For Rep. Anthony Weiner, it has always been about him.
The New York Democrat remains embroiled in a still-unfolding sex scandal, having so far defied the chorus of colleagues urging him to resign. He will not join the House returning from a weeklong recess, but not because he finally acceded to demands for his resignation.
True to form, Weiner rejected direct pleas — private and public — from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other party leaders on Saturday to surrender his seat. Instead, he will request a leave of absence while seeking treatment for his sexually charged self-destructive ways. For a politician who has spent his career promoting himself, sometimes at the expense of those around him, this new turn makes perfect sense.
The bombastic lawmaker has consistently used his Congressional office as a means to an end — which long was his goal of becoming mayor of New York City.
But all that scheming now appears for naught after Weiner confessed to sending lewd photographs and sexually explicit messages to at least six women he met online in recent years. While it appears he has not broken any laws, the barrage of graphic material and the repeated lies he told his colleagues, constituents and the media have brought Weiner to near ruin.
Once considered among the Democratic frontrunners for New York City’s 2013 mayoral race, he now will be lucky to retain his House seat.
Quitting has never been a part of Weiner’s vocabulary. Instead, he has a history of looking out for himself and finding creative ways to win, two defining characteristics of his political career.
That pattern started during the 1991 New York City Council election, Weiner’s first major foray into electoral politics.
Weeks before the 1991 primary, Weiner appeared sure to lose. Although he had worked for then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and was one of his closest aides, Schumer had little political clout at that point in his career. Plus, two better-known candidates were already in the race for the Democratic nomination, including party favorite Michael Garson.
But the infamous Crown Heights Riots, which pitted black and Jewish Brooklynites against one another in August 1991, changed the dynamic of the race.
Not long after the riots, an anonymous flier began circulating in the Jewish-dominated neighborhood. According to news reports, the fliers sought to tie candidate Adele Cohen — who was backed by a coalition of progressives and labor activists — to African-American leaders such as Mayor David Dinkins and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The effect was to siphon votes from Cohen to Weiner. Playing the race card isn’t generally a tactic politicians acknowledge. Weiner never took credit for the fliers during the campaign, and he ended up winning the primary by less than 200 votes.
But, according to Salon, he did take credit when the primary was over and his general election win appeared a foregone conclusion.
Weiner’s self-absorbed style has been evident on the Hill as well. Although he regularly socializes after-hours and spends time on the House floor with other Northeast lawmakers, he is a loner. Weiner, a liberal Democrat, even opted against joining other left-leaning Members in the Progressive Caucus.
He has never been considered a loyalist to either Pelosi or Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Instead, he has switched allegiances based on the circumstances surrounding a political debate.
Weiner has also not shied away from blasting fellow Democrats. Behind closed doors, he is notorious for his criticism of moderates in his party, as well as leaders he views as not progressive enough.
In September 2009, Weiner lashed out at Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) and his proposal to overhaul the health care system, charging that of all the plans put forth it “fails the most miserably” in controlling costs and insuring the poor.
Late last year, Weiner also rallied progressives against the tax deal President Barack Obama cut with House Republicans. Doing so put him at odds with Democratic leaders who stood behind the president. The New York Democrat ultimately deferred to Obama’s proposal, but only after attending a meeting in the then-Speaker’s office with other disgruntled liberals.
Democratic aides said his problems working with others have extended even to his staff, which has had significant turnover.
“I used to help people get jobs in his office, provide a reference and whatnot. But I stopped a few years back, once I realized they only lasted a year or less,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said Friday.
Weiner is a demanding boss, Democrats said. He often ignores his staff’s advice, forcing them to scramble to keep up.
Nowhere is that dynamic more evident than in how he handles the press. Weiner has long been a fixture on cable news shows. And he rarely — if ever — shies away from an opportunity to comment on something.
But that confidence has not always served him well, most notably during his rambling press conference last week when he acknowledged his online behavior.
“He’s always thought he was his best press secretary. Which is never a smart thing to do,” said Jim Manley, former senior communications adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
On a more substantive level, Weiner’s ladder-climbing approach to Congress has translated into having an extremely loyal following on the left but no legislative accomplishments to speak of. Weiner was a champion of the single-payer system during the health care fight, but that proposal never made it into law.
However, Weiner was able to persuade Republicans to incorporate his proposal to end a moleskin manufacturers’ subsidy into the continuing resolution this year.
On the fundraising side, he hasn’t made any friends at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He did not meet his $200,000 dues requirement in 2010. In the runup to the elections, Weiner had given only $40,000 to the party effort, according to an Oct. 29 dues sheet. He did raise or contribute an additional $177,600 for Frontline and Red to Blue candidates and raised almost $88,000 for the DCCC. Notably, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), chairwoman of recruitment and candidate services for the DCCC, was the first House Democratic leader to call for his resignation last week.
“I think the frustration for some people with Weiner is you see a guy who goes on TV, is articulate and makes very good arguments ... but he has not been able to translate that to much of anything else,” one Democratic strategist said. “Not only is that unfortunate for him, it just kind of has ramifications outside of his own political career, not long-term ones, but in the short term it is a big one.”