The Impossible Dream?

Weiner Contemplates Longshot 2005 Run for Mayor of New York

Posted January 2, 2004 at 4:54pm

Mayor Anthony Weiner?

It’s something the Brooklyn-born and bred Congressman thinks about. It has, by Weiner’s own account, supplanted his fantasy of some day playing shortstop for the New York Mets.

“I don’t eat, drink and sleep running for mayor,” he says. “I do eat, drink and sleep New York City and how I can contribute to making it better.”

Weiner, a former city councilman, is one of a half dozen or so New York Democrats who appear to be seriously thinking about getting into the 2005 race to take on Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R). And the talk about Weiner back home has only intensified since he began moving around the city a few months ago, accepting speaking gigs outside his Brooklyn- and Queens-based district.

A black church here, a Bronx synagogue there — the public appearances go hand and hand with the speculation.

“In a strange way, the gossip class has done it for me,” Weiner says. “We didn’t solicit these invitations. They came for me.”

Heady stuff for a 39-year-old three-term Congressman from a part of the city that rarely gets much attention from the Big Apple’s parochial, Manhattan-based movers and shakers.

“Anthony Weiner is a very smart guy and has a very powerful [political] rabbi by the name of [Sen.] Chuck Schumer,” says former Democratic National Committee Vice Chairman Bill Lynch, the man who engineered David Dinkins’ (D) victory in the 1989 New York mayoral race. “And he doesn’t have to give up his [House] seat to run.”

But while Weiner contemplates getting into the Democratic race for mayor, he must also be aware that he faces distinct disadvantages compared to other possible candidates when it comes to organization, name recognition, money, and the potential for unshakably committed supporters.

“He’s got to spend a lot of time and money getting known,” cautions Joseph Mercurio, a political consultant in New York who works for candidates from both political parties.

If anything, the timetable in the mayor’s race has been accelerated since two Democratic strategists circulated a survey late last year showing Bloomberg eminently beatable.

The poll of 401 registered voters had Bloomberg trailing a generic Democrat, 51 percent to 20 percent. It showed that people were disenchanted with Bloomberg in every corner of the city, and found that voters believe the mayor, the billionaire founder of a media empire, is too rich to understand the concerns of average New Yorkers.

It is Bloomberg’s poor standing that appears to be enticing Weiner to at least think about the race. He says his ultimate decision, which he expects to make shortly after the presidential election, will be based on “which direction the city is going in.”

“I think there are a lot of viable [Democratic] candidates out there,” says pollster Joel Benenson, who, along with consultant Howard Wolfson, circulated the poll among Democratic opinion-makers. “It’s a strong field given where the mayor is right now.”

Right now, the nominal Democratic frontrunners are former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who lost a bitter runoff for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2001, and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, a 34-year-old former staffer to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is solidly in his corner.

Ferrer and Miller are almost certain to run. Ferrer, who heads a nonprofit think tank, has formed an exploratory committee to begin raising money. Miller, who is term limited, has also begun an aggressive fundraising regimen.

Another potentially strong candidate is City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who has not yet said whether he will run but would be one of the frontrunners if he did. Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin are also mentioned, and controversial City Councilman Charles Barron is already in the race — though he is given little chance of prevailing.

“Some of the people who are talking about running are very formidable and excellent leaders,” Weiner says.

So where does Weiner fit in? Behind Ferrer, Miller and Thompson at the very least, and possibly behind Fields and McLaughlin. That’s not an enviable position from which to begin.

“In a primary against other high-profile Democrats — I can’t imagine that Weiner would want to do it,” says Guy Molinari, a former Republican Congressman and ex-Staten Island borough president.

But in the racial and ethnic tinderbox that is New York politics, there are other calculations. By his own estimation, Weiner could fill the “outer-borough [white] ethnic slot” that usually is represented in the Democratic primary for mayor in New York.

That slot hardly guarantees victory, however. The two outer-borough white candidates in 2001 finished third and fourth, respectively in the Democratic primary. And even such a luminary as future New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) was unable to use the outer-borough ethnic designation to catapult himself into City Hall back in 1977.

But there are other racial and ethnic equations. Miller is the lone white candidate in the race so far, and is said to be watching Weiner very carefully. Ferrer is Puerto Rican. Thompson, Fields and Barron are black. Thompson and Ferrer helped each other immeasurably during their respective campaigns in 2001 and would compete for the same voters if they opposed each other in the 2005 primary.

McLaughlin, who represents parts of Queens and Long Island in the Legislature, is also an outer-borough ethnic. He has the added advantage of heading the umbrella organization for building trade unions in the city. The union vote is seen as largely up for grabs in 2005, with only the powerful Service Employees International Union certain to side with Ferrer.

But Weiner has other things going for him. For starters, Members of Congress do get elected mayor of New York — Fiorello LaGuardia, John Lindsay and Ed Koch among them.

Weiner is also sitting on $1.3 million in his Congressional campaign account and may be able to use as much as $1 million of that for a citywide race.

Weiner has one tough election under his belt — his first House primary in 1998, when, as a city councilman, he narrowly defeated two state legislators and a Council colleague in the race to replace his mentor and former boss, Schumer (Weiner served on Schumer’s House staff before being elected to the council in 1991).

Schumer’s late endorsement of Weiner was considered key to his protégé’s primary victory in 1998. But Weiner says he has not talked at any length to the Senator about a possible campaign for mayor (a decade ago, some Democrats were urging then-Congressman Schumer to run for mayor).

Phil Singer, a Schumer spokesman, says it’s “premature” to talk about whether the Senator would endorse anyone in the Democratic mayoral primary. Mercurio predicts that Schumer will remain neutral, even if Weiner runs.

“Schumer depends too much on the black vote and the Hispanic vote to go off annoying people,” he says.

But if Weiner hasn’t spoken to Schumer at length about a run for City Hall, he has sought out some of his House colleagues from the city — both for advice and for connections in their districts. None seems ready yet to endorse him.

“So far the range in reaction has been support to helpful to general needling,” Weiner says.

Of the 14 House Members who represent New York City, Reps. Charles Rangel (D) and Jerrold Nadler (D) are likely to have the most clout in the 2005 mayoral primary. That’s because Rangel, who endorsed Ferrer in 2001, could be a kingmaker for the minority candidates. And Nadler has pull on Manhattan’s hyper-political Upper West Side — a neighborhood that has no obvious favorite in the 2005 field.

Weiner has gone so far as to admit that part of the reason he has decided to endorse Wesley Clark (D) for president is to work closely with Rangel, who has also endorsed the retired general.

Both Rangel and Nadler are polite about Weiner, but noncommittal.

“He’s intelligent, he’s bright, he’s dedicated and hard-working, but at this stage of the game this is all that I would be able to share with you,” Rangel says.

Nadler says that “Members of the New York Congressional delegation are always potential serious candidates for mayor.”

Despite the uncertain odds, Weiner can’t help but dream.

“I have something in common with 99 percent of New Yorkers,” he says. “I look at the city and I think, ‘Boy, if I were in charge, things would be different.’”

Inga Beyer contributed to this report.