Anthony Weiner Resignation: Middle-Class New York Bids A Sad Farewell
His mother was a public school teacher. His father was a "neighborhood lawyer" -- which is what you call a small-town lawyer whose "town" happens to be Brooklyn, N.Y.
He often said that his story was the story of middle-class New York, and he said it loudly and passionately, often in front of cameras. He loved the camera and he loved showing off for it; and three weeks ago, no one would have found anything funny or tragic in this hackneyed observation.
Today, he told his story to a crowd of supporters and reporters (mostly reporters) for what might be the last time. But as many have pointed out, he would not be the first politician to climb his way back into a position of influence after stepping down in the face of a sex-related scandal.
For now, though, the speech marked the ending of at least one version of his mostly triumphant but finally sad story: the rise and fall of the funny-looking middle-class Jewish kid from Brooklyn who spieled his way into popularity and power as Representative Anthony D. Weiner, scrappy champion of middle-class New York.
Video by HuffPost's Hunter Stuart
As Weiner explained in his speech, the setting for the telling of this story was chosen for its symbolism. The Jay Senior Center in the Brooklyn neighborhood Sheepshead Bay -- which people here might refer to as a bastion of unpretentious old-school middle-class Brooklyn if they weren't, in fact, unpretentious -- was where a precious 27-year-old announced his campaign for council member exactly two decades ago.
He would win narrowly, but in subsequent elections greatly increased his margin of victory. In 1998, he ran for Congress and won by a ratio of 66 votes to 24; in 2008, he won reelection by 92 to 8.
In 2005, he scraped together just enough funding to make a bid for mayor of New York City, and though he didn't come close to toppling Michael Bloomberg and his billions, he garnered a lot of support. The campaign launched him on the trajectory of national celebrity that continues to this day -- a path that arguably led to his downfall.
Weiner is a natural showman; he knows how to "fire up" a crowd and knows to say the sorts of things that reporters love to report. When Republicans pushed for revisions to a bill that would have provided aid to 9/11 responders, for example, he stood up on the floor of Congress and lashed into a podium-pounding two-minute tirade. When his fellow congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) asked him to yield the floor, he declared, “I will not yield to the gentleman."
The performance made Weiner a YouTube star and arguably led to the bill's passing.
Outside the senior center today, reporters formed a line halfway down the block. Mixed with them were a handful of neighborhood people.
"I know him since 1992," said a 53-year-old woman named Vicky Hodja. "In my knowledge he don't do nothing wrong."
Hodja looked like a Hollywood director's idea of a Brooklyn woman, probably because her sunglasses had sparkles on them, but she didn’t really fit the mold. In the years since Weiner has been a congressman, his district, which was once densely Jewish, has become more and more like the rest of New York -- more Russian and Mexican and Guyanese.
Hodja, who is from Kosovo, said she'd come to the meeting to support Weiner because he'd supported her. Years ago, she said, she was a victim of domestic violence, so she went to Weiner's office and he referred her several social-service agencies. She said the things she'd experienced put Weiner's behavior in perspective. "This is nothing," she said.
Another Brooklynite at the meeting was Ed Corrado, 70; he had come to the center that day because there was a workshop he wanted to take. Corrado said he hadn't been expecting the throng of people with cameras and notebooks or the TV vans with their satellite dishes that greeted him on Quentin Road, but he was glad, he said, to be there for Weiner. He'd voted for the guy, he said, and once shook his hand at a rally.
"This district is primarily middle class and he's been trying to maintain that level," he said. "And what he would have done as a mayor and maybe a governor one day -- who knows?"
A little before 2 p.m. members of the media filled the seats in center's auditorium and waited for Weiner to arrive.
Then they waited some more. To the Queens reporters who covered Weiner before the Weiner beat was national, Weiner has long been known as "20-minute Tony," for his habitual lateness. In this respect, at least, it was the same old Tony who showed up at the center.
Weiner made his entrance at exactly 20 minutes past the hour.
"Oh, the theater," remarked one of those Queens reporters. Cameras flashed.
"Good afternoon," Weiner began.
"About 20 years ago," he said, "I stood in this very same room here at the Council Center and asked my neighbors for their help to take a chance on me in electing me to the City Council." He went on: "I have never forgotten my neighbors because they represent the same middle-class story as mine."
"The middle-class story of New York is my story, and I’m very proud of that," he continued.
Weiner was delivering the same stump speech that made him a local leader, speaking in the same confident style that made him a national star, doing what he was known for always doing so well. But he was doing it in the service of saying that he wouldn't be doing it anymore.
"I had hoped," he said, "to be able to continue the work that the citizens of my district had elected me to do, to fight for the middle class and those struggling to make it. Unfortunately, the distraction I have created has made that impossible."
He continued for a few more lines, until it became very difficult to pay attention because of a disturbance in the audience.
Someone once said that every crisis is an opportunity. Weiner's travails have created many opportunities: for local politicians like Eric Ulrich, the 27-year-old Queens councilman who joined Weiner in the slim annals of history's twenty-something New York City council-members and who is now being talked about as a possible successor to Weiner in Congress; for writers of late-night comedy jokes and tabloid headlines; and for Benjy Brok, a cohort of Howard Stern.
Stern was not at the press conference on Thursday but Bronk most definitely was. Last week, when Weiner admitted to lying about his Twitter misadventures, Bronk shouted out a question -- one he repeated Thursday at the senior center.
"The people want to know," he shouted, "were you fully erect?"
Judging from the jeers and hisses emanating from a cluster of elderly women in the corner, the people did not want to know this at all. What the people wanted was for Bronk to shut up, but the he did not yield. Police finally dragged him away.
The speech was over. The scores of reporters who just a moment before had trained their video cameras and voice-recording devices on one of the biggest media stars in Congress now turned their attention to the smattering of old ladies (and a few old men) who had unwittingly shown up to the center for what they thought would be a pleasantly dull day of workshops and billiards.
Reporters from the local press, from the national press, all lined up in front of the old people two or three deep, waiting for a quote.
"Most seniors are afraid to speak up and [Weiner] was a voice," one woman said.
They were speaking now, though, and the media was eating it up. A camera crew led by a serious man in a shirt and tie patiently filmed an old woman ranting at length about her landlord.
The people at the senior center, after all, personified as well as anyone the middle-class New York that Weiner always championed.
And if what they said was truly an indication of how middle-class New York felt today, then middle-class New York was largely upset.
"To see someone humiliated like this, it's really sad," said Elizabeth Viggiano, 80.
She had been a showgirl in Vegas in the '60s, she said, so she knew from bad behavior.
"As a human being, I know, my poop stinks. Nobody is spotless."
AJ Barbosa contributed to this report.