By Jonathan Lemire
When a heckled, harried Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress and apologized for the explicit text messages that had destroyed his career, a key figure was notably absent: his then-pregnant wife, Huma Abedin.
On Tuesday, there was Weiner again, making a public mea culpa for a newfound sexting scandal that erupted amid the mayoral run he hopes will rewrite his political future. But the Democrat was there to stay in, not bow out — and Abedin was by his side.
"I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him," and the sexting matter is "between us," she said, a message that could prove important to shaping voters' views as they digest his latest admission.
After the gossip website The Dirty posted X-rated messages and a crotch shot that it said the former congressman exchanged with an unidentified woman, Weiner acknowledged sending such messages as recently as last summer, more than a year after he resigned from the House because of similar behavior with at least a half-dozen women. With Abedin smiling at his side, he said at a news conference that "this is entirely behind me," and both made it clear they were moving ahead with his campaign.
"I want to bring my vision to the people of the city of New York. I hope they are willing to still continue to give me a second chance," a collected Weiner said. Then he went on to talk policy at a candidate forum on gay men's issues, where he was warmly received.
Weiner, 48, has been near the top of most polls since his late entry into the race in May. The latest disclosures could severely test voters' willingness to forgive him. The New York Times, the Daily News and some of his mayoral rivals called on him to drop out of the race.
But Abedin's visible support may help him win voters' approval, too.
"I don't think it's a good sign" that Weiner's behavior continued even after his resignation, said Andrew Taub, 22, who works in the venture capital arena. "But I do believe for some people looking for a sign, for something to bolster his campaign, (the fact that Abedin is staying with him) says a lot."
Still, the disclosure suddenly puts Weiner's indiscretions, judgment and candor back in the forefront of his campaign, and political analysts say it could be damaging: "It makes it tougher to believe this is behind him," said Democratic former state Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, now a political consultant.
And some voters who were open-minded about a second chance may not be able to stomach a third.
"He had a chance to redeem himself, and if he did it twice, he really betrayed the public's trust again," Jeremy Green said. "I think he's past the point of no return."
Weiner and Abedin, however, sought to cast the newly revealed messages as nothing really new. "I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out, and today they have," Weiner said. In a sign of how much he was projecting taking the messages in stride, he added that he was surprised that more hadn't come out sooner.
Abedin said her husband had made some "horrible mistakes both before he resigned from Congress and after" but insisted she and her husband discussed "all of this" before he jumped into the mayor's race in May. Seeming a bit choked with emotion, she noted that she had chosen to stay in the marriage, but "it was not an easy choice."
Abedin, a longtime adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has played a large and visible role in Weiner's mayoral campaign.
Weiner said in a July 2, 2012, interview with People magazine that he'd "tried to become a better person" every day since the sexting scandal. And yet the latest indiscretion appears to have started just days after he gave that interview.
The woman involved in newly disclosed messages told The Dirty that she was 22 when she began chatting with Weiner on a social networking site in July 2012, and that their interchanges lasted six months. Weiner used the alias "Carlos Danger," but she knew she was talking to the former congressman, she said.
The exchanges posted on The Dirty consist of sexually explicit fantasizing about various sex acts, and the site ran a pixelated photo of what it said were Weiner's genitals. At one point, the man reported to be Weiner wrote, "I'm deeply flawed."
The woman said Weiner exchanged nude photos of himself with her, engaged in phone sex with her, promised to help her get a job at the political website Politico and suggested meeting in a Chicago condo for a tryst.
"This was a bad situation for me because I really admired him. Even post-scandal, I thought he was misunderstood. Until I got to know him," the woman was quoted as telling the website.
She said he later asked her to destroy the evidence of their chats. She insisted that she never had sex with Weiner or received any payment from him.
The woman said her relationship with Weiner "fizzled" in November 2012. She said she last heard from him this past April, when a New York Times Magazine profile revealed he was eying a mayoral run.
Weiner said not every allegation the woman made was true but that he was not going to dispute specific claims. The lawyer for The Dirty's founder, Nik Ritchie, said his client was ill and would not comment Tuesday.
Weiner said his last sexting exchange happened "sometime last summer, I think," after he and his wife sat down for a glowing People magazine profile in which they said they had gotten past their troubles.
Weiner told the Daily News of New York in May that at one point, he checked into a Houston psychiatric clinic to have his behavior evaluated, but "it wasn't an addiction thing."
Mayoral candidates Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former City Councilman Sal Albanese, both Democrats, and billionaire John Catsimatidis, a Republican, called on Weiner to quit the race: "Enough is enough," de Blasio said. Another Democratic mayoral hopeful, city Comptroller John Liu, stopped short of calling for Weiner to bow out but suggested his "propensity for pornographic selfies is a valid issue for voters."
In an interview Wednesday on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson did not directly call for Weiner to drop out but said he should "do the right thing."
Weiner cares about the city and should "think about the people of this city and make the right decision," Thompson said, adding that the new revelations were diverting focus away from discussion about the city's future.
Another leading Democratic candidate, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, did not immediately comment.
In an editorial, The New York Times wrote, "the serially evasive" Weiner "should take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the Web and out of the race for mayor of New York City."
The Daily News wrote in an editorial: "He is not fit to lead America's premier city. Lacking the dignity and discipline that New York deserves in a mayor, Weiner must recognize that his demons have no place in City Hall."