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New Yorkers still support Rep. Anthony Weiner

Weiner says he's not quitting, and many of his constituents are still on his side, willing to ignore his personal failings.

June 09, 2011|By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times
  • Reporters surround Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) as he arrives at his house in the Queens borough of New York.
Reporters surround Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) as he arrives at his house… (Mary Altaffer, Associated…)

Reporting from New York — If anyone can relate to embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner, it's the naked man standing in a plaza facing the congressman's Queens office — the one surrounded by mysterious female figures. He may be made of marble, but the statue representing the triumph of virtue over vice shares plenty with Weiner, from a crumbling support base to an uncertain future as locals debate whether he should stay or go.

In February, Weiner stood on the behemoth's broken concrete pedestal and proposed ousting the grubby sculpture, declaring it "offensive from any angle."

But the controversial statue remains firmly planted at the corner of Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike, as does Weiner, who on Thursday vowed to resist calls to resign that were spreading in Washington but remained muted on the sun-baked streets of his congressional district.

Photos: A decade of congressional sex scandals

"I'm not" planning to quit, he told the New York Post.

If pollsters and pundits are correct, the 46-year-old politician's popularity with voters could enable him to weather a scandal that erupted Monday with his confession that he had engaged in sexually charged online antics with several women. They included sending women racy messages and pictures of his crotch and bare chest, even after his marriage in July to Hillary Rodham Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who is reportedly pregnant.

That was enough to convince Helkha Hylton that he should go. "I'm married. I have twins. Whatever else he does, he should step down," Hylton said as she walked along Queens Boulevard. "He's in the public eye. He should be ashamed of himself."

But her view was not widely echoed along the traffic-choked thoroughfare.

Weiner, a liberal Democrat, has won support in the past from the cocktail of ethnic groups represented in his district, which straddles Queens and Brooklyn, and that support appeared to be holding up.

"He's a brilliant politician," said Gabriel Escobar, who moved into the district from his native Colombia several years ago. "He seems like he represents not just his own wing or party. He seems like he represents the people."

Escobar and his wife, Adriana, also a native of Colombia, said the United States was overly obsessed with politicians' personal lives. "We don't care if he cheats on his wife," she said. "I know that not every guy is like that, but most guys are crazy for women. They lose their minds."

At the other end of the district, in the salty-aired enclave of Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay, Tom Paolillo stood up at a civic association meeting Tuesday night and said he had sent an email to Weiner appealing to him to resist the pressure to resign.

"He's been a friend to our community for many, many years, and I'm not ready to throw him under the bus," said Paolillo, a view shared by others at the meeting. Whatever Weiner's faults, they noted, he had backed residents in their fight to win federal funding to repair storm damage to the local beach, bike path and roadways.

Such views reflected the latest Marist Poll showing that 56% of voters surveyed in Weiner's district didn't think he should resign. According to the survey, conducted Wednesday, 33% believed he should quit, and the rest were unsure.

Still, Weiner could have a difficult time winning back longtime supporters who aren't convinced he should resign but who say they won't vote for him again.

"As one who voted for him, it makes me question his ability to make decisions," said Josh Gold, a resident of well-heeled Forest Hills, which Weiner also calls home. "I just think the lack of judgment is so bad, I couldn't vote for him again."

A woman named Rody, who did not want to give her last name, was similarly dismissive of voting again for Weiner after casting repeated ballots in his favor. But she was also conflicted about whether he should step down. "He was led by his trousers, but if he leaves office, then what — you think we're going to get someone better?" she said.

Meanwhile, fellow politicians and public figures kept up their chorus of resignation demands. At least 13 prominent Democrats have said he should quit. Democrats who have not joined the chorus have dodged the issue.

David Quintana, whose Lost in the Ozone blog follows developments in Queens, speculated that the failure of fellow politicians to support Weiner was the result of his personality, not his politics.

"Anthony can be both arrogant and abrasive," said Quintana, who supports Weiner and says voters, not other representatives, should decide his future. "He rubs a lot of people the wrong way."

Much like the statue of civic virtue, which arrived in Queens in 1941 after then-Mayor Fiorello La Guardia reportedly evicted it from Manhattan amid complaints it was ugly and demeaning to women.

Weiner, at his February news conference, agreed, noting that "vice" is portrayed by two mythical creatures resembling women and lying at the feet of the conquering man: "I do find it ugly. I do find it offensive. And I do represent a lot of my constituents who find it the same way."

Photos: A decade of congressional sex scandals

Kathleen Hennessey and Michael A. Memoli in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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