Rep. Anthony Weiner insisted he will not resign, but a cloud now looms over the New York Democrat’s once-bright political future. His New York City mayoral ambitions are all but dead, and his hold on his Congressional seat is in jeopardy.
Empire State Republicans and Democrats suggested Tuesday that media coverage during the next 48 hours could very well determine the Democratic Congressman’s fate. In a Monday press conference now cemented in political lore, Weiner admitted to having sexual communications with six women in recent years, even after he was married.
He spent much of last week lying about it.
“I may be one of the few people who believes he can survive this whole thing, but that doesn’t mean he can be mayor,” a top New York Democratic operative said Tuesday. “Like they say in Brooklyn, ‘Fuhgidaboudit.’”
Even with the 2013 mayoral race out of the mix, major questions remain about whether Weiner’s Congressional career will survive long enough to face a re-election battle next fall and what sort of challenges he might face — from the left and from the right — if it does.
Weiner will largely face these questions alone.
With the memory of a painful midterm election cycle still fresh, would-be allies appear to be scrambling for cover, fearing they might be tainted by the fallout of yet another New York sex scandal. House Democratic leaders have called for an ethics investigation. And Weiner’s mentor, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said he was “deeply pained and saddened” by the revelations.
Further, New York’s Congressional Democrats are largely sitting on their hands, as the prospect of redistricting leaves some hoping Weiner will go away.
The Empire State will lose two Congressional seats in 2012 because of population losses. And because control of the state Legislature is divided, each party expects to lose one seat when the new political boundaries are finalized in the coming months. A Weiner resignation could make it far easier for the Legislature to determine which Democratic seat to eliminate.
“Every member of the delegation is praying he resigns because it’ll take pressure off them,” said the Democratic operative, acknowledging that it’s unclear whether it actually would take pressure off downstate Democrats or not.
The conventional wisdom on that front seems to be changing weekly, the source added.
Taking in parts of Queens and Brooklyn, Weiner’s 9th district touches six other Democratic districts, including that of Rep. Gary Ackerman, who has been considered among the more endangered downstate Democrats along with nearby Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, is fighting to ensure Weiner’s colleagues feel the heat, regardless of whether they support him.
The House GOP campaign arm on Tuesday attacked Democrats in more than 15 districts, from Minnesota to Connecticut, calling attention to their receipt of campaign donations from the embattled Congressman. Three New York Democrats — Reps. Bill Owens, Brian Higgins and Tim Bishop — are on the list.
By late Tuesday afternoon, only Ohio Rep. Betty Sutton had returned a Weiner donation (hers totaled $1,000).
Democrats privately claim hypocrisy, given that GOP Members were reluctant to return donations from Florida Rep. David Rivera, who has recently faced questions about his campaign financing.
Back in New York, the immediate effect on local politics remains unclear.
Democrats have been largely silent and reluctant to float names of potential candidates to succeed or challenge Weiner, even on background.
If Weiner were to resign, local Democratic leaders — including Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party chairman — would pick the nominee for a special election. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) would have wide latitude in setting the timing of that election.
New York Republicans said they will go after Weiner in 2012, assuming the incumbent doesn’t resign first. But it will be an uphill battle.
Former Brooklyn Council member Noach Dear and Queens Council member Eric Ulrich are among the Republicans to watch as potential candidates. But Weiner’s 2010 challenger, Bob Turner, who earned 41 percent in a campaign he largely self-funded, might be considered the strongest challenger at this point.
A Republican campaign staffer suggested, however, that Turner is probably not strong enough to make the district competitive, even with Weiner’s troubles.
“No matter what the circumstances, it’s a tough fight. We still need some pieces to fall into place — a great candidate with the ability to raise a lot of money. ... Maybe someone will come out,” the staffer said, noting that President Barack Obama carried the district by 11 points in 2008.
The GOP staffer suggested Weiner could have success in 2012 if he can “keep his head down” for the next six to nine months and hit the campaign trail hard.
The first poll taken in the wake of the Weiner scandal shows a slim majority of New York City voters continue to support the Congressman. Specifically, 51 percent of city voters said he shouldn’t resign, 30 percent said he should step down, while 18 percent were unsure in a Marist College survey of 500 adults taken after Monday’s press conference. There was a 4.5-point margin of error.
A stronger majority — 56 percent — said they didn’t want Weiner to run for mayor.
“All of this spells trouble for Congressman Weiner and his political future,” said a statement from Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College. “For voters, there are questions of judgment — never a winner for an office-holder.”