Weiner's Graceful Exit

Categories: On the Stump
Anthony Weiner made a remarkable decision today, one that is as dramatic and unselfish, certainly in the short term, as anything that any local or national politician has done in recent memory. Moreover, it came as Weiner was riding high, having proved that his late surge in the polls was no fluke and that he had the moxie and spunk to make a runoff into a genuine contest. Understandably, the decision to turn himself from a formidable contender into a Democratic also-ran was a tough one to reach and the congressman changed his mind at least twice in the wee hours of this morning about what to do, according to sources.

As Weiner told the clutch of press and cameras at a noon press conference outside his boyhood home on 6th Street in Brooklyn's Park Slope, his natural inclination "was to fight." And although an initial strategy session last night resulted in his decision to drop out, by the time he ended a lengthy meeting with top advisers at 3:30 this morning, he had decided to stay in the battle. But sometime between then and 7 A.M., when Weiner kept a promised campaign stop, he decided to live to fight another day.

What changed?

In answer to a question from newsman Gabe Pressman of WNBC, Weiner insisted that no one had twisted his arm. "This was a decision I made on my own," he said. He had not spoken to Fernando Ferrer until after he'd made his final decision to pull out, he said. Weiner said he "didn't get a single call" telling him to drop out. Reports persisted, however, that party elders including Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer, who endorsed Fernando Ferrer, along with Weiner's mentor, Senator Charles Schumer, who made no endorsement in the race, had both asked him to withdraw for the good of the party. A top Weiner adviser denied it. "Not to my knowledge," said the aide. "I don't know when he would've even had time to talk to them."

Instead, the rationale for Weiner's decision was overwhelmingly dictated by the closeness of the race, aides said. With Ferrer only 213 votes away from having the 40 percent needed to capture the nomination, the chances of winning appeared slim. Moreover, such a razor-thin margin meant that the media would have inevitably remained fixated on the recount—not on the candidates or their messages—for at least a week as the laboriously slow process was underway. There was also the question of money. Weiner, like the other candidates, was out of cash and would've had to start raising $1 million immediately for the September 27 runoff. And while Weiner and his aides resisted suggestions that it had influenced his thinking, there was also the haunting experience of the 2001 runoff and its bitter aftermath.

In his speech Tuesday night, Weiner had repeatedly insisted that he would never allow division to enter the race. But, as Mark Green learned, it's tough to control your troops. Back then it was a small group of white supporters who opted to use the spectre of Al Sharpton's influence with Ferrer—in the form of a New York Post cartoon—to get voters out to the polls. That tactic still rankles in Latino and African American Democrats, and it's one Weiner had to be worried that some exuberant follower might adopt.

The upside for Weiner, whether he says it out loud or not, is that his move places him front and center as a 2009 Democratic mayoral contender. Weiner fended off such talk today. "I will not be running in 2009 because Freddy Ferrer will be running for reelecton," he said.


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