Now that Anthony Weiner has officially announced his bid for mayor, he’ll need a real, solid comeback in order to succeed. New York has been kind to comeback stories over the years, but whether or not Weiner’s political career can be one of them remains an open question.
On the Dean’s List of New York political returns to prominence is Charlie Rangel, the Democratic member of Congress from Harlem. Just last week, Rangel criticized the IRS for abusing the tax system.
That admonishment came from a man who was censured by his fellow members of congress for not paying 17 years worth of taxes on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic, in addition to his controlling multiple rent-stabilized, palatial Manhattan apartments, when just one small apartment at a reasonable rent is so hard to come by for most New Yorkers.
Located in Rangel’s congressional district for years had been the office of former president Bill Clinton. He calls himself the Comeback Kid, of course, since he’s bounced back so many times, especially after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Clinton certainly has the last laugh now, as a trusted advisor to many powerful and high-ranking politicians in the U.S. and abroad. Also, Clinton now makes $13 million a year in speaking fees.
“New Yorkers believe in second chances, and they like redemption,” Roger Stone told PIX11 News in an interview. “New Yorkers like someone who gets knocked on their keister, and gets back up.”
Stone may not be a household name, but he’s been a close advisor to many names that are very familiar, including Donald Trump. The Donald, who claims to now be a billionaire, not only came within a hair’s breadth of going broke in the early 1990’s, he ended up writing the book on returning from failure, The Art of The Comeback.
Before he was a confidant of Trump, Roger Stone was an advisor to another polarizing figure who had two major comebacks.
“Nixon was so done,” said Stone, “so done that he went after the press, saying ‘You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.’ Six years later, he was sworn in as President of the United States.”
That was 1969. Stone helped to make it happen. Five years later, Nixon resigned in disgrace amid the Watergate scandal. However, in the two decades between then and his death in New York City, Nixon came to be known as a statesman, and advisor to successor presidents, and a best-selling author.
“President Clinton gave the eulogy at the funeral,” Stone pointed out, “and said, ‘It’s time to remember Richard Nixon for his entire record.'” It was a tribute by the Comeback Kid, to a comeback of the reputation of a man who had left public office in disgrace.
Then there’s the so-called Luv Gov, Eliot Spitzer, who was caught up in a prostitution scandal, but came back as a public speaker and CNN television host. Even though low ratings forced him to step down from cable news, he still teaches courses on public service. The madam who owned the prostitution service that brought Spitzer down, Kristin Davis, is now running for New York City comptroller on the Libertarian ticket. Helping to run her campaign is none other than Roger Stone.
“I would argue that prostitution is a victimless crime,” Stone said in an interview. “I mean, who was hurt? Not the clients, certainly, not the $1000 an hour girls. Voters will forgive you those things. What they won’t forgive is dishonesty.”
Stone said that Anthony Weiner is being honest with voters about his mistakes, and that it will serve him well as the campaign season heats up.
However, Thomas Halper, the chair of the political science department at Baruch College, told PIX11 News that it was premature to believe that Weiner’s comeback chances were strong.
“What Weiner did was creepy,” said Halper about the photos of Weiner’s body that the then-congressman was found to have tweeted out to followers two years ago. “When you do something ridiculous and creepy, you’ve got a problem.”
Halper also mentioned recent polls that showed Weiner behind only Christine Quinn among the large field of Democratic candidates for mayor.
“[In] the poll Wiener was relying on that placed him second, only one in five said they’d vote for him,” Halper said. He also pointed out that Weiner’s popularity in key groups he needed to win, including Jews and other groups that had voted for him in the past, was low in the polls.
Weiner’s comeback story cannot be told without considering other New York political careers that saw scandal and never recovered. Staten Island Congressman Vito Fossella led two separate lives, complete with two separate families that he’d fathered — one in the Washington DC area, the other here in New York. Despite his name being mentioned as a possible candidate in political races since he chose to not seek re-election in 2008, Fossella was never able to run for office again.
And there’s New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate. After being convicted in 2009 of beating up his girlfriend, then being convicted of corruption three years later, the only thing Monserrate was able to successfully run for was pizza maker at the corner pizza shop he owned. He did that between the first conviction, for which he received probation and counseling, and his second conviction, which landed him in prison, where he is now.
Will Anthony Weiner’s comeback end up in the Bill Clinton category or in the Hiram Monserrate league? Professor Halper concludes that it’s the latter. “I can’t think of a politician who’s done something creepy and ridiculous, and come back.”
By contrast, Stone, the Republican and Libertarian campaign adviser, gives Weiner’s return to political office more than the benefit of the doubt. “People want to see a fighter,” he said, describing Weiner’s scrappy attempt at returning to elected office. “People want to see you work. It’s the weakest crop of Democrats I’ve ever seen, so why not? Let him make a comeback.”
That last point is where the two experienced political experts agree. Weiner need only beat out the competition in order to win the mayoralty, and both Stone and Halper are less than impressed with the stable of Democratic candidates.
“On the plus side,” said Halper, “[Weiner] has money, and none of the other Democrats has particularly strong support.”