From Redistricting to Resigning, Pressure Mounts on Weiner

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Colin Campbell, City Hall News reporter and blogger at The Brooklyn, and New York Observer reporter, Azi Paybarah, look at the politics, national and local, around the continuing Anthony Weiner scandal.

Elected officials, including Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania, have been calling for the resignation of Congressman Anthony Weiner following the revelation that he conducted online affairs with multiple women while married, then lied to cover it up. Yet among his constituency there seems more ambivalence, and seem much more in favor of letting the constituents of Weiner’s Brooklyn and Queens district decide with their votes in the next election. 

An Amazing Silence

Campbell says the local political climate of some of the national politicians calling for Weiner's resignation explains why they might want to take that decision away from the voters. Pennsylvania, which Rep. Schwartz represents, has a large white working class constituency.

It’s one of those places where Democrats and Republicans feel that they can get an advantage over an opponent based on the current political temperatures… If Anthony Weiner is seen as being toxic to this kind of core constituency for Democrats nationally, he becomes a liability to the party as they’re heading into an election season.

Democrats nationally are not giving Weiner a lot of support. Rep. Nancy Pelosi is reportedly furious with him and proposing an investigation, Senator Harry Reid and former DNC chair Tim Kaine have condemned him. Paybarah said no national Democratic leader has gone on the record supporting Weiner.

It is an amazing kind of silence that is being heard. When colleagues from your own delegation are resolutely silent, and when you have national people sort of clearing their voices, saying, look you’re becoming a distraction and you need to go, the writing is on the wall. He clearly doesn’t have the kind of support that you would think a seven-term member of congress would have.

Redistricting may cost Weiner his seat, even if he doesn’t resign, with the scandal increasing that likelihood. Campbell said that possibility is likely, but cautioned that a lot can happen in the six months before the process begins.

There’s going to be two sitting congressman who are going to lose this game of musical chairs, and why would the Democrats work overly-hard to keep somebody that might lose reelection in a conservative district because of a personal scandal?

A Progressive Nationally But Not Locally

Weiner’s district is one of the most conservative congressional districts in the city, yet Anthony Weiner has a reputation as a progressive firebrand in congress. Campbell took issue with that description of Weiner, pointing out that the congressman has supported several right-leaning positions, such as with foreign policy in Israel and closer to home, he has opposed bike lanes. Paybarah agreed with that assessment.

The more Anthony Weiner focused on national issues, the more liberal he was able to appear, much in the way Chuck Schumer does. When he is on the Sunday talk shows, when he is traveling around the country nationally, he is the flag-bearer for progressive democratic politics. When he is closer to New York things are much more cautious and reserved.

In the 2005 mayoral democratic primary campaign, Weiner positioned himself as the more conservative, white ethnic outer-borough candidate against competitor Fernando Ferrer, who won the nomination.

The Seatholder Strategy

Campbell spoke about a strategy in which, if Weiner’s district is eliminated, it might be politically expedient for Weiner to remain where he is for now. If he stays in office, he can prevent a challenge in a redistricting election from an incumbent who might beat the current office holders. He likened the process to musical chairs.

“If there’s going to be one less congressional seat in Queens, if Anthony Weiner stays on, he can resign and every incumbent will have a chair to sit down in. If Anthony Weiner resigns now and there’s a special election to [replace] him, there’s going to be one congressmember who is going to compete for one of those chairs, and that could come at the expense of a sitting Queens incumbent.”

If Weiner does resign, the governor will schedule a special election and local parties would have to select a candidate, to serve the rest of the congressman’s term.