Former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s tabloid infamy was apparent almost immediately when he arrived Thursday morning on the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem for the first public event of his mayoral campaign.
“Good morning sir, would you like a free paper?” a man hawking copies of AM New York asked as the candidate approached.
“Well, who’s on the cover?” Weiner asked.
“You are, sir,” the man said.“Then I’ll take it,” Weiner replied.
Weiner didn’t actually keep his copy, but many of the people who made their way through the mass of media encircling the candidate to shake his hand and speak with him carried their own papers as they posed for pictures. Throughout his time in Harlem and a subsequent subway trip downtown, Weiner tried to keep his conversations with voters and the press focused on his message of working to improve the lives of the middle class rather than his history of making scandalous headlines.
At least 30 members of the media showed up for Weiner’s event outside the 125th Street subway station leaving the candidate, his staff, and even the police struggling to keep the press back so commuters could enter the train.
“I apologize my friends,” Weiner said to a group attempting to make their way through the crowd. “Walk this way. I’ll block for you. I might not look like much, but I can take care of myself.”
Though he brought a pedestrian traffic jam with him, Weiner got an enthusiastic response from many passerby. Several people who stopped to shake his hand indicated they thought he deserved a chance to make a comeback.
“All I’m asking for is a second chance,” Weiner said to multiple well-wishers.
That message resonated with a man named Chris Crawford who said he lived on 131st Street and came up to pose for a photo with Weiner. After talking to the candidate, Crawford told TPM he believes everyone deserves second chances.
“I look forward to seeing what he’s going to do differently,” said Crawford. “Sometimes, when you lose or you get off track it kind of gives you just much more focus on what you need to do the next time around and maybe he can attend to the peoples’ needs in a stronger way.”
In spite of his appreciation for Weiner’s unique perspective, Crawford has not yet decided who would get his vote in the mayoral race. He said he wanted more time to see where the candidates stand on issues “that really affect myself and my community.” Crawford listed the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy as a top priority for him.
Because of the intense swarm of reporters, photographers, and video cameras it was difficult to hear many of the interactions Weiner had with the people he met in Harlem. However, he discussed many local issues including stop-and-frisk, housing, and the city economy. Weiner repeatedly framed himself as a crusader for the middle class noting plans to push for more manufacturing jobs, create affordable housing and his desire to raise taxes on the “very super wealthy.”
A neighborhood resident named Joe Baines clearly appreciated Weiner’s populist message and felt it overshadowed the candidate’s 2011 Twitter photo scandal.
“You look on Facebook today, you see a lot of people showing their whole bodies, buck naked and they don’t do nothing to them,” Baines said. “I think he’s good … because he’s a family man and I think he cares about this world. I think he’s better than Bloomberg because nobody cares about the middle class.”
Before heading to the next stop on his schedule, a radio appearance at a downtown studio, Weiner spoke with the assembled reporters. He emphasized his desire to focus on his policies in his conversations with voters.
“When voters think about the issues they care about, I want to be there to try to have a conversation with them, talk about some of the ideas that I’ve put on my website … and also try to hear what their concerns are,” said Weiner.
Multiple early polls have shown Weiner in second place behind City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Some observers have pointed to the numbers of voters polled, specifically women, who say they have an unfavorable impression of Weiner as an indication he may not be able to pull ahead. Weiner said he believes he may be able to win over some of those who currently have a negative view of him.
“Ultimately, this is day one or two of the campaign and one of the ways I do it is by seeing people,” Weiner said. “Also, you know, I frankly have been encouraged by how many people say they’re prepared to give me a second chance and just listen to my ideas. And look, there may be people who … say they’ll never vote for me, and I get that, and I respect that, and people have a right to have that view. But even for those people, I want them to hear about what I have to say.”
Weiner obviously wants to focus on the issues, but his past is still earning substantial attention. A late night launch announcement spared Weiner from the mocking tabloid headlines that dogged him throughout his scandal in his first day of campaigning Wednesday. However, on Thursday the New York Daily News had a special insert showing the hypothetical front page they would have run to mark the official start of Weiner’s bid. It featured his face under an all-caps banner: “HE’S GOT SOME BALLS.” A reporter waved a copy and asked Weiner if he thought that type of coverage would be a persistent issue during his run, but the candidate insisted voters will share his desire to concentrate on policy.
“Actually, they did not put that on their front page did they? Did they?” Weiner asked. “Look, I’ve got to tell you something, I think what I learned today here at the subway stop is that people are going to make their determination based on the interests that they think are important. If citizens want to talk to me about my personal failings, that’s their right and I’m going to do everything I can to answer them.”
When Weiner finished taking questions and headed into the subway station for his trip down Manhattan, many of the reporters stuck with him packing shoulder-to-shoulder into his car on the two train. Weiner made multiple apologies to his fellow commuters for the crush created by his press corps.
“This is what it’s like to be squashed by the press, know what I’m saying?” he asked.
Photographers pushed through the crush of the crowd in an effort to get their desired shots. At one point, thanks to shoving from one of the lensman, this reporter spilled some water we were carrying onto a woman who was sitting in front of Weiner.
“You should send the bill to the Talking Points Memo,” he said as the woman and her companion laughed.
When a seat opened up next to the women, Weiner sat down and joined them.
“Every morning the four of us and six still cameras, five video cameras, and nine notepads we’re all going to get on the two train together,” said Weiner. “And part of the way through, we’re going to have the guy from Talking Points Memo pour water on one of us, and then, we’re going to come back the next day.”
The women were clearly charmed, but a woman named Lori Coad who was sitting across the subway car had some issues with Weiner. Throughout the ride, Coad, who said she was homeless, shouted questions and criticisms at Weiner. At one point, she admonished him for his scandal.
“Stop going around texting stuff!” Coad yelled.
“You know, we were doing so well there for a minute,” Weiner said. “I almost got off this train with everything going fine.”
At 14th Street, Weiner and his press entourage departed the subway car.
“Thank you guys,” Weiner said to the other passengers.
“We’ll miss you,” replied the women he had been sitting with.
He walked the rest of the way to the radio station continuing to field questions from the reporters who stayed with him. After walking about a mile, Weiner arrived at his destination and bid farewell to his press corps.
“This is my stop,” he said before entering the studio.