As for what’s next, Weiner has long had his eye on New York City’s highest office. “It’s a job I’m interested in,” he says frankly. “It’s the only job in politics that’s better than the one I have.”
In 2005, he threw his hat in the ring to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg by running against Fernando Ferrer, former Bronx borough president, in the Democratic primary. He came in a close second, with a respectable showing. Four years later, he expressed interest in the post again, but opted out, hinting that he couldn’t possibly compete against Bloomberg’s billions. “As a native of Brooklyn, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t savor a good scrap,” he wrote in a May 2009 New York Times op-ed piece entitled, “Why I’m Not Running for Mayor.” “But I’m disappointed because I’m increasingly convinced a substantive debate simply isn’t likely right now.” He was less gracious later with his friend Jon Stewart. “I would have beat Bloomberg like a rented mule,” he told Stewart in a 2010 Daily Show appearance, amid laughter and applause.
At this point, though, he’s coy about a run in 2013 and, when asked, gives an atypical, sheepish “perhaps” as an answer. But all indications point to another mayoral campaign. “Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand and before her, Senator Clinton—these are people who are not ready to retire,” says Ira Forman, a political consultant and former executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “Cuomo was just elected governor [of New York] and I would assume he will run for re-election. These are all fellow Democrats, and Weiner wouldn’t run against them, and so that means that his pathway to these offices is blocked.” Also significant, analysts say, is the fact that running for mayor of New York allows him to hold on to his congressional seat in case of defeat, since mayoral elections occur in odd-numbered years, while elections for Congress take place in even years.
It’s unclear what Weiner’s chances may be. At the 2011 Congressional Correspondents’ Dinner, noting the absence of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Weiner, one of the event’s headliners, said: “Who knew that what it takes to be mayor of a big city is to be a hot-tempered, arrogant, loud Jew with nine and a half fingers. Who knew? And in other news, I’ve taken a job as a meat cutter at Arby’s.”
But changing demographics, as well as a shifting political reality, may present something of a challenge to what until now has been a meteoric rise. Political strategist Hank Sheinkopf says, “New York is less white than ever and less Jewish than ever, and traditional social class lines don’t hold.” Weiner’s only chance, he says, “is to position himself as a non-billionaire from the outer boroughs. He can do it, but it will be difficult.”
Biding his time, Weiner continues to strengthen his name recognition on the national political stage. He gained plaudits for his performance at the Congressional Correspondents’ Dinner, where he masterfully delivered a string of jokes about his family’s surname. He’s been weighing in on everything from Clarence Thomas (he called on the Supreme Court justice to recuse himself on the health care law because of a possible conflict of interest) to the U.S. Institute of Peace (he is against taxpayer funding for the think tank). He remains an aggressive supporter of health care reform—so much so, in fact, that Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank opened a recent piece with a pithy one-liner: “Democrats would be better off if more of them acted like Weiners.” He then showered the congressman with accolades for his straightforward defense of the health care law.
Marriage—and a stated ambition to settle down and start a family—hasn’t slowed him down. Congressman King jokes: “My main disappointment with his marriage is that we all thought getting married would calm him down, but he’s as crazy as ever.”
Weiner himself admits he’s almost always working. “I don’t really have hours,” he says. “I’m working during the day, at night I have meetings and on the weekend, I also go to things. I’m running around a lot. There are not many times a year when I turn off and say, ‘Today I’m not working.’”
That unstoppable, no-holds-barred intensity may be part of his appeal. “He’s passionate—people respect that and respond to that,” says Queens Jewish Community Council President Hecht. “If he was a phony, people would see right through him. There’s nothing wrong with being gung-ho.”