How could it be? How could savvy, ambitious Anthony Weiner, the Congressman many thought would be New York City's next mayor, show such a lapse in judgment? His sexually tinged online exchanges with women, and repeated lies about them, did not mesh any which way with his reputation as a bright and brash politician with a big future.
Or so it seemed. But Weiner has shown poor judgment before, judgment that, as in this incident, goes to a question of character.
In 1991, in his first run for office, for City Council, anonymous flyers that played the race card circulated in Weiner's district near the end of the primary campaign. They accused one of his opponents, Adele Cohen, of being the captive of an allegedly sinister David Dinkins-Jesse Jackson agenda. Those flyers appeared in largely Jewish sections of the Brooklyn district, of course. (And weeks after the explosive Crown Heights riot strained tensions between the Jewish and Black communities).
Just like this time, Weiner only admitted he was behind the anonymous dirty trick once it was no longer possible to deny it. And, also like this time, he apologized profusely.
I remember the incident well because I was a member of The New York Timess editorial board then, responsible for local endorsements. We had already endorsed Weiner and were furious about what he had done. My editors and colleagues contemplated withdrawing the endorsement, but in the end gave him the benefit of the doubt because of his youth - he was 27 - and because he was a fledgling candidate. So we ran a sharp editorial deploring his tactics, but did not change the endorsement.
I well recall speaking to him at the time about getting his side of the story. There was no other side. It was wrong, he told me, he should not have done it, he was so sorry. You'll win, I told him. But you know, Mr. Weiner, you will not have won the right way. And I, for one, won't forget this. I never did.
If you cover politics, you learn that character counts more than any other factor - and character never really changes, not even in a span of 20 years.