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Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Weiner Biography: This is not a endorsement
From: Ruben Safir
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Date: Tue, 30 Aug 2005 01:46:59 -0400
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A Scrappy Congressman, Ready for His Next Risk
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD and IAN URBINA
In late August 1988, at the age of only 23, Anthony D. Weiner arrived at
As an intern in the Capitol Hill office of a congressman, Charles E.
Schumer, he knew he wanted to be a congressman himself - an intention
hatched in college - but he did not know where to start. Should he move
to Florida, go to law school and then run for office there, counting on
support from New Yorkers who had moved there and calculating that new
House seats would be created there after the 1990 census? Or should he
roll the dice and dive into the tumult of Brooklyn politics, hoping that
a seat would eventually open up?
He turned to Mr. Schumer, who moved him to his Brooklyn office, setting
the stage for Mr. Weiner's rise from scrappy aide to city councilman to
four-term congressman who is once again betting against the house in a
long-shot bid for mayor.
"He was afraid of losing," recalled Mr. Schumer, now New York's senior
senator. "I told him, 'Go back there.' This was three years before he
ran. He said, 'But there is nothing open.' But I told him there are
always openings that come up."
Now 40, Mr. Weiner has learned to take a gamble and trust his own good
luck. But he is not the sort to leave anything to chance; he has given
that luck every nudge he can, cultivating mentors like Mr. Schumer,
staking out a stance on every possible issue and carefully studying the
political tides - even when they seem turned against him.
In the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination, Mr. Weiner
(pronounced WEE-ner) has moved from fourth place into a close three-way
race for second, behind Fernando Ferrer, according to the polls. His
aggressive, quick-witted performance in two televised debates has lent
him the aura of the up-and-comer, a dark horse with momentum.
He has stumbled at times. Although his campaign has raised a respectable
$2.7 million, he has returned thousands of dollars after rivals raised
questions about the donors. Rivals have accused him of using
Congressional campaign money and resources in the mayoral race. And
compared with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg or even Mr. Ferrer, he remains
a relative unknown, struggling to gain notice as he juggles his job in
Congress with his mayoral bid. His failure to devote his full attention
to the campaign has fed speculation that this year's effort is merely a
dry run for 2009, a chance to heighten his visibility and build the base
needed for a citywide campaign.
But Mr. Weiner says he is committed to winning and will prove skeptics
wrong, reaching out, his strategists say, to white, middle-class voters
outside Manhattan who have always helped propel winning mayoral
He never fails to point out that this is what Edward I. Koch did in the
multicandidate primary of 1977.
Mr. Weiner has kept those voters in his sights, proposing an income tax
increase on people earning more than $1 million a year and a 10 percent
tax cut for those earning $150,000 or less.
He has promised to improve ailing public schools and champion
neighborhoods outside Manhattan, and to cut the budget by 5 percent a
year, every year - a vow that he says distinguishes him from what he
calls "Democratic orthodoxy." He has also sought leverage among Jewish
voters - he is the only Jew among the Democrats running for mayor - with
proposals like tax breaks for large families, something that he noted
might be particularly helpful in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.
Whether playing goalie on an amateur hockey team, an unlikely task for a
man of his wispy frame, or running for mayor against a field of
better-known Democrats and a Republican incumbent with money to burn,
Mr. Weiner thrives on taking calculated risks and vanquishing doubters,
and takes pride in his reputation as something of a wunderkind and a
He has drawn praise from some Democratic leaders for a long and varied
list of proposals, like taxing some state properties or having the city
take over some of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's oversight
of subways. Opponents, though, have dismissed his ideas as a wish list
that would require unlikely concessions from the power brokers in
In the most recent debate, the City Council speaker, Gifford Miller,
called Mr. Weiner's tax-cutting plan a "gimmick" and accused him of
making pie-in-the-sky promises and proposals. In April, after Mr. Weiner
questioned Mr. Bloomberg's ability to get more money from Washington,
the mayor's office ridiculed a pitch the congressman once made for $4
million to study the threat posed by asteroids.
Mr. Weiner, who likes to flash an eclectic knowledge of everything from
the Asian longhorned beetle to the intricacies of trade negotiations,
would have people believe that his quests arise from a passion for
issues. But he is no ideologue, and seems to love the game of politics
for itself. His competitive streak is never far below the surface, on or
off the political rink.
"I hate to lose," he said late one recent night, sweaty and stewing on a
bench at Chelsea Piers after his hockey team, the Falcons, lost 5-4 in a
He tempers that intensity, and a tendency to sound like a know-it-all,
with generous doses of wisecracking and self-deprecation. Recently,
announcing a proposal that the city forge closer ties with "faith-based"
organizations, he made a reference to Nehemiah, an ancient governor of
"It's worth noting that at this point in the election he was trailing by
15 points," Mr. Weiner deadpanned.
People counted him out, he often notes, in his first runs for both City
Council and Congress, at least until Mr. Schumer endorsed him. That
lifeline appears unlikely in the mayoral campaign, as Mr. Schumer says
he does not plan to make any endorsements in the primary, and has been
notably charitable to the mayor in public statements. (The senator's
wife, Iris Weinshall, is Mr. Bloomberg's transportation secretary.)
Although Mr. Weiner once vowed never to run for anything else if elected
to Congress - "I wasn't expected to win, so it was a pretty easy deal to
make," he said - he sees the mayor's job as a logical next step. He is
motivated, he says, by the chance to replace Mr. Bloomberg, whom he sees
as removed from the lives of everyday New Yorkers and insufficiently
tough in prying aid out his fellow Republicans in Washington.
"On the plane flying back and forth, I viewed kind of my mission in
Washington as being one of the people who defended the city," Mr. Weiner
said. "And I realized that when I looked at an issue, that was the lens
I was looking at it through. I think there is a natural evolution from
that to say, 'Why don't you do it in the city for all five boroughs?' "
Arguing for Arguing's Sake
One thing about Mr. Weiner is undebatable: he can debate. Friend and foe
alike agree that he excels at articulating a point and pressing an
He learned it at home, he said, "in the rough-and-tumble world of Park
Slope," Brooklyn, where he and his two brothers - one older, one younger
- would sit around the breakfast table and spar over whatever came to
"The boys argued about nearly everything," said his father, Morton
Weiner, a lawyer. "One would come downstairs and say, 'Good morning.'
And the other would say, 'What's good about it?' And someone else would
say, 'Yeah, and how do you know it's morning?' "
Mr. Weiner does not remember his parents as being passionately
political, though he did roller skate down Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn,
helping his older brother, Seth, hand out literature for George
McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.
Their mother, Frances, was a schoolteacher, and both parents, he said,
gave him a zest for knowledge. But Mr. Weiner never excelled at studies,
and at times makes light of his academic record, making joking
references in conversation to his time at Oxford, which he did not
attend, and not mentioning the college he did attend - the State
University of New York College at Plattsburgh - in the biographies on
his campaign and Congressional Web sites.
He said he failed the admission test for Stuyvesant High School, widely
considered the best in the city system, by just one point, and attended
Brooklyn Technical High School instead.
At Plattsburgh, he aimed at first to become a television weatherman. But
when the meteorology courses proved too difficult, he said, he
gravitated toward politics, immersing himself in political-science
courses and student government.
Elected to the student senate as a junior, Mr. Weiner wasted little time
before courting controversy. Though he had chosen Plattsburgh, near the
Canadian border, for its hockey facilities, he argued that some of the
money spent on the team should go toward other sports - a provocative
stance on a campus full of diehard hockey fans. He also protested the
placement of a Christmas tree in the lobby of the political science
department, arguing that it infringed on church-state separation. He
succeeded in both efforts.
"Student government was definitely Anthony's element," said Harvey
Schantz, a political science professor who was the faculty adviser to
the student government in 1984, when Mr. Weiner held office. Senate
meetings typically started around 10 on Monday evenings, Professor
Schantz said, and debate often lasted several hours. "Anthony would
follow people to their mailboxes after the meeting was over just to keep
the argument going," Professor Schantz said. "He wore people down."
A Brooklyn native himself, Professor Schantz said he was immediately
impressed with Mr. Weiner, who took the bold step of enrolling as a
freshman in Professor Schantz's advanced course on public opinion and
Mr. Weiner eventually nicknamed the professor "coach," turning to him
regularly for academic and political advice, especially during weekly
one-on-one basketball games.
But the crystallizing moment for Mr. Weiner came during a trip to Albany
early in his senior year for a mock State Assembly meeting, in which
college students drafted bills and debated issues. Mr. Weiner went home
with several victory gavels, after being voted best floor speaker and
"It was like one of those things where you say, 'So this is what I'm
supposed to do,' " he said.
The debate topics did not matter. "It doesn't matter to me to this day,"
he said. "I could probably argue both sides of just about any issue."
When a congressman visited campus to lecture about interest groups and
politics, Mr. Weiner was the only student to schedule a private meeting
with him, Professor Schantz said. And when, in his final semester, Mr.
Weiner was offered the chance to work in Mr. Schumer's Washington
office, he jumped at the opportunity.
"When I saw him next he was back on campus visiting during his
internship, and I could tell he had gone through his final
transformation," said Professor Schantz, recalling that Mr. Weiner
looked unusually comfortable in a suit and trench coat for someone his
"It was clear that he had found in Schumer another mentor."
Finding His Place
The job was rudimentary: affixing labels on envelopes, answering phones.
But it allowed him to watch Representative Schumer at work.
"I saw him as the hub of this very big impressive machine, making calls
and figuring out how to navigate things," Mr. Weiner said. "He was
trying to get on the Budget Committee in the beginning of 1985. His
third term was just starting. I remember it was very competitive of him
to get on the Budget Committee. He was trying very hard to do it. Phones
were going and deals were being struck, and he was running around like a
Sent to the Brooklyn office after Mr. Schumer urged him to take a chance
on New York politics, Mr. Weiner represented the congressman at events
and in community meetings, building a network of contacts that helped
his prospects when he decided to run for City Council in 1991.
Mr. Weiner saw his opening in a district in central Brooklyn that had
just been redrawn and attracted a free-for-all of six candidates. There,
he earned his reputation as a dogged campaigner, knocking on seemingly
every door, relentlessly shaking hands at subway stops and wearing out
the cheap suit he had bought for the race.
When he won, he was 27 - at that point, the youngest person ever elected
to the City Council.
His colleagues on the Council remember him more for his mouth than for
his legislative achievements. He proved a constant irritant to Mayor
David N. Dinkins, whom Mr. Weiner took to task over his handling of the
violence in Crown Heights.
Mr. Weiner later battled Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani over restrictions on
food cart vendors, and other matters.
"What I really remember is, he could argue an issue really well," said
Peter F. Vallone, the former Council speaker, who is supporting a rival
of Mr. Weiner's, Speaker Gifford Miller. "He was very articulate and
After Mr. Schumer entered the Senate race in 1998, Mr. Weiner set his
sights on his mentor's House seat, facing off against tough competition
principally from Councilman Noach Dear, the perceived favorite of
Orthodox Jews in the district, and Assemblywoman Melinda R. Katz, who
had the backing of the Queens political establishment. But Mr. Weiner,
as Mr. Schumer's protÃ©gÃ©, seemed to have the edge, and the congressman's
endorsement late in the race helped push him to a 500-vote victory in
the Democratic primary.
In Congress, representing a largely middle-class district straddling the
Brooklyn-Queens border, he has been outspoken in his advocacy for
Israel, the need for federal financing of local police forces, and
controlling the Asian longhorned beetle, which has ravaged trees in the
Like many other Democrats in Congress, he voted in favor of the Iraq war
resolution in 2002 - but against an $87 million appropriation for war
costs the following year - and for the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
As a member of the minority party, however, he does not have a long list
of significant legislative achievements. At the suggestion that he may
be frustrated in Congress, Mr. Weiner bristled.
"I frankly in some degree have found my voice as a member of the
minority party with Bush in the White House," he said. "When you are the
200th person following the president's coalition, like I was to some
degree in my first term under Clinton, to some degree you're a foot
soldier. When you're a third-termer or a fourth-termer in the minority
party, it's much more entrepreneurial. You kind of have to think a
little bit about how you're going to approach the job, and I think I
really found my voice."
He seems to relish the office and the stature it carries. When a group
of much older lobbyists came to see him one day in his office, Mr.
Weiner flashed impatience and frequently cut them off midsentence when
he felt they were not getting to the point.
"Thank you, gentlemen, it was good to see you," he said, with all the
sincerity he could muster, as he escorted them out.
The Gossip and the Game
When he goes home to a two-bedroom apartment near Capitol Hill - his
main residence is in Forest Hills, Queens - that he shares with a fellow
House Democrat, Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts, Mr. Weiner is still
chattering on about politics.
"Unfortunately, it's about New York City," said Mr. Capuano, who is from
Mr. Weiner, however, turns much more taciturn on personal subjects.
When a recent interview in a restaurant turned to the death of his older
brother, Seth, "a troubled guy" who was struck and killed by a car at
the height of Mr. Weiner's 2000 re-election campaign, Mr. Weiner looked
stricken and excused himself from the table. He returned moments later
and changed the subject.
As a bachelor politician, Mr. Weiner and his dating exploits frequently
show up in gossip items. A 2001 Vanity Fair article on Capitol Hill
interns reported that he wooed a young woman a few days after the Sept.
11 attacks, introducing himself as "Anthony, an auto parts salesman."
For the record, he said, he is not in a serious relationship. He regrets
not being married, but cites his ambitious schedule. "There also weren't
a lot of women saying yes," he said with a smile.
Asked what an ideal weekend would be like away from work, Mr. Weiner
struggled with the question, finally settling on going out to see his
brother, Jason, a restaurateur in the Hamptons. Mr. Weiner also waxes
passionate as he describes games he has played with the Congressional
Despite his calculating and political maneuvering, Mr. Weiner wants to
be seen as a regular guy from Brooklyn who caught a few breaks here and
there - and hopes for another one soon.
"The stars aligned for me in a lot of ways," Mr. Weiner said. "I've been
very very, very lucky. It's hard to regret many of the decisions. I come
from a middle-class family. We don't have a lot of money. We didn't till
the fields of the political clubs for years and years. I have been very
* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company