He’s back. An explosive Anthony Weiner received his first serious criticism from voters over the sexting scandal that forced him to resign from Congress Wednesday night–sparking a shouting match that marked the most heated moment of his campaign to date.
Mr. Weiner had given his usual stump speech touting middle class jobs and his book of policy proposals at a New Kings Democrats candidates forum in Williamsburg when the floor was opened to questions.
The second came from Chris Owens, a Brownstone Brooklyn district leader and a supporter of one of Mr. Weiner’s electoral rivals, who berated Mr. Weiner for his conduct.
“I have a three word question, ‘How dare you?’” he began, seething as he spoke. “I’m a parent, I’ve got two sons. I represent the Democratic Party. I am outraged and disgusted by you, both by what you did and by the fact that you have the arrogance to run for mayor now. And the only reason why you’re running for mayor is because you have this money that you’re going to lose.”
Mr. Owens then pivoted into the scandal.
“I want to understand how you explain to us how you used public facility to tweet offensive material to individuals who may have included minors,” Mr. Owens said. “Now you come back–not even four, eight years later–you come back after two years and you expect us to embrace you because you have good ideas?”
Mr. Weiner, at first, responded calmly, telling Mr. Owens, “I appreciate the question, Chris, and I know that some people will feel that way.” But then Mr. Weiner swung his first punch, accusing Mr. Owens of holding a grudge against him because Mr. Weiner endorsed Yvette Clarke instead of him during a 2006 Congressional race–an accusation Mr. Owens immediately slapped down as “political bullshit.”
The crowd was riled.
“Listen, Chris. You have the right to grandstand and I have a right to answer the question after you do, don’t I?” an increasingly agitated Mr. Weiner asked. “All I can say is that I have explained–and I’ll explain it to as many people who want to ask me about those things–that it was a personal mistake that I made. It was one that I regret and one that I’ve expressed apologies for … But now people have to decide whether or not it disqualifies me … I do think I have something to offer in this conversation.”
Then came another question, this time from Jesse Strauss, a club member who noted that three candidates in a row–mayoral candidate John Liu, Brooklyn borough president hopeful Eric Adams and Mr. Weiner–had all come to the Democratic club and apologized for something.
“Don’t you think that there’s something about public office that means that you have to have the trust of people, that we can’t have our politicians going around apologizing all the time?” he asked, noting that city employees like teachers are barred from tweeting photos to their students. “How are we going to have the stature as a city to tell that teacher that they can’t work for the City of New York when our mayor has done the same thing?”
Now Mr. Weiner was in full attack mode, his voice loud and hoarse. “Listen, if you believe that my personal failings disqualify me, don’t vote for me,” he said. “But, my friend, I’m not sure exactly what it is that you’re asking for.” He asked Mr. Strauss which candidate he supported. The answer? Bill de Blasio.
“That’s a surprise,” said Mr. Weiner, rolling his eyes, before telling Mr. Strauss he’d be happy if Mr. de Blasio even considered his ideas.
But Mr. Strauss interjected, arguing that the club’s goal was to bring new people into the political system. “It is very difficult for us to do that when he have politicians out there who are behaving this way,” he said.
Mr. Weiner interrupted, shouting over Mr. Strauss. “I’m gonna tell you something! Here’s what I recommend you do, if that’s your question, that’s your concern, here’s what I recommend you do: I recommend you say to them, ‘You know what? We have a lot of voices in the Democratic Party,’” he said, arguing that all ideas should be considered, no matter where they come from. “Ideas matter!”
He went on to say that, regardless, he was going to win.
“I’m going to win this election, OK, and I’m gonna govern this city really well,” he declared. “If you don’t think I should even be standing here today, I certainly would respect that. I mean, you’re supporting another candidate who’s not gonna win.”
Talking to reporters after his appearance, Mr. Weiner was still on fire.
“Slouchgate is over! It’s behind me,” he declared, after criticizing Politicker for bringing up his widely-reported bored demeanor at a recent debate. “Oh my God!” he said dramatically. “Another bored narrative. It’s like Fonzie, meet shark. Are you guys done with the bored thing yet?!”
He continued kibitzing with reporters–joking at one point about running one over with his car–before ordering his driver to take off.
“Let’s get out of here, dude!” he said.
Later, Mr. Strauss said he was unimpressed with Mr. Weiner’s bluster.
“He has no shame,” he quipped, after the exchange, adding: “Character is something that’s hard to find.”
Others’ reactions were mixed.
“He’s very intense!” said club member Lacey Tauber, who’d asked Mr. Weiner his views about the controversial Upper East Side waste transfer station and was met with an equally explosive response. While startling, she said she found his honesty “refreshing.”
“You want politicians to be honest and to be real. But,” she said, “I also want them to be respectful of their constituents at the same time.”