Anthony Weiner made it out of a Bronx halfway house this week, concluding about a year and half spent in custody for texting, what’s the phrase, lewdly with a minor.
Maybe he will stay out of the public eye for a while. Maybe he will find work with his restaurateur brother. But whatever he does, he’ll be worth watching.
Because he’s always been the city’s political Forrest Gump. He’s always had an extremity in everything.
Start with the obvious: He was married to Hillary Clinton confidante Huma Abedin. And the emails found by federal agents as part of his lewd message probe led former FBI director James Comey to reopen the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s email use, an October 2016 surprise that, who knows, certainly didn’t hurt Donald Trump’s election bid.
A previous sexting scandal blew his chances to become NYC mayor in 2013, which helped usher in Bill de Blasio and a cascading number of other city government reshufflings. And de Blasio, of course, is now using his mayoral experience to run for president.
Before all that, Weiner used to work for Chuck Schumer, now the U.S. Senate minority leader, and after serving as a roller-blading city councilman he took over Schumer’s House seat representing parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
But even more than the places he pops up, he has been adept at channeling the aggressive New York political energy that now dominates the national stage.
This was the guy who was so blunt and so 100 mph that he once admitted to The New York Times that he pushed a former Marine staffer so hard that the guy quit. Weiner-land: Tougher than boot camp.
Pull up the famous videos of Weiner defending President Barack Obama’s health care plan or federal support for those affected by 9/11. There’s Weiner on the House floor shouting “I will not yield” and pounding the podium, waving his hands around, his face contorted in “you’ve gotta be kidding me” like a guy three beers deep at a daytime Yankees game.
Actually, the gesturing, the righteous anger, looks a little like new firebrand New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who went viral with this clip about the need for a focus on climate change.
Like her, Weiner had a feel for how social media could really be used by a public official — before he went off the rails in the DMs.
If you pull up @repweiner on Twitter you can still see the image that made headlines years ago: Weiner’s avatar is a picture of him from high school that is both embarrassing and a little endearing. Clearly, he knew that social media was not all about canned statements and pictures of signing bills.
He knew how to work the media, and he knew how to talk quick and down to earth in short bursts on cable news. He even knew that we are living in "The Apprentice" and Kim Kardashian’s world, and so you might as well make a reality TV show out of it. That’s why he invited cameras to follow along his 2013 mayoral run, courting them even as the effort went down in flames.
Watching that movie now, were the cameras and that last-ditch effort at redemption an oversight? An act of hubris? Don’t count on it in America, land of repeat chances for some. Weiner may be off the grid for now but don’t bet on him being gone forever. We’ll just have to watch him to see what kind of mood America is in.