Disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) hasn't been in the news much lately. That's on purpose, says Jonathan Van Meter in The New York Times Magazine. Since Weiner's career imploded in a cascade of sexually explicit tweets, not to mention the former congressman's shoddy attempts to lie about them, he has spent "much of his time within a five-block radius of his apartment," and is now the primary caretaker of his toddler son, Jordan.
"This is what happens after a scandal: Ranks are closed and the world shrinks to a tiny dot. It is a life in retreat," says Van Meter, who sat down with Weiner and his wife, top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, multiple times in February and March. Here, three big takeaways from those interviews:
1. Weiner is ready to jump into the New York City mayoral race
"Before he resigned from Congress, Weiner was leading in early polls as a candidate for mayor of New York," notes Van Meter. Ever since, speculation that he'll try to use the mayoral race to stage a political comeback has been ebbing and flowing, heating up earlier this year on the news that he has pollsters in the field. "At breakfast, Weiner quickly put all the speculation to rest: He is eyeing the mayor's race."
But he's not committed. "I don't have this burning, overriding desire to go out and run for office," Weiner said a month later:
It's not the single animating force in my life as it was for quite some time. But I do recognize, to some degree, it's now or maybe never for me, in terms of running for something. I'm trying to gauge not only what's right and what feels comfortable right this second, but I'm also thinking, How will I feel in a year or two years or five years? Is this the time that I should be doing it? And then there's the other side of the coin, which is... am I still the same person who I thought would make a good mayor? [New York Times]
2. His polling says the public will give him a second chance... with conditions
In March, New York City financial documents revealed what Weiner had told Van Meter in private: His political committee has spent more than $100,000 on polling by Obama's longtime pollster, David Binder. The focus of the research, Binder says, was: "Are voters willing to give him a second chance or not, regardless of what race or what contest?" The answer? Binder says:
There was this sense of "Yeah, he made a mistake. Let's give him a second chance. But there are conditions on that, and there are a couple of things we're going to want to know: What have you been doing since this incident occurred? Did you learn anything from this mistake? How did you deal with it?" They want to know that they've put it behind them. [New York Times]
Weiner sums up Binder's polling this way: "People are generally prepared to get over it, but they don't know if they're prepared to vote for me." He adds that his in-person interactions in New York bolster the idea that people have gotten over the scandal, to some extent. He tells Van Meter:
Like, you know, I don't travel too far without someone turning around and looking or taking a picture of me or coming up to say hello or whispering to their buddy. When it gets into more than that, it's one of the following: 1) "Oh, you should run." 2) "Man, you got screwed." 3) "Aw, I'm so sorry what happened to you." 4) "Spitzer! You're Governor Spitzer!" [New York Times]
If he does choose to run for mayor, "David said I'd be the underdog in any race I ran," Weiner tells Van Meter. And that, says Van Meter, is "pretty much the conventional wisdom among people who watch city politics."
3. Weiner is still married, despite his pre-scandal "douchiness"
"How Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin stayed together through Weinergate is, like most negotiations between couples, deeply complicated and in some ways unknowable," says Van Meter. But friends and family say Weiner has done a lot of work, on himself and his marriage, and he and Abedin, in the words of brother Jason Weiner, "have been able to survive, maybe even thrive."
Before Weiner's fall from grace, his political and personal combativeness made him quite difficult, Jason Weiner adds. "I wouldn't stand for other people saying this about him, but there was definitely a douchiness about him that I just don't really see anymore."
As for the couple themselves, Abedin tells Van Meter that she has forgiven her husband, but it took time and effort:
It took a lot of work, both mentally and in the way we engage with each other, for me to get to a place where I said: "O.K., I'm in. I'm staying in this marriage." Here was a man I respected, I loved, was the father of this child inside of me, and he was asking me for a second chance. And I'm not going to say that was an easy or fast decision that I made. It's been almost two years now. I did spend a lot of time saying and thinking: "I. Don't. Understand." And it took a long time to be able to sit on a couch next to Anthony and say, "O.K., I understand and I forgive." It was the right choice for me. I didn't make it lightly. [New York Times]
Right after Weiner admitted to his sexting and failed cover-up, Abedin went on a weeklong trip to Africa and the Middle East with Clinton. When she got back, Weiner says, "she sneaks to meet me in the trunk of her friend's car," and the couple went to a friend's house in the Hamptons, "just the two of us, trying to figure out if we can save our marriage and what we're going to do and everything else." Abedin "said she wanted to get through it," Weiner tells Van Meter, but the scandal's shadow still lingers:
"We have to deal with this a lot. It's not behind us. It kind of bubbles around and comes up in different ways. But she's, um...." Here, he paused and took a deep breath and started to cry. "She's given...." He stopped again, could barely get the words out. "She's given me another chance. And I am very grateful for that. And I'm trying to make sure I get it right." [New York Times]