Can Congressman Weiner survive sexting scandal?

McClatchy NewspapersJune 10, 2011 

US NEWS WEINER 2 ND

New York Rep. Anthony Weiner holds an emotional news conference on Monday, June 6, 2011, in New York City and apologizes for his actions involving photos of himself shared through a social networking site. (Craig Ruttle/Newsday/MCT)

CRAIG RUTTLE — MCT

WASHINGTON — The Weiner watch is on.

Will embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., resign or continue serving in the House of Representatives despite the brewing scandal stemming from sexting and sending lewd photos of himself over the Internet?

The resignation drumbeat could get even louder this week after police in New Castle County, Del., opened an investigation Friday into Weiner's electronic communication with a 17-year-old high school student. Authorities checked the teen's computer.

"Detectives were made aware of alleged contact between Congressman Anthony Weiner and an area teen," New Castle County Police said in a statement. "Detectives have conducted an interview with the teen and she has made no disclosure of criminal activity no inappropriate contact by the congressman."

Weiner, questioned Saturday by a throng of reporters who were following him as he ran errands, said he did nothing wrong.

"Nothing explicit, noting indecent," he said. "Absolutely nothing inappropriate."

Weiner has said he's staying on the job, and a majority of voters in his Queens-Brooklyn congressional district think he should.

"It's New York City. This isn't Bible Belt tolerance; that's not a New York thing," said Robert Liff, a New York Democratic political operative. "We're a live-and-let-live city."

Washington apparently is not. House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Thursday that whatever Weiner does "he does, but I think the (House Democratic) caucus may have something to ... say about it" when it returns to Capitol Hill on Monday afternoon.

Rank-and-file House Democrats could join a growing chorus of influential party voices who want Weiner out to avoid further embarrassment.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., the chief candidate recruiter for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Tim Kaine, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and current Virginia senatorial candidate, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell have all said Weiner must go.

And on Saturday the Democratic National Committee added to the calls for Weiner to resign.

"This sordid affair has become an unacceptable distraction for Representative Weiner, his family, his constituents and the House — and for the good of all, he should step aside and address those things that should be most important — his and his family's well-being," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the DNC's head.

"They would like him to resign because he's a distraction from the discussion of the Ryan budget," said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic political consultant, referring to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his proposed 2012 federal budget.

Weiner's travails have been a godsend for Republicans, who've been anxious to shift talk away from Ryan's controversial plan to overhaul Medicare.

GOP lawmakers and campaign organizations have used Weiner to go on the offensive, publicly challenging Democrats who've taken campaign contributions from Weiner to return them.

Still, the GOP attacks and the Democratic drumbeat for a resignation aren't likely to be enough — at least for now — to force Weiner to quit.

A poll released Thursday by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and cable television's NY1 found that 56 percent of registered voters in Weiner's district don't think he should quit, and 33 percent think he should. About 12 percent of the voters said they weren't sure.

As for Weiner's re-election prospects in 2012, 30 percent of the registered voters in his district who were polled said they'd vote for him, 31 percent said they wouldn't and 38 percent were undecided. The margin of error is 4.5 percentage points.

"Congressman Weiner's constituents are drawing a line between his ethical conduct and professional judgment," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Institute for Public Opinion. "As for his re-election prospects, that's still very much up in the air."

Maurice Carroll, the director of Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute and a former New York political reporter and columnist, said all the anxiety over the Weiner scandal was typical media and Washington Beltway handwringing, which meant almost nothing in the Big Apple.

"Bill Clinton would have been an ex-president if you read the Washington headlines," Carroll said, referring to former President Bill Clinton's White House affair with Monica Lewinsky. "What he (Weiner) did was sleazy, and really adolescent, but will they throw him out? The Washington Post editorial page can't fire him; The New York Times can't fire him. That's what elections are for."

But just because New Yorkers have a different take on Weiner's scandal from that of Washington and other U.S. cities doesn't mean he's home-free in his hometown in terms of paying a price for his sex-tinged social media escapades.

The scandal probably kills any chance of Weiner achieving his goal of becoming the mayor of New York. Another Marist-NY1 poll, released Tuesday, found that 56 percent of New York City registered voters don't want him to run for mayor, 25 percent want him to and 19 percent weren't sure.

Weiner has amassed almost $4 million in anticipation of a run to succeed independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to the New York State Board of Elections. Weiner's congressional campaign war chest had only $365,670 in cash on hand as of March 31, according to the Federal Election Commission.

"There will be no Mayor Weiner in 2013," said Sheinkopf, the New York political consultant. "That's out."

Carroll said Weiner's foes would have to dynamite him out of his congressional district, and the New York State Assembly may do just that. The state has to shed two of its 29 House seats to reflect population shifts based on 2010 census data.

The state assembly, which will decide on the new lines, may view carving out a district with a disgraced and wounded downstate elected official as easy pickings.

"New York loses two congressional districts in the next round," Carroll said. "You've got to bet Weiner's disappears."

POLLS METHODOLOGY:

The Marist-NY1 poll on whether Weiner should quit was a telephone survey Wednesday of 512 adults — 411 of them registered voters — in New York's 9th Congressional District. The margin of error is 4.5 percentage points.

The Marist-NY1 poll on whether Weiner should run for New York mayor was a telephone survey Monday of 500 New York City adults, including 379 registered voters. It also has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

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