Remembering Weiner's Political Career

Jun 16, 2011
Originally published on June 17, 2011 10:58 am
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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And for more on that public life, we turn to NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. She looks back at the career of a man who was one of the Democratic Party's most promising young stars.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Until last year, Weiner was considered a midlevel politician on the national stage. He'd worked for then-Representative Chuck Schumer and won Schumer's seat after he left for the Senate. In 2005, Weiner ran in the Democratic primary to be the mayor of New York. He finished second. His star began to rise toward the end of the health care debate in Congress, a debate that snarled most of 2009 and the spring of 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

ANTHONY WEINER: You know, from time to time in this debate during health care, you know, I kind felt that sometimes, we, as Democrats, we come into knife fights carrying library books that...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEABROOK: Here, Weiner speaks to the Manhattan Young Democrats in early April 2010. He'd always had pluck, but that debate brought out the anti- Republican bulldog in Weiner.

WEINER: And this year, we showed them that we can take a punch and give one back as well, and that's...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SEABROOK: Later in July, three defining moments. One, he married Huma Abedin, a brilliant and connected political aide to Senator and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Two, his campaign reports released that month showed he'd already amassed $3.9 million for his bid to be mayor of New York City, an election then more than three years away. And three, during a debate over health care for 9/11 first responders, Weiner took to the House floor to fight against Republicans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

WEINER: If you believe this is a bad idea to provide health care, then vote no. But don't give me the cowardly view that, oh, if it was a different procedure. The gentleman will observe regular order...

SEABROOK: In retrospect, perhaps the height of his career came this spring in a splashy speech to the annual Congressional Correspondents' Dinner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

WEINER: And really, like, who is Boehner fooling? What am I, like, Anthony Wainer? What am I? Like - who are you - like, I'm serious, brother, just embrace it, you know? I mean...

SEABROOK: Washington's biggest ballroom was packed with journalists and political stars, and Weiner put them on notice, comparing himself to President Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who lost half a finger in a restaurant accident as a teenager. Emanuel had recently been elected mayor of Chicago on the night Weiner spoke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

WEINER: I mean, who knew that what it takes to be mayor of a big city is to be a hot-tempered arrogant loud Jew with nine and a half fingers? Who knew?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WEINER: And in other news, I've taken a job at Arby's as the meat cutter.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEABROOK: In Washington and New York, it was practically an assumption that Weiner would be the Big Apple's next mayor. Until May, that famous accidental tweet, 10 days of lying and self-righteous protests, and then, this:

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

WEINER: I haven't told the truth. I have done things that I deeply regret.

SEABROOK: Following Weiner's confession, the calls for his resignation grew in number and in weight. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he wished he could defend Weiner, but he couldn't. President Obama said Weiner had embarrassed himself and should step down. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi signaled Weiner would be striped of his committee assignments if he chose to stay. Eventually, Weiner found his position untenable.

NPR N: Bill Clinton is now more likely to be called an elder statesman than a shamed president. Newt Gingrich married the woman he was having an affair with during the Lewinsky scandal, and they're now on the campaign trail as he runs for president. And Eliot Spitzer, the New York governor, exposed as a client of a prostitution service, now has a political talk show on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IN THE ARENA")

ELIOT SPITZER: Unidentified Man: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.