Anthony Weiner Scandal: In Congressman's District, A Chorus Of Cheers
On May 31, approximately 84 hours after he tweeted the picture that has now nearly destroyed his political career, Anthony Weiner delivered a very different kind of message to a very different audience.
In an office of the Queens Community House in New York's Ninth Congressional District, he spoke to a gathering of nonprofit employees about his plans to help them secure funding for their programs.
That was about the last time anyone heard him say anything that wasn't worthy of extensive tabloid coverage.
Thursday (and for anyone not keeping track, it's exactly two weeks into the saga known as Weinergate), a 64-year-old woman named Ann Oniszko stood in the lobby of one of the buildings of the Queens Community House and expressed undiminished admiration for her congressman. Wearing a specially-made gold pendant, her first name molded into a Star of David, she said, "I hope this doesn't kill his political career. People just have little bad habits."
"They just have to use technology better," said Steve Pullano, the director of the teen program at the center.
"I just hope he salvages and builds himself up again," said Onizsko.
Even as Weiner's fellow Congressional Democrats have called for his resignation, the residents of New York's Ninth District appear to stand behind their congressman in solid formation.
According to a recent poll by Marist and NY1, 56 percent of those interviewed said that Weiner shouldn't resign, while only 33 percent said he should (12 percent said they hadn't made up their minds).
In the Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods that make up Weiner's jigsaw-puzzle district, the congressman has long enjoyed the kind of poll numbers generally reserved for authoritarian rulers. He won 60 percent of votes in the last election, actually a significant drop-off from the previous election, in which his constituents chose him by a ratio of 93 votes to six.
Even now, he doesn't seem much in danger of losing local support, and nowhere is that support more evident than at the Queens Community House, a sprawling network of project buildings and community-service centers based in the Queens neighborhood Forest Hills.
Weiner has a longstanding and closely intertwined relationship with the organization, which provides services and housing to low-income people. His district office in Kew Gardens shares a building with one of the center's branches, a sleek, tall, not-very-Queens-like office building outside of which a dozen reporters from the local press camped out Thursday, hoping to catch a glimpse of the politician hustling past.
Weiner's also been a frequent speaker at the group's other sites, and when workers at the Forest Hills branch told him they needed a new flag recently, he sent them one from the capital.
But his main connection to the organization is political. Over the course of his 12 years as a congressman, he's consistently argued and voted in favor of funding non-profit groups that help the poor, and people at the community center seem to value this aspect of his governance the most.
In the lobby of the community center at the Forest Hill branch, where stacks of local papers bore headlines like "Weiner Exposed" and "Sex Sick," Meryl Branch-McTiernan, 28, the organization's communications coordinator, said she thought Weiner had been a powerful voice for "modest- to low-income people trying to make it into the middle class, as he says in his speeches."
Branch-McTeirnan knows his speeches well. Six years ago, when Weiner ran for mayor, she worked as an intern on his campaign staff. "I was looking forward to seeing him run for mayor again," she said, "and now it looks like he won't be running anytime in the near future, and I think that's a loss for the city."
She said she was shocked to read about his Twitter problem. Asked if she'd ever thought of him as flirtatious, she said, "Not really even. He was really just always on the go."
Pullano, the director of the teen program and a longtime resident of Weiner's district, said he was disappointed by the media coverage of the scandal, pointing to the fact that the city's community centers face massive budget cuts. "It will affect thousands of families," he said. "It will basically gut the youth program in the center, the after-school program, the leadership program, the evening teen center, the outreach and athletics center, pieces of the high school transitions program and pieces of the summer youth program."
Weiner, he said, had always fought to protect those programs.
"And no one's talking about that," McTeirnan interrupted.
She shook her head wearily. "They're talking about his chest hair."
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Queens Community House is based in Kew Gardens. It has a branch in Kew Gardens but is based in Forest Hills.