In running for mayor, Anthony Weiner is seeking to get past the tawdry-tweeter punch line that has dogged him since his congressional career imploded two years ago. And while he's facing an uphill sprint, his campaign could help his long-term prospects even if he loses, some experts say.
Weiner's mayoral bid, officially announced late Tuesday, offers a chance for him to update the public's perception of him from scandal-lashed politician to candidate who's talking ideas.
"I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down, but I also learned some tough lessons," he said in a video posted online. "I'm running for mayor because I've been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it my entire life. And I hope I get a second chance."
With that, Weiner embarked on an audacious comeback quest, hoping to go from politician whose tweeted crotch shot was emblazoned on the nation's consciousness to leader of America's biggest city.
No one is counting out Weiner in the most competitive mayoral race in more than a decade. But regardless of the outcome, the campaign could make the Democrat a stronger candidate in the future for public office by letting him address his past and invite voters to move on from it with him, some political observers noted.
If Weiner makes it at least to a widely expected Democratic primary runoff, as many feel he could, "then he will dramatically show that he's back and that he has a viable political career, even if he doesn't win," said George Arzt, a veteran Democratic political consultant who isn't working with any mayoral candidates this year.
Other experts, though, say Weiner is running for the same reason candidates generally do: to win. Given the crushing demands of campaigning, "I really don't think politicians look at 'the next time,'" Pace University political scientist Gregory Julian said.
And Weiner himself has suggests his considerations are focused on the immediate. "It's now or maybe never for me," he said in an interview last month.
Weiner is jumping into the crowded Democratic primary field with some significant advantages, including a $4.8 million campaign war chest, the possibility of more than $1 million more in public matching money, polls showing him ahead of all but one other Democrat — and no end of name recognition. The latest survey, a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, echoed earlier polls by showing Weiner getting 15 percent of the Democratic primary vote, behind City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at 25 percent.
Weiner's announcement follows another high-profile story of rapid political redemption: former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, whose extramarital affair derailed his political career in 2009, returned to Congress last week. And some New York City residents said Wednesday they were ready to give Weiner another shot at winning their votes, despite the scandal that sank his career and raised questions about his character just two years ago.
"He's made atonement for it," said Manhattanite Elizabeth Fasolino. "I think he has the best interest of New York City voters in mind, the middle class especially."
After a photo of a man's bulging, underwear-clad groin appeared on his Twitter account in 2011, he initially claimed his account had been hacked. After more photos emerged — including one of him bare-chested in his congressional office — the married congressman eventually owned up to exchanging racy messages with several women, saying he'd never met any of them. He soon resigned.
He has said he shouldn't have lied but wanted to keep the truth from his then-pregnant wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She told The New York Times Magazine recently that she has forgiven him.
Weiner has done a series of magazine and TV interviews recently to reintroduce himself, and he has released a list of ideas styled as a blueprint for helping the city's middle class thrive. The suggestions, some of them updates from a mayoral run he nearly made in 2009, include giving every public school student a Kindle reader and using Medicaid money to create a city-run, single-payer health system for the uninsured.
Some ideas seem to draw on his Washington experience, such as making more use of a federal cigarette-smuggling law. But others fall squarely within City Hall, including suggestions to create a "nonprofit czar" in city government and to eliminate paid positions for parent coordinators in schools.
The document also offers a vision of the city — a place with "a can-do attitude, competitive spirit and aggressive nature" — that sounds not unlike Weiner himself. He was known during his seven terms in Washington as a vigorous defender of Democratic viewpoints, unafraid to get combative whether on cable TV or the House floor, and as a tireless and instinctive politician.
"Anybody who underestimates Anthony Weiner's ambition is a fool. And anybody who underestimates his ability as a candidate is a fool," retired Hunter College political science professor Kenneth Sherrill said.
Weiner also will have to overcome some voters' misgivings. Some 49 percent said he shouldn't even run in the new Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed 1,082 voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Weiner can expect opponents to hammer at his prior prevaricating, and he said in a recent interview on the RNN cable network that he couldn't guarantee that no more pictures or people would emerge.
His rivals' reactions to his announcement ranged from polite greetings — Democratic former City Comptroller William Thompson, for instance, said he welcomed Weiner and anyone who can "bring ideas to the table" — to criticism that stuck to politics, not his personal life. Democratic former City Councilman Sal Albanese and Republican John Catsimatidis both rapped Weiner as a "career politician," while Republican George McDonald complained that by seeking matching funds, Weiner "wants to rehab his tarnished reputation at the expense of taxpayers."
While Weiner might welcome attention to his policies rather than his past, they also have attracted criticism. About a dozen young people recently demonstrated outside his Manhattan apartment building to denounce his proposal to make it easier to suspend disruptive public school students.
Since leaving office, Weiner has put his government experience to work as a consultant for various companies.
His Democratic opponents also include Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu and the Rev. Erick Salgado, a pastor.
Besides Catsimatidis, a billionaire businessman, and McDonald, who runs a group that helps the homeless, Republican contenders include former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota. Former White House housing official Aldolfo Carrion Jr., a Democrat who recently dropped his party affiliation, is running on the Independence Party line and also interested in the Republican nomination.