Weiner Runs on Faith

Categories: Citystate

Yours truly wasn't the fastest kid on the track team at St. Francis of Assisi Middle School. In fact, he was about the least fast. This was illustrated at the track meet where he found himself in a heat with two competing runners who each had a visible physical handicap. It was kind of race that offered no prizes, but which one wouldn't be caught dead losing.

The slim-bodied Rep. Anthony Weiner looks built for speed but he's trailing badly in his own race—the run for the Democratic nomination—occupying fourth place with 11 percent in the latest Quinnipiac survey. That's bad enough; add to that the fact that, if the polls are accurate and if the election were held today, even the winner of the Democratic primary would have trouble beating Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and it looks like Weiner is bringing up the rear in a race for second place.

And yet, he runs—to win, or to amplify his long list of policy ideas, or to boost his name recognition for a future race for the Senate or statewide office, or maybe all of the above. On Monday, Weiner delivered the latest in a series of major policy speeches (as one campaign aide joked, "Are any of them not major?") about "faith-based initiatives."

Eeeewwww! Icky words. But that's the problem, sez Congressman Tony. "We Democrats have too easily allowed the Republicans' mastery of language dominate campaigns," he said. "We are the real, natural partner of the faith community."

Pointing to a number of successful faith-based social service programs around the city, Weiner said the city should work to replicate the models elsewhere in the metropolis. "More often than not the services provided are entirely secular," Weiner said, and for a cash-strapped city that needs to find "a better bargain," what better than the drug rehab program operating out of a church basement somewhere? Weiner also wants the city to appoint a nonprofits czar, do more to keep Yeshivas safe from potential terrorist attacks, and work to prevent Catholic schools from closing.

One way to save Catholic schools would be with vouchers, which would allow schools to fund their budgets without asking too much in tuition—and possibly violate the separation of church and state. Weiner says he's against vouchers; the way he'd help Catholic schools is by convening a discussion of how they might run themselves more efficiently.

Some schools might decline that offer, and indeed other nonprofits might also shun the city's advances, especially since Weiner says he'd oppose partnering with any group that discriminated in its hiring or services. But, he holds, "I believe 99 percent of the organizations would jump at opportunity." As an example of successful faith-based policy, he pointed to the Nehemiah Housing Program, named after the biblical governor of Judea who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem.

"It's worth noting," Weiner quipped, "that at this point in the campaign, he was trailing by 15 points." And Nehemiah didn't have matching funds.


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