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Rep. Anthony Weiner exits politics, but is it forever?

Analysts disagree on whether the New York congressman can make a political comeback from his sexting scandal.

June 16, 2011|By Tina Susman and Kathleen Hennessey, Los Angeles Times
  • Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) leaves the news conference in Brooklyn at which he announced his resignation from Congress.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) leaves the news conference in Brooklyn at… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)

Reporting from New York and Washington

Over howls from hecklers and cheers from die-hard fans, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress in a brief and raucous news conference that raised more questions than it answered, from the future prospects for the fallen Democratic star and his district to the whereabouts of his wife, who was a no-show as her husband's sexting scandal cost him his job.

Ten days after confessing that he had sent sexually provocative online messages to several women, Weiner bowed to pressure that peaked this week when President Obama said that if he were in the congressman's shoes, he would quit. Weiner, who had vowed to stay in office, acknowledged Thursday that the scandal was hampering his, and all of Congress', ability to work.

PHOTOS: Rep. Anthony Weiner sexting scandal

"I had hoped 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," Weiner said. "Unfortunately, the distraction I have created has made that impossible."

What lies ahead is far from certain.

If Weiner decided to try a political comeback, he would have the means: He has nearly $5 million in campaign money, nearly all of it in a committee formed for his mayoral bid. The seven-term congressman had made it clear he planned to run for mayor of New York in 2013.

Members of the New York congressional delegation expressed sadness over their colleague's fall, but optimism about his future.

"There's no doubt in my mind this is not the end of Mr. Weiner," said Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who has known Weiner since he served on the New York City Council. "He's a very talented individual and he's done a lot of good things."

Towns said he wouldn't rule out a Weiner mayoral candidacy. "You never know. There are other people who made mistakes and have bounced back and are doing great things. After all, these things happen all the time."

But crisis management expert Gene Grabowski of Levick Strategic Communications, a Washington firm with a client roster that includes politicians, athletes and corporations, said Weiner's first move should be to finish whatever treatment he is receiving.

"Then you come out, you redeem yourself. You talk a little bit about your experience, how you've seen the error of your ways. People love rebirth in this country," said Grabowski, citing former Washington Mayor Marion Barry, who was caught on camera smoking crack cocaine with a prostitute. "He went to prison, found religion, starting singing 'Amazing Grace,' and it worked,' " Grabowski said.

Grabowski expressed doubts that Weiner could return to politics because of the repeated lying that preceded his confession. Instead, he suggested Weiner could look toward the career he envisioned in college: TV personality. That's the route taken by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was forced to resign in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal and who now has a show on CNN.

But Lanny Davis, a Clinton White House veteran who also runs a Washington crisis management firm, said he believed Weiner still had a shot at politics.

"I learned a lot from my experience with President Clinton," said Davis. "The American people are pretty smart and they are pretty compassionate, and they get the distinction between human weakness and public performance in office."

Weiner spoke for less than five minutes and chose a site heavy in symbolism and nostalgia for his exit: a senior citizens home in Brooklyn where he launched his political career in the early 1990s by announcing his run for City Council. Several elderly residents, many leaning on canes or in wheelchairs, crowded the sides of the room, which is normally used for meals and social events.

If Weiner thought the location would guarantee a dignified or somber parting, he was wrong. Cheers from supporters competed with shouts from at least two hecklers from the moment he entered the room. One heckler was from Howard Stern's radio show; another screamed, "Bye-bye, pervert!"

Speaking without emotion, Weiner apologized again to constituents and to his wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. He did not mention future political goals, but said, "Now I'll be looking for other ways to contribute my talents" to bolstering the middle class.

Weiner's fall from grace, and possible redemption, weighed on some voters in the room.

"The American public is very strange," said Elizabeth Viggiano, a Brooklyn resident who had repeatedly voted for Weiner and who said she would do it again. "We put people on a pedestal, and then we wait for them to fall."

But Ed Corrado, who also watched the announcement and who said he had voted several times for Weiner, said it would be difficult for him to support Weiner again if he re-entered politics.

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