weiner] is going to ensure that it’s probably a runoff between Thompson and Quinn.” One note of caution: Thompson has yet to pick up much media coverage, and Weiner getting in the race will make it that much harder for Thompson to get attention.

The Media: New York City mayoral races are supposed to be exciting, filled with big, controversial characters—think Rudy Giuliani or Ed Koch—and the year after a presidential election, it’s practically the only political game in town. But this year’s race was shaping up to be a snoozefest. Thompson is low-key. De Blasio had yet to build momentum. Quinn is running a cautious, classic frontrunner campaign. Now the New York press, and New York-based national media, get to have some fun. A funnier, more loud-mouthed candidate! More punning tabloid headlines using Weiner’s name! More chances to ponder Huma Abedin, his beautiful, Clinton-connected wife! More unpredictability in the horse race! For the press, this is a total win.


Bill de Blasio: It must have been a very cranky morning at de Blasio’s campaign office, akin to how John Edwards loyalists felt when Barack Obama announced for president. There is probably only room for one liberal alternative to Quinn, or, at least, only one white liberal alternative. De Blasio did everything such a candidate is supposed to do: He became Public Advocate, a job with no responsibilities besides issuing press releases attacking the mayor and, in this case, the city council speaker, from the left. As an Italian with a black, formerly lesbian, wife, who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, drives a hybrid and buys organic milk, de Blasio had a clear but narrow path to a runoff: dominate among white collar liberal voters in Manhattan and gentrified Brooklyn, while picking up some more working class outerborough voters with populist appeals. Alas, this is exactly the same strategy that Weiner will employ. “Anthony has ability to straddle outerborough populism in addition to MSNBC real hardcore progressivism,” says an advisor to a rival Democratic campaign. “De Blasio has tried to position himself as the true progressive in the race. He will have to get into a street fight with Anthony because they’re competing over the same slice of voters.”

Too soon to say:

Christine Quinn: As frontrunner, Quinn could be helped or harmed by Weiner’s entry. Helped, because Weiner could split off votes from her main rivals and ensures that no one liberal alternative will emerge. Hurt, because if Weiner pulls a few percentage points off Quinn, she is almost certain to be forced into a runoff, where the opposition could coalesce around her challenger. Weiner could do damage to Quinn beyond Manhattan: Quinn is a lesbian and she represents Chelsea on the City Council, but she is also an Irish Catholic who grew up on Long Island and spent summers in the Rockaways. So while she is close with the city’s business establishment, her two other main constituencies would be socially liberal Manhattanites and outerborough white ethnics. “Quinn was going to try to appeal to the white ethnic voters in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island,” says Cunningham. “Irish, Italian and Jewish: that’s basically Weiner’s base. So this is a big impediment to her getting beyond Manhattan.”

Michael Bloomberg: Bloomberg has not endorsed a candidate, and he presumably won’t because his endorsement could hurt more than help in the Democratic primary. But it is widely believed that Quinn is the candidate he dislikes the least. She has worked with him peaceably and of all the Democratic candidates, her platform is closest to Bloomberg's. (She would, for example, like to keep Ray Kelly, Bloomberg’s police commissioner.) Weiner, by contrast, has a deeply antagonistic relationship with Bloomberg, having sought to challenge him in 2005 and aggressively criticized his tenure. (Weiner once famously told Bloomberg, “When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing? I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your fucking bike lanes.”)

If Weiner inadvertently helps Quinn win, or somehow manages to embarrass himself further, then things will have worked out just fine for Bloomberg. But the prospect of Weiner succeeding Bloomberg, no matter how remote, must make Bloomberg’s skin crawl. “He doesn’t really hate,” says Cunningham of Bloomberg. “But if anybody engendered that type of feeling in Mike, it might have been Weiner. Anthony has that ability."