On New York City's Election Day for the Democratic Primary in 2005, I escorted Anthony Weiner's mother through the Upper West Side holding a sign that said, "Meet Fran Weiner, Anthony's Mom." Fran had spent countless hours campaigning for Anthony since his first City Council race in 1991. The campaign staff believed that the retired public school math teacher would play well in the neighborhood. She did. Many of the people we met claimed that they were changing their vote after shaking hands with mater Weiner.
Several of the yentas we spoke with asked, "What kind of name is Anthony for a Jewish boy?" Fran told them that they had been deciding between Andrew and Anthony. When he came out with a scream, they went with Anthony. And he continued to scream -- about the shrinking middle class, universal health care, a woman's right to control decisions relating her body, benefits for 9/11 responders -- until 2011 when the press about his booming voice fearlessly espousing liberal values was replaced by allegations about his dirty online whispers to women across the country.
I was stunned. Though I wouldn't say I knew Anthony well -- I had been a lowly member of his field team in 2005 -- I'd brushed up against him many times in my five years serving as Director of Communications at a nonprofit organization based in his former congressional district in Queens. Before the revelations about his habits, my colleagues teased me about "my guy Weiner," but I had always been proud to associate myself with a fiery Democrat who wasn't afraid to say that health insurance companies shouldn't exist because they served no purpose. He could scream all he liked, as long as he was fighting for the good people of New York.
Reading the reports that he'd resigned, I cried at my desk. Why had President Obama and Nancy Pelosi and all of his friends in Congress turned against him? Online infidelity wasn't illegal. Growing up during Lewinskygate, I had been told by my liberal elders that a politician should be judged his policies, not his personal life. It seemed unfair that a great mayor in the making had been undone by the clatter of an accidental click.
In the back of my mind, I couldn't help feeling jilted by his hubris. He had risked the career that so many people had worked to procure for him -- phone-banking, throwing fundraisers, knocking on doors, running up brownstone stairs to distribute thousands of pieces of literature (like I did). My heart went out to his beautiful pregnant wife. But I couldn't stop thinking about all the others who had invested in him for decades; all the long-time staffers who had worked in his district office in Queens, middle-aged women who had made careers out of responding to his constituents' needs, who volunteered for his campaigns when they were off the clock, who found safety in being on Team Weiner.
This past Spring, when his return to politics was publicized, I was thrilled. Anthony was irrepressible. And New Yorkers were ready to take him back. Until we learned that his weiner was just as buoyant. Not only had he created a fictitious character with the only name more ridiculous than Anthony Weiner in Carlos Danger, he was cavorting with a close third in Sydney Leathers.
When the story of Anthony's continued exploits hit the press, I was in the midst of watching "The Sopranos" for the first time. In Season One, Tony's young protégé Christopher says, "It says in these movie writing books that every character has an arc. Understand? Like everybody starts out somewhere, and they do something, something gets done to them and it changes their life. That's called an arc. Where's my arc?" Pussy responds, "you know who had an arc? Noah."
Americans are suckers for a redemption story. You make a mistake, go to rehab, and come back reformed. A clearly defined arc. But if we've learned anything from our favorite television dramas, men like Tony Soprano make the same mistakes time after time. And our politicians are no different. Do we continue to stand behind them because we believe they have our best interests at heart? I can't help wondering how growing up watching men cheat on their wives in politics and in television spills into what we consider acceptable in our personal lives. Does it taint our ability to hope for more in our own relationships?
In the past few months, I've spent a lot of time thinking about Tony Soprano. I hate that I find myself rooting for him as he commits heinous acts for the good of the Family or when someone breaks an established rule. Tony's wife Carmela knows about his "goomah" (woman on the side) and ignores the situation most of the time, assuming certain lines aren't crossed. When Tony's shrink, Dr. Melfi, is brutally raped, she feels safer knowing that when the justice system failed her, she could always have her rapist popped by Tony. Watching this play out, I understood what it was like to be a Republican who believes that individuals should handle what I have always seen as the government's purview. Suddenly, I understood my fascination with the mafia. As an only child who hails from a family of people who collect books the way other families collect firearms, I've put my trust in a strong government as insurance in case I don't get married or have kids and end up a bag lady on the street. What if I had a Tony Soprano in my corner? Would I feel more or less protected?
Maybe Anthony Soprano doesn't need to have an arc, he's just a television character. But if Anthony Weiner wants a place in politics, he has to get his business with his goomahs figured out. And until then, what about Tony Danza for mayor?