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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.